This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Colossians 2:1-23
Author: Rev. Steven Frieswick
Somewhere, some time, from a time long ago, the is a clip from an otherwise forgotten movie. The hero of the movie is a cowboy, who strides into town and yells out to the inhabitants – “Come out and fight”. Nobody takes him up on it. After ranting and raving a bit, the gunman cranks off a round through the front door of the bank.
With that one shot – to the complete amazement of the gunman – first the bank, then the saloon, and then every last one of the other buildings in town fall flat in the street. Every last one of the buildings is a false front – what looked like a tough as nails town full of desperadoes – proved to be sticks and cardboard – and fell flat with the first shot.
The Apostle Paul is saying to the Colossian church, and to us, here in the text – be careful that you don’t build your religion – like somebody built that movie set. There’s real religion – and there’s the cardboard imitation stuff. Get real, says Paul – live in Christ, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught – not being taken captive through hollow and deceptive philosophies which depend on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
Build on Christ – and not on cardboard. Certanly don’t settle for cardboard fellowship this morning.
Why do I use the metaphor of cardboard? Some of the less expensive furniture is, to a great extent, made of cardboard. Cardboard furniture reminds me of cardboard religion. Cardboard furniture contains wood fiber. It often has a covering that looks like real wood. Cardboard religion contains religious stuff, and looks real too. There are further similarities. Cardboard furniture is cheap. A cardboard dresser will cost you one tenth or one twentieth the price of a solid mahogany one. Cardboard religion requires a whole lot less of an investment than a real relationship with God does.
The main point of contact between cardboard furniture and cardboard religion is this – both are flimsy, hollow and deceptive. Cardboard religion is like a cardboard bookshelf. It will look great until a load is put on it – looks good until stress hits it – and then it collapses.
We are worshipping God today. The last thing we want is for this to be a cardboard celebration. In order to help us enjoy the reality we’re going to see what to avoid, by looking at the Colossian cardboard and then we’ll look at the reality of what we have in Christ .
So what does Colossian cardboard look like. The Apostle Paul calls it hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
One of their delusions was the idea that you earn your salvation by what you do. If you keep the laws and traditions of your religion, you will be alright.
The contemporary churchianity version of that would be have your kids baptized, come to church, pay your budget, make profession when you’re graduating from high school, take communion, marry a the right spouse, serve as a deacon or elder, if you do these things you will be ok. There is nothing wrong with doing these things. It’s good that many of you have chosen to serve. You have done that as elders, as deacons, as teachers, as youth leaders, and in all kinds of other ways. It’s also great that you have responded to God’s call and made profession of faith. Many of you have found Christian husbands and wives and are an active joyful part of the church. The point however is this – these actions, in and of themselves, apart from Christ – are cardboard. Apart from the solidity of what Christ has done – you might just as well go to the pub instead of to church, drink whiskey instead of communion, and throw away your money at the casino, instead of putting it into the collection. All the good things we do, the ceremonies, traditions, services, and practices – are nothing apart from from Christ at the center.
Seeking knowledge was another aspect of the Colossian heresy. They thought that if they could just get some higher enlightenment – if they knew secrets and mysteries about God that nobody else did – they would really have it together spiritually. We have prided ourselves on our education for a long time. We’ve generally done a pretty fair job of teaching our kids the doctrines of the church. But, when it’s all said and done, if we can fathom all the mysteries and all the knowledge of the doctrines of the church, and they can give an authoritative exposition of the book of revelation complete with dates and places in the original Greek, still, without the essence of Christ – education is nothing.
Then there were the people in Colosse looking for angels and demons and spirit guides to help them out. Christ wasn’t enough. People wanted their own special enlightenment. They wanted their own special intercessors, their own special beings with a hot line to God. I hope none of you are fooling with this. Whether it’s reading the horoscope, and planning your life by the stars, going to astrologers, or channeling spirit guides, or if it’s praying to saints and relying on charms and medals to help you out - all of these are signs of cardboard, or even false religion. Either we rely entirely on God, or we don’t. If we’re relying on anything else, there’s more don’t than do in our faith and trust in God.
How do we detect, how do we avoid, how do we develop a dislike for what’s cardboard and fake? One of the best ways to get to know cardboard furniture that’s been slapped together with staples and glue - is to compare it to the real stuff – solid hardwood – dovetailed, mortised, tenoned, shaped, fitted, and finished. When you get to know the real – even the best of the fakes look phony.
So what is the reality of our religion, and what is the reality of what we celebrate today?
The reality is that in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. What does that mean? If we want to know God, we only need to know Jesus. Jesus said in John 11, if you have seen me, you have seen the Father. You don’t need anything fancy – no secret mysteries that you have to unlock, no special ali baba rituals to get to God – don’t need anybody else to help you out – God comes to us, fully and completely in Jesus Christ, personally knocks on the door of our hearts – and says Here I am. I want to come in and stay. I want to live with you, guide you, help you, support you. I want you to know me like I know you. I want to have Father/son, Father/daughter time with you all the time. I want to clean house, and rebuild what’s ruined. I want to help you become what you were meant to be – conformed to my likeness – in goodness, righteousness, and truth. God says to us in Jesus Christ, I am fully and entirely with you. All of me - all my power, all my love, all my holiness, all my grace, all my help – are yours – simply for the asking. Ask – and you shall receive.
Why settle for second best? Angels, demons, spirit guides, ouija boards, horoscopes and astrologers all seem to have clairvoyance, and special abilities and mysterious power to help us prosper or to avoid harm in life. Many people are fascinated with fortune telling, horoscopes and the like. Maybe you’re longing for some certainty or guidance about what’s ahead.
Who knows the end from the beginning? Who holds our future and said I go to prepare a place for you that where I am you may be also. Who said I give my sheep eternal life and they shall never perish, no one can snatch them out of my hand – My Father who has given them to me is greater than all, no one can snatch them out of the father’s hand – I and the Father are one. In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form – God is with us in Jesus Christ – and what else or who else do we need?
The Colossians also made a great deal of the Jewish ritual of circumcision. They said, “Unless this little scrap of flesh is cut off, you really haven’t been made clean. You’re not right with God. You’re not part of His covenant – and His promises don’t apply to you.” The Apostle Paul says here – think about circumcision. In Christ – verse 11 – you were also circumcized in the putting off of the sinful nature – not with a circumcision done by the hands of men, but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, and raised with him through your faith in the power of God who raised Him from the dead.
Circumcision in the old testament was a sign of faith – a way of showing that you received God’s promise. For some of the Colossians, it was more than a sign – you had to cut off that skin in order to be saved. The trouble is - you could keep cutting off parts of your body until there weren’t any parts left to cut – and you’d still be a sinner. I could be a quadruple amputee, blind, deaf, dumb and disfigured – and inside would still be the heart and mind of a sinner. It takes way more than a little bit of surgery to get rid of sin.
The only way to stop a sinner from sinning is to kill him. That’s basically what Christ did with us. When we are united with Jesus Christ, when we surrender our souls to Him, and He comes and lives in us, He takes our old sinful nature – that part of us that fights God, and loves sin - He takes that sinful nature and kills it. He takes its power to control us – and breaks it. Then He implants His Spirit – to renew and restore and guide us in the way of light and right.
The good news about this operation is that we don’t have to wait, or pass a physical, or be good enough, for Jesus to operate on our hearts. Listen to verse 13 : “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature…”
I’ve heard of doctors that will work on just about anybody – but they all draw the line at one point. When somebody dies – it’s too late. Jesus says your terminally sinful condition – your deadness in sin – is not a problem for me. If you’ve been in sin so long and deep and wide you think you’re dead and decayed in it - my love is deeper and longer and wider – and you’re exactly the kind of sinner I came to save. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature – God made you alive with Christ. If you want miracles and power, and mysteries – here it is – dead, hell- bound sinners – getting resuscitated and revived through Jesus.
Not only does He revive us – but He sets us free.
The Colossian church had a problem with slavery to the law and traditions. The law was to them a constant reminder of failure – falling short of indebtedness. Some of you may be familiar with Muslim spirituality. Many faithful Muslims are aware every minute of the day – of those note taking angels on their shoulders. The one on the right – you did that prayer, said Bismillah before you ate, went to the Mosque – points points points, way to go. But the one on the left shoulder is working overtime. Didn’t pay your alms, missed that prayer, thought about your bills when you were praying, debit debit debit – and their whole life is spent in fear of ending up in the red on judgment day.
If we’re tempted to do the same, it’s particularly appropriate today that we look to the cross. Verse 13. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code with its regulations that was against us, and that stood opposed to us, He took it away and nailed it to the cross. Let’s try to bring this home to the kids here today. Suppose that your Mom and Dad go out for the night and leave you or your babysitter a long list of what to do and not to do while they are out. Wash the dishes, mop the kitchen floor, vaccuum the living room, walk the dog, put away supper, don’t pester each other, obey the baby sitter. The babysitter arrives, Mom and Dad leave – and you kids go berserk. You have a food fight in the kitchen, you break the dishes on the kitchen floor, leave the pieces and the food you didn’t want to eat sitting there for the dog to lick up. You beat your brother or sister black and blue, and when the babysitter tries to interfere, you tie her up and give her a haircut with Mom’s sewing shears. You’re just having all kinds of naughty fun – when the doorbell rings. Mom and Dad are home. You look at that paper on the table – it says “wash the dishes – and mop the floor” – and you see all the broken pieces on the floor. You see “obey the babysitter”- and she’s tied up in the living room. You see “don’t pester each other” – and you’re both all black and blue from hitting each other. That written paper – on the kitchen table – the one that Mom and Dad wrote before they went out – just terrifies you.
Then Dad goes to the kitchen table – picks up that paper, reads it, looks at you, and then very quietly hands it to Mom. Mom reads it – her eyes tear up, and she very quietly looks at you, then tears it up, and puts the pieces in the rubbish. Dad starts sweeping, Mom unties the babysitter, gives her 100 dollars to go to the hairdresser tomorrow, and then Mom and Dad tuck you and your sister into bed for the night with a story and a kiss.
You’re probably thinking that this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. If I ever did that, I’d deserve to get killed. Yes you would. But this is a picture of what Jesus did for us, and what our passage today talks about. God forgave all our sins – He took the written code – all the laws that we’ve ever broken, with all its regulations that was agianst us, stood opposed to us, he took it away, nailing it to the cross. All the terrible things we’ve ever done – that note is nailed to the cross, with a great big cancelled across it. Paid for in full by Jesus.
Worship today is a real celebration – of something very real Jesus did for you. His real body was crucified for a really sinful you. His blood was shed for your very real sins. He offers you very real and complete forgiveness today. Your job – is simply to turn down the cardboard – and receive Christ. Amen
Opening song - 246
The response - top of page 973 - #635
The dedication song - 453
Sermon text: Colossians 2
Title: No Cardboard Communion
Response to the sermon - 473
Offertory - #638
p. 974 all sing - Holy Holy Holy - #249
p. 975 - Hymn before dismissal - 629
Closing hymn – 630