Be the New You

Colossians 3:1-14
Ordinary Time
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Did you hear the story about the 20 year-old mobile phone shop manager in Pompano Beach, who was a Christian, who calmly talked the would-be robber out of stealing? It was recorded on the closed circuit camera in the store and you can view it online. There’s a guy in black with his gun saying "Don’t be scared" and the young woman saying, "I’m not scared. I’m going to talk to you about Jesus, my God, before you leave. " And then he confesses that he’s a Christian too, and he’s never done this before and he’s embarrassed to do this, but he’s asked all his friends and family members for money and he’s about to be evicted from his apartment. She then compliments his beautiful eyes, tells him that Jesus has something way better for him. She tells him that she’s not judging him, but that she understands he’s going through a hard time. She shows so much compassion he begins to apologize for doing this to her. He asks if she’s the store owner, because he doesn’t want her to suffer the loss. She says she will be held responsible for the missing money, her only moment of untruth in the encounter. He finally walks out of the store, telling her she will be blessed for what she has done, and admitting humbly that he’s no good at this robbery stuff, and that his gun was not even real. Nayara Goncalves is an example of Christian compassion and kindness, courage and love to all of us. She was living the new life to which Christ had called her in this dangerous encounter.

Last week I challenged you to commit yourselves to a life of prayer as you never have done before. There were no promises about answers to particular prayers, except that God promises to supply your need and your greatest need is the Holy Spirit. Today’s scripture from the letter to the Colossians, a letter written by a disciple of Paul, follows from that. Today’s scripture tells us who we are as God’s beloved children and challenges us to live out that identity by some disciplined character-building.

Hear the word of the Lord from Colossians:

NRS Colossians 3:1 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.4 When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. 7 These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. 8 But now you must get rid of all such things-- anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all! 12 As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 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. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Now hear it one more time from The Message translation by Eugene Peterson, Presbyterian minister:

1-2 So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that's where the action is. See things from his perspective.

3-4 Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you'll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.

5-8 And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That's a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. It's because of this kind of thing that God is about to explode in anger. It wasn't long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better. But you know better now, so make sure it's all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk.

9-11 Don't lie to one another. You're done with that old life. It's like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you've stripped off and put in the fire. Now you're dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.

12-14 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

Stanley Hauerwas once said, "Christianity is not a set of beliefs or doctrines one believes in order to be a Christian. But rather Christianity is to have one’s body shaped, one’s habits determined in such a way that the worship of God is unavoidable."

You see we are Christians because of what Christ has done for us. There is an objective truth about us that is not always apparent in our lives unless we truly grow into the reality that is ours. That takes some self-discipline. It’s not just a one time intellectual acceptance of the fact that Christ died for us.

As Barbara Brown Taylor, Episcopalian priest and professor says, we do not need any more information about God. We are bombarded with information. Instead "We need the practice of incarnation by which God saves the lives of those whose intellectual assent has turned as dry as dust, who have run frighteningly low on the bread of life, who are dying to know more God in their bodies, not more about God, more God." (p. 45, An Altar in the World)

We are called to become, not just accept Jesus Christ. We are called to live and die with him. To put to death those things in our lives which diminish the great humanity to which we are called in Christ. To enliven those qualities of life which build our Christ-like character.

Martin Luther said, "Our mutual vocation is to love God and neighbor." With Luther’s encouragement we can, as Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us in An Altar in the World, do nearly anything we want to do with our lives, as long as we are loving God and neighbor. Everything you do in life, at work, at home, at play is an opportunity to choose kindness over meanness. Everything we do in life gives us a chance to get "out of ourselves long enough to engage someone whose fears, wants, loves, and needs are at least as important as our own." Of course we also have "ample opportunity to act to act like a jerk, missing our God-given purpose by a mile." (p. 111)

It is not popular to talk about the wrath of God, but I do believe that God has a holy anger against all that diminishes our love and God and neighbor. Because we were created to be, chosen to be God’s holy people, and whatever we do to distract ourselves and others from this holy purpose in life, this Christian vocation, is wrong. The first list of sins in verse 5 seems to me to centered in impure desires -- wanting things that do not properly belong to us – sex without commitment, greed – which is me having more than I need, putting anything before God. The second list centers in the dangers of our words and attitudes.

Self-control is difficult but is required of Christians. But there’s a difference between trying to give something entirely on your own will power and renewing and filling your life with the Holy Spirit, so that you can resist evil, put to death earthly things and seek the things that are above with Christ.

To become fully human does not mean to be less than God created you to be. To be fully human means learning to turn our gratitude for being alive into some concrete common good. It means growing gentler toward human weakness. It means that we practice forgiveness of our own and everyone else’s hourly failures to live up to divine standards. It means learning to forget myself on a regular basis in order to attend to the other selves in my vicinity. It means living so that ‘I’m only human’ does not become an excuse for anything. It means receiving the human condition as blessing and not curse in all its achingly, frail, and redemptive reality.
(B. Brown Taylor, pp. 117-118)

We want to grow in Christian character. We want to put away selfish behavior and negative attitudes toward others. But it’s sometimes overwhelming to try to be the people we are called to be. So here’s my practical suggestion, one which came to me, as I was traveling to and from a family funeral in North Carolina. Take this list of character traits which we as Christians should be wearing, and commit yourself to dwell and pray on one of these each day:

Monday, pray for compassion. Ask God to give you eyes to see people and a heart to feel their pain. Remember the compassion Christ had for all who suffered or were excluded. Put yourself in another shoes.

Tuesday, pray for kindness. Practice random acts of kindness, especially for those closest to you. Be kind toward yourself, such that you don’t play the negative self-image voices in your mind.

Wednesday, pray for humility. Look for opportunities to admit that you were wrong. Ask for the forgiveness of someone you have hurt or ignored.

Thursday, pray for meekness. Practice listening to others, encouraging them to say what they think. Open the door for someone, serve them a drink or a compliment. Meekness is not weakness. Meekness a quiet strength.

Friday, pray for patience. Pray longer, waiting for God to speak to you. Drive with patience. Speak with patience toward your children, your spouse, someone who works for you. Think of those who wait long and hard for things you take for granted.

Saturday, pray for forgiveness. Name your failures to be compassionate, kind, humble, meek, and patient. Thank God for forgiving you and then write down those whom you know you should forgive - family members with whom you bear old wounds. Neighbors or church members or friend and co-workers who have upset you.

Sunday, pray for love. Focus on the love of God, which surpasses all. Remember that this love enfolds you every minute of every day.

How much time do we spend each day feeding, dressing, and adorning our bodies and cleaning and beautifying our homes, cars, and yards? Should we not spend just as much time building our Christian character and improving the attitudes we project and our behaviors which either do or do not commend the Gospel. I challenge you to be the New You. It is a process of be-coming the Christ-filled soul you were created to be.