In Colossians, the apostle Paul calls us to clothe ourselves with a new wardrobe, which includes: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and love. In order to continue to clothe ourselves with these virtues, we need to live in communion with God, the source of love, through dwelling in the written word, scripture, and dwelling in the living Word, Jesus, through prayer.
Speaker: Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
Main Bible Passage: Colossians 3:12-17
As I read this passage, I couldn’t help but think of all the ways that we here at Daniels Run Peace Church have clothed ourselves with love and these other virtues just in the past few weeks during the Christmas season.
Our little church has had a huge impact on the lives of our new Afghan neighbors, and also on Brenda Jackson’s family. You all have shown Christlike compassion and Christlike kindness to people in need of a helping hand at a challenging time in their lives.
I am grateful and proud to be the pastor of a church that cares not only about our own needs but serves the people and community around us in so many ways.
And I hope and pray that we will continue to be a church that clothes ourselves with compassion and kindness, with humility and meekness and patience, reaching out to others with concrete acts of service and love. These are great “clothes” to have in our “wardrobe”.
For most of my adult life, my vocation has been in Christian service, either as a mission worker or a pastor in various settings. Pastoring is one of those helping professions, like many of you are involved in, where we give a lot of ourselves to meet the needs of others—vocations like teachers, social workers, counselors, dentists, and all those in the medical profession.
And as I look back on my career, I can think of some times when my life got out of balance, like a pot on a wheel that isn’t centered.
God is the source of love, and our love for others is the purest and strongest when our lives are centered in God and closely connected to Him.
But there have been times when I was so wrapped up in doing things for other people that I neglected taking time to rest, even to breathe, and to nurture my own relationship with God.
To use the analogy of a phone’s signal strength, during those times my connection and communion with God was more like 3, 2, or 1 bar than 4 or 5 bars.
And as a result, there were times when I experienced this thing we call burnout.
The symptoms of burnout are exhaustion, irritability, giving without gratitude but with resentment, being upset that people aren’t thankful for what I’m doing for them.
Burnout is not a good place to be. And it can serve as a wake up call to get our to restore balance, and to make more time to turn our heart closer to God,
more time for experiencing God in ways that clothe us anew with compassion and kindness, with humility, patience and meekness, like getting a new wardrobe.
Recently I’ve been reading this book by Brian Zahnd called When Everything’s On Fire: Faith Forged from the Ashes.
Basically, the book is about forging a faith that is healthy, and resilient, life-giving, that is rooted in a vibrant relationship with God.
In a chapter called A Mystic or Nothing at All, Zahnd quotes Karl Rahner, a German priest and theologian of the 20th century, who says:
The devout Christian of the future will either be a “mystic”, one who has “experienced” something, or he will cease to be anything at all.
(Christian Living Formerly and Today, 1971)
Zahnd goes on to say: Religion that resides solely in the intellect (mind) is incapable of sustaining faith in our disenchanted age…If the Christian faith is to survive the tsunami of secularism, it will be because Christians have their own experience with God. (p. 126)
Zahnd makes a distinction between knowing God through experience—which mainly takes place here in the heart– and knowing God intellectually—here in the head.
He says that younger generations today in our secular world are longing to experience God, to know God and not just know about God. They don’t just want to be informed about God, but transformed by God.
He says “If Christianity is essentially about learning doctrines about God and adhering to behavioral codes, most of these young people will not remain Christian into their twenties. But if Christianity is essentially about experiencing the living God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, these young people can be led into a holy mystery that will last a lifetime.” (p. 137)
God has created each of us unique, we’re all wired differently, so the ways in which we personally experience God will be different. There is no one size fits all, like with some clothing.
Some people have the kind of “Damascus Road experiences” that the apostle Paul had, where they hear God speak to them in an audible voice, and it shakes them up so much they make an about face and their life turns around 180 degrees.
Some people experience the presence of God through speaking in tongues and other what we’d call supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit that are highly emotional.
I get a glimpse of this sometimes when I stick around long enough after our worship and hear the Hispanic congregation’s worship service.
Sometimes God’s presence will manifest itself through waves of emotion that are like tidal waves that can wash over us with pure unadulterated joy and love,
and other times we experience God when we sense ever so slightly God’s still small voice that give us that peace that passes all understanding, even in the midst of a storm.
Now some Christians actively seek out the next spiritual high, bigger and greater mystical experiences. Zahnd cautions against this by saying, “Be open to mystical experiences, but don’t chase after them. Instead, focus on seeking after God through spiritual formation.
And by spiritual formation he means things like scriptural reading that is disciplined and devotional, and also through prayer, in a variety of ways. Prayer and meditating on scripture are practices of spiritual formation that can draw us nearer to God, create a stronger communion with the source of love. (p. 135-6)
I think that this kind of spiritual formation is what the apostle Paul is getting at in our scripture today.
After he talks about clothing ourselves in love and in all those good virtues he mentions, he says “let the peace of God rule in your hearts, and let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”.
Oh, there’s that word “dwell” again, that we heard in John 1 at our Christmas Eve service, where the word of God became flesh and “dwelled” among us.
And now we are called to dwell in the written word, the scriptures, and also dwell in the living Word, who is Christ.
Later in the Gospel of John, Jesus talks about his disciples abiding in him using an agricultural metaphor, where he is the vine and we are the branches.
Stay connected to the vine, he says, because the vine is the source of the life for the branches.
And dwelling in God’s written word and in Jesus, the living Word are like the soil that nurtures the experience of connection and communion with God.
And when that soil is fertile and the connection is strong, Jesus says we can bear much fruit. This fruit is mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, and it’s a similar list to what we are called to clothe ourselves with in our Colossians passage—fruit of compassion, patience, kindness, humility, gentleness and love.
Dwelling in scripture and dwelling in Christ through prayer will empower us to produce much fruit of acts of love and kindness toward others, put on a nice new wardrobe, doing it all with gratitude in our hearts, as the passage says.
Friends, a vibrant relationship with God through Christ is what will sustain us through the good time and tough times in life;
So as we celebrate the birth of Jesus this season, I want to provide a practical way for us to “let every heart prepare him room”, to quote Joy to the World.
This past year one of the devotional resources I used is this book by Skye Jethani called What if Jesus Was Serious About Prayer? I think I mentioned in a recent sermon his previous book “What if Jesus Was Serious” about the Sermon on the Mount.
This little book has some of the most practical and helpful insights on prayer that I have ever read.
In the introduction he talks about how it’s easy to focus our lives as Christians on activism, i.e. doing all these good things for God, and also on knowledge, i.e. believing all these good things about God.
And in response to this, Jethani says
“Knowledge and activism are very good things- but neither was the root of Jesus’ life and neither should be the root of ours. Instead, we are called to find our truest self, our deepest calling, and unconditional love as we abide in communion with God through prayer.” –p. 13
Jethani wrote this book because he was convinced that Christians, churches and pastors have too often neglected the practice of prayer, and maybe if we learned a little more about what prayer is (and is not), and if we learned some practical ways how to pray, that might draw us into spending more time in communion with God through prayer.
So to help us do that, our church is going to give you all a little Christmas present. We’re going to give each family unit one of these books, What if Jesus was Serious about Prayer? I just ordered them today, and we should have them to pass out on January 9.
I will explain more of how we’ll use the books when we pass them out on the 9th. My hope and prayer is that using this book together will help us learn more about prayer and practice it in our lives, so that we can continue to grow in communion with God and also continue to clothe ourselves with acts of compassion and kindness among us and to those outside our church community.
Prayer: Jesus, our Savior, Lord and Prince of Peace: As we celebrate your birth and get ready for a new year, open us up to new ways for your peace and your Word dwell in our hearts. Prepare our hearts to make more room for you, so we can live on the outside in ways that reflect your compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and love. AMEN.