When I cook. I don’t follow recipes. I put anything and everything I deem as necessary in the pot. Open up the spice drawer and let the spirit guide you and you’re dish will become and explosion of flavour that dances on your taste buds.
I found that today’s epistle (Colossians 3:1-11) reminded me a lot of an episode of Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsay. This is a show where the world famous chef is brought in to a failing restaurant to help turn it around. The people of Colossae, which is now present-day South-western Turkey, play the role of the confused restaurant serving up some crazy fusion of flavours that just makes you scratch your head and say “what the heck?”
At the time this letter was written the people of Colossae, whose Christian population was predominantly gentile, were being confronted with so many different religious and philosophical teachings, and most of these different ideas were just being adopted and fused with their Christian beliefs to form one crazy mess of a religion.
Thus, the author is in a situation where he has entered the kitchen, seen the gong show, and is now trying to undo and clean up the mess. But, notice what we don’t see in the author’s response, “Just add Jesus to what you already believe,” or “Factor Jesus into your philosophy,” or “Leave room for Jesus in this or that ritual.” The claim that “Jesus is Lord” does not allow that. Jesus isn’t just that saviour ingredient that you add to a horrible dish. He’s an entirely new dish! One that you only need to try once to know that you will never go hungry again.
Lets take a closer look at the text, in English this time. This translation that I’ll be using is a narrative translation called “The Voice”
“So it comes down to this:”
Let’s stop there. When someone says “So it comes down to this.” What do we assume. They have probably just finished explaining some idea, the purpose of which is about to be explained and wrapped up in the following statement. So I want to backtrack just a bit to get to get the context of where this passage is coming from.
Lets jump back just a few verses to Colossians 2:20-23
“Listen! If you have died with the Christ to the elemental spirits of the cosmos, then why are you submitting yourselves to its rules as if you still belonged to this world? 21 You hear, “Don’t handle this! Don’t taste that! Don’t even touch it!” 22 but everything they are obsessed about will eventually decay with use. These rules are just human commands and teachings. 23 Here’s what they are promoting: fabricated religion, self-humiliation, and bodily abuse. No matter which way they try to tether their bodies, they cannot harness their desires.”
You really can’t get much more clear than that. The author is exposing these false teachings, that the people of Colossae buying into, for what they really are promoting: Fabricated religion, self-humiliation, and bodily abuse. All of which will not stand the test of time. So the stage is set, we’ve got a religiously challenged society, trying to make sense of the world they live in. Which is not inherently wrong. But, belief in the gospel message doesn’t need anything else. It doesn’t need the magic spice or seasoning to make it the best. It already is the best! So in this light, lets look at today’s reading.
“So it comes down to this: since you have been raised with Christ, the Liberating King, set your mind on heaven above. Christ is there, seated at God’s right hand. 2 Stay focused on what’s above, not on earthly things, 3 because your old life is dead and gone. Your new life is now hidden, enmeshed with Christ who is in God. 4 On that day when Christ—who is our[a] very life—is revealed, you will be revealed with Him in glory! 5 So kill your earthly impulses: impure actions, unbridled sensuality, wicked thoughts, and greed6 It’s because of these that God’s wrath is coming, so avoid them at all costs. 7 These are the same things you once pursued, and together you spawned a life of evil. 8 But now make sure you shed such things as: anger, rage, spite, slander, and abusive language. 9 And don’t go on lying to each other since you have sloughed away your old skin along with its evil practices 10 for a fresh new you, which is continually renewed in knowledge according to the image of the One who created you. 11 In this re-creation there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian and conqueror, or slave and free because Christ is the whole and dwells in us all.”
Well that sounds pretty easy. The author is giving us the strategy guide. Because in Christ we are born again, made new, or as this translation puts it: re-created all we have to do to live that out is:
• Set our minds on Heaven and keep them focused there.
• Stop doing bad things
• And actually believe that in Jesus and through our baptism we are new creations in Christ. Our old selves are “dead and gone” and our new lives are “enmeshed” or interwoven with God the Father.
This isn’t new stuff. Think back to the old Testament on how many times we see prophets continually reminding people to turn from their wicked ways and keep their hearts and minds focused on Heaven.
And those who listen are usually really good at the beginning. (get in prayer stance looking to heaven) “Yes God, I love you. I worship you always and I want to do your will!” And then our eyes slowly start to wander downward again. “I wish I had a fancier car.” Or “This person really hurt me, I will never forgive them” or in my case, “look at this new guitar gadget, I can’t believe I’ve gone my whole life without it! I need it!” Eventually, we hit that place of emptiness again, and what happens? We turn our eyes back to heaven and say “I’m so sorry God, this time I really mean it!” and then our hearts and minds slowly start to drift back down to earth. This is a daily struggle for me.
In our Gospel reading (Luke 12:13-21) this morning Jesus tell us a parable about a man who just can’t seem to shake greed:
We’ve got this rich guy who owns a bunch of farmland that’s doing really well. He’s continually packing his barns to the rafters with all he’s harvesting. So he gets this bright idea, and it makes a lot of sense to me. More space, more crop. What do you do when you have too much stuff? I think we can all agree that you either have a garage sale or find someplace bigger to store it all. But, in this case we are talking about food. The rich man is being smart. He’s collecting his big harvest and saving them for the next famine or drought. He seems like a pretty smart guy to me! And as he’s having this epiphany, God politely taps him on the shoulder and says (clear throat) “Excuse me Mr. Brilliant, I don’t mean to interrupt or anything. But, tonight you’re going to die. Now who is going to benefit from everything you earned and saved?” V21 “This is how it will be for those who accumulate large assets for themselves but, have no assets in relation to God.
Where did the rich man go wrong? He took his mind off of Heaven and set it on earthly things. He let greed get the best of him. So now what? He’s passed away and all of the earthly treasures he stored up are doing what? Just sitting there. Jesus says in verse 15 “Guard yourself against greed, for a persons life is not about having lots of possessions.”
And I really think that what Jesus said has a much bigger reach than just addressing greed.
How about: “Guard yourself against idols, for worship is not about many. It’s about the One”
Or: “Guard yourself against arrogance, for a person’s life is not about making others feel inadequate.”
I cannot encourage you enough to continually strive to keep your hearts and minds focused on the Kingdom of Heaven instead of the little kingdoms we build up around ourselves. We all know which one will outlast the other. We need to use the resources and assets available to us wisely, and store up assets in the Kingdom of Heaven. They will endure the test of time. If we deconstruct and become less concerned with our own kingdoms and more concerned about the Kingdom of Heaven we can and will see God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
I’d like to leave you with a question: How does one actually live out their life on Earth, but focused on Heaven?