A Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (24/07/22): You have Received Christ Jesus as Lord

Colossians 2:6-15

The problem we have with the letters in the New Testament is that we have only one half of the correspondence. We have the replies, not the letters which prompt those replies. It is as if we are listening to someone talking on the telephone. We hear them speak, but not what the other person is saying. We are only getting one half of the conversation, and the second half at that. We hear the reply, the second voice which speaks. We don’t hear the first voice to speak, the question or problem which prompts that reply in the first place. If the answer is:
As therefore you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
If that is the answer, what is the question?

Those two verse actually go to the heart of the letter to the Colossians. These verses effectively summarise the whole argument of the letter. They are constructed in a form that is quite typical for the letters of the New Testament. These verses are an exhortation, an instruction or even a commandment. They are presented as an indicative/imperative construction. That is, there is a simple statement: Here it is, “you have received Christ Jesus the Lord.” Or perhaps it should be phrased, “You have received Christ Jesus as Lord.” A simple statement which is followed by a commandment that comes from it. Here that is: “Continue your life in him.”
So the answer is: The way to continue to grow and develop as disciples, the way to go on living as Christians, depends on how you started. The beginning of Christian life is the recognition, the reception of Jesus Christ as Lord. The source and the focus of our loyalty and obedience is him. The determining factor in our lives is Jesus. This is the first thing which we learn as we become Christians, literally followers of Jesus. The foundation, the solid basis of discipleship, understanding that Jesus is Lord. Everything else is built up from that solid beginning. This is the soil which Christian life is planted in. This is where discipleship draws its sustenance which enables its growth. In a way this is the most basic teaching of all, which every Christian has heard from the beginning. Indeed: Jesus is Lord! Was the very first formulation of Christian faith. That is how Christians put into words what it is that is distinctive that Christians believe. This is our tradition, in the best possible sense of that word. This is what we have been given, it is the gift which we have received. This is what has been handed on to us. And as a gift it becomes the source of thanksgiving. With this foundation Christian living is full of thanksgiving. Above all, Christian life is joyful, even in the face of adversity, because it is build on this first declaration: You have received Christ Jesus the Lord.

Actually it is not all that difficult to reconstruct at least some of the other half of the correspondence. We can actually infer what the question was that prompted that answer. What the problem was that the church at Colossae had, that required a letter to sort out. The letter goes on:
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.
The problem with Christianity is that it is deceptively simple. It begins, as we have seen with a simple declaration: Jesus is Lord. In theory Christianity looks very easy. In practice, however, it turns out to be rather challenging. I have always rather liked an observation made by the author G. K. Chesterton. He said: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
After the simple beginning, receiving that declaration “Jesus is Lord,” it can be hard to know how to go on. “Jesus is Lord? Is that it? How am I supposed to go on with that? Surely there must be something more.”
What happens then is that we might start looking for other answers. We might start looking somewhere else for help in becoming what we are trying to be. And often we find ourselves borrowing from other areas of life to support our discipleship. We look for “Seven simple steps. . . .” We try to find the “life hacks” and the shortcuts that will help us through the complexities of actually being and doing Christian in the world as it is. We start to respond to the other voices which already have authority around us. And those voices tend now to be at least famous, and more often than not, rich or powerful or both. We might also find ourselves borrowing ideas from successful businesses, and to a lesser extent from insightful social sciences like psychology or sociology. Though of course these are usually packaged to look Christian before they ever get to us.
This seems to have been the sort of thing that had happened at the church in Colossae. After the first missionaries had told them “Jesus is Lord,” the folk at Colossae had got down to the business of living out that faith day by day, day after day. And we know that can be difficult, Christianity can be and is a long haul. The folk at Colossae had got to thinking that they were missing something. “This is really hard, surely there must be something else, we need some help here.” At that point other missionaries had arrived, with a somewhat different message. At this point our ability to infer what was going on begins to run a bit thin and starts to be guess work. But is is clear that they were offering some kind of add-on to the central message of “Jesus is Lord.” What the letter rather scornfully calls “philosophy and empty deceit.” We can guess that the Colossians were being offered something that claimed to be a deeper inner mystery which would give them what they were looking for. “Seven simple steps to real life with God,” or “Try these life hacks to make you a better Christian.”

Such additions to the basic Christian message, such borrowings from alternative sources of authority or knowledge,
can be dismissed! They can be dismissed because of the distinctive theological claim which Christianity makes, and what makes Christianity distinctive. The Word is enough!
For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.
The reason Jesus is Lord, is this: In Jesus there is physically present everything that is God. That is both distinctive but it is also startling. When it comes to God nothing more needs to be said, than has already been said in the life, death, resurrection and promised return of Jesus. That’s it. That is everything!
Borrowing from other sources of knowledge is at best redundant, but more often is deceiving and even entrapping. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is above every other ruler who might demand our loyalty and obedience. Jesus’ authority lies beyond every other source of knowledge or authority that might be available to us. This is what we have been given. This what we have received. This is the beginning and the only way to continue as a Christian.

Christian disciple always and only grows out out of what God has already done or has already given. When the Colossians and we are looking for how to continue in our discipleship we need only look to what God has already done for us. And in fact just now the Colossians were given several examples:
In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision.
Not unnaturally all the letters of New Testament draw on the Jewish background of Christianity. Circumcision was and is the sign, cut into human flesh of the covenant that exists between God and Israel. It is the sign that God is God and they are his people. In Christ there is what this letter calls a “spiritual circumcision.” God gives a sign that we are his. John Wesley wrote a sermon called “Circumcision of the Heart” [Sermon XIII] In connection with Wesley we might think more naturally of a “heart strangely warmed.” In Christ there is an experience in which we can know that God does indeed love us. This is one of those things which God does that establishes faith and moves discipleship on
Of course baptism rather than circumcision is the enacted sign that defines the church.
When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
Much of this symbolism of baptism is lost in the way in which some of us actually practice that rite. Sprinkling water retains the symbolism of cleansing, but loses the symbolism of death and resurrection. In the way in which the early Church and parts of the contemporary Church practice baptism, the candidate is lain down under the water as if in a grave, and then lifted up from under the waters of death into a new life. Whether we have used this symbolism or not, this is what God has done with us. The life which we now lead is a new life given to us by God.
The difference between the old life and the new is the forgiveness of sin.
God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us.
The cross is the symbol of Christianity. But Jesus’s death is the heart of what God has done. God takes what separates us from him and destroys it there. The metaphor at this point is that the record against us, or the account of debt in our name towards God is torn up , thrown away and forgotten. Perhaps we don’t think so much in terms of sin and guilt as we once did, perhaps we experience alienation and disillusionment more now. But the answer remains as it did. God has already done what it takes to deal with that. It is nailed to the cross!
The cross, of course from the outside looks like a defeat. But that is not how it is in reality. Once again this is how God has already acted.
He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.
All the alternatives to the Lordship have Christ have in fact already been defeated and humiliated. As attractive as fame and wealth and power look as sources of authority and knowledge look they and all the other alternatives to the Word only lead to defeat and captivity. There is nothing more to be said and nothing more to be gained than what God has already said and done by raising Jesus from the dead.

All of this though was already implicit with what we first said. Jesus is Lord! If our question is: How do I go on being a Christian? Then the answer is: Continue from the begin which God has already made in you. Accept what God has already done. Be what God has already made you and is making you. The Word is enough.
You therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
Amen.

You have Received Christ Jesus as Lord by Christopher Wood-Archer is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

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