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Based on the Scripture readings:
Colossians 3:1-11

2004 August 1
Gretchen L. Elmendorf, Associate Pastor

A Summer Day of Renewal

You probably all know of the beautiful passage from scripture, "This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it." (Ps. 118 and 95) Today is that kind of day indeed. Today is a day that is meant to be. As I put together the service for this morning, I had a great sense that our time together has been divinely orchestrated for us. All the pieces fit for our service. Not because I'm the one who made the pieces fit. There was something far greater and mysterious at work. Let me share with you the process of how this morning's service came to be, before you ever got in your pews:

It was a given that the scripture for this day would come from the letter of Colossians. This scripture is assigned according to the Revised Standard Lectionary for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13, today, August the 1st. One interesting feature of the scriptural selection is that the author of Colossians, who was possibly Paul, but most probably someone who wrote within Paul's tradition…this author gives special emphasis to what is referred to as Paul's baptismal formula.

It is written: In Christ, "there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; [male and female]1 but Christ is all in all." (Col. 3:11) This baptismal formula of Paul's stresses that we, in our life with Christ, have entered a new creation where former social distinctions fade away and are replaced by unity.

So here we have a nice passage on baptism. But further back in the summer, we didn't have a baptism planned to go along with this passage. Lo and behold… Julie called. Julie blessed us with her beautiful request. Could she be baptized in our church before her soon to be wedding?

Baptism is one of the two holy sacraments of the Christian church. So how better to make the service complete then by following the first sacrament of the Christian church with the second - Holy Communion.

It just so happens that today, we have witnessed a special baptism that has also, coincidently, fallen on the first day of the month. How better to affirm what is promised to us all through baptism, that we are all united as one body of Christ, then with Holy Communion?

There's just one more way that today makes a lot of sense. The scripture for this morning is about unity, but it's also about renewal. We are promised that through Christ, we are renewed, we are restored, we have new life. Here we are, in the lazy days of summer. Are we not all searching for renewal? Are we not all hoping to find ways to relax, to take trips that bring us far away from the strife of our daily lives? Are we not all hoping this summer, that somehow we will be refreshed, restored, energized with new life?

The author of Colossians writes that "we may strip ourselves of the old self with its practices and clothe ourselves with the new self." (Col. 3:9-10) Back to top He outlines a multitude of sins we suffer from - like evil desire, malice, slander, lies, wrath. (Col. 3: 8)

My personal favorite, one with which I struggle and I believe many in our culture do, is greed. Greed, in the original Greek, literally means "covetousness." Is it not true that we live in such a materialistic culture? Isn't it almost impossible not to be covetous? To think that we need a lot of possessions, or we need to have it as good as someone else to be worthy? To so call "have it made?" The Reverend Daniel Meyer talks about how we live in the "Kingdom of Thingdom." I love the way he puts it when he says, we are sick with "affluenza."

The good news though is that our religion assures us -- the more we draw toward God, or better said, the more we let God draw closer toward us, the less these sins have a grip on us. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans 6:11: "You must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." As Christians, we are called to find ways to let go of our old selves in order to let what is good and true and everlasting grow.

One man, Alfred Nobel, did this so well. "One morning in 1888, Alfred Nobel was quite surprised to read his own obituary in a French newspaper. Obviously, it was a journalistic mistake. One of his brothers had died, and a careless reporter had used a prewritten obituary of the wrong man. But as he read, Nobel was shocked and deeply disturbed to learn what the world really thought of him. He was seen simply as the dynamite king, the merchant of death, who had amassed a great fortune out of explosives. Nobel had hoped his inventions would be useful to people and to nations. At that moment, Alfred Nobel resolved to show the world the true purpose of his life. He revised his will so that his fortune would be dedicated to the recognition of great creative achievements with the highest award going to those who had done the most for world peace. Today, we all associate him with the Nobel Peace Prize."2

There is always time for spiritual renewal. It is perpetually a possibility in our lives. It is never too late. It is only a prayer away. It can come, even when we have lost hope.

I saw a great movie the other day that has just come out on video- maybe some of you have seen it - The Maldonado Miracle. It is a story that shows just how possible spiritual renewal can be, even at times when life seems to be a bit washed up.

The star of the movie is a priest, played by Peter Fonda, who serves in a small church in a very tiny, dusty, isolated town called San Ramos. The town has been, in a sense, dying over time. Jobs are gone, people have left, poverty has stricken, streets are empty, morale is low. Even the priest, Father Russell, seems to be struggling with despair. He thinks he no longer has the skill to be of help to anyone. He is losing his faith. Other characters featured seem lonely. A married couple is trapped in a vicious cycle where all they seem to be doing is criticizing one another. The town waitress goes home at night, crying and drunk, dreaming that someone someday will hold her. A boy, an illegal Mexican immigrant, has crossed the border at great risk, desperately seeking his father. Back to top The town sheriff is despondent, tending to his elderly mother who no longer is able to speak.

All of a sudden, a miracle happens. Without giving too much away, one of the elders of the community, while gazing upon a statue of Christ, sees something happen that is quite mystical within the church where she sits. News travels fast, and soon, thousands of people within the region descend upon this church to offer their prayers. The town is revitalized, flowing with new business and energy. The beauty of the story though is that while it is uncertain that any miracle has in fact taken place in the church, it is unquestionable that a real miracle is occurring within the hearts of the people who live in this sleepy town. A woman finds a lover. A marriage is saved. A priest is able to serve again and be of help to someone. A lonely person finds friends. There is new hope, new vibrancy.

The Reverend Peter Gomes once said during an Easter sermon, "It would be a great miracle to raise a dead body to life. It would be a greater miracle to put new life in all of you."3

Through Christ, we have the chance to be renewed. Paul gets this point across by talking about clothing, of all things. So does Jesus. But when they talk about clothing, it's not the kind of clothing you might imagine. In Colossians it is written: "clothe yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator." Clothing symbolizes a new way of life. (Rom. 13:14) Paul writes: "We must clothe ourselves with Christ." (Gal. 3:27) "Put on the armor of light," he writes: "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ. As God's chosen ones, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience… Clothe yourselves with love." (Col 3:12, 14)

In closing, let us spend a few moments in silent meditation. Some questions we might choose to meditate upon or to pray with might be: God, can I be renewed today? Will you give me new life? What do I need to do to become spiritually refreshed? Are there practices or behaviors of mine that you want me to let go of? Will you help me let go? How can I clothe myself with Christ on this new day? Help me find ways to be more compassionate, to be more loving. Fill me with hope, dear Lord. Open my heart so that I can feel the fullness of your love...

All this we ask of you O God, our creator and our redeemer, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

_____
1The author of Colossians leaves out any reference to "male and female" which is present in the original baptismal formula of Paul. See Gal. 3:28, 1 Cor 12.13. Colossian's was written at a post-Pauline time when women's roles were diminished (see 3:18)

2Story taken directly from the website -Sermon Fodder -- http://home.twcny.rr.com/lyndale/index.html

3Quoted from The Reverend Peter J. Gomes' Easter sermon, 2001. I was a seminarian at The Memorial Church of Harvard University at the time, where he preached his sermon as chaplain.

Copyright © 2004 Gretchen L. Elmendorf.  Used by permission.

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