Don’t forget who you are

[A Wine Before Breakfast sermon on Colossians 3.5-17 with references to Colossians 2.8-3.4 and a story that I may have used before.] 

“Charleen, don’t forget who you are.”

Those were the words that a former emerging leader
in this campus ministry would hear every time
she left her family home.

At the door, her mother would kiss her goodbye and say,
“Charleen, don’t forget who you are.”

And for Charleen, this was always welcome advice.
This was a loving affirmation of a daughter,
combined with a motherly admonishment.

Don’t forget who you are.
Don’t lose yourself in amnesia.
Don’t forget the story of our life together as a family.

Don’t forget who you are as the wonderful, talented,
strong, and resilient woman that you have become.
Don’t forget the faith that you have affirmed and has formed you.

I think that Paul was saying to the Colossians,
“my sisters and brothers in Christ, don’t forget who you are.”
And perhaps we can hear him saying over these past few weeks to us,
“beloved siblings if you want to find faith before breakfast,
don’t forget who you are.”

That is why he has been rehearsing the story of Jesus,
and inserting his readers into that story.

With Christ you have died to the systems of this world.
With Christ you have been buried in baptism.
And since you have been raised in Christ,
allow you imaginations to be set free by his rule, ascended to the Father,
living and waiting for it to be revealed
who you really are in his coming again.

You see, while we proclaim the mystery of faith:
Christ has died.
Christ has risen.
Christ will come again….

Paul fills in the story with some more details:

Christ has died.
Christ was buried.

Christ has risen.
Christ has ascended.
Christ will come again.

This is our story, this is our song,
so beloved friends, don’t forget who you are.

And while the apostle has spent some time warning them
against a dualistic piety that would strip them
of full-bodied life in Christ,
and he has worked hard to liberate them from rules and regulations
that would strip them of their freedom in Christ,
now he turns to patterns of life and daily habits,
that would make them forget who they are.

Paul first goes after a sexuality of amnesia.
A sexuality that forgets who we are as covenantal children of God.
A sexuality that is devoid of faithful intimacy.
An insatiable sexuality of consumption.

Perhaps with a shaking voice, I can hear Paul say,
“beloved friends in Christ, that’s not who you are!”

And of course, Paul knows that that kind of sexual consumption
is of one piece with an economics of greed and violence.
We consume sexual partners like we consume anything else.

No, Paul says, that is the same old idolatry all over again.
That’s not your story. That’s not your song.

So you gotta kill this shit before it kills you.

And while you’re at it, there are a whole series of emotions
and a whole way of talking that isn’t you anymore.

Have you ever had a moment,
after you had done or said something
that seemed uncharacteristic of you,
and a friend or a parent or a partner looked at you,
perhaps with a puzzled concern, or maybe even hurt,
and said, “that isn’t you.”

Well, that’s what Paul is saying to the Colossians here.

That isn’t you.
You’ve forgotten who you are.

So, instead of being caught up with the idols of sexual gratification,
or power, or success and status,
be renewed in the image of God.
Be renewed to who you really are,
and who you were always called to be.

Allow yourself to be taken up into this amazing story
of the renewal of all things in Christ.
Embrace and live out of this radical social vision
in which the divisions between
Jew and Greek,
slave or free,
in and out,
rich and poor,
male and female,
straight, gay, bi, trans,
are all transformed because Christ is all and in all.

If that is who you are,
if that is your story,
then put on a new set of clothes.
Take up an alternative set of practices.
Allow your character to be transformed
so that it becomes more and more reflective of your identity.

None of this is automatic.
It all takes work.
And it all happens in community.

So look around friends.
There are siblings in our midst who manifest in their lives
some of these virtues better than others.
Learn from them.

There are siblings in this family who embody compassion
but who aren’t so good at the gentleness that we identify with meekness.
Others are incredibly kind, but not necessarily humble.
And, in a community with as much passion for justice as this community,
most of us aren’t so good at patience.

And maybe that is why Paul then uses the word “forgive”
three times in one verse.

We are a work in progress.
We forget who we are.
We live out of character.

And that is why forgiveness will be at the heart
of any community that is living out of the story of Jesus.

But we also know that it all comes apart without love.
We’ve been looking for faith before breakfast,
and here Paul tells us that love binds it all together.
While infidelity breaks the bonds of faith,
only love can put it all back together again.

So how do we grow such a community?
How do we nourish a community of
compassion,
kindness,
humility,
meekness,
patience,
forgiveness, and
love?

Well, in all kinds of ways, but at its foundation is our worship.

We gather to pass the peace with one another
so that the peace of Christ might rule in our hearts.
We gather to give thanks, because radical gratitude is infectious.
We gather to teach and encourage one another,
and to grow in wisdom
so that word of Christ it isn’t just head knowledge,
but dwells in us richly, liberating our imaginations.


I love that.
The Word dwells in us, makes its home in us,
so we can make our home in Christ.

Of course, none of us would be here if it wasn’t for the music.
With our wonderful musicians over the years we have indeed
sung psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God,
that continue to shape us as a body of Christ,
that continue to remind us of who we are.

At the heart of it, we gather every week to tell the story,
to ingest that story in bread and wine,
to more deeply indwell that story,
so we don’t forget who we are.

So how will we know if we are remembering?
How will we know that we haven’t forgotten who we are?

Well, says Paul, you’ll know that you are living in this story,
you’ll know that you are still in the faith,
when you seek lives of  faithfulness …

when everything you do, in word or deed,
whether it be writing a thesis or handing over a sterile needle,
building a family or a business,
accompanying the dying or playing with the children,
planting a garden or baking bread,
participating in local politics or shopping at your local store,
in conversation or silence …

when everything you do is in the name of Jesus,
in deep gratitude to God our creator and redeemer.

Charleen’s mom would actually have expected nothing less of her daughter.
“Charleen, don’t forget who you are.”

And we should expect nothing less of each other.

Beloved siblings in Christ, remember who you are,
and help me to remember who I am.

Amen.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian and the CRC Campus Minister at the University of Toronto. He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

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