Sunday, July 11, 2010

Spaghetti and the Christian Life

Colossians 1:1-17
New Member Sunday

The opening of the letter of Colossians is like a big plate of spaghetti. All week I’ve been trying to pick it apart, pull out the most important strands, push it into some kind of easily understandable shape, arrange it simply and attractively on the plate so that we can all digest it.

And all week, I’ve failed. It isn’t that it isn’t good stuff. Wholesome, nutritious, substantial. It is well balanced and just what we need. But I can’t serve it up in neat spoonfuls. It keeps sliding off the fork. It’s messy.

Yet spaghetti is so good! I couldn’t give up the idea of serving it to you this morning.

And by Friday I realized why - - - because the letter is to a real church, about a real church, from a real christian about the real christian life. And church life, christian life, is often hard to sort out and explain simply. It is all intertwined and connected up over around and through. It’s messy. And fabulous. Spicy and good. And good for you.

Sophia Loren famously said, “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.”

So . . . What I’m offering is a few messy forkfuls.

Church life can be faithful and fruitful. Lots of the letters, Paul’s letter, especially, are sent in response to some problem or crisis in the life of the church. Danger! Problems! People behaving badly! Alot like some or the communication we get about church now adays.

In contrast, Colossians is a welcome reminder that sometimes, by the grace of God, things go right and the church manages to do what it is supposed to do . . . reasonably well. The Colossians are greeted with thanksgiving and congratulated on their Christian life. The writer of this letter points to their faith in Christ, their care for one another and their Christian hope for the future. He says, “People have noticed. I have noticed. God has noticed that you are doing well.”

Now - maybe this is just me picking at a strand - but it’s interesting to me what he doesn’t say here - “Your Christian life is perfect. You are making a huge impact on the world. Slavery, abuse, unjustice, immorality, and heartache are all coming to a swift end because you are living so faithfully. I know that not a one of you ever errs, there are no bad feelings, and everywhere you go people are converted just by the power of your exemplary lives.” That ain’t the message. This is a small church, in a small city, and it’s doing pretty well. Thank God - because that is miracle enough - sign enough of God’s grace and mercy that this little congregation can continue to thrive and grow.

I think sometimes we can get focussed on the ideal way we think church should be - tackling every evil that destroys people’s lives, eliminating hunger, actively evangelizing our neighborhoods and communities, loving each other to pieces, and worshipping with such enthusiasm that we don’t want to stop when 11 oclock arrives - we just want to go on praising the Lord! I’d like to belong to a church like that. I’m sure you would, too.
We can get discouraged, always thinking about what we lack, so that we forget or ignore the incredible blessings with which God has blessed this little faithful group:

By the grace of God, this morning our Session met and prayed over two of our members who have answered God’s call to help out and share their faith in one of the poorest countries in the world. In Malawi, Africa, for Pete’s sake. Something is going right! Very, very right! And the other business on our docket was recieving 4 new members. Who have 5 children, overall. Our church is growing again. In the last month by roughly 5%. 5 people in the last month have said, “Yes, I have decided to grow my Christian life among this group of people.” Something is going right. The prayers of the people are being answered. Our congregation is fruitful. I thank God for that!

We aren’t going to solve all the world’s problems. But that doesn’t mean we are failing to do please God or live a life worthy of our calling. This is where God wants us to be - with each other, encouraging, supporting, etc.

Second forkful:
Two strands of the Christian life are continuously intertwined: knowing and doing. The Christians at Colassus are encouraged to keep up the good work on two fronts: Learning, growing understanding, obtaining wisdom, - - - -the head and heart front.
And bearing fruit, performing God’s will, being persistant in acting out their faith in the world.

One translation puts it this way: we ask God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works. We pray that you'll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work.

One of the most outstanding features of the Presbyterian flavor of Christianity is that heart and head and hands are emphasized in our life of faith. Learning what the Bible says is important to us. Finding out what the Bible means is central to how we grow as Christians. This includes everything from educating our young people about the Ten Commandments and the story of Jesus life to the kind of inductive application that happens around the table of Adult Sunday School, to the devotions that happened on the Senior High Mission Trips to personal study that I know many of you engage in using resources like “These Days” devotional booklets. We do church in a way that lets people know you don’t have to check your brains at the door of the church.

But it’s not all “head” knowledge. It is living out the central truths of the faith as we learn them. The forgiveness that restores relationships when things go wrong. The love that reaches out to those in pain with reassurance and hope and a hearty casserole. The humility that says, “Who am I to judge?” rather than shunning those whose choices seem unfortunate to us. Hands opened to give and to recieve life . . . this, too, is part of the Christian life we share.

Head and heart and hands are intertwined and integral parts of what God wants from us and for us.

And the last forkful is what the writer of Colossians prays will be served up for the future of the church: May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully
12giving thanks to the Father
Strength of faith, Patience to endure setbacks, and Gratitude to God for what is set before us. Here’s a trio of virtues that characterize the Christian life - strength, Patience and gratitude.
Where does God’s power flow through you?
Is it in your work?
Your family?
Your involvement with church?
Your prayers?

What difficulties are you having to endure right now?
What areas of your life call for patience?
When it is hard to wait, how can your faith and how do your church friends help you?

And what about this joyfully giving thanks to the Father business?
Do you spend some portion of every day just being grateful?

Strength. Patience. Gratitude. Can those strands of Spaghetti be woven in and around all the meatballs of your life?

Life in the church is like a huge plate of spaghetti. It is sometimes messy. I remember when I was younger and single, and eating out with a date, I didn’t order spaghetti until the relationship was pretty secure, because, no matter how careful you try to be, or which technique you try for twirling it around the fork, or scooping it with the spoon in your left hand, or even cutting it up into little bitty bits of pasta . . . it’s hard to eat spaghetti without looking a little foolish sometimes. Sophia had some advice about eating spaghetti, too. She said the best way was just to inhale it. It’s not an elegant meal. It’s a challenge.

But when this is what is set before you,
and around the table are people who are also willing and ready to dig in and give it a go,
it is time to tuck the napkins in, thank God for the bounty, and let ourselves spill over in thanksgiving and joy.