Marissa Jadrich Ortiz — February 21, 2021
Welcome to Lent, church! It’s the 40 days leading up to Easter. I get excited about this time of year even if it’s famous for ashes and fasting and penance and stuff. I get excited because there’s so much possibilities when we commit to some particular change for a particular time in partnership with Jesus. It’s like, I know what I’m going to do—whether that’s a devotional or the six people you’re praying for or a big ask or a big doubt or fasting or service—you think, I know what I’m going to do, and now we get to see what Jesus is going to do. What does Jesus have up his sleeve to generously respond to your step of faith?
The question we’re asking ourselves in our Lent sermon series is how can we be changed by Jesus here and now? How can we be changed by Jesus? There’s two sides to this, we want to know “what’s the invitation? How does Jesus want to change me?” and we also want to know “what do I have to do to get there?” Many of us are not sure what kind of change God has in mind and maybe not sure if we’re up for that…many of us also have our own stories about failed attempts to change ourselves, whether it’s a diet we can’t keep, an addiction we can’t shake, a standard we can’t live up to, or the way we snap at others when we’re hungry or they’re driving too slowly in the passing lane.
How can we be changed by Jesus right now? What’s the invitation?
Let’s start out in Colossians 3 for a sneak peek into God’s idea of transformation.
Read vv. So put to death the parts of your life…And be thankful people.
I’ll be honest that I struggle to take in a passage like this because it feels like a list that consists of several lists and the tiny weak part of my brain that can handle details and tasks just falls over part way through. Let’s take a look at this together because I don’t want any of us to miss how hopeful this is. (before and after of a workout plan)
First this letter says you gotta kill the parts of you that belong to “the earth”. Eh, don’t love calling it the earth because the earth is great, it’s not her fault. In this case, it’s about the little sliver of the universe that isn’t already acting like it belongs to God. Anyway, there’s this bad stuff. Pay attention here though! Because the Bible gets a bad rap for lists like these, people think God is saying “you can’t do anything fun now that you’re a Christian.” Look again. This list does not say “no sex no money no dancing don’t enjoy yourself too much.” this is a list specifically of the kinds of stuff that CONTROL you. Having money can be fun. Having greed means you don’t have fun no matter how much money you have. Sex can be a good time. Lust does not make for better sex. This letter to the Colossians says PAY ATTENTION to the powers and influences that are controlling you, and put them to death. Take it off like yesterdays underwear and put on something fresh.
Now there’s another list. Anger, rage, malice, slander, obscenity, lies. This is the list of ways we hurt each other and ruin our relationships. This letter says to us “take those off too! We’re not going to be like that, we’re not going to do that to each other, we’re going to be like Jesus instead.” And then there’s a third list.
It sounds like there must have been quite a variety of folks in the church of Colossae because now this letter says it’s not just the evil powers that control you that you gotta take off, it’s not just the violence we do to each other that you gotta take off, but you also gotta get over some of your own identity. In the image of God, Colossians says, “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all things and in all people.” This sounds awkward because obviously somebody can stop being greedy but they can’t actually stop being Jewish or Greek. That’s not the point here. The point is that Christ is in all things and all people. It’s not the identity but the DIVISIONS that are based in identities that we’re taking off along with greed and anger. In Christ, you can be the absolute fullest version of the person God made you to be. But if your idea of your identity says you are BETTER than somebody else, Christ is not in that. When your identity says you are WORSE than somebody else, Christ is not in that. When your identity says “that person is too different for me to have a relationship with them” or “I would lose part of myself if I dignified that person’s humanity” those kinds of messages we got to take them off. That’s the stuff Jesus died for and they’re dead to us.
You might be thinking, like me, that’s all fine and good Jesus but it’s not that easy to just shrug off the things that control me. How is this helpful? Or you might have a version of God in mind that is the God of Impossible Standards, and this is a list of all the ways you’re disappointing God.
Let’s try telling the story a different way. The big story, like the front page headline to this part of colossians is that the world isn’t in charge of you anymore. Jesus put all the powers of evil and darkness in their place. Violence, segregation, and control don’t call the shots anymore. So the main point of this passage isn’t that “you shouldn’t do violent things” but that “violence doesn’t own you anymore.” It’s not on us to put anger and greed in their place—Jesus did that so that we have the FREEDOM to learn a new way of living. I mean it. It’s like this.
It’s like imagine your life, or your relationship or your career or your 30s or your kids, or whatever you’re working on in life, it’s like a paper you’re working on for class. And you turn it in and it comes back with this D- NEEDS IMPROVEMENT. And you’re like oh no I’m not doing well at all, and you try harder, or you ask the teacher for help, or you get some more books and maybe you start to improve, you’re up to a C and now a B+ but the moment you take the teeniest break wow your grades start to tank again….I hope you’re feeling a little stressed out with me…okay now Jesus comes along and says hey why you going to that class? Well that had never occurred to me. I can quit? Isn’t this a graduation requirement? Well you don’t have to drop the class, Jesus says, but you know I’m the principal around here. And I fired those teachers, years ago, they’re not in charge of a class anymore. They have no right to tell kids like you what to do. You turn your papers in to me now instead.
Wow. So now we’re in a very different situation. Those powers of death and darkness used to be the ones giving out the grades and now we don’t even turn our papers in to them anymore! BUT NOW WHAT. Because we put a lot of work into getting their approval, learning their tools, trying to get good at their game, and now the rules are different. We have some FREEDOM now. But any time we choose to live by those rules from the teachers that got FIRED, it’s like we’re giving them their job back. We’re free to live like somebody chosen and loved by God. Kind. Compassionate. Patient. Faithful. Gentle. Peaceful. Forgiving. Yes! That used to be not an option, now we always have the choice to live that way. It takes practice because often we can’t get there using the same tools we were using to get good grades in the last class. Here’s an example: generosity. In the world, in the old class with the crap teachers, generosity was a good thing, you got credit for it, but the rules were, you have to be rich to be generous. Otherwise you’re stupid for taking that kind of risk, and you can’t even give away not enough to really count. There’s different rules now! Everybody gets to be a generous person. You need to be generous actually just to get to know the kind of person God really wants to change you into…but that can be hard to believe if you got used to thinking you didn’t have enough money to qualify for generosity.
All right, the good news is—first the good news is those terrible teachers got fired and Jesus is the one who calls the shots now, and Jesus has amazingly wonderful ideas about who we should be getting changed into in this class, so to speak. The other good news is there’s always a step we can take. It’s not as easy as it sounds in Colossians, we don’t just pick these up like a jacket and put them on. God is not the kind of teacher who has set impossible standards or who is just waiting for YOU to succeed or fail on your own. Those teachers got fired. God’s working on our drafts with us and God knows it’s going it need a lot of revisions. Maybe instead of thinking of picking up a jacket to put on, you can think of picking up a violin. Before you picked it up, you couldn’t play a violin. Now that you’ve picked it up, maybe you still can’t play it but you can learn. You’ve got a teacher. You’ve got something to work with you’re not going to get expelled for not being able to play any mozart yet.
Which brings us to our last list.
Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other. As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other. And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. The peace of Christ must control your hearts—a peace into which you were called in one body. And be thankful people.
This is the way God wants to change us. So the thing we’re controlled by, is peace. The way we treat each other is patience, kindness, compassion. Or identity is “God’s choice, holy and loved.” The way we live out our differences together is marked by forgiveness, love, and gratitude.
Does that sound far fetched? Maybe that sounds like picking up a violin and somebody expects you to start playing Mozart. Ok here’s the thing, nobody expects you to just start playing Mozart. But if you’ve got a violin, if you’ve got a good teacher, and you’re willing to put in the work, you absolutely will be playing Mozart. So that’s our invitation today. Not to look at this list and just live up to it all of a sudden. But to celebrate the freedom we’ve been given, totally reject the other things that aren’t Jesus that want to control us, and commit to doing the work alongside a really good teacher. One step at a time.
We’re going to spend the next few weeks hearing stories from folks in the bible who experienced being chosen by God and were invited to change in the direction of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. We’re going to learn from the little steps of faithfulness they took and the ways God responded to them. For today, your challenge is to take a look at what controls you. What do you need to take off before you can pick up the character of Christ? What teachers that got fired are you still turning in your papers to?
Closing: What are you going to take off? And What’s something more concrete someone can do in the direction of God’s character? Maybe think of something you know was “against the rules” to your old teacher and do it on purpose this week to stick it to them? Maybe it’s an act of generosity when you’re sticking it to that story that you don’t have anything to give. Maybe it’s practicing a day of sabbath when those crap teachers were telling you you’re not worth anything if you’re not always busy. Maybe it’s practicing gratitude, thanking God out loud for something that is a gift in your life every time greed kicks in and reminds you that what really matters is getting more more more.
Or something that you think “I am just not that kind of person”. Fine, you don’t have to be but can you do this one thing?
Is there one thing you always fight about, bedtime or screen time or who is taking out the trash or whatever that you can decide right now you’re just going to do it with gentleness or patience and not be angry about it? Not every time, just one time. Just to prove that you can.
Kindness – random act of kindness. or as I like to call it for those of us who are kindness remedial, a STRATEGICALLY PLANNED act of kindness. pay for someone’s pizza, write an encouraging note to someone. Go welcome the parents at our meet the babies zoom that’s at 1pm today and then send them a gift card or some cash.
Compassion- write a letter of encouragement to someone going through a hard time. A friend, a neighbor, if you’re wondering whether someone in our church could use an encouraging card the answer is YES, send me an email and I will get you connected.
Or in general you could ask people to commit to reading Colossians 3 and ask God what is on God’s mind of something you can take off or try on that will be one step toward becoming that person God made you to be. The great thing about Lent is that when we commit to make a small, intentional change in our lives to be closer to God and more loving to others, God responds with even more generosity, even more love, and even more patience that could imagine. Don’t miss out on it, church! Pick something and try it. Let’s not miss out on what God wants to give us.