Fourth Sunday Before Lent - Choral Evensong

  • Preacher

    Succentor - The Revd Rachel Young

  • Readings

    Hosea 1; Colossians 3.1-22

The other day I heard an interview on Radio 4 with someone who was talking about Facebook

As I don’t do Facebook, I had to take on trust that what he was describing was accurate; but it was his interpretation of the facts that sparked my interest.

Facebook can show you a multitude of charities to give to, based on your online life – your interests, websites visited, online orders, etc.  His argument was that users of Facebook could consequently see giving to charity simply as an extension of their own life – of a life that is self-centred; i.e. we decide to give because it makes us feel better or because the charity works in a field that interests us; rather than having a true sense of altruism that really wants to help others and put them first.

In our New Testament reading this afternoon from the third chapter of Colossians, we heard some exhortations to live out Christian behaviour.

It begins:

“So, if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (v.1-3)

Then follow three lists of different behaviours – the first two are ‘vices’ (things to avoid) and the third is of ‘virtues’ (things to adopt).

And all of this ethical behaviour stems from baptism into Christ; Christians have ‘stripped off the old self with its practices’ and clothed themselves ‘with the new self’.  The images of taking off one set of clothes and putting on a new set is reflected in our baptism service, sometimes acted out literally if the baptism is full immersion. 

But the point is that all Christians can claim that this has happened to them, because Christ sits at the right hand of God in heaven, and we have died and been raised, just as he was.

The letter to the Colossians is an early example of the gospel of Christ, as taught by Paul, being applied to a different, later generation.

This generation was living in a culture that liked to experience mystical visions and the worship of heavenly beings, and some of the language they would have used can be seen reflected in the way this letter is written.

They liked to describe things in dualistic ways –

up or down,

above or below,

spiritual or earthly – and this had implications for the Christians living amongst them.

Were they to go along with separating their spiritual lives from their earthly lives? Were they to focus only on seeking something intensely personal to lead them to God?  Or were they to remember that the path to working out their salvation would be through being a member of a community of believers, living and working amongst others in relationship?

The same questions apply to us today.

Where are we to find an authentic Christian lifestyle?  On our own, be that online or offline?

Whilst there is, of course, a vital place in our lives for time on our own with God, it is also true that we can discover the fulfilment of an authentic Christian lifestyle in our everyday, earthed experiences of living in relationship with others – where we learn to practise compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience; and where we learn to bear with one another and forgive each other.

This is the spiritual being worked out in the physical reality of life.

In my experience, it isn’t at all easy being a member of a Christian community and it can sometimes go wrong.  It demands a great deal of commitment, love and forgiveness. And this, I think, is just the point that the writer to the Colossians is making.

When each member of the community takes seriously their commitment to living out their baptism – putting off the old, and putting on the new - and when each member clothes themselves with love – the top layer over all those new clothes – then the peace of Christ can be a reality.

May we, as members of this worshipping community here, know this to be true in our life together.