Christ in You, the Hope of Glory
Colossians 1: 15-29
A Sermon by Lois Stuckenbruck
St. Nicholas Church, Durham
30th March 2008
‘Christ in you, the hope of glory.’ What does that mean? Let’s take it back to front and start with the phrase ‘the hope of glory’. What is that? What does it feel like? Well most of you will have experienced this in one form or another. Who hasn’t dreamed of being a hero?
The Superman comic strip began as the daydreams of a little boy who wanted desperately to draw the attention and adoration of a pretty girl in his class, so he spent his days dreaming that he was saving her from one disaster after another. As the boy grew, he started drawing out his daydreams and ‘Superman’ became a reality in the form of a comic book action hero. It was an instant success precisely because he had tapped into that ‘hope of glory’ within all of us. It’s the desire for that moment in the sun – being the striker who kicks in the winning goal in the dying seconds of the match or running the victory lap after winning a gold medal at the Olympics or standing with arms laden with flowers in the Royal Albert Hall receiving a standing ovation for a fine performance. It’s that longing in each of us to have a moment of glory. I love it watching the footballers waving their arms at the crowds to keep the praise coming when they have just scored an amazing goal. It’s that adoration – we want to be liked, we want to be loved.
Here in the book of Colossians Paul kicks that whole concept upstairs – big time, and the enormity with which he describes Christ in the first few verses of our reading tonight shows this. He isn’t referring to the adulation of man or a few moments of fame. He is talking about eternal glory – standing in the love of the Father throughout eternity – it is in fact eternal mutual adoration, success without end. This is altogether far more desirable than the fleeting ‘hope of glory’ most of us dream about or even aspire to.
And Paul pins that hope to the presence of the Risen Christ in us. This is important because it is the whole thesis of this letter to the church at Colossae.
You see the Colossians were starting to fragment into segments due to the creation of ‘measuring sticks’. That’s my term for it. Some in the church were saying, if you do not worship the angels you are not really a Christian. Others were saying, if you are not circumcised you cannot be a Christian, and others if you do not have visions you are not a Christian. These are what I call ‘measuring sticks’. Does that sound familiar to you? Have you been in a church – or with a group of Christians where a particular thing defines you as a Christian – something other than just a basic belief that Jesus is the Christ? Speaking in tongues perhaps? Or partaking of holy communion every Sunday? Or adhering to a particularly rigorous definition of spirituality – fasting as least once a month – or for a set period of time?
I have moved a lot in my life. I have lived in 8 different cities in 3 different countries and attended many different Christian churches – from pentecostal to high Anglican to Evangelical Free to German Lutheran. The question I dread hearing upon entering a new church is this: ‘Are you a real Christian?’ (Emphasis on ‘real’) This question makes me very nervous because it tells me that this congregation has a measuring stick – only being new I haven’t a clue what that stick is! Do I say ‘I have been baptised in the Holy Spirit’ or is that exactly the wrong thing to say? Perhaps even worse is when I am asked if I think someone else is a ‘real’ Christian. Am I God that I can see that person’s heart?! If someone says they are a Christian, who am I to refute that?
Paul is saying to the Colossians ‘don’t create measuring sticks that are unrelated to Christ’. Look at Chapter 2 verses 16 to 18: Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions.
And then he goes on in verse 20 to ask: ‘Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules?’ Christianity isn’t a religion of rules and regulations. It is a religion based on relationship – with God and with each other. Dan Migliore in his book ‘Faith Seeking Understanding’ describes God like this:
God loves in freedom, lives in communion, and wills creatures to live in a new community of mutual love and service.
That leaves no room for sizing each other up on a spirituality scale to decide who is ‘fits’ and who doesn’t!
For Paul, the fact that Jesus rose from the dead is all important here. You see measuring sticks are created out of fear. We are scared that somehow we don’t measure up, that we won’t be accepted by God or by other Christians. Fear is rooted in death; it is an attitude related more to death than to life. Christ conquered death to release us from that fear. We have now no need to act out of fear. For now we are free to live out of life – and all our activities should be life-giving.
At the beginning of Chapter 3 Paul says, ‘So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above.’ And by that he doesn’t mean by living a sternly ascetic life of self-abasement, look at verses 12 – 17 of Chapter 3:
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
All of that is rooted in how we treat each other – those are the ‘things that are above, that are eternal’! If you want to be spiritual, be kind, be forgiving, be humble, be encouraging. This kind of behaviour, says Paul, is true spirituality.
So when someone new walks into your church and says, ‘I am your sister or brother in Christ,’ you should accept that at face value and greet that Christian with joy, saying ‘Wonderful, come walk the journey of faith with us!’ It is your duty to encourage them in their faith, to nurture them and teach them with all humility and kindness, to walk along side them, learning from and with them. Simone Weil, in her book ‘Waiting for God’ offers this wonderful gem:
For nothing among human things has such power to keep our gaze fixed ever more intensely on God than friendship for the Friends of God.
And that is precisely what leads us to maturity in Christ. Our hope of glory is Christ in us, the risen conquering Lord who overcame death and fear giving us the freedom to pursue a new and everlasting life within a community of faith-filled people.
Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed.