First Mennonite Church
June 24, 2018
Rooted and Built Up in Christ
Text: Colossians 2:6-19
The identity and integrity of anything depend on the soundness of their foundation. This truth might apply to things as well as to personal character. As one enters into Belize City, one passes through an area called Bella Vista. It was quickly developed. This suburb was developed in a swampy area along the Northern Highway. Every building, from residential homes to industrial complexes has to be built on piles sunk deep down. Due to the constant threat of hurricanes, the building material of preference is concrete, thus most structures are very heavy. When building, every column is set on top of a sunken pile. Someone built a three-story/floor house. Soon after the building was finished, the house started to tilt towards the back end. Today, only about half of the wall of the third floor is above ground level. The immense strain the structure is subject to has caused cracks throughout the entire building as it continues to sink in the mud on its tilted side.
Not only structures fail if the foundation is not solid. Personal character does too and is the subject of our passage. Christian character and identity can falter if these are not set on the right foundation. Christian character and identity have only one sure foundation: Jesus Christ.
Last week I was reading a story written by a seminarian. As part of his academic assignment towards his pastoral training, he was required to volunteer as a hospital chaplain. Scott went into the chaplain’s room in the hospital to get his ID and the jacket identifying him as the chaplain to the patients. The supervising chaplain reminded Scott of the mission statement of this ministry: “Represent the presence of God in every room you enter.” When Scott entered the room he was assigned to visit first, he saw a man who had been immobilized. Hands and feet were in casts and his face was badly wounded and swollen. The patient slowly turned his head to see towards the door. “I cannot talk very well,” he said through his clenched teeth. “Have both jaws broken and they have wired my jaws shut.” “I understand you had a nasty fall yesterday,” said Scott. “I don’t remember. That’s what my friend told me,” said the patient. “I was drunk . . . . And by the way, my name is Bill.” Scott introduced himself as a seminary student to which Bill asked, “So you came to talk to me about God, right? “Only if you want,” replied Scott. “Or we can talk about whatever is in your mind.”
“I used to talk to people about God,” Bill said. “I am a pastor.” Scott wanted to hide his surprise. Bill continued, “When I was your age, I never thought I would end up like this. But I lost everything. My ministry, my marriage and my kids.” By this time, Bill was sobbing and through his clenched teeth he confessed his struggle with alcohol. “Take a good look at me,” Bill said, “Don’t make the same mistakes I made. Don’t end up like this.”
Bill knew his Bible. He knew the right words to speak about God. He had ministered to people who had been alcoholics. He knew his calling was to bring God’s healing to those whose souls needed mending. Bill had carried out his pastoral ministry with passion and to the best of his abilities. Yet, down inside he carried a sense of worthlessness and failure. He began to drink as a way to escape his deep sense of defeat and shame over what he perceived was a total failure in ministry. Bill was broken, not only physically but also in his spirit.
Scott wanted to leave, because he did not know what to say or do. He headed towards the door. But Bill looked at him pleadingly and Scott then remembered the mission statement of his calling, to represent the presence of God in every room. He was not there to represent the hospital chaplaincy office. He was not there to represent a young seminary student. He was there to be the presence of God. And so he came back to his chair near Bill’s bed. And after Bill stopped talking, Scott admitted he did not know what to say, but that if Bill wanted he would stay longer. Bill held Scott’s hand. And as he sobbed, he pleaded with God for mercy. Scott realized that his hands represented the hands of God to Bill. God had indeed become present in the room of Bill. And after both had wept, they felt God’s presence turning condemnation into compassion, confession into forgiveness, and death into resurrection. Although everything in the room gave evidence of human wretchedness, both in the helplessness of Scott and the physical and spiritual brokenness of Bill, God’s healing and life-giving presence was undoubtedly felt by both men. God’s presence became real as both men did their part. One confessed and the other stood faithful despite his sense of ineptitude.
The opening verses of our passage for today represent the heart of Paul’s words to the Colossian church.
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. In other words, Paul was saying to the Colossians, “Become who you are meant to be. Live out the Christ who is in you.”
You and I have made a confession of faith in Jesus Christ. Upon our receiving of Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior, he began to dwell in us. In you and me lives the one who Paul says, dwelt the fullness of God in bodily form. And because Christ Jesus dwells in us, we too have come to fullness in him, says Paul. That is, if we are rooted and built up in him and established in the faith.
That means, that when God sees us, he sees the great potential there is in us. God sees that in you and me resides power to reflect the holiness of his Son, his kindness, and the capacity to live life free from the trap of every human philosophy or wisdom. God has given us the potential to live in the power, grace, and wisdom of Jesus Christ his Son, because we were buried with Christ in baptism and were resurrected to live a new life in Christ. Our baptism is not only an external symbol of something internal. Our baptism represents our breaking with our past. Our sins were forgiven and we began to live the newness of the resurrection. Through our baptism we became bound to Christ; thus our identity and our way of life should display the risen and glorified Christ. This potential in us does not emanate from us, nor does it depend on something we have achieved, but it’s because we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of God.
However, we can only become who we are meant to be if we are rooted and built up in Christ. In the beginning of my sermon I said that the identity and integrity of anything depend on the soundness of their foundation. We can only attain the fullness of our potential in Christ if we are and remain rooted in him. He is the foundation, but as the building in Belize, if the house is removed from its foundation, the house will lose its integrity and fail to fulfill its purpose. Likewise, if we are not well founded in Christ, if we are not well rooted in the Lord, the likelihood of our reflecting the love, holiness, and every Christ-like character will fail. But if we turn to Christ to shape our character, to guide our decision-making process, and to illumine our eyes as to how we should look at the world, our lives will reflect the One in whom dwelt the fullness of God. Our lives will make the invisible God visible to those who do not know or perceive him. And we will be able to fulfill the purpose of our calling.
Paul gives specific instructions on how we can be rooted in Christ in chapter three, which we will consider next Sunday.
For now, let us consider briefly some of the things Paul says could become obstacles that prevent us from being rooted and built up in the Lord. Immediately after Paul states the heart of the matter of his letter—to walk the walk and to live the life in Christ, he warns in verse eight: See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. Many ideas float around on how to live our life. From being fanatic adherents of some kind of dietary practices to being religiously conservationist practitioners. From being die-hard followers of political ideologues to being ultimate non-conformist. Becoming a captive of human philosophy happens when any of this is viewed as complementary to the teaching of Jesus. When anyone believes that he or she is a better Christians by keeping a certain diet, that person has become a captive of human philosophy. When anyone associates a human ideology as synonymous to being Christian, that person has fallen under captivity of human philosophy.
Paul declares that in Christ the whole fullness of God dwells and that he has dominion over every ruler and authority. If Christ is our Lord, our loyalty and foundation should only be to him and on him, respectively. If Christ is our Lord and Savior, let us work diligently to sink our roots in him. Let us allow ourselves to be built on him. Because Christ is our Lord, let us hold fast on him who is the head, from whom we as his body, are nourished and held together by the ligaments and sinews of love, so that we may grow with the growth that is from God.
Because Christ is our Lord, let us encourage one another to hold fast to his teachings. Let us be active participants in learning from him. Amen!