[A sermon on Colossians 1.1-14 preached at Wine Before Breakfast on January 8, 2019]
“What throws you for a spiritual loop?”
The question was asked in the theological exam of Ruth Hoffman,
the first woman to be ordained in the Christian Reformed Church.
I was there, and immediately leaned to Sylvia and whispered, “betrayal.”
The woman being questioned,
who is now on the CRC campus ministry team at York University,
walked all around the question, but didn’t answer it.
I didn’t blame her.
A room full of men at that time, and in that context,
didn’t exactly produce a safe place in which such a
vulnerable question could be honestly answered.
In a sense, there was not enough trust in the room
to ease the fear of betrayal,
there was not enough good faith
to invite a faithful response.
What throws you for a spiritual loop?
What is it that shakes your faith to its very core?
What kind of thing can render you faithless?
What could strip you of your faith?
Well, for me, its betrayal.
You see there is something about the “breaking of faith”
that breaks faith.
There is something about infidelity
that leaves faith tattered,
hanging from a high wire by its fingertips.
I think that you know what I’m talking about.
We have all experienced broken faith.
We have all been wounded and scarred by infidelity.
Both as victims and as perpetrators.
We all know the confused pain of betrayed trust.
We all know the debilitating hurt of abused intimacy.
We all know what it means to be unfaithful.
So maybe when we read Paul’s salutation to the Colossians,
“To the saints and faithful siblings in Christ”
we already wonder if this letter is for us.
Do you have to be faithful to listen to Paul?
Is faithfulness a prerequisite
to having our faith encouraged,
deepened and shaped
by this ancient letter?
Well … no.
You see, if faith is a matter of faithfulness,
then it is not a place of arrival,
nor is it an achievement,
nor is it something that is static and finished.
Rather, if faith is a matter of faithfulness,
then it is always on a journey.
Faith is a matter of entering into a story
that is unfinished.
And faithfulness is a question of whether we will
remain in the story,
persevere in the story,
grow in the story,
even in the face of our own and others’ infidelities.
The fidelity that Paul identifies in the very opening greeting
is a faithfulness of siblings in Christ.
And later in the letter, Paul will make clear that
to be in Christ is to enter into his story.
In Christ, he will write, we have been crucified.
In Christ, we have been raised to new life.
In Christ, we place our hope.
Christ has died.
Christ has risen.
Christ will come again.
This is our story,
this is our song.
So when Paul says that he has heard of their faith in Christ Jesus,
he is saying that he has heard that this young, struggling community
has been taken up into the story of Jesus.
And he knows of their faith,
not because they have been able to recite a creed,
but because of the love that is manifest in their midst.
He knows of their faith in the incarnate Son of God
because he has heard of how love takes flesh in Colossae.
He knows of their faith
because their lives bear witness to faithfulness.
And this is a faithfulness animated by
and directed towards
the radically alternative hope that the story of Jesus offers.
You heard of this hope, Paul continues,
when the word of truth, the gospel, came to you.
Notice that while the word of truth is almost personalized
as someone who “came to them”,
neither the word of truth, nor the gospel,
can be reduced to ideas or doctrines.
No, this is the story of Jesus that he is talking about.
And this is a story, says Paul,
that is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world.
This is a world-transformative story.
This is a truth that bears fruit.
And isn’t that what fidelity is all about?
Isn’t faith a matter of bearing fruit in our lives?
I have friends who say that they don’t “believe”
but their lives tell me something very different.
Their lives are bearing the fruit of the gospel,
even though they aren’t so sure that they believe it.
And, of course, we tragically know that the opposite is also true.
People who say that they believe certain things,
but whose lives betray a deep infidelity.
And just as faithfulness bears fruit,
so also does infidelity … but it is a bitter fruit of,
and a self-serving love that wreaks havoc
in other people’s lives.
Faithfulness is not an easy thing.
Sometimes it feels that we are bound to betray.
And so our faithfulness needs deeper grounding,
more profound nurturing,
and diligent encouragement.
So when Paul prays that his hearers be
“filled with the knowledge of God’s will,
in all spiritual wisdom and understanding”
this isn’t about head knowledge,
but the kind of knowledge born of faithfulness.
Remember that for Paul, so rooted in the scriptures of Israel,
knowing is an act of love, of sexual intimacy, in the bonds of fidelity.
May you have that kind of knowledge, Paul prays,
that will know the will of the divine Lover almost like second nature,
that you will be saturated with wisdom and an understanding
of the path of faithfulness,
in the midst of infidelity, suffering and persecution.
And again, this is a knowing that bears fruit.
This is a growing in discipleship and faith
so that we might embody that faith
in lives of fruitfulness that are pleasing to God.
My friends, we enter this semester looking for
“Faith Before Breakfast.”
Maybe your faith has been bruised by infidelity.
Maybe betrayal (your own, and that of others)
has thrown you for a spiritual loop.
Well, the only way back to faith,
is through faithfulness.
May we be such a community of faithfulness
to each other and to the faithful One
in whose story we have our hope.
May we be faithful,
even before breakfast.