Sermon for November 24, 2013

Colossians 1:13-20 (Last Sunday in the Church Year—Series C)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

November 24, 2013

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is the Epistle reading from Colossians 1:

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

            Today brings another Church Year to a close.  When we gather together next Sunday we will have turned the page to a new Church Year and the Season of Advent.  With the coming of Advent we will be only four weeks away from the Christmas Season.  Twelve days after that, on January 6, we enter into the Season of Epiphany.  March will bring us to Ash Wednesday and the forty-day Season of Lent.  We follow that up with the fifty-day Season of Easter and then Pentecost and its Season following until next year this time we conclude another Church Year.  So what’s the point?  What’s in the Church Year for you and me?  The Church Year is designed to focus us on Jesus Christ.  It’s designed to take us through the calendar days of the year with Christ at the center of those days, weeks, and months.  So the Church Year is really about Jesus—His incarnation and birth among us in the flesh, His life among us as the fully divine and fully human Son of God, His suffering and death for the world, His resurrection and ascension, His life among His Church through the Holy Spirit, and His coming again.  On this Last Sunday in the Church Year God’s Word to us from Paul’s letter to the Colossians brings this year to a close, centering us again on Jesus.

            And we need that centering, that focusing, on Jesus Christ because our lives get so out of focus and off kilter.  You and I get very much absorbed by life in this world, so much so that this life becomes for us all there is.  We live and work and run ourselves ragged to make things work for life here and now.  Maybe we have opportunity to put aside something for the future, but that just makes us work all the harder now.  Our lives in taking care of ourselves, providing for our families, and making ourselves happy ends up consuming us, taking our focus off of Jesus. 

            Perhaps, then, we find ourselves relating very well to Gus.  Gus was a self-made man.  That’s the way he had been brought up.  He had been taught that the greatest good was to be free.  So he was self-sufficient and self-reliant.  He held to the motto he had learned in childhood: “If you want something done right, do it yourself.”  That’s the way he had built his successful trucking business—with hard work, sacrifice, and a “never count on anyone else to do what you can do” attitude.  No charity, no handouts.  Take what’s coming to you and make the best of what you’ve got.  That was Gus’s philosophy.  It gave him independence and freedom.  It made him the master of his destiny.  

            Now there is nothing wrong with being a self-sufficient and self-reliant individual.  Life in our world makes these skills very necessary, but not exclusively necessary.  Like Gus, when being self-sufficient and self-reliant defines who we are—masters of our own destiny—we have a problem.  And the problem is that we don’t clearly see the reality of what being a master of our destiny actually means.  You see, we think of ourselves as better than we really are.  We look at ourselves and our lives and what we do through rose-colored glasses.  Those glasses are stained with our sin and do not give us a realistic picture of ourselves.  In pre-marriage sessions with couples one of the things we talk about together is the couple’s idealistic distortion of their relationship.  In other words, young couples (and quite a few older couples) do not have a realistic understanding about what married life is all about.  Their intense romantic love and all the emotions of wedding day thoughts actually cloud reality and so couples see aspects of their relationship as better than they really are, as if looking through rose-colored glasses.  They are in la-la land as far as reality goes. 

            The same holds true for us regarding our self-sufficiency and self-reliance.  We see ourselves as better than we really are.  We see ourselves as being everything we should be, capable of everything, and nothing can stop of from getting where we want to be in life.  We might have a few blemishes, if we try hard to be brutally honest with ourselves and others (usually our spouses), but getting right down to it, we’re not so bad.  We’re masters of our own destiny, free and independent individuals who can do whatever we want to get ahead in life because we are capable of doing so all on our own. 

            Rose-colored glasses taint reality.  Those so-called “little infractions” that happen because, “after all nobody’s perfect,” are not so little infractions.  Our reality of life as sinners downplays the sin.  We think we are free to do and to be, but that’s not reality.  As sinful human beings who possess a nature that is totally wicked and corrupt, we are insufficient, bound, and totally dependent.  We live under the illusion that we are our own masters, but we are not.  Reality check—you and I are mastered by forces beyond our control: the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. 

            You and I only imagine, in the delusion of our sinfulness, that we are in charge.  Our independence is a ruse, our self-sufficiency is a charade, and our mastery of destiny is a lie.  Why?  Because before God we are bound in our sins and trespasses.  We have no freedom to better ourselves in God’s eyes, no sufficiency to move Him to favor us with His grace.  We are held fast in the chains of our sin, bound in slavery to the devil, the sinful world, and our sinful inclinations.  We stand under the curse of God’s Law—the wages of sin is death.  There is no way we can buy ourselves out of this slavery and bondage.  There isn’t a thing we can do or say to change our lives lived under the authority of the darkness of sin and death. 

            Do you see what happens when we end up focusing on ourselves and our abilities and wants and desires and lose the focus on Jesus?  See what happens when we get totally wrapped up in the world around us and are no longer centered in Christ?  We are left in hopelessness and despair with the reality of who we are as sinful human beings, captive to the devil and the world, staring us right in the face.  We realize that we’ve been living in a fantasy of our own sinful making, thinking we are masters of our destiny, self-sufficient and self-reliant when the reality is that we are none of those things.  How horrible to live in the delusion that we are free only to wake up to the harsh reality that we live under the domain of darkness, under the authority and control of sin and Satan!  And that is a reality leads only to everlasting death and suffering in hell!

            But let’s take another look and get another reality check.  It is time to be refocused and centered again on Jesus because there is a new reality for us in Him. 

            The sinister forces of the devil and the world organized themselves against Jesus for a decisive combat in the spiritual realm—a battle for people’s life.  The dominion of darkness had its brief hour of opportunity against Jesus as He was nailed to the cross, bearing in His own body on the tree all the sins of every time and place.  But it was only a brief hour that ended in the defeat of Satan, sin, and death itself.  By virtue of His conquest through His sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection from the grave, Christ earned the authority to raid the domain of darkness itself and rescue those who had been chained under the control of the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh.  Nevertheless, the price of victory was costly. 

            In order for Jesus to have the right to transfer us out of sin and Satan’s kingdom into His own, Jesus had to redeem us.  He had to buy us out of our slavery to sin, Satan, and death.  The price to free us from our sins?  The cost to redeem us and to give us the forgiveness of sins?  Blood.  Jesus had to shed His blood in death as the once-for-all sacrifice to redeem us.  We are told in Hebrews 9 that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Heb. 9:22)  And the only blood sufficient to pay the price of our sins and acceptable to purchase our forgiveness is the blood of God the Son, Jesus Christ.  The blood of Jesus—God made flesh, the very God who created all things—is the price that was paid to deliver you and me from the domain of darkness and transfer us to Christ’s own Kingdom.  As Paul write in Ephesians, “In [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” (Eph. 1:7)

            What Jesus Christ has done is to bring us back from our previous evil owners so that we might be owned again by our proper Master—God.  Jesus restored us to our loving Father as our Master.  Paul writes in our text, “Through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.” (Col. 1:20)  And because we sinners are now forgiven and are now at peace with God though our Lord Jesus Christ, we are able to have our lives centered in Him. 

            It is God the Holy Spirit, who centers us in and on Christ through the Word and the Sacraments.  Through the forgiveness of sins and the gift of saving trust in Jesus as our Savior, we live our new lives of service and love in His Kingdom.  The freedom Christ won for us from the world, from the devil, and from our sinful flesh is not the freedom to do whatever we want.  It is the freedom to live for Him even as He lived and died for us.  We freely subject ourselves to God and to one another in the mercy and love of Jesus. 

            With the Holy Spirit keeping us focused on Christ through Word and Sacrament, we do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility you and I count others more significant than ourselves.  We look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)  As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, the Spirit puts on us compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.  He enables us to bear with one another, and if anyone has a complaint against another, the Holy Spirit enables us to forgive each other as the Lord Jesus has forgiven us.   The peace of Christ now rules our hearts and the Word of Christ dwells in us richly, keeping us centered and focused on Him and His gifts and living our lives in response to His forgiveness and mercy.  (Colossians 4:12-16)

             Today we say goodbye to another Church Year.  We are thankful that God the Holy Spirit, through Word and Sacraments, has kept our focus on Christ in this year now past.  We look forward with great joy to the Church Year beginning next week.  It will be yet another year centered in Christ with lives of faith in action.  Amen. 


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