Embracing Each Moment: Everyday Grace in the Fullness of God

Colossians 4:2-18

Fullness in Creation, Mystery, and Community 
Paul is concluding this relatively short, packed letter to the believers in Colossae, written from prison in Ephesus. It’s full of practical guidance for everyday life. Practical in the sense that Paul knows is necessary. Their roots are all alien to Paul’s message. If they’re to give their lives to this, they need to see how it makes sense of the world, their story, their relationships. Not in abstract arguments or instructions but in one person, Jesus.

Embracing Each Other: Lives Caught up by Gratitude and Love

Colossians 3:1-17

From Event and Story to Personal Reality – The New Person
Jesus’ reality means that what God did in him shapes the life of every person who trust in him.
The change is deep, becoming a new person, new creation. Deep habits and cultural customs are now seen as deadly and enslaving. We take on a new identity shaped by Jesus.

Love that Embraces – The Heart of Transformation and Maturity
Jesus’ self-giving love in the Cross shows God’s deep love. It defines the New Person in God’s image. God’s image shows in compassion, humility, gentleness, giving Grace to each other.
Love embraces all these changes. Because it’s God’s life, it is the deepest maturity, perfection.

Thanksgiving – God’s Peace shaping our Actions and Experiences
The experience of this New Person brings peace, even in hard experiences. The message/ mystery of Christ feeds our hearts and heads on the deepest level with rich abundance.
We become people of gratitude, shaped into one body, embracing each other in thanksgiving.

Embracing the Mystery of Christ: Treasures of Wisdom and Knowledge

Colossians 1:24-2:7

What is all of this about “Mystery”? 
Paul writes to Believers he’s never met, encouraging them to the fullness of life in Jesus. In a hymn Paul expressed its vast scope: First, all of physical/spiritual creation is embraced in Jesus as creator and incarnation. Then all of human experience, as he dies and, in God’s Fullness, brings new creation out of death to reconcile the universe to God in Jesus. 
This is a surprising, challenging event/narrative. Something pointed to but never fully seen before it became reality in Jesus, his life, teaching, crucifixion, resurrection, and meaning. It is “hidden” for ages as God’s Mystery (M, mysterion), his unique, unexpected way of embracing his creation. God’s kingdom should be glorious, overwhelming, not lowly, hidden, dying. But ironically that obscure, crucified Jesus brings God’s powerful, reconciling love to his whole world, both Jews and all nations, creating a new reality. 

Embraced in the Heart of the World: "In Him the Universe Holds Together"

Colossians 1:12-20

Letter to a New Church: Who are We, You and I? 
Paul is pacing up and down in prison (with Aristarchus, probably in Ephesus). He’s writing to believers he’s never met, a church taught by his co-worker Epaphras in the city of Colossae east of Ephesus, close to other cities of Hierapolis and Laodicea. Paul has been dealing with crises in Ephesus (2Cor 2:8-10) and in Corinth and Galatia. He is sending this letter to a Gentile community, by Tychicus (“Lucky”) and Onesimus (“Useful”), an escaped slave, now a believer, returning to Philemon, who is part of the community. A lot at stake. 
Paul could write some simple encouragements and instructions as an apostle. He does encourage and instruct, but there’s nothing superficial about Colossians.

One God, One Trust, One Kingdom

Matthew 5:44-45, 48; 6:24b-33

Identity – Shaped by the God I Serve

Jesus’ wisdom moves from Blessing (God’s kingdom breaking in) to Identity (discovering who I am in God’s realm) to Action (living actively from the Identity I learn in Jesus). Jesus shows us who we are by showing us the nature and character of God, of reality.

Identity is profoundly contested. Who am I? What is my life about? Am I defined by work, class struggle, nation, race, gender, oppression, relationships, wealth, desires, music, subconscious id-ego. Is my ‘self’ a delusion of chemical reactions in mindless brain cells. Does my life matter, now or ever? Am I loved? How do I find hope – the truth? We feel after God with human-sized gods – variations of power, sex, and money.

Jesus' Call to the Way: Forgiveness and Even Reconciliation

Matthew 5:21-24; 6:9-15

A Kingdom Breaking in among the Broken

Jesus proclaims the kingdom/rule of God. People throng to him, sick, suffering, curious. He calls ordinary people to follow him. And they do. He begins teaching on a hillside. He pronounces blessings. Not ideals but naming those among whom this kingdom is breaking in. Not the religious, powerful, wealthy. Poor in spirit, mourning, meek. Among them God’s ancient promises to Israel are coming to fullness, unexpectedly.

Jesus never condescends. These are the light of the world. The cutting edge of God’s rule. He calls them to the wisdom, the life of God’s realm, beginning now in our world.

Jesus’ Call to the Way: Turning the Cheek - Turning the World

Matthew 5:38-42

The Call and The Way
We begin a series looking toward our congregational retreat: “Called to the Way – Living the Wisdom of Jesus.” Jesus was not an expected wisdom teacher giving proverbial advice with a bit different twist. He called followers to learn to see a new reality and to walk that path. For every one of his early disciples, it was a radical challenge to begin a journey of challenges over years. Jesus leading to events beyond imagining. Peter, Andrew, James, John, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Matthew, Simon– Jesus is profoundly personal. God is personal, creating diverse, specific people, loving all. Jesus calls to “follow behind me,” warns/promises transformation. They leave everything and follow. They leave behind an old self, to find their own lives/souls.

Fear, Faith, and Love: The Rock – Building a House for Storm and Calm

Matthew 7:24-29

Learning to Build: Hearing and Doing Jesus Words
We've talked about fear, anxiety, and love. Now let's think together about building. Jesus uses the image of two builders as the climax of the Sermon on the Mount. One person hears Jesus' words and does them. Another hears and does not do them. He says it's the difference between a house founded in bedrock and one sitting on sand. The fearsome storms hit both. One stands. The other collapses. "Doing" Jesus' words is the difference! How? Is this Grace?
This "doing" is not "earning;" it is participating: Jesus' words / life become my own real life.
It reflects our unity as embodied creatures (as Jesus came in body) uniting mind and action. Doing also changes the way we hear: Hearing a chef's recipe on TV or really cooking the dish. We come to know and trust God's love in Jesus, abide in it, complete that love -- boldness! It's a process: We hear and do. We listen again; we do more. We abide, grow, share life.

Fear, Faith, and Love: “Perfect?” The Love that Throws Fear Out

1 John 4:7-21

Fearless Love in a Fear-filled World
“Fearless?” We live as vulnerable physical creatures in a dangerous world. Death is part of being human. In our bodies, in our circumstance, we’re often beset by anxieties. We all struggle.
1 John 4:18a (ESV) “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear!” It’s strange to say! In common experience, love and fear/anxiety can be close companions. “Love” often means someone/thing has become deeply important to me. I need it/them. My “love” creates fear that I might lose the beloved. Love is deep emotional vulnerability. I hover, protect, worry!
What does John mean? Many in his day advised keeping distance from emotional ties as the way to life without fear. But he stresses love! Maybe I don’t have “perfect love.” A new fear! John challenges us, but not to perfectionism. He calls us to participation in God’s life/love.

Fear, Faith, and Love: “Don’t Worry!” Looking at Life with Anxiety

Philippians 4:4-7,11-13

Anxiety, Vulnerability and A Secret
Anxiety, worry, fear is a deep problem of human life. What can "Fearless" mean? Anxiety tends to point to uncertainty of many kinds. Often magnified in my own mind. Fear of loss of control or unfettered choice. I create worst case scenarios. Merging into anxiety disorders/phobias.

It's amazing that Paul in prison, uncertain of sentence, can say, "Don't be anxious about anything." Or that Jesus, talking to poor farmers and laborers, says "Don't be anxious about your life."

What can they mean? We all are vulnerable to death, disease, danger -- the human condition! Paul himself is explicit not only on the dangers he faced but also the worries that plagued him. We today are far healthier/wealthier/long-lived than ancients, but still we all worry and all die.

Fear, Faith, and Love: “Don’t You Care?” - Fear in the Storms of Life

Mark 4:35-41

Can I be Fearless in a World full of Fear?
Our retreat theme starts from the word “Fearless.” What can that mean? Fear has myriad forms. We all experience fear. It’s built into us as creatures (Gen 3:10 “I was afraid.”). Fear touches every scale of life from war and terrorism, to pollution and ferocious weather, to injustice and corruption in society, to unemployment and poverty, to broken relationships and loss of one we love, to our children’s future and our own death, to failure in doing something and peer pressure, to flying and germs, to what friends will think if I wear this. Even the best things bring fear.
You are the only expert in your own fears. The experience of fear is a given. Fear is not a sin. But our experiences of fear teach us that it can be awful and disabling. It distorts reality and often produces bad responses to situations. We want to avoid it and will do almost anything to keep fear at bay. Fear often isolates us, makes us strike out, and see others in the worst light.

Retreat Series Week 4: The Disciplines of Rest and Delight

Isaiah 58:6-14

Bringing God's Reality into Everyday Life
It may seem strange to use Isaiah 58 as a text leading up to our retreat: "In God's Presence-Seeking Rest and Delight in Everyday Life." It's a great text about the union of faith and justice. But notice how Isaian moves to a call for Sabbath. He mentions yokes 3 times, all negative. Jesus calls us to take his yoke and find rest for our souls (Mt. 11:29-30). Jesus challenges us to release our grip of anxiety and learn to trust God and seek his kingdom.

Retreat Series Week 3: All You who Labor and are Weary

Matthew 11:25-30

God and the Holy Requirement of Rest
Our congregational retreat, "In God's Presence -- Seeking Rest and Delight in Everyday Life." Meditation on the meaning of Sabbath. Why does God make Sabbath one of the Ten Commandments? We need it. Stress, workaholism, 24/7, a city that never sleeps, Wall St., technology, fear of losing ground/work, competition, desire > need for more, perfectionism, parents' expectation, inner voice we're faking, competitive leisure, getting advantage.
But in the ancient world, 12-hr work day, no society support, struggle for subsistence.

Retreat Series Week 2: Delights Forevermore

Psalm 15:5-11

The Signpost of Delight / The Problem of Pleasure
Our congregational retreat, "In God's Presence -- Seeking Rest and Delight in Everyday Life."
We began last time reflecting on the idea of Sabbath/rest planted in the very active account of creation. God rests. God gives people a rhythm of rest in everyday life. But also part of that idea: the Sabbath is not sad or ascetic, but celebratory, a time of delight and pleasure. People have always lived hard lives. God wanted a time of focused joy and delight in our lives. Likewise Jesus, as Lord of the Sabbath, called his disciple to a deep "rest for your souls."

Retreat Series Week 1: The God Who Makes Sabbath Holy

Genesis 1:31 - 2:3

Jesus and the Meaning of Sabbath
Our congregational retreat topic, "In God's Presence -- Seeking Rest and Delight in Everyday Life," began from meditation on the understanding of Sabbath in both the OT and NT.
The Sabbath, "Rest," is one of the 10 Commandments, linked to the story of creation in which God sanctifies the seventh day (Saturday). It has always had a very prominent place in both Jewish and Christian thinking. In late antiquity as the Roman empire became Christianized, the use of 'Sabbath' shifted for Christians from Saturday to Sunday as a legal rest day.