Colossians 1:3-8; 3:9-11

Paul Thanks God for the Colossians

In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, enslaved and free, but Christ is all and in all!

As we mentioned last week, today we are starting a sermon series for the month of July on the amazing work that our elemental leadership did.  In that work, we came up with a vision of building relationships through the neighborhood, partnerships, and other faith communities.  We also came up with values that are important to our church, these five values are what I’m preaching on for the next 5 Sundays, the month of July.  Those values are:  authenticity, partnerships, diversity, spiritual gifts, and leadership.

The first value is “authenticity”.  Being authentic according to the definition is this:  “the quality of being authentic” and “Put simply, authenticity means you’re true to your own personality, values, and spirit, regardless of the pressure that you’re under to act otherwise. You’re honest with yourself and with others, and you take responsibility for your mistakes.”

What it doesn’t mean is simply “saying it like it is”.  That’s often said by different people when they are trying to defend their opinions.  Being authentic though is deeper, it’s being real with yourself, asking the hard questions, doing the work of letting the Spirit of God that resides deep within each of us to emerge and to allow our true selves to emerge.  

Sometimes that can be very counter cultural.  Just look at Jesus, Jesus came to present what it means to be authentically human, made in God’s image.  That humanity challenged the dehumanizing systems of his day…and continues to challenge the systems we live in today.  That challenge got him killed as it threatened the status quo.

Yet, it also gave birth to the movement that we call the church, calling us to live towards a deep sense of faith, love, hospitality, oneness with all peoples, renewal, and a deep sense that all things and all people are connected and we should get on with loving ourselves and others.

I have met folks like that throughout my life:

My friend Jay Borck who always listened, believed in me in my twenties.  He won so many people over with his authentic, oftentimes quiet, charisma.  You knew he was there for you and you wanted to be there for him.  And, he never judged you.  

My friend Ron Thomas who was my roommate when I lived in Atlanta.  He was pretty conservative in his theology, but always showed a willingness to listen and to have empathy.  He put up with a lot having me as a roommate, but his heart was and is so pure, even as he continues to ask questions in life.  

Sean Gladding is a friend that many of you have met and have now become friends with.  He has been there for me these past several years, listening, never judging, allowing me to be vulnerable even as he is vulnerable with me.  Every time I think of Sean or I’m with him, I feel a deep sense of soul connection.

And then there’s also Dr. Scott Hagley.  Scott has been a friend for several years.  He’s also the one who encouraged me to pursue my doctorate at Pittsburgh Seminary.  He’s in charge of the program I’m in, my doctoral project and thesis first reader, my faculty advisor, and a close friend and confidante.  All along the way he’s been able to simply be himself in all of those roles, his true self, and consequently, it has been a great learning experience.  More than what I could have hoped.  And, I’ve been there for him.

Paul in his letter to Colossians is saying some similar things.  He loves the folks in this church, they have a collective authenticity and he is simply sharing that with them.  He is thankful for them and is giving testimony to their authenticity that is producing fruit.  He even singles out Epaphras, a Colossian, who lived out his humanity with authenticity.  

So, friends, again, we are called to live in authenticity with one another, and with ourselves.  The marks an authentic life:  vulnerability, listening, faith, kindness, connectedness, being real and with, empathy, and loving well.  And, I think that our church is growing tremendously in authenticity as I see those characteristics in each of you individually and collectively, and I thank God for it!

How do we get to deeper authenticity?  Self focus, awareness…and as Mary Lasoncsyk said last week, prayer.  Prayer can clear us up, open us up, to becoming who we want to be…not prayers simply asking for this or that, but sitting in quiet, with ourselves.  John O’Donohue, the great Irish writer, philosopher, poet says this:

“Prayer makes a clearance.  It this liberation of God from our hungers, needs, and images.  Prayer allows God to be God.  And prayer also allows our secret selves to be themselves.  This is a recommendation that Meister Eckhart makes again and again:  be who you are.  This is one of the great spiritual duties.  It touches the crux of our identity.  So many of us are so dragged away from the identity that we are, we are dragged to all kinds of externality.  We are chasing the wind and missing ourself.  A great spiritual axiom is:  sit down, slow down, and to try to be who you are.  If a person could be who they were, they would retain an inner coherence, regardless of the turbulence around them.”

Friends, tomorrow is the 4th of July, a day of freedom…may we become free to be our truest selves as made in the expansive image of God connected to ourselves and one another, in communion if you will, through the power of God’s Presence in us and around us.  

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