Sermon

Colossians 1:21-29

Saved, Right Where You Are

By The Rev. Alex Stevenson

The Colossians thought that they had to escape this world to be reconciled with God. This belief grew out of the Greek philosophy. In this philosophy the material world and the spiritual world did not mix. They were like oil and water. You can shake them up but they always separate again. According to this philosophy, to experience the spiritual you had to escape the material; to experience the eternal you had to escape the temporal. The mystery religions of the Greek world contained mythologies of the spiritual realm. According to these mythologies people had to be lifted from the material world to experience the eternal and spiritual. To be reconciled with God the eternal, one had to somehow get out of temporal and material.

This philosophy influenced the Colossian church. People started trying to make the Christian message fit with this pagan way of thinking. Apparently the result was that people saw Jesus as another way of escaping the temporal world. He was one of the “elemental spirits” that people communicated with to find the truth. This idea of “elemental spirits” may have been similar to the modern practice of channeling. This is where people try to make contact with spiritual beings who see things from and eternal perspective. These beings can supposedly give them some insight that is not available to us in this world. That was the kind of thinking that was going on in the Colossian church.

Well, Paul wrote them a letter to straighten them out. And right near the beginning he stated, “You have been reconciled by Jesus’ fleshly body by his death.” Now the Colossians had no problem with the idea that humans were alienated from God. According to their way of thinking that was already assumed. We live in fleshly bodies and in a material world therefore we are separated from the eternal and God. But Paul told them, “You are reconciled by Christ’s material fleshly body.” Not by Christ’s teachings that lift us above this world. Not by Christ’s spirit which communicates eternal truths to our hearts. We are reconciled to God by Jesus’ incarnation and physical death. God ordained that our salvation should be won through the material world. Not merely that, but by the most base and material thing that exists; death!

Many Christians today believe that salvation means escaping this realm to get to the next. I am not talking about the new age religionists who practice channeling and things like that. I am concerned about people who believe in Christ, but who believe that salvation comes only by escaping this life.

This takes many different forms. Some people believe that being saved means never having troubles. Somehow when we experience salvation the troubles of this life go away. When troubles come they either doubt their salvation or they deny the troubles existence. We all know from experience that this is not true. There are others who view salvation as merely life after death insurance. They think that in this life we are separated from God and God’s blessing, but those who believe will receive those blessings in the next life. It basically argues that contact with the divine in this world is not possible. We are alienated from the eternal by this temporal life. But once these earthly bonds are cut we will be free to experience communion with God.

Paul’s letter to the Colossians speaks to us today just as it did so long ago to the Colossians. “And you, who once were estranged…he has now reconciled.” It says, “He has now reconciled.” It doesn’t say, “He will reconcile us.” It doesn’t say, “He reconciles us in the by and by when we get to heaven.” It says he reconciles us now, right now where we are in this temporal material world with all its trials and tribulations. God’s loving presence is here with us in the midst of this life. We don’t have to wait until we get to heaven to know the abundance of God’s glorious blessings. Oh, we will see God’s glory in an even greater way in heaven. But we now have earthly communion with our heavenly Father.

The ultimate sign of this truth is in the way that God saves us. I imagine God had the pick of an infinite number of different ways to save us. I can’t possibly imagine what some of the others might have been, so don’t even ask me to speculate. But because God is all knowing I am sure God can imagine a few billion other possibilities a second. And I believe that God picked the best option.

What was that? First God became human. God united with the temporal and earthly realm and became part of it. God did not remain aloof from it. Then after living a human life, with all its trials, God chose to die a very human death. God ordained to use the material as a vehicle for salvation. God didn’t bring the people out of the temporal to the eternal to be reconciled. God brought the eternal into the temporal. God doesn’t say “wait until you get to heaven to know my blessings.” In Christ God brought the blessing of heaven to earth.

A good example of this spiritual truth is the life of Paul. He suffered. Remember where Paul was when he wrote this letter? He was in prison. Back in those days there was not Amnesty International or ACLU to look after the rights of prisoners. If you were in prison you were at the mercy of the jail keeper. Paul was repeatedly beaten and imprisoned all through his life. On top of all that he had an ailment, or “thorn in the flesh,” that constantly bothered him.

But he was blessed. He was able to speak of a Savior who heals. He was able to speak of Peace that passes all understanding. He was able to persevere against all odds. He was able to keep walking into trouble for the Glory of God.

Paul’s suffering is a living example of the presence of God’s salvation and reconciliation in this world. Through Paul’s suffering people saw strength. And they knew that that strength came from God. While in prison Paul wrote some of the most beautiful tributes to the greatness of God in Christ. God wrought salvation through Paul’s suffering and brought reconciliation to people in the midst of this life.

You are saved, right where you are. That is; if you have trusted in Christ, you are saved. We were all once separated and alienated from our Heavenly Father. That is the state that we are all born into. We live in a sinful world and we have all participated in its sinfulness. We are alienated from the love of our Heavenly Father and communion of His blessed Spirit by our sin.

But now we have been united with the abundance of his blessings. They have been poured out in our lives right where we live. They are not merely promises for the future but present realities. The love and grace of God dwell with us. And God gives us the power to be reconciled with our fellow human beings.

Trials are still part of this life. The fear of not knowing is a part of this realm. But we have been reconciled to the source of eternal knowledge and strength. Those blessings have come to us in the midst of our trials. Trust in the living Christ right here and now! Remember he has reconciled you to God and you can know his blessings where you stand.

Copyright 2008 Alex Stevenson. Used by permission.