July 11, 2010


“The Value of a Blessing”

Colossians 1:1-14

Luke 10:25-37


On the surface, this passage may look like another of Paul’s rituals of greetings and testimony. A closer look reveals that this short passage is heavily embedded with the theology of the early church.


Paul speaks of it here, saying:
9 And so, from the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
10 to lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,
12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.
13 He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,
14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

~Colossians 1:9-14

You may believe that the substance of theology is only the territory of pastor’s and theologians.  It is not.  That is why we are a church that has creeds.  That is why we are a church that thinks there is some value in dusting off the Heidelberg Catechism from time to time.  That is why we have Christian education, confirmation, and all the rest.  The particulars of what we believe about God, Jesus the Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Church, and the Christian life inform our faith and shape our practice of it.

I am aware that when the articles of faith are discussed, particularly in the language of the academy, eyes begin to glaze over, and heads droop.  Some of you might remember that in worship, seven weeks ago now, I placed the first half of the Athanasian Creed in our liturgy.  Your struggle with the reading of it was thinly veiled.  I do appreciate your tolerance of such things.  Because even though we all need reminders of the most basic tenets of faith, they are not always easy to receive.

One of the problems with our contemporary expression(s) of Christianity is that we have become so darn cerebral.  We are all at least basically literate in terms of the English language; and so we have distilled the reception of the gospel down to a word, spoken, heard, considered, understood.  This is a problem because, well, it just isn’t all that easy.

Another reason why our growth in faith and understanding is not easy is because it is, at its very nature, not an intellectual enterprise.  It is rather something to be received via our whole self, that is why the ancient Shema still directs us to love the Lord our God with our “heart, and mind, and spirit.”  This same faith is not correctly reduced to right beliefs, thus Jesus adding to this Shema, “and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Ours is a faith that is incarnational, that means embodied, that means we do something, here as we worship, and out there as we live.  In Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae, he not only speaks of ‘spiritual wisdom,’ but also a ‘life worthy of the Lord.’  


Faith, you see, isn’t simply speaking with God or thinking about God; nor is it a set of right beliefs.  Our intellect does play a role in our faith, but not everything can be reduced to reason and subjected to rational control.  That is why, in our church, we have music: to communicate that which our hearts cannot express with words alone.  That is why we have stained glass windows, that tell the story visually of our faith through images.  That is why there is movement in our liturgy, standing, sitting; with the leader moving from one place in the nave to another.  That is why the church has a mission. These actions proclaim the faith.  Knowing is not just hearing; it is experiencing, understanding, judging, and believing.  This kind of faith is not just looked at. It is proclaimed in an experience, understood, and judged as authentic by receiving the fruits of it.  This kind of faith is believed into being by actions.

Many years ago I a few of the women from church approached me and asked that we begin to publish a prayer list.  See, they wanted to start a prayer chain.  Being a freshly minted pastor, sure that I possessed the unsearchable riches of spiritual devotion, I told them, “Fine, but only if you are willing to meet with me, as a group, once a month, for prayer.”  They did.  Soon the group swelled from the 3 or 4 ladies who made the invitation to nearly a dozen.  And they were not all from our little UCC church!  There were Mennonites, Roman Catholics, Methodists, and even one from the Orthodox church.  They gathered for prayer and I introduced them to various styles of praying, but I soon realized that I could not touch the richness of their prayer life.  I hadn’t put in the time.

And there was one more thing.  As we bonded with one another we began to share our joys and sorrows.  I would tell people that I would be thinking of them.  The Mennonite lady would say that she would be praying for them.  And our Orthodox friend would tell us that she would be lighting a candle.   I realized that’s the difference. 

See when we expand our faith outside our minds, when we enact it, we find a connection with God and our neighbor outside our minds.  We connect our hearts with the heart of God and others.  We connect our Spirit with God and others.  The sight of candles on the altar, voices raised in praise, the splash of water in the font, the smell of the wine, the taste of the bread, the color of the cloth on the altar; these are but tools to connect us to the mystery of God’s movement in the world.  Once connected to that world we cannot simply, “pass on the other side.”

The gospel is not proclaimed in order to equip and cause a response, rather, the fruits of the Christian life are declared (not exhorted but declared) in order to proclaim the gospel in reverse.  We are simply rehearsing here what we have already heard so that it becomes second nature when we go out there.  In this way, our lives are a sign that point toward the truth of the gospel.

It is interesting to me that in the gospel lesson for today, the professional theologians and clergy in this story somehow manage to miss out on proclaiming the gospel.  We don’t know if some passing prayer was offered, or even if a candle was lit in the temple.  Apparently, it is only this disgusting, foreigner, Samaritan whose declaration of the gospel (if that is what he was trying to do) hit the mark.  So, the point is plain.  Do not quibble over the theological and social fine points. Be a blessing.  Be a neighbor.   Do this and you shall live.