Friday, January 4, 2013

A Meditation for the Beginning of the Year

The Apostle Paul to the churches at Colossae:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 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. (Colassians 3:12-17)
There is a lot in these few verses, aren’t there?

We are chosen…holy.  I imagine not many of us wear that designation comfortablely, mainly because we think of 'holy' purely in moralistic tones.  But we are.  “Holy” simply means “ones set apart for God’s purpose.”

And we are dearly loved.  I can imagine that this is VERY hard for some:  To think of ourselves as loved, as the beloved of God, as the beloved of anyone.  In a world where this is so much accusing and consigning to hell, determining who’s in and who’s out, it can be hard to imagine ourselves and others as loved, the beloved of God.

There’s a lot in these verses, to be sure.

Bear with each other.  And not only bear with each other, but forgive one another.  And not only forgive, but forgive as the Lord forgave, You.  Yikes!  That’s a huge stretch for all of us probably.

Clearly, accepting that we are chosen, holy, loved and in turn forgiving and loving others in the same way requires a whole new set of commitments.

Paul uses the metaphor of putting on a whole new set of clothes.  Clothe yourselves (drape yourselves) with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  These can be wonderful gifts for others, but also – think about it – for ourselves as well.

Remember the movie Evan Almighty – that modern day retelling of the story of Noah starring Steve Carell?  There’s this critical moment in the movie where Evan’s wife leaves him.  She runs into God, while she’s eating in a roadside diner with her children.  God – who is played by Morgan Freeman as a bus boy – engages her in conversation.  Of course, he’s God and knows everything that is happening in their lives.  He says to her, “Let me ask you something:  If someone prays for patience, do you think God gives you patience, or does God give you opportunities to be patient?  Does God give you compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness...or does give you opportunities to do these things?

There’s a lot in these verses.

Of course, if all else fails, if the list is too long and we get lost in trying to remember to apply them all, remember just this one thing – LOVE – Over all these virtues put on love, which binds all the rest in perfect unity.  But don’t think that is easy.  The point of this word isn’t to make life easier – If you pray to be more loving, do you think God makes you more loving, or do you think God gives you the opportunity to be more loving with people – even with some of the people closest to you, and, of course, some who are far, far different than you.

There’s a lot in these verses, to be sure.  But I find the last verse particularly compelling as we begin the new year, and as we begin it at the Lord’s table. 

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.

Any time that we come to this table we are reminded of when Jesus led his disciples at the Passover.  Jesus becomes our example for understanding what should take place for us even centuries later.  Jesus performed a set of actions that we are mindful each time we celebrate communion.
Jesus took, blessed, broke, and gave…and then instructed us to eat and drink.  Bread that reminds us of Jesus’ broken body.  Wine that reminds us of Jesus’ shed blood.  And then he asks us to takes these tangible emblems and eat and drink them.
In other words, Jesus not only gives us these things Paul talks about – compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness – and love.  We are asked to internalize them.  And so in a very important way we are reminded each Sunday, when we gather around the table for bread and wine, that God works from the inside out.  That until we internalize the good news – until we eat, digest, and let ourselves be nourished by the real presence of Jesus – there is no hope for the world to experience deep change and transformation – a world that is in desperate need of deep change and transformation.

And so, I invite you to come to the Table as a regular spiritual practice each week in 2013.  To come.  To eat.  To drink.  To let yourselves be nourished by God’s love demonstrated in the life, the way, the healing and compassion of Jesus his Son.