31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
November 24, 2019
Colossians 1:9-20, The Message
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
They went willingly, joyfully even. They knew God was calling them, and in faith they went.
Still, that did not change how new this new place would be. That did not change that everything would be different; that they would need to leave behind familiar things, embracing new ways of living. This journey, that they took willingly, joyfully, guided by God, was going to be an incredible adjustment.
In the myth and history handed down to us about the Pilgrims who first came to North America in 1620, we imagine they got on the Mayflower feeling exactly this way: willing, joyful, trusting in God and yet totally unprepared for how different this new world would be.
The Pilgrim were not the first nor the last Christians to be on a journey. They were not the first nor the last Christians to enter a new world completely different from the one they had always known. They were not the only Christians who would have to leave behind familiar ways and embrace new ways of living. Actually, that is the life of every single Christian.
Every single baptized and believing Christian is called to leave the old ways behind and embrace the new life that comes from living in Jesus’ glorious kingdom of love.
In and through our baptisms, in and through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are rescued from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons, transferred from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of Jesus.
The Greek word for transferred “methistemi” has a very distinct meaning. It has to do with the spoils of war. “William Barclay [a 20th century Scottish theologian and pastor] notes, ‘In the ancient world, when one empire won a victory over another, it was the custom to take the population of the defeated country and transfer it to the conqueror’s land.’” (Barrington Forney, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol 4, pg 329)
Jesus has conquered sin; he has conquered death; and he has taken us from the kingdom of darkness and “transferred” us into his kingdom of love and light – and that is going to be a very different place. Even as we go willingly, joyfully, trusting in God, it is an incredible adjustment.
It is hard to leave the ways of the world behind, even when they are dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. It is hard to leave behind what is known, familiar, and comfortable.
And yet, we cannot live with one foot in the darkness and the other in Christ’s kingdom. We have been baptized and made new. We have been rescued and transferred. We belong fully to the victor, to Jesus the Christ.
That is what the writer of Colossians is saying to the Christian community in this letter. The city of Colosse located in the Lycus River Valley in what is now modern day Turkey was on a major trade route to the East. People of all different nationalities and religions traveled through it and lived in it.
While the Colossians had come to believe in Jesus and had been baptized, they still were not completely “transferred” into the kingdom of Jesus. There were still some who clung to old beliefs and ways and were trying to bring those beliefs into Christ’s community.
As a more contemporary way of explaining, let me tell you something I used to say to my middle school youth group. Especially when we were playing games, I would say to them, ‘we are nurturing you to live as followers of Jesus Christ and bring that behavior out into the world. Not bring the behavior of the middle school cafeteria here into church and youth group’.
Essentially, I was telling them ‘you/we have been transferred into Christ’s kingdom of love and light and we behave differently here in Jesus’ kingdom.’
We don’t say that enough as Christians – that we have been transferred into Christ’s kingdom and we behave differently here. That while we welcome all people, we do not welcome all behaviors.
There are times in our church community and unfortunately in plenty of other church communities, where too much middle school cafeteria has seeped into the kingdom. To the point where the Church at times has resembled the world more than the Christ’s kingdom.
That was the concern for the church in Colosse and in the Pilgrims’ community, too. The Pilgrims did not have to go to North America to find freedom of religion. They chose to go. According to Martin Marty in Pilgrims in Their Own Land, Amsterdam was “rather tolerant [of the Pilgrims’ beliefs], but its diversity threatened their close community….. [William] Brewster and their beloved Reverend John Robinson helped bind the group together, but some of their children, attracted to the worldly ways of the Dutch, tugged at those bonds until someone proposed settlement in the New World.” (Pilgrims in Their Own Land, Marty, pg 60)
The Pilgrims left the Netherlands because some of their children were more interested in the world than Christ’s kingdom so the Pilgrims took their whole community to a place were they could be separate, living alone as Christ’s kingdom.
There are still Christian communities that try that route. In order to keep the ways of the world outside of the church, we will simply separate from the world.
I think instead of Amistad Chapel on the first floor of the United Church of Christ headquarters in Cleveland, which has floor to ceiling windows looking out at a parking lot and a fairly non-descript city street. Amistad Chapel was intentionally designed this way as a reminder that our worship as Christians should never ignore the world.
As Elizabeth Barrington Forney writes about this passage from Colossians, the “call of the Christian life is to seek to transform” the world and all of those systems of darkness and dead ends so that they reflect “the grace, mercy, and compassion we experience in the kingdom of God.” (Barrington Forney, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol 4, pg 329)
When we are baptized, when we are made new by Christ’s love, we are called to bring his way of grace, mercy, and compassion out into the world, transforming the entire world into Christ’s kingdom of love and light.
Which is hard, as hard now as it was for the first century believers in Colosse or the 17th century believers we call the Pilgrims. To bring Christ’s light and love out into the world instead of bringing the ways of the world, the ways of corporate life, the ways of the middle school cafeteria into the church requires us to be clear about what it looks like to live in Christ’s kingdom, to say it over and over again until we live it as naturally as we breathe.
We need to teach each other, teach ourselves what life in the kingdom looks like, what our lives should and can look like now that we have been “rescued…from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons…[and] set…up in the kingdom of the Son [God] loves so much” (Colossians 1:13, The Message)
Now that we belong to Christ, we can face life with strength, with a “glory-strength [only] God gives”, with a “strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy.” (The Message, Colossians 1:10-11) Now that we belong to Christ and his kingdom, we live in joy; we live in gratitude, thanking God for all things and especially that we are able to take part in everything bright and beautiful that God provides for us in this world.
And most of all, as people who belong to Christ, as those who have been transferred out of the kingdom of darkness into Christ’s kingdom of light, we live in love. We live with love. Even in the face of nastiness and division and people whose ways and beliefs are not our own (remember that when you gather around your Thanksgiving table this week), even in the face of people whose ways and beliefs are not our own, we are called to respond with love, to respond with compassion and mercy.
As I recently heard Rev. Kevin Harney say on a podcast, if Christians cannot respond with love, then who will? If we, who have been rescued from the darkness, to live in Christ’s light and love, cannot respond with love and compassion, who will? (Leading Talks podcast)
Two thousand years in the making, Christ’s church might not fully embody Christ’s kingdom – yet! However if we keep saying what we are called as followers of Jesus Christ to be, if we keep reminding ourselves that we have been brought out of the darkness and transferred into Christ’s kingdom of light, if we keep praying and singing and encouraging one another to put Jesus first, to let him hold us together in his love, healing the broken and dislocated parts of our world with his compassion, then there will come a day when God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done, and the whole world will embody the grace, mercy, justice, and compassion to be found in Christ’s kingdom of light and love.