December 31, 2006
Christmas is past. It’s New Year’s Eve! Just enough time to make New Year’s resolutions!
Hands up those who make New Year’s resolutions!
Keep your hand up, if you keep them!
“How come,” I almost hear you asking, “he put his hand up for keeping New Year’s resolutions, but hadn’t for making New Year’s resolutions?”
There’s an easy answer to that! I made a New Year’s resolution about 50 years ago to make no more and I’ve kept it ever since.
Yet, it’s actually a good idea to look back over our lives –the last 12 months, whatever – and to decide the future could be – or needs to be - different from the past!
We keep on making mistakes – because of bad habits from which we can’t shake loose. We could, of course, try something new: a change in direction.
Pity governments don’t do that a little more regularly than when elections are on the horizon – or when US advisory committees point out the gross blunders to the US President that have equally profound ramifications on Australian foreign policy!
But, if we’re to look backwards on the past to work out how we might change the future, how do we know what’s right? How do decide what’s wrong?
Is it merely a matter of what feels right – because what’s right for you may not be right for me?
How do legislators, who write the laws to which we’re subject, decide whether stem-cell research - or anything else - is right? On the basis of moral law? But on which moral law – if there is such a thing as moral law!
Confused? If that’s the way you feel right now, realise that many people are confused long-term. For them, the questions, “How do we know what’s right and wrong? Are there any laws? What really is important?” have no answer. They have faith only in themselves. And that gives them nothing solid to hold on to.
He’d bought a long-handled rake, expecting to take it home in his car, forgetting his wife had taken the car. He had no alternative but to take the train. There was no seat. He stood, the rake handle alongside reaching towards the roof. As more and more boarded the train, he found hands reaching for the rake-handle to steady themselves. It was no use protesting. Everybody needs something to hang on to – but something a little more solid than a long-handled rake in a train!
Read Paul’s story in the Book of Acts or in his letters and you realise life was tough and demanding: it seems his new Christian life was taking more than he got. It’s hard to believe Paul would have gone through what he went through and could still be thankful.
Yet that’s a central theme of his letter to the Christians in Colossae from which Debbie read a portion this morning.
He began this way: “Our prayers for you are always spilling over into thanksgiving. We can’t stop thanking God our Father and Jesus our Messiah for you!”
In the passage read we heard. “Cultivate thankfulness.” “Let every detail of your life – words, actions, whatever – be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.”
If things were tough for Paul, they were as tough – and going to get tougher – for those who read his letter. They lived in a world which pulled them away from what really mattered: Christ’s way and the Christian way. Subtle pressures would give way to threats. Threats gave way to demands. Demands gave way to imprisonment and persecution.
And Paul talked about being thankful? Not only about being thankful but living a new way of life in thanksgiving!
Let’s go back to 1: 15-20.
“We look at [the] Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels – everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, just as a head does a body. He was supreme in the beginning and – leading the resurrection parade – he is supreme at the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe – people and things, animals and atoms – get properly fixed and fitted together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.”
That was most certainly something worth holding on to: Christ’s pre-eminence; God’s overwhelming love.
It’s because of Christ, his supremacy, and the love shown through his death, that Paul can use not once but several times after that passage, one of my favourite Greek words, ‘ouv: therefore. “Because Christ has shown his supremacy and his love for you, therefore…”
What Paul lays out for those who read his letter is not a series of legalist dos and don’ts, but a way of living life: thanksgiving. In theological terms: it’s a theology of grace; and an ethic of thanksgiving. God has done wonderful things for you. Your response is to be a life of gratitude lived God’s way, Christ’s way.
In fact the Colossians – and those who read this letter today - do get clear indications of what that life looks like. There are definite ways that a life of thanksgiving will take you.
These suggestions bear hearing again.
Jesus’ followers are addressed this way: “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.”
The Colossians were neither better nor worse than we are. Yet they are addressed as saints: God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. They were, and we are.
We are declared God’s people, saints. We may not always act like saints, but that’s what we are as Jesus’ followers. My favourite verse is Galatians 5: 25. “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” This can be paraphrased: “You are saints, but it’s time you acted like saints!”
In fact, what we are leads to what we do. Being and doing cannot be separated. Well-shaped character produces a well-shaped life.
If you’re a saint, but not living like a saint, it’s time to begin again!
But for any new beginning, there’s reassurance: we are beloved.
There’s nothing more important than knowing that we’re loved – and nothing more important when we doubt our chances of living as God’s people than to know that we are loved by God.
Compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearance, forgiveness, love and peace: these are the character qualities that are urged on the Colossians – and on us.
Each needs more time than I have this morning! But let me say this:
Compassion means counting others as important as your self!
Kindness is doing unexpected things for others, so they say, “It’s good to know there are still Christians around!”
Lowliness is the willingness to waive our own rights, and to be sure of our place in God’s kingdom.
Meekness is almost the same: knowing who we are and what we stand for – without the need to flaunt ourselves.
Patience is making allowances for others and refusing to be put off by difficult people or circumstances.
Forbearance is a matter of carrying on despite difficulties.
For Christians two words should beon the tip of our tongues always: “Sorry” and “I forgive you.”
Love is the Christian word. It’s all of the above in one word, one attitude to life, the way of Christ, the way of his saints, our way.
When we think of peace we tend to think of an absence of whatever disturbs us. Biblical peace, shalom, is much, much more. It’s wholeness. It’s what unites us despite all our differences. It’s integrity.
New Year’s Eve: time for New Year’s resolutions or a re-examination of our lives in thanksgiving for what God has done for us in Jesus.
Remember this if you remember nothing else of what I’ve said this morning:
We show mercy and kindness because we have been shown mercy and kindness.
We are to be humble and meek because God in Christ put aside any claim he may have had to become as frail and fallible and tempted as we are.
We are to be patient and forbearing because God keeps on putting up with us!
We forgive because we are forgiven in Christ.
We love because we are beloved: loved by God.
We are to live in peace because God has God has brought healing and wholeness into our lives.
We are to show godly character because of God’s character of infinitely patient love
That may not be what we are now, but it can still be because of whose we have been, are now, and always will be.
The status quo is at an end. This is a time for renewal and renewing for us all.
 1:3. The Message.
 3:15. The Message.
 3:17. The Message.
 The Message.
The Revised Standard Version. 1971 (Ga 5:25). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.