Thursday, December 02, 2010

Sermon on Colossians 3:1-17 for Thanksgiving, "Put on Love"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. When it comes to naming the things we’re thankful for, usually the top of the list are food, shelter, and clothing. This Thanksgiving I want us to especially be thankful for our clothing—but as you’ll see, I don’t mean your physical clothing. In the reading that you heard from Colossians, the Apostle Paul describes our new life as Christians. He talks about putting off our old self with its sinful practices and desires, like one would take off old or dirty clothing. Then he pictures us putting on the virtues of Christ, like a person dressing in new clothing. On this Thanksgiving Eve, we’ll look at how we’re to dress in the virtues of forgiveness and thankfulness, but above all else, dear Christians, we’re to put on love. It’s my prayer this Thanksgiving that you all are dressed in Christ’s love. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

As Christians, there are countless things that we should be thankful for. The Bible tells us to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:16-18). Give thanks in all circumstances. No limits or exceptions on when we should be thankful. In good times or bad, we should be thankful. In a prosperous economy or in a poor economy, we should be thankful. In sickness or health, we should be thankful. The reading from Colossians enjoins us to “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Thankfulness should be expressed in all our lives; in our songs in worship—as thankful hearts pour out praise to God; and in everything we do in word or deed—giving thanks to God the Father through Jesus.

Thankfulness is a beautiful garment, a beautiful piece of clothing for Christians to wear, because it clothes us with appreciation and the knowledge that all good things come from God. Think how the simple words “thank you” grace a person’s lips when they’re spoken. It helps a person feel good about the job they’ve done; it shows their work was valued. Today we have much to be thankful for here at Emmanuel. Thankful for the volunteers and workers who give up much of their free time to be in service of the church and the community. We are thankful for all of you who serve as church officers and volunteers, who give your time effort, and energy to manage and maintain our church and schools. People who commit their time for the business side of things, for those who maintain the facilities and grounds, for those who volunteer their time with the children and families, and for the various outreaches and fundraisers that we do. We’re thankful for all of your service, and we greatly value your work. I hope that you all wear that garment of thankfulness as you express your gratitude to others who serve.

In Colossians, Paul says we wear Christ’s virtues—compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another, forgiving one another, and above all love. It’s important to notice that these virtues aren’t just “put on” for special occasions, for Thanksgiving or Christmas, or even as our “Sunday formal wear.” No, these are to be the daily clothes of the Christian. This clothing reflects our character as Christians. By that I don’t mean what we have made ourselves to be, “the man he made himself” or the “woman she grew to be,” but rather that our character and identity comes from what God made us to be. That crowning virtue of love, which ties everything together in perfect harmony, clothes us because God first showed His love to us in sending His Son to die for us. That we bear with one another and forgive each other is founded on that fact. Our response of love to one another is just that: a response. We love because He first loved us.

God’s love took shape in Christ’s life by all that He did in life, and most perfectly in His sacrificial death. He showed compassion by talking with the down-and-out, giving importance to even the concerns of outcasts, and by healing those who were afflicted with illnesses; even raising the dead. He showed kindness by interceding for those condemned by society, stopping a woman from being stoned; reaching out to a despised tax collector. He showed gentleness, extending His love to little children, that His disciples thought were a nuisance. He showed patience, bearing with the disciples when they did not understand; teaching them correctly and opening their eyes. For all of this we’re most thankful. Thankful that the Lord has patience and mercy for us when we don’t understand.

These weren’t just random acts of kindness, disconnected from each other. They were acts that lived out the love that God gives us. All these virtues were crystallized in Jesus’ death on the cross, where His compassion, humility, forgiveness and love were seen so clearly, in His willingness to forgive even those who crucified Him. He took up every insult, complaint, sin, and grievance upon Himself, and spoke the dying words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He is the source of that limitless love, and He clothes you with it. He gives you these new clothes through His Word that dwells in you richly.

Go into your life dressed with these clothes, knowing that Jesus will send His peace to rule in your hearts. They’re not ordinary clothes. These clothes have the power to change those who wear them. God’s love will work its way into your heart and life. You’ll see that the way we forgive each other and bear with each other is built on the truth of His forgiveness for us. Not holding on to grudges or grievances that can rob us of joy and peace. Instead, His love will overpower un-forgiveness and old hurts, and open up the freedom to forgive and move beyond the past. To build each other up and encourage one another.

The author Richard Eyer, talks about forgiveness and love in his own marriage. Married for over 40 years to his wife, he observed that after their first argument, he’d apologized for being insensitive and unwilling to hear what she was saying. Her gracious response, “I forgive you,” took him back a moment as he realized his apology wasn’t as sincere as it seemed. He realized the words “I’m sorry” had just come as a reflex to end an unpleasant argument, rather than “actually admit [he] had done wrong or had sinned against her.” He wasn’t prepared for her forgiveness, because “It’s one thing to admit your fault, even your sin, and quite another for someone to confirm your confession as necessary and to then repay it with forgiveness.”

Forgiveness, not brushing sin off, is what God did for us, and what God prescribes for life. Forgiveness acknowledges the wrong done, but doesn’t hold it against that person. Forgiveness says: “this will not stand between us.” When we forgive in our relationships, we forgive the small debt of wrong that someone owes us, because Jesus forgave a much greater debt of wrong for our sins. Here we show that we’re clothed with the virtues of Christ, tying all together with love, which creates perfect harmony.

Love draws us out of ourselves; it gives of ourselves to another person. Theologians talk about how the love that flows between the 3 persons of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—gives shape to the love of a family, between husband, wife, and child. Love is so great because it turns our focus from where sin turns it—on ourselves—out towards our husband, or wife, or child. Love isn’t self-centered or self-absorbed, but finds its focus outside itself, and expresses itself in the variety of ways named above.

Christ’s love embraces you and gives that endless source of love for each other. His Word dwells richly in us, when we gather in the worshipping community of the church, that teaches and admonishes us in Word and in song in thanksgiving to God. As we sing our songs of thanksgiving with thankful hearts today, I especially want us to be thankful for the clothes that we wear—clothes of forgiveness, thankfulness, and above all love. So put away the old clothes of your sinful nature, and put on those clothes of the new self every day with all thankfulness; bear a forgiving attitude in your heart, and above all, put on love. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

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