June 21, 2008
Text: Colossians 2: 1-12
When I was a teenager - about 150,000 years ago - I was a pretty big fan of riding roller coasters. The amusement park near where I grew up in Kansas City, MO is called Worlds of Fun. I can remember the first roller coaster that I ever rode that had a loopty loop. It was called the Scream Roller. The first wooden coaster I rode was the Timber Wolf. But my all-time favorite, which now no longer exists, I'm sad to say, was the Orient Express. I could go on and on. And now I have the joy of watching my almost 13-year-old son become entusiastic about theme parks and extreme thrill rides.
Last year, I went with the Academy to Cedar Point and a great time, even though my stomach cannot tolerate the rides like it used to. There is just something about being thrust along at 70 m.p.h., 75 degree angles, 350 foot drops, loops, twirls, corkscrews and having my head jostled around, back and forth, like a bobble-headed doll in an earthquake that just is not as fun as it used to be. It can be disorienting. It makes me feel dizzy and light-headed and yes, maybe even a little bit nauseous.
Like so many things, this can be a metaphor for life. Is your life merely a day at the park? All fun and games? Cotton candy for dinner and ice cream for dessert? Or is it sometimes fun and sometimes confusing, disorienting, dizzying, terrifying or even nauseating?
We have an enemy, the devil, and he is a liar. Jesus said that the devil has been lying from the very beginning. Ever since he told that deadly little fib to our first mother, Eve, in the garden of earthly delights. Jesus said that when the devil lies, he is speaking his native language.
The very best lies, the most effective deceptions, are those which are blended with a dose of the truth. The difficulty is being able to divide the truth from the errors. St. Paul speaks to us today and he says: "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."
This is precisely the reason why I rejoice to God that all of you are here at Christ Academy these two weeks at the end of June. Some of you are here for the very first time and others of you have been here year after year. Frankly, I consider that to be a miracle of God. It is miraculous that you young men, with all the world's temptations displayed lavishly before you, have chosen to be here in humble Fort Wayne, IN in order to study the very words of our great and living God. You are here by God's design. Not your own. And what we give you here are not the philosophies of this age, the empty traditions of men, but rather the truth of Jesus Christ. Jesus said that the truth shall make you free. Well, He is the truth. He is the One who makes us free. Not as a mere theory or abstraction but in reality, in flesh-and-blood, in history, on the earth.
We want you to have fun while you are here as well. And we schedule a number of events and activities that we think you will enjoy like Cedar Point yesterday, the baseball game on monday, a movie night later next week. We want you to enjoy the good things of God's world and to make lasting friendships with one another. But most importantly, Christ Academy exists in order to train young men in the things of the spirit, to deepen the roots of your faith in the soil of Holy Scripture and perhaps even to equip some of you for a later life of formation and pastoral ministry.
One of the most pernicious and persistent lies of this age is the doctrine of naturalism or scientific materialism. This is the belief that all there is to human existence is summed up in what the hand can hold and the eyes can see. Very persuasive entities in our culture maintain that nothing exists except that which can be observed. And although most Americans still profess some kind of belief in God, many are living as if all that really matters is material stuff: money, possessions, bodily enticements, and the feeding of your carnel appetites.
St. Pauls was concerned for the congregation in Colossai that they not be, as he puts it, deluded by plausible arguments. That rebelliousness that resides inside all of us wants to be deluded by plausible arguments. We want to be persuaded that the pursuit of earthly gain is a good thing. We want to believe that everything is ok and we are alright in the sight of God, all on our own, no matter what. A part of you wants to be independent, not just from your parent, teachers and human authority, but from God Himself. And there is nothing natural or good or beneficial in that rebelious wish. In fact, it is destructive, corrosive, poisonous and foul.
In our reading from Colossians chapter 2, St. Paul states: Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk in him.... "Walk in him" is a common biblical way of saying live your life in Christ, take every step in fellowship with Jesus. He says, "as you recevied Christ Jesus... so walk in Him." In other words, live your life as a Christian in the same manner as you began it. And how did you receive Christ? In what manner did that occur? Certainly, not as a result of your good works. Not by the effect of your will. No, you received Christ Jesus by God's grace. He gave Himself to you at your Baptism. He continues to give Himself to you in preaching, absolution and the sacrament of the altar. God is a giver. It is the very nature of God for Him to offer himself to those whom he loves. That is the definition of love, the giving of oneself to another, with no thought for personal gain. Our Lord has no need of us. There is nothing compelling Him to love us, forgive us or save us. This He does freely, purely out of goodness and mercy, concepts which we can never fully understand. For just as it is the very nature of God to give, it is the very nature of created beings to receive.
You have received Christ and with Christ, you receive all things, forgiveness, righteousness, and abundant life both now and forever. As Christians and as sons of God, we live by faith, not by sight. The Bible says, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1)." Contrary to the philosphers of this age who place their ultimate hope in material goods, we see what lies beyond.
It reminds me a little bit of those police television shows where the detectives are interrogating their prisoners in the poorly lit room with no windows. There is only a single long mirror on the wall. But of course, we the viewers all know that it is not really a mirror, but a two way glass and that there are other detectives on the other sides observing all that takes place.
Like the suspect in the interrogation chamber, the people of this world look and all that they see is a reflection of themselves. We are on the other side of the wall and because of illumination we have in Christ, we can see through the glass, not at ourselves, but at reality as it truly exists.
You know the truth about yourselves, about this world and its passing fantasies. You know the truth about your Creator and your eternal destiny in Him. For Jesus Christ, in whom dwells all the fullness of the deity in bodily form, He has suffered and died on your behalf, in your place, in the place of sinners, so that we who were once captivated by the lies of Satan, in bondage not with shackles of iron but with the brittle chains of false promises. And you have been liberated from your bondage, set free from captivity, unleashed by the pronouncement of God. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
June 21, 2008