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
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) 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
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
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. The town
sheriff is despondent, tending to his elderly mother who no longer is able
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