A Targum on Colossians 1.1-14 for the Wine Before Breakfast community (March 7, 2017)
What would this text sound like if it wasn’t written two thousand years ago by St. Paul to a community that he had never met, but a couple of days ago by a pastor of a campus worship community that he knew very well? Maybe it would sound something like this:
Brian, blessed and confirmed as a campus minister by Messiah Jesus,
and Marcia, beloved sister and pastor (on maternity leave)
within the Wine Before Breakfast community,
to those called to worship early on Tuesday mornings,
to sisters, brothers, siblings who have a faithfulness against the odds;
to those who root their identity more deeply “in Christ”
than in their ethnicity, race, sexual orientation,
academic credentials, political perspective, or social standing;
to those early morning worshippers who are,
“in Christ” at the University of Toronto,
“in Christ” on the streets of our city,
“in Christ” in the midst of daily work,
“in Christ” in a world of conflict and threat,
“in Christ” in a culture of deceit and idolatry.
Grace and peace, dear friends.
Grace and peace.
Lord knows we have had little of either grace
or peace these days.
Grace and graciousness seems
so far from our public discourse.
And peace, well there is precious little peace
to be found anywhere.
So grace and peace, dear friends.
You won’t have one without the other.
Peace, shalom, that sense of profound wholeness
and well-being, is no accomplishment,
nothing we can produce even with our best intentions.
No, my faithful bleary-eyed friends,
there can only be peace, where there is grace.
Peace is a gift of grace, or it is nothing at all.
And it is because we have seen that grace
at work in this community,
and we have tasted grace
in our worship life together,
that our prayers for you
are always filled with an overflowing thanksgiving,
to the God of Grace, the Father of the Prince of Peace.
We know that you are a people of grace
because we have seen a profound faithfulness
made flesh in the love that you display to each other,
and to the world in which you have been called as bearers of peace.
In worship, over breakfast, outside of these walls,
in one on one conversations of deep pathos,
we have seen faith in action:
in the embrace and protection of a sister in deep depression,
in the holding of a brother in prayer in the midst of confusion and longing,
in gathering at the Homeless Memorial to remember those we have lost,
in sitting at a hospital bed with a brother on his way home to the Creator,
in the struggle to do scholarship that has deep Christian integrity,
in the faithful ministry of supporting one another in the hard work of marriage,
in the creative ministry in what is so often a deeply dysfunctional church …
in these gestures and practices, and in much more,
we bear witness to a faithfulness incarnated in love.
And we know, dear friends, that this is a bruised faith for so many of us.
We know that you hold on to Jesus when you had good reasons to let go.
That is why this is a faith and love rooted in a radical hope.
When hope was lost,
you hung on to Jesus.
When hope had dissipated,
you took up a ridiculously early worship life.
When hope had been withered,
you embraced a faithful path of love.
This is no manufactured hope.
This is no cheap sentimentality.
This is no buoyant optimism.
No, this is a hope that came to you.
This is a hope that sought you out.
This is the hope of the gospel,
the radical good news of Jesus,
that dismantles all ideologies.
This is the word of truth,
in a post-truth world.
This is the word of truth,
in a time of such ubiquitous deceit.
This is the word of truth,
that speaks power and life
in the face of repression and death.
For you, my friends, this is a truth that bears rich fruit.
A hospitable fruitfulness in legal services for refugees.
An activist fruitfulness on the streets, at city hall.
A caring fruitfulness in nursing, psychology and addiction counselling.
A diligent fruitfulness in scholarship that seeks wisdom,
an opening and healing of God’s good creation.
A faithful fruitfulness for the renewal of the church.
A harvest of aesthetic fruitfulness in music, drama and the arts.
A fruitfulness born of prayer and worship, fed at a table of wine and bread.
Friends, it is this kind of fruitfulness that occasions our deep, deep thanksgiving.
And what is happening here is happening across our city
at Sanctuary and the Dale,
with Faith in the City and the Gateway,
at Sketch, in clinics, art groups,
Bible studies and intentional communities.
Fruitfulness, siblings in Christ, its always been about fruitfulness.
And in the midst of drought, doubt and despair,
there is still a fruitfulness in our midst.
The gospel is not a set of ideas,
but a dynamic word of truth that bears fruit
in our daily lives,
in our cultural endeavours,
in our activism,
in our care for one another,
in our celebrations,
in our life in community,
and in our early morning worship.
So we don’t need to choke on the word “truth” anymore.
If this is what truth looks like in the flesh,
then let’s embrace this word of truth ever more deeply.
And that is why Marcia, Deb, Amanda, Beth
and I pray unceasingly (we really do),
that your lives will be saturated
with the intimate knowledge of God
and life-giving paths of wisdom.
We gather to worship to grow in knowledge,
to deepen in wisdom,
and to have an understanding that the world cannot provide.
But again, this knowledge isn’t abstract.
You don’t reproduce it on a test.
No, this is a wisdom and an understanding for fruitfulness.
This is knowledge for living lives worthy of the Creator.
This is transformative knowing,
a knowing that shapes us, forms us,
and is embodied in lives of grace and truth.
And since we know that none of this is easy,
since we know that a post-truth world
will seek to co-opt you,
since we know that the principalities
and powers are allied against you,
and since we know that you continue
to bear the weight a faith betrayed,
we pray that you will have strength,
that you will be animated by God’s weighty presence,
so that you will endure the attacks,|
develop the deep virtue of patience,
and live in joy and gratitude.
Joy and gratitude are deeply empowering you know.
That is why we don’t just lament around here,
but also know how to put on a good party.
And here’s the thing.
You have every reason in the world
to live with radical gratitude.
You have been rescued from a world of deceit,
into a kingdom of truth.
You have been liberated from trying to earn your place in the world,
because you are the free recipients of inheritance.
You are not slaves of the empire,
because you are subjects of the Kingdom.
You are not alone,
but members of the beloved community of the Beloved Son.
You are no longer sold out to the principalities and powers,
because you are children of redemption.
You are no longer held captive by your sin,
because you stand forgiven.
You see, my friends,
that’s the power of the gospel,
that’s the mighty power,
yes, that’s the power of the gospel.
So beloved sisters, brothers, siblings in Christ,
let’s take these weeks of Lent to deepen our lives in the gospel.
Lets go deeper into this word of liberating truth
so we can bear ever richer fruit of the Kingdom.
Faith, love and hope.
That’s what I see growing in this community.
That’s the fruit of the gospel.
That’s what life in Jesus is all about.
Can I get an amen?