Thursday, July 29, 2010

Everything is Changing

Everything is Changing
Col. 2:6-15[1]
We are a people obsessed with securing ourselves in any and every possible way. We protect ourselves and our possessions in more ways than we can count—we have gated communities, alarms on everything from our cars to our laptops, and even software on our cell phones that if stolen can lead police to the thief! We really don’t like the notion that we human beings are vulnerable. We don’t want to be hurt; we want to fend off tragedy and pain and sorrow as long as we can. It seems to me that one of the things we fear the most is change. We live under the illusion that if we take the right steps, if we are careful enough, if we make a thorough plan, we can keep things pretty much just the way we want them.
But the idea of nothing changing is not a new one. It is a myth that’s been around for centuries. You can even cite chapter and verse from the Bible: “there’s nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:8). What we don’t realize in our techno-secured world is that living as if “nothing ever changes” is a way of life that keeps us from experiencing freedom, and joy, and love, and in a very real sense keeps us from living life to the fullest. I think that the people of St. Paul’s day understood that. The people he was addressing in the letter to the Colossians were living under the belief that the “spiritual powers” in the universe essentially controlled every aspect of their lives (Col. 2:8).[2] So they basically lived their lives “on eggshells,” trying to appease these “powers” with spells and rites, trying to predict where they might next strike down unsuspecting mortals.
But as we have seen, one of the major emphases in St. Paul’s letters is to show how the good news of Jesus the Christ explodes all the myths that have reigned supreme over our lives, keeping us bound to the same old chains and stuck in the same old ruts. One of the most important messages St. Paul had for the people of his day was that, contrary to popular belief, there was only one “power” in the cosmos, and that was the God “who bears a human face” in Jesus Christ![3] And rather than threaten us with pain and suffering if we step out of line in the least, this God is the one who in Jesus Christ has acted definitively to set us free from all that.[4]
On the basis of what God had done in Christ, in contrast to the myth that “nothing ever changes,” Paul proclaimed the good news that everything is changing! And he gets very specific about these changes: to those who felt empty and vulnerable, Paul said that in Christ the God who fills everything has filled you (Col. 2:9-10). To those who felt as if they were simply enduring a living death, Paul said that the God who raised Jesus from the dead has made you alive (Col. 2:12-13). To those who felt burdened with the guilt of a life that had gone astray, Paul said that the God who in Jesus canceled all debts on the cross has extended to you complete and total forgiveness (Col. 2:13-14). These are just the highlights—truly Paul was convinced that in and through our Savior Jesus the Christ God is in the process of changing everything![5]
For some of us, that is the best news anyone could ever give us. For others it sort of bounces off the layers of protection we have built up around our very souls to fend off the pain of this world. Many of us are so closed in on ourselves that we never experience the wonderful transformation St. Paul was talking about. The “down side” of the good news—if you want to call it that—is that you have to be vulnerable to experience the changes that God is in the process of making in this world. That’s why the most vulnerable people in our world seem to have a way of pointing us most clearly to what God is doing. They are the ones who are most open to the changes our God is in the process of making in this world.
I can think of no better example than the story of L’Arche—the movement founded by Jean Vanier that operates facilities for mentally handicapped people to live with their caregivers. What most people don’t realize is that this movement is based on the premise that mentally handicapped people are not “defective.” In fact, they are the ones who are not “encumbered” by all the defense mechanisms and facades that we use to “get around” in life. They are the ones who teach us what it means to be happy, to find joy in simple things, to love, to be present, to be human!
Those who have had the courage to take the step of helping the handicapped at L’Arche even for a short time bear witness almost unanimously to the life-changing experience they have. They almost unanimously report how the handicapped people they live with open them up in surprising ways to the presence of God’s Spirit.[6] And when God gives us the Spirit in that generous way that God does (Luke 11:13),[7] it is a gift that creates everything afresh and renews the whole world—it changes everything![8] And that includes you and me!

[1] © 2010 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 7/25/10 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX..
[2] A. T. Lincoln, “The Letter to the Colossians,” New Interpreter’s Bible XI:565-66, 627-28.
[3] Lincoln, “Colossians,” New Interpreter’s Bible XI:609.
[4] Cf. Holly Diane Hayes, “Colossians 2:6-19,” Interpretation 49 (July 1995): 287, “Those who respond to this grace through faith can now stand on their own two feet and live freely within the created order, rather than in subservience to it.”
[5] It is a change no less radical than the one promised by the prophet Hosea: those to whom it was said, “Not my people” will be changed into “Children of the living God” (Hos. 1:10). Cf. Gale A. Yee, “The Book of Hosea,” New Interpreter’s Bible VII:218-19.
[6] Cf. Krista Tippett, “L’Arche: A Community of Brokenness and Beauty,” on Speaking of Faith April 2, 2007: larche/index.shtml .
[7] On the Spirit as the greatest of gifts, cf. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV, 914; John Nolland, Luke 9:21-18:34, 632.
[8] Ps. 104:30. See J├╝rgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, 41; cf. also ibid., 304-5 where he connects the outpouring of the life-giving Spirit with the experience of being “transformed into [Christ’s] likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). Cf. also Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 1.1.489, where he stresses the connection between faith in the Spirit as creator and redeemer. Cf. further, James L. Mays, Psalms, 335, 337; and Virgil Howard, “Psalm 104,” Interpretation 46 (April 1992): 179, “Because it is God's spirit-breath that goes forth, there can be creation and re-creation …, new creation, transformed creation.”

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