Would You Rather Grieve [Colossians 3:8-16]
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Would You Rather Grieve? – April 17, 2022
You know what was sort of a weird thing about the pandemic? Like, in the beginning they outlined a lot of methods to help slow the spread of the virus. Social distancing, don’t get too close to people, don’t touch each other, don’t go to parties, big gatherings – in fact, other than essentials let’s just have everyone stay at home as much as humanly possible. And for extroverts like me, who absolutely thrive off of hanging out with people – it was devastating. It was torture! But I’ve got some introverted friends and they were like, “This is my moment. I’ve been training for this moment my entire life! Apparently my lifestyle – which I do as much as I possibly can - is called “quarantining” – huh, works for me.” [laugh] I have some introverted friends who really thrived these last couple years. But I think we all have that moment at some point, right? Have you ever done that thing, where you have plans – and you were, like, excited when you made the plans a couple weeks ago…but now that the party’s on Friday or whatever, you’re just dreading it. And you’re really hoping that you might get to stay in your pajamas and eat pizza in front of a movie and not go into the world and see and interact with people’s faces? I think we all have a little introvert inside of us. But then the text message comes – the party has been cancelled, or whatever it is and you send the message, “oh no, I’m so sorry to hear that. [yay] Darn I was really looking forward to that.” And God’s up in heaven giving you the stink eye because he knows you’re a liar? Sometimes, we say we want one thing – but inside we’re a little relieved that it didn’t work out.
I’ve never thought of this before, but I can’t help but wonder – do you think any of Jesus’ followers, maybe just a little bit, were relieved that he was gone? Like, of course it’s very sad – they lost their friend, but he was making some pretty bold claims. He was asking the disciples to give up their whole life and live a completely new way in God’s grace. Following Jesus was costly. I wonder if any of them were like, “Oh no… that’s too bad it didn’t work out. Now I can go back to the messy comfort that my life used to be.” Esau McCulley is a professor at Wheaton College, my wife’s Alma Mater, he wrote a brilliant New York Times article last year and he writes,
“Easter is a frightening prospect. For the women, the only thing more terrifying than world with Jesus dead was one in which he was alive. We know what to do with grief and despair. We have a place for it. We have rituals that surround it…Hope is much harder to come by. The women did not go to the tomb looking for hope. They were searching for a place to grieve. They wanted to be left alone in despair. The terrifying prospect of Easter is that God called these women to return to the same world that crucified Jesus with a very dangerous gift: hope in the power of God, the unending reservoir of forgiveness and an abundance of love. It would make them seem like fools. Who could believe such a thing? Christians, at their best, are the fools who dare believe in God’s power to call dead things to life.”
Today, we’re not going to tell the story of Easter. You probably already know it. Ladies go to the tomb, Jesus is risen. But you already know that story. No, today I want to ask the question – if Jesus is real, and he really did die, and he really did rise… what does that mean for you and me? What does resurrection look like in your life? Let’s take a look.
We’re in chapter three of Colossians, and verse 8 gets us started, [read v.8-9]. So it starts out with the concept of the “old self” – who you used to be BEFORE you met Jesus. And if you want to walk with Christ, and be his follower – you need to let go of this stuff. Anger, wrath, malice, slander and obscene speech. Now – anger and wrath are pretty straightforward. I don’t know about you – but I’ve never gotten angry and then gone and done something I’m proud of. Right, you never hear, “Oh man I was so furious, I just…I just went out and built some low income housing and mentored young kids in the city.” No, it’s always – I got angry and then I broke something, or I said something or I did something I shouldn’t have done. Anger and Wrath, you gotta leave that behind. But these other words are less common. Malice and slander – like, I’ve heard them used before and I sort of get it, but I double checked the definitions just to be sure. Malice is basically ill intent. Which covers a whole lot of things. It doesn’t matter what it is, malice is just when you wish bad on someone. Malice deals with your intent. And slander is when you make a statement hoping to damage their reputation. Anger, Wrath, Malice, Slander – and that last one.. obscene speech. The bible says, don’t let any of that come out of your mouth. And I do want to say, a lot of us get it wrong with “obscene speech.” Because there’s this false teaching going around that “obscene speech” is just a list of words that Christians are not allowed to use. Right? You know this. There is a list of words, and you cannot say them. And so we use the letter to stand in for that word. The F-word. The B-word. The N-word. And we tell ourselves, if you just don’t use those words – you’re a good Christian person. And some of dorky Christian kids, when we were growing up – if we were feeling edgy we would used substitute words. Right? Do you remember giggling when you watch the movie Elf? Because he said “son of a nutcracker” instead of the other one?
Now here’s the problem, avoiding a list of words is actually EASIER than keeping malice out of your heart. There’s a whole lot of a Christians, who would never use the list of bad words, but they will slander their brothers and sisters with gossip. Talk about people behind their back, hurt their reputation. I mean, how many of you have started up a conversation with a friend, because you saw something on TV or a public figure do something – and you just want to talk about how terrible they are? Following a list of words you can’t say is so much easier, because you don’t have to let it get down into you heart. You don’t have to change your character. But NOWHERE in the bible does it say, “don’t say the F-word.” Nowhere in the bible does it say, “don’t say “Let’s go Brandon.” The bible says, “do not use obscene speech.” Do not slander. Do not have malice in your heart. It’s not about the words you use, it’s about the heart behind it.
You know what? Let’s try an activity. You have stripped off the old self with its evil practices, and so you have to get rid of anger and wrath. So first I want you to think of something. Take a second and think of something that absolutely infuriates you. Something that makes you so angry. And honestly? In our world right now, we have a buffet of options to choose from. You could look at politics, with a side of gravy, public education – lots to get mad about there, social media and Hollywood (what’s your opinion of the slap heard ‘round the world?), Could be a personal thing – maybe family that’s driving you crazy, fights with your spouse or your kids or your boss at work, or you get to the dessert end of the buffet you can get mad about economics, and supply chain issues – can never find what you want, and even when you do it’s twice the price it was a year ago, and I can’t afford the gas to go and get it. There’s a lot to be mad about in this world. So I want you to think about all that and get good and mad. Okay? Now, the bible says “rid yourself of anger wrath, slander and malice,” right? So let’s give it a try. Just… be not angry. Did it work? Anybody feeling any better? No? Well did you try your hardest? The bible says that’s the old self, and you’ve got to get rid of it.
Alright, I know I’m being ridiculous – but obviously getting rid of the old self is trickier than I thought [read v.9b-11]. So this is not just about getting rid of bad habits. We need to strip off the old self, and put on a new self. It talks about a new identity. You’re not going to be a jew or Greek, slave or free, barbarian, circumcised, uncircumcised – none of that matters. A new self that being renewed with a true knowledge according to the image of the one who created it. (*whisper* that’s God). We need a new self, one that lines up with God. [read v.12]. I love this because it starts out with the personal. Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Let me ask you – are those the features you are known for? Like when people hear your name do they think, “oh yeah, they are so kind, and gentle, that guy – he’s so patient and humble. Is your life defined by the qualities of the new self the bible talks about, or maybe you’re like me – and sometimes it feels like I’m the old self, wearing fancy clothing.
But here’s my favorite part – you’re not alone in this process of transformation. God didn’t design us to be individually perfected all by ourselves. God created a community of people, we call it the church, to gather and work together in this life of transformation. [read v.13-14]. Do you hear what I hear? You can’t “bear with one another” by yourself. You can’t “forgive each other” all on your lonesome. Christianity is a team sport, and you can’t do it without your brothers and sisters sitting next to you this morning. Our new self, the new identity God gives us is crafted in community. The Church is a hub where we can get together and work together for transformation. Because your anger’s not just going to disappear. Your malice and your slander – you can’t just squeeze your eyes shut tight and hope it goes away. Let’s finish it out, [read v.15-16]. What’s that sound like? Peace of Christ, where we are called in ONE body. Where we get wisdom from the word of God (hold up bible), and we admonish each other with Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. It’s the church! The gathered body of Christians is one of God’s most powerful methods of transformation. Church gives us the community, and a community of people seeking God can transform the world.
You see, the good news this morning is that faith in Jesus is not a diet plan. Becoming a Christian is not about shedding a couple pounds of sin – where it’s still you, just skinnier. No. The good news is that you have been brought from DEATH to LIFE. Our God is a God of resurrection. It’s not a self help program, where you have to spin your wheels and work really hard - it’s a revival in your spirit. The Old self has been stripped off and is DEAD. It died on Friday on the cross with ALL of your sins. The new self is found in the resurrection this morning. Let me see if I can explain it like this. The last verse of our reading for today, verse 17, it says, [read it]. Do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus. And for most of us, the practical application of that is to take those five words and tack it on to the end of our prayers. I’m all finished talking to God, “in the name of Jesus” boom, I’m following the rules. But what if we stopped trying to treat faith as a self help book, and we actually tried to live our lives as if everything we do was in his honor? Like, I’m merging into traffic this morning – in the name of Jesus. That’s going to change how you treat the other cars. I’m going into this work meeting – in the name of Jesus. Would that affect the jokes you tell, your work ethic? I’m going to help my neighbor clean up these leaves – in the name of Jesus. I’m going to sit down and have tea with the ladies, or coffee with the fellas – in the name of Jesus. What if it was more than a cheesy tagline? What if this “Christian” thing was… your entire life? What Jesus is offering is not improvement. It’s a whole new life.
Esau McCaulley points out that those ladies at the tomb – they were not planning on hope. They were planning to mourn. They just wanted a quite place to grieve and then move on. You see, if Jesus is dead, then we are able to simply pick over the corpse, rifle through the pockets, borrow a couple of nice teachings and move on with our lives. And that’s what most people do with Jesus. Turn him into a list of rules that I’ve got to follow. Hoops that I’ve got to jump through. And we put on this performance without ever letting it change who we are. A dead Jesus is sad, but convenient. Because a dead Jesus doesn’t ask for anything. But if he is alive, if Jesus rose from the dead, then we have no choice in front of us but transformation. Hope is harder. It asks more of us. It demands that we, not only transform our lives, but also that we change the world. It’s hard to let the old self die, and to put on the new self. It takes a whole community of people working together over a lifetime to get it done. I’ve got friends who say, “well, you know I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” And every time I have to respond, “yeah, but I have not found a better way to get it done.” I don’t know you can “bear with one another” – without the “one another” part. And I get it. Individualized faith is convenient. Living together in community is tricky. It’s complicated. Hope is harder. Choose hope anyways.
There was an author one time who went to study Amish people in preparation for an article he was writing. He observed the school yard and noted that children never screamed or yelled at one another. It amazed him, and so he went and spoke to the schoolmaster. He remarked how he had not once heard an Amish child yell and he asked why the schoolmaster thought that was so. The schoolmaster replied, “Well, have you ever heard an Amish adult yell?” our God is a God of transformation. He takes what is dead and brings it life. We are not here to slap a fresh coat of paint on the old life. We are here to participate in resurrection, to transform our entire life to line up with our creator. It takes a village, and it’s hard work – but it is work worth doing. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you witness the empty tomb, and participate in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. May you strip off the old self and put on the new self in order to find true renewal. And finally May you realize that hope is harder, and then choose hope anyways. Amen.