What Belonging at CFTH Means

“Being and Doing at CFTH”   Colossians 3:1-11
Delivered to Church for the Highlands    John Henson
Sunday, July 31, 2016

[Sermon audio of this sermon is here]

One summer, when our kids were still crazy about swimming, we decided to look for places to swim. While checking around with friends, we heard that one country club in town was offering a great deal that would allow you to become a member and having swimming privileges along with dining and various activities. I remember thinking they must be hurting for membership if they would let a pastor join and for such a low monthly rate. The membership director gave us a thick packet of forms to fill out and reference letters to gather. In a week or so we received a letter stating that we had been accepted as members and welcomed us to the club. We had a great summer of swimming and dining. After the pool had closed at the end of summer, we continued to use our membership for club meals and activities. It wasn’t long before we received a letter in the mail informing us that our membership was only seasonal and that we would have to reapply for the next summer. I was embarrassed and felt the full shame of realizing I wasn’t really a member. I didn’t understand what membership there was all about.

paul-mosaic-ravenna-275x272x72We have just heard a letter written by Paul to a group of people in Colossae who were in need of understanding what membership was all about. Paul informed them not about membership in a club; but in the church; in a new reality that was emerging every day throughout the world as they knew it. His descriptions of Jesus, the church, and the duties of membership are ones the church of today still needs to hear. On this Membership Sunday, these are words that remind us of who we are, why we are here, and what membership in our church means. We are invited today to remember, discover, or renew what being a member of Church for the Highlands is all about.

The first aspect of the church in Paul’s challenge was to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” (v.1) Paul knew of their struggle with the things of this world—their daily existence as a persecuted group, their interpersonal challenges living as a family of faith, and their constant battle with fleshly desires and sin. Paul knew these challenges in his life and how difficult it was to keep his mind set on what mattered most in the new reality he experienced in Jesus. So he tells them where to keep their eyes on their new reality; true north in the kingdom of God.

Isn’t that why we are here this morning, to take our eyes off of earthly things for a while and to set our eyes on things above? C.S. Lewis wrote that “The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of. Our attention would have been on God.” Church for the Highlands—congregating together for weekly Worship— is where we gather each week to set our hearts on God. As we do so, the things of this world—the suffering we experience, the challenges we face, the addictions we battle, the darkness we experience—are put into proper context as we lift our eyes from them and upward to see Jesus who is seated at the right hand of God. It is in trying times like these when we must not forget to look up. Are we looking up? Are you looking up? Where are your eyes directed this morning?
The second description of membership we are to understand on this Membership Sunday is that church is where we experience real equality. According to Paul, that’s what the church is supposed to be: a diverse group of people who exist as equals in the new reality Jesus established. Paul wrote to them that, there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all! (v.11). What an amazing truth for that church to know! They were all equal. Well, almost everyone. You might be thinking something is missing here. You are likely more familiar with a similar statement from Paul to the church at Galatia (Galatians 3:28) where Paul’s listing includes “there is no longer male nor female.” The thinking here (as presented in the commentary for this Sunday in Feasting on the Word) is that this phrase was removed by the time Colossians was written, a time when the church was becoming more patriarchal and sexist. It didn’t take the church long to start trying to control the radical nature of a church where everyone is free and equal.

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 9.40.56 AMChurch for the Highlands is to be a place/group where we experience equality. Now that sounds like a given, doesn’t it? Churches should all treat one another equally, right? Well, you and I know that’s not the way it is. Our lack of equality within the church is nothing new, for even James had to correct a church for how they were showing favoritism to the rich at the expense of the poor in their times of worship. So the church continues to struggle with partiality—some denying equality to women, some excluding LGBT people, some showing racial favoritism, and others who maintain the outward appearance of inclusion yet the leadership and programming show partiality to people with money. I am grateful that we are a church where diversity is cherished and celebrated. Though we certainly aren’t perfect, we seek to honor and recognize each other as equal sisters and brothers, believing “Christ is all and in all.” I hope you feel that. I hope you help others in this church feel that. I hope our neighborhood sees that.

The third description of the church in this text is that this is where followers of Jesus practice real community. Paul gives a list of sins in verses 5-9, mentioning some of the most popular: fornication, impurity, anger, slander, and abusive language to name a few. He wanted them to know that these were the things pulling them down, keeping them from living as a real community of Jesus. These were not just personal sins; they affected the life of the church. These were the characteristics of their old way of life before they received new life from Jesus. These were like dirty, old clothes they kept putting on over the new and clean clothes God had provided them. As a church, they were to live in the beauty and fullness of how God had dressed them and set them apart in the world.

As a church, we are to be a group of people who are to dress appropriately. We are called to practice real community. To live in such a way is counter-cultural in a nation where it has become popular to insult and demean each other. To live in such a way requires us to dress in the fullness of our identity with the death and resurrection of Jesus. Our community is to dress up with a commitment to share our lives with each other as Jesus shared his life with the world. Our fashion is to make the statement that, though our feet are walking firmly in this world; our clothes look like they are from another world, one above and not below.

I have mentioned several characteristics of what a church should be. There are more, but I’m hoping these are enough to inspire us to continue being the church. And if you aren’t yet a member, I pray they are enough to help you see that you belong here.

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