10th Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 12C)
July 28th/29th, 2013
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
STAND STRONG! Anyone who’s spent any time around here the past week has, no doubt, heard those words – it was the theme of our VBS this year. For five wonderful days last week, almost 200 students and over 100 volunteers gathered here each day around the theme “Stand Strong.” The students learned how God’s Love helps us stand strong. They studied how family and friends help us stand strong. They heard how Prayer and Trusting God help us stand strong. They learned how the Bible helps us stand strong. The students studied different Bible stories each day to help illustrate the common message: Stand Strong.
Paul’s words to the Colossian Christians may as well have served as the source of this week’s theme. Paul wrote, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” As you received Jesus, Paul writes, be rooted in him. Stand strong in him. Paul goes into a bit more detail as to what he means by this, providing here a concise summary of the Christian life. The Colossians had been taught the truth about Jesus. People like the Colossians, or like the members of this congregation, or any Christian on earth today, people who have received Jesus Christ, people who continue to walk in him, as Paul says, will be rooted and built up more fully in what they have been taught, so much so that they grow in thanksgiving for it. VBS this past week is part of that process, a way in which we help these children who have received Jesus to continue to walk in him. Our day school is part of this process, a place where we help children who have received Jesus to walk in him. Our Lutheran high schools are a part of this process, where we help young men and women who have received Jesus continue to walk in him.
And how important this process is. For from an early age these children are being attacked by other points of view. It is so important that they continue to hear the word of God taught clearly amid the noise in their lives around them, for once they are out of our schools, once they are out of our homes, the battle becomes even more intense. Therefore Paul warns the Colossians, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” Stay rooted in him, Paul warns. Walk in him, Paul warns, so that you are not taken captive by the world’s way of understanding things. It is a warning to us to help our Children be prepared to face the world, but it is even more so a warning to us as we face the world each day.
See to it that no one takes your mind captive to the philosophy of the world. That’s easier said than done, for the philosophy of the world is unavoidable. It is in the shows and movies we watch, it is in the music we listen to, it is in the articles and blogs we read. It is everywhere, eating away at the foundation of the faith that has been laid in our lives. Like the slow trickle of a stream eats away at the rock, eventually changing the landscape, the philosophy of the world eats away at our mind drip by drip, influencing our understanding in ways we never saw coming. Part of the temptation for us as adults is to view growth in our understanding and knowledge of our Lord through the lens of progress. After all, we spend our school years progressing from one class to the next – 1st Grade to 2nd, 3rd Grade to 4th; basic math to algebra to geometry to calculus. No matter what field of study you commit yourself to, there is a progression through the study.
Part of the temptation we face as Christian adults is the desire to progress beyond the mere basics of Christianity. It’s all well and good to teach children that Jesus died for them, but grown-ups need to move beyond that, we think. Grown-ups need to know how to live like Jesus, how to make the right choices, how to handle the pressing moral and ethical problems facing us today. We hear that grown-ups must move beyond the basics of Jesus’ cross and resurrection to face life’s true challenges. VBS is great for the kids, we think, but I need real help for my real life – a life where I have to pay my mortgage and medical bills, a life where I am responsible for the health and wellbeing of my own children, a life where I am doing everything in my power to hold my family together, a life where I feel like I can barely keep my head above water. The temptation for adults is to feel like the basics of Christianity taught to the children are behind us – that we need something more.
What we need, however, is a return to the basics.
We must be careful of the world’s talk of progress. Progress can be a tricky idea to get a handle on. There is usually a huge assumption that attaches itself to the idea of progress like a barnacle to the bottom of a ship. The assumption is that where we are is progress over where we have been. But just because we have arrived at a new place does not necessarily make our arrival progress. C.S. Lewis insightfully pointed out that progress is only progress if it is in the right direction. For example, if you want to go across the Mackinaw Bridge to St. Ignace, you’d probably get on I-75. If you got on I-75 South, however, you’d be going in the wrong direction. Maybe you wouldn’t realize it at first, but once you hit the Ohio border, hopefully you would recognize your error. If not, then you might end up in Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, or even Florida. As you are driving through Toledo, the best thing you could do would be to stop and turn around, go the exact opposite direction – that would be true progress. Moving forward is not progress if you are moving away from your desired destination. Sometimes, progress requires turning around and doing the exact opposite of what you have been doing.
Often times, that is what we adult Christians truly need. We need to stop what we are doing. We need to turn in the opposite direction. We need to repent – repent of the pride we take in our own intellect; repent of the pride we take in our own abilities. We need to begin moving in the right direction. What direction is that?
Down. Not forward. Not backward. Not left. Not right. Not up. Down – like a tap root. That’s the image that Paul gives us today. As you have received Jesus Christ, continue to grow in him by being rooted in him. Roots grow down, clinging more and more firmly to the ground around them, feeding off that ground, holding to that ground so that when the winds beat against the plant above, the plant still survives. We don’t need to move beyond the basics of the Faith, we need to move more deeply into them. The basics that the VBS kids learned this week are just as important for us to remember.
First and foremost, God’s Love helps us stand strong. God’s love helps us stand strong because he showed his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. God showed his love for us in this way: he sent his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him might not perish, but have eternal life. We are and remain children of our Lord. Sometimes I think we hear that phrase so often that it loses its impact, so take a moment to reflect on what that means for us: we are children of our Lord. The prophet Isaiah compares the comfort we receive in the church to a child being comforted by his mother, like a baby bounced on his mother’s knee or cradled in her mother’s arms. Peter exhorts us to desire the pure milk of the word as newborn babies desire their mother’s pure milk. To be sure, there certainly are sections of Scripture that encourage us to put away childish ways, but we are also encouraged to live as the children of our Lord, relying on his love for us as our own children rely on their parents to provide for their needs.
Family and Friends help us stand strong by encouraging us and holding us accountable in the faith. Bear one another’s burdens, Paul tells the Galatians. We bear one another’s burdens in the family of our Lord’s church. We offer comfort to others in their grief and sadness, the same comfort that we ourselves have been comforted with. We do not neglect meeting together, but we build each other up through our Lord’s Word. We pray the prayer that our Lord has taught us, a prayer where we address God in heaven as our own Father. Having been adopted into his family through the water of baptism, with Jesus as our brother, we call upon God as our Father with all the confidence of a two year old asking her Father for something. All these truths are the so-called basics of the Faith. We don’t move beyond them, we grow more deeply into them.
And in so doing our lives are changed. Our relationships are changed. Rooted in the reality of our own sinfulness and the gift of forgiveness we have been given, we are ready to forgive those who have wronged us. We are ready to admit when we have wronged others. We live with forgiveness and undeserved love as the foundation in our families, not keeping score about who is contributing what. With prayer as our gift, we turn our troubles and anxieties over to our Lord’s caring hand, rather than taking out our frustration on those around us. In these things, we are growing more deeply rooted in the foundation of our Lord.
So we hear Paul’s words once again. As we received Christ Jesus the Lord, as the sinners that we are, receiving him as a gift given without any merit or worthiness in us, so we walk in him, living lives transformed by the forgiveness we have been given, rooted and built up in him, digging ever deeper into the foundation of forgiveness so that we are not blown down by the winds of this world, just as we were taught from the beginning. Back to the basics. Not moving beyond, but more deeply into the reality of our sin and salvation. In so doing, we too will abound in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes this abundant thanksgiving from you by taking you captive in the world’s dying philosophies and human traditions. Rather, stand strong on the promises of God’s Word.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guide your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.