Choose Your Kingdom

Proper 10
Colossians 1:1-24

We are looking at the book of Colossians, both in our Christian Ed hour and the sermon. Colossians is a unique book. When we studied Ephesians last summer, we learned that Ephesians was a book written by Paul to new Christians or to those in baptismal training. The same can be said for Colossians. The church in Colossae were Gentiles –a brand new church with brand new Christians. In fact, if you put Colossians and Ephesians side by side, you would find them to be almost mirror images of each other. Colossians 1:13-14 says, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin.” Ephesians 5:8 says, ‘For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).’

Colossians, like Ephesians, is a book of contrasts. Once you were in darkness, live in the light.
While in Ephesians the darkness was paganism and idolatry, in Colossians, the darkness is similar but rather than leading to sensuality, the error was to live too much in legalism. That is, whatever false teaching there was influencing the church in Colossae, it drove people not to license but to over emphasis on externals and strict asceticism. Both, in Paul’s mind were demonic and of the kingdom of darkness.

What I’d like to do this morning is go through our passage from Colossians and look at its practical implications. What does it mean to go from one kingdom to the next? And what does it look like to be a citizen of the kingdom of Christ?
I quote again from Colossians chapter 1: Colossians 1:13-14 says, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin.”

Whenever you see the word ‘deliver’ in the New Testament you are looking at a loaded term. It is a word that means to save, or to have salvation–deliverance, safety. It is the primary word used not only of salvation in Jesus but also to the Exodus of Israel from Egypt.

For Paul, salvation in Jesus is very much like the children of Israel being delivered by the hand of Moses from the land of darkness in Egypt. As much as the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians in a physically dark place full of idolatry, so was the Christian enslaved by sin and death and the kingdom of the devil. And as the Israelites were rescued from Egypt by Moses, so the Christian is delivered from sin and death by Jesus Christ. Christians have been ‘delivered’ and ‘transferred’ from one realm to another, from one kingdom to another from spiritual Egypt to the promised land of Christ’s kingdom.

What does that look like in our world? What is the darkness we are to be transferred away from? I don’t think we struggle with asceticism in our culture. Here’s an encapsulation of our kingdom from the band Nickelback in their song, “I want to be a rockstar”

I’m through with standin’ in line
to clubs I’ll never get in
It’s like the bottom of the ninth
and I’m never gonna win
this life hasn’t turned out
quite the way I want it to be
(Tell me what you want)

I’m gonna trade this life
For fortune and fame
I’d even cut my hair
And change my name

‘Cause we all just wanna be big rockstars
And live in Hilltop houses driving fifteen cars
The girls come easy and the drugs come cheap
We’ll all stay skinny ’cause we just won’t eat
And we’ll hang out in the coolest bars
in the VIP with the movie stars
Every good gold digger’s
Gonna wind up there
Every Playboy bunny
With her bleach blond hair
And we’ll hide out in the private rooms
With the latest dictionary of
today’s who’s who
They’ll get you anything
with that evil smile
Everybody’s got a
drug dealer on speed dial,well

Hey, hey, I wanna be a rockstar
Hey, hey, I wanna be a rockstar

I know that all of you want to be rock stars, right? Maybe that is not exactly what we would articulate but we might look for a cleaner, more respectable version. Money and popularity drive our culture whether we want to admit it or not. We all want to be cool, good looking and very very comfortable in the process. This is the kingdom of darkness.

We are helping a little guy from the Sudan learn English this summer and he spends several hours a week in Sarah’s academy of learning on Leyden street. (That’s our house by the way) I love that our kids are being exposed to life outside of the ‘gimmies.’

When I picked up Emmanuel last week to bring him over to our house, I began to try to see things from his perspective. What does he see in our world? How big and big and big everything is. Perfect streets and perfect houses. Lots of stuff. Lots of food. Is it paradise? Or is it something else?

Perhaps you’ve seen the new ‘sport’ that even ESPN covers once and a while? The hot dog eating contest? Nathan’s hot dogs at Coney Island puts it on every July 4. Listen to their press release:

Joey Chestnut of San Jose, Calif., today won the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest, beating former champion Takeru Kobayashi and setting a new world record by downing 66 Nathan’s Famous hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes.

Kobayashi, the six-time hot dog-eating world champion, arrived at the 2007 event with a jaw injury. He reportedly received therapy on the jaw until two hours before the contest and appeared to compete at 100 percent — he ate 63 HDBs, eight more than his personal best.

Many thought Kobayashi would be unable to compete, or that he would compete at a lower level of intensity. In fact, he and Joey were neck and neck until the final moments of the contest.

The Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog-Eating Contest has been held each year since 1916, according to archives. This year’s contest may have been the most highly anticipated match-up in the event’s storied 92-year history. Police reported that nearly 50,000 people attended the event in Coney Island.

“Nothing represents summer and the Fourth of July like the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog-Eating Contest,” said Wayne Norbitz, president and COO of Nathan’s Famous. “This year our nation has new hope for glory.”

I’ll let that stand on its own. The kingdom of darkness. Did you know that during Katrina two things stayed open and active in New Orleans. The bars and the strip joints. The kingdom of darkness.

How do we go from one kingdom to the next? First we have to acknowledge that the transfer is necessary. We have to acknowledge the twisted side of the world around us and see its lure as a very dangerous thing. We all know that the ‘twistedness’ has become a part of us. We all want to be rock stars and we are all spoiled consumers and we teach our kids to be spoiled consumers, too. The first step is to acknowledge that there is a problem.

The next step is to follow Jesus and turn away from the darkness. How do we do this? I’ve mentioned quite a bit the pattern of our baptismal covenant when we have baptisms here at the church. The first step is to renounce and turn. Renounce and turn. I renounce the devil, the evil in the world and my own evil desires and I turn to Jesus and accept him as Lord and savior.

How do we do this? In Paul’s mind, making more rules doesn’t cut it. Going back to try to earn God’s favor by externals is not enough. Paul’s solution is to drink from the well of Christ and to put him over and against anything else in our lives. You cannot stop one thing with out starting another. You cannot stop filling yourself with darkness if there is no light to replace it.

Paul’s prayer for the Colossians is to be filled with the knowledge of Christ and to drink from the well of his sufficiency.

We are so intimidated as Anglican Christians to talk about our faith, in part because we are not immersed enough in it. We don’t know the Bible or the Creeds. Paul’s prayer for the Colossians ought to be our prayer as well. That we know the Jesus whom we talk about.

Paul is pretty clear about who this is. For Paul, Jesus is not a mere prophet or sage. He is ‘the image of the invisible God’ which means he is an exact representation of the God that cannot be seen. The girls like to ask me theological questions before bedtime in part, to stall, but there question are pretty profound. Just the other night I told them that we were all created in the image of God. They asked what that meant and I said that it means that we have his fingerprints on us. For us, we have traces of his presence inherent in us.

But for Jesus, he is God in the flesh. ‘For by him, all things were created, in heaven and in earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.’

Paul is clear that Jesus does not just have God’s ‘fingerprints,’ but that to see Jesus is to see the face of God. As the Father is Creator, so is Christ. As the Father has authority, so does Christ. When Paul says that Jesus is the ‘firstborn over all creation,’ he does not mean that Jesus was the first created being but that Jesus has the birthright of the universe. He is the heir of the universe and all that is ‘all things are held together by him.’ Jesus is Lord.

To be transferred to the kingdom of heaven is to acknowledge that Jesus is the one to whom we owe our allegiance and the one to whom we answer to and are responsible to. To be transferred into the kingdom is to live for the king.

Who do we live for? We get into a pattern that, though we would not acknowledge it, it is a pattern that says we should live for the approval and applause of everyone else. We are afraid that what we have or what profession we are in is not ‘cool’ enough for the world around us. Another way to put it is to ask the question, ‘who is our audience?’ Os Guinness asks this question in his book The Call. He says that our task is live for the audience of only One, the only One who matters. He says this: “When asked why he was not stung by a vicious attack from a fellow member of Parliament, Winston Churchill replied, ‘if I respected him, I would care about his opinion. But I don’t, so I don’t.’ Similarly [says Guinness] we who live before the audience of One can say to the world: ‘I have only one audience. Before you I have nothing to prove, nothing to gain, nothing to lose.’”

The audience of One is the only audience that matters. He is Lord, he is the one we answer to and the one we draw our strength from.

Lastly, something that gets missed when we study Colossians is what happened to that church. Can you find Colossae on the map? Do you know why it is not there? Because it was wiped out by an earthquake probably within two years of Paul’s letter. The city was destroyed and the church (or churches) with it.

When Paul referred to the transfer from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light they would find out quickly what the implications of what that would be. They would understand the transient nature of the life we live. They would soon understand the kingdom they left behind wasn’t all that.

Those who survived had to take seriously the kingdom principles that Paul laid out. There was only one kingdom that mattered and even losing the church itself didn’t matter as much as the kingdom of heaven.

Who is your audience? Where is your kingdom?