Growing in God’s Graces

8th Sunday after Pentecost
Colossians 1:3-14                       
14 July 2013
Elizabeth M. Deibert                   

Guide us, O God, by your Word, and Holy Spirit, that in your light we may see light, in your truth find freedom, and in your will discover peace; through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Many of you met Catherine’s new puppy last Sunday.   Marty is 12 weeks old, the equivalent to a 20 month old child, if you use the 1-7 year dog to human ratio.   It is fun to watch him grow and learn.   His desire to bite us is so intense in this teething period, much as he is reminded regularly that biting is not pleasing to his alpha or any other humans, for that matter.   While he struggles to live appropriately in that area, he is doing great with housebreaking.   If given the right and frequent opportunities, he will nearly always succeed in doing his business outside.   

The point I am making is about the God-given potential this puppy has to grow in God’s graces.   You all know that a dog, not trained, can be a real pain in the patooty.   But with proper guidance, a dog can be a wonderful, loyal, loving companion.   Same is true to an infinitely greater degree with us humans – even us old dogs, who can still learn new tricks.   We have great potential to grow in God’s graces, but it doesn’t just happen without some work.   Left to chance, we poop in someone’s house, figuratively speaking and we will bark at people for no good reason, and we sometimes even bite with our words.   

Today’s scripture, the opening of the letter to the Colossians, written in the name of Paul by some close follower of Paul to honor his wisdom, is an affirmation of the human potential to grow, to lead lives worthy of the God who made and calls us.    Colossians chapter one, verses 3 to 14.   Listen for the Spirit speaking to you:

Colossians 1:3-14
In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
4 for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel 6 that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.  7 This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, 8 and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit. 9 For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God's will
in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
(New Revised Standard Version)

For what is the writer thankful?   That the Colossians are living the great commandment:   they are putting faith in Jesus Christ and loving the saints.   When the New Testament refers to the saints, it is not speaking about a select few of super-heroes in the faith, but the whole collection of those who love God.   Love God.   Love People.   It all comes down to that.   And Jesus in our Gospel lesson, the parable of the Good Samaritan, tells us what it looks like to love the neighbor.   The lawyer wants Jesus to specify which particular neighbors we must love, but Jesus uses the story to say who is a good neighbor – the one who shows mercy.

Verse four tells us our hope is in the Gospel, which is bearing fruit in the world and in us, when we truly comprehend the grace of God.    You know I always like to use the Beginner’s Catechism to define grace.   
Anybody remember that definition?   What makes you a child of God?   Grace – God’s free gift of love that I do not deserve and cannot earn.

Do you truly comprehend that grace?   That grace, outside which, we cannot stand.   How many of you have seen Les Miserables?   It was an injustice that Jean Valjean had spent 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed a family member.   After his release, he couldn’t find a place to stay until a bishop graciously offered him lodging. But then Valjean, with a heart full of bitterness and desperation, stole some silver from the bishop and fled. Captured the next day, he was brought back to the bishop.  In this great moment of grace, the bishop said to the police that he had given Valjean the silver, and then he also gave Valjean two silver candlesticks to convince the police of his innocence. Overwhelmed with the extravagance of this turn of grace, Valjean’s priorities changed. He surrendered his life to God and worked to help others, extending the same grace to them.
Perhaps you’ve never felt so desperate as Valjean did in that moment, with his life and freedom hanging in the balance, but have you ever realized just how much God has lavished you with grace you did not deserve?   Have you realized just how far short we all fall of God’s glory and how much we need God’s grace?   It is so much easier to spot other people’s sins.   Richard’s most often quoted line from a sermon when we co-pastored in Alabama:  God loves the pediphile as much as the pediatrician.   God abhors what the pediphile does, but God wants salvation for that one hurts children as much as for the one that heals children.   To recognize that I am loved no more and no less than the pediphile and the pediatrician helps me to know grace.  We are all in a humble position of need before God.
Now Paul and Epaphras are so inspired by the Colossians faith, hope, and love, that they have not ceased praying for them – that they would be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that  they would lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work.   
You know that you are prayed for by name by the congregational care team members – each person taking a day each week.   Con Care team, I challenge you to make your prayer like Paul and Epaphras’ prayer.   Sometimes we pray for people to be comforted, for their lives to be easier, but really, what most of us need is to grow in God’s graces – to be filled with spiritual wisdom so that no matter what happens to us, bad or good, that we might lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.   

Read this verse with me slowly, this prayer of blessing:   11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father.  That’s not asking for an easy life, but for a good life, a rich life, a meaningful life of growth.   You have heard that for a tree to develop any strength as it grows, it needs some storms – without some fierce winds, a tree will never be strong enough to endure anything.

Think about how a little child learns patience.   It is certainly not by getting everything asked for at the moment of asking.    Oh, how I remember trying to talk on the phone with four young children in the house, and how many times I had to say, “Wait, please.   Do not try to talk to me, or ask me for things while I am on the phone.”   Of course, I am sure I probably tied some shoes and poured some drink while talking, but many other things had to wait.   The child by waiting learns to be patient, by not having everything, learns to be grateful for the things she or he has.

This lesson of learning to endure all things with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to God is a lifelong lesson.   Nearly all of us learn to be patient.   We do not scream or cry when we are thirsty and must wait for drink.   We learn to be patient while waiting for someone to finish what they are doing so we can have a turn or so we can leave to go somewhere.   But then, some of us need to work at patience.   My mother told me last month that she is still working to teach patience to my brother who shares her home.  (He is turning sixty this year.   She has not given up.)  
If he is driving her somewhere and she is not ready to leave at the exact time she said she wanted to go, he turns into an ornery child.   It is easy for me to laugh at my brother, but the real question is this:  In what ways am I a toddler with God, my loving parent, unwilling to wait, unable to endure discomfort?

We are so much more sophisticated than Catherine’s puppy, Marty.   Our hearts, minds, and souls can be so filled with gratitude for grace, so immersed with spiritual wisdom, that we actually bear fruit.   By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can actually become like Christ, the One who saves us from our selfishness by forgiving us and empowering us to live meaningful lives.    Is your life fruitful and pleasing to God?   

Let’s take a few moments to prayerfully consider the following questions:
Do you know God loves you without condition and are you overflowing with gratitude for that gift?  Or Are you worried that you might fall from God’s grace, thinking that IF you are  good enough, God will accept you?

Do you have faith enough to trust God in uncertain times and hope enough to trust that all will be well no matter how it appears?  Or Are you always anxious and afraid to take risks, or frustrated about all things that are out of your control?

Do you put God and others first? Or  Are you so busy taking care of yourself that you help others only when it serves your own need?

Do your endure hardship with patience and humility, seeking to grow in spiritual wisdom and courage?   Or  Do you resent hard times and complain to God constantly when life is not going your way?

Our God of Grace and God of Glory has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.   So let our lives be armored with all Christ-like graces that we and others may be set free to love and serve you gladly.