Scripture Readings: Colossians 3:12-16 & Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
“Who am I?”
I’ll bet this is a question the Toronto Raptors team and supporters are asking themselves this weekend as they woke up yesterday the reality that their crown prince, their star performer, Kawhi Leonard has chosen to go home to Los Angeles to play for the Clippers.
The team must now regroup and find a new way forward, looking to the skills and strengths developed while Kawhi was with them. Kawhi himself is a person who believes in teamwork, and who was at all times in Toronto self-effacing, and consistently worked to empower his team mates to be the best they could be. The Raptors are a richer, better team for having had his leadership and we are better people for the inspiring and empowering work that Jesus the Christ did when he was with us.
Anybody here remember the old movie “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”? Maureen O’Hara and Charles Laughton starred in this one, which I watched again after many, many years on Friday night. I was totally amazed at the depth of the moral and ethical issues that were addressed. The nature of good and evil, the futility of revenge, greed, violence, coercion and control – and after watching the mayhem that ensued – a surprise cut to a single image: a grey stone statue of Jesus Christ, his fingers raised in a blessing. You can almost hear him saying, “Peace be with you. My peace be with you.”
The movie was set in 15th century Paris, and raises the question that keeps coming up for me: Who are we? Why are we the way we are? How can we call ourselves followers of Christ and still condone lies, torture, persecution, and intolerance? How are cruelty and murder, and the abuse of children and women ever acceptable in a person who identifies as Christian?
And this is who we are. This, I believe, may be the origin of the doctrine of original sin – the belief that we are all born sinful and there’s no way around it! We, the human race, are born with a complicated mix of drives toward both good and evil. Our history documents this fact pretty much incontrovertibly. We fight, we kill, we torture, we exploit, we persecute. Not every one of us, of course. But enough so that my late husband, Clarence Wood, a historian, often told me, “The history of mankind is the history of war.”
Which leads us to our scripture readings this morning. First off, the apostle Paul in his letter to the Colossians indicates that all is not lost. Paul reminds the early Christians at Colossus that they can be better than this. He reminds them of who they are:
“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God through him.” Colossians 3:12-17
Paul calls these followers of Christ, these imperfect humans, to make conscious choices about who they define themselves to be. Given that we are born this complex mix of good and evil, we clearly have to become intentional about what characteristics we wish to embody in this lifetime. And we have to do it with LOVE. We are called to love and forgive both ourselves and others because we are God’s beloved children, and without denying that within each of us is the potential for evil and wrongdoing.
Think about it friends – if this were not so – then would there have been any need for Jesus to come among us – to teach us the way out of our dilemma? We were struggling. We are still struggling – but we have been given a better understanding and tools to deal with it. So Paul reminds his followers and us of who we are, and how we are to embody the teachings of Jesus.
But we live in challenging times, people of God. Our numbers are dwindling across North America as our secularism increases. At the highest levels of government most of the talk is about economic growth and jobs, jobs, jobs. We are being defined as cogs in the wheel of economic development – a much different vision than the one of the Kingdom of God as espoused by Jesus Christ.
In the second reading, the reading from Luke, Jesus sends his disciples out to teach about, and to heal within, what he calls “the Kingdom of God”. He wants each of them to fully embody the teachings we heard described so clearly by Paul in the first reading. They go out without any other baggage to throw themselves on the mercy of God and the goodness of the people they encounter. This is the test. This is the proof of the pudding, if you like. Can they live out the teachings of Jesus? Can they carry on his legacy and become the yeast that will leaven the whole loaf? And they did – and it worked – sort of…..
So back to the original question: Who am I? who am I in Christ Jesus? How do I live my life as a follower of Jesus, and how important is that in the general scheme of things?
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are called to carry on this great work; to hold a mirror to the powers that hold sway in our world today. We are called to speak truth to power, to call out persecution, exploitation, intolerance and untruth. We must refuse to obfuscate, to deny truth, to cover-up injustice. And we must do all of this with love, humility, without violence and in a spirit of forgiveness.
We are not great in number, followers of Jesus, but we are great in the power and strength of God and in our conviction that the Way of Love, the Way of Jesus, is the only way that leads to a better, peaceful world – to the Kingdom of God.
Hymn #353 VU “Tis the gift to be simple”