A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Rescued Into Hope

Harrowing of Hell, Jacquelin de Montlucon (1496-98)

Pentecost +6 2019
St. Brendan’s Anglican Church
Rev. Doug Floyd
Genesis 18:1-4, Psalm 15, Colossians 1:21-29, Luke, 10:38-42

This is an exciting time for St. Brendan’s as we prepare for our future and think about our calling in this community. When we launched St. Brendan’s, we simply started practicing the ancient rhythms of worship together. Over time, people from various backgrounds began to join with us and grow into the pattern of Anglican worship.

The Theological Statement for the Anglican Church of North America, ends with the sentence,  “To be an Anglican, then, is not to embrace a distinct version of Christianity, but a distinct way of being a ‘Mere Christian,’ at the same time evangelical, apostolic, catholic, reformed, and Spirit-filled.”

This describes the variety in the overall Anglican communion but also in the communion that has gathered here.  We are a community of mere Christians from different backgrounds and church experiences. Together we are learning to walk together, worship together, and grow up together in Christ. How should we think about our role in this community as a young church plant, as an Anglican community?

I want to think about that question as we meditate upon Colossians over the next three weeks. In some ways, we might relate to this community. Colossians is written to a young church plant in a smaller town beside the larger cities of Phrygia and Laodecia. Epaphras, Paul’s mission partner and friend, appears to have planted the church.

Paul hears about this young church from prison in Rome. Apparently, his friends like Luke, Epaphras, Timothy, and Mark visit him, bring supplies, and also bring him news of the churches around the empire. Paul prays for these churches and sometimes sends letters of instruction and encouragement.

The whole region of Phrygia brings together various cultures and ideas. For many years, traveling caravans of tradesmen, armies, and wisdom teachers have been sojourning through the area. Their influence has shaped a mix of religious and philosophical trends. The culture includes many mystery religions with varying degrees of initiations and rituals as well as a strong Jewish community. This region has assimilated many of these influences the way people live and think about the world.

As the gospel is proclaimed and new churches are formed, there is always a risk that the new converts will simply add the story of Christ into their mix of beliefs and practices. Paul writes the saints in Colossae to remind them of that Christ is not one among many gods. Their true identity is in Christ Jesus. Today we live in a culture distracted by wealth and technology and never-ending political power games between various groups. Plus, there is an overall confusion in the culture about identity particularly about what is means to be a person, an American, and even a Christian. I think Paul’s letter gives us wise instruction about understanding who we are and what we are called to do.

Paul opens his letter in prayer and thanksgiving for this young community. He writes, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.” (Colossians 1:3-5)

He mentions “faith in Christ Jesus,” “love for all the saints,” and “hope laid up for you in heaven.” At the risk of oversimplification, I am going to draw up these three themes over the next few weeks as we look at Colossians. In several of Paul’s letters, he will discuss the role of faith, hope and love in the community of God’s people. In Colossians, he suggests that faith and love come from the hope laid up in heaven. We’ll start with hope, then next week look at faith, and finally consider love.

Hope is oriented to the future. Some people hope they will win the lottery. It is unlikely and yet, they dream of spending that mountain of cash. Much of the modern age has been infatuated with hope in the historical process. This is optimism in never-ending progress. World Wars 1 and 2 killed that hope for many, and yet this belief in the world getting better and better continually resurfaces. For example,  many people hope that technology can solve all our problems. Some people hope in power. If they can take power from those who hold power, they can solve the world’s problems. This illusion has persisted as long as humans have walked the planet. Some people hope for an idea, a discovery, a formula, a concept that will simplify everything and connect the world.

Many of these kinds of hopes are not completely misguided but they are limited, they are contingent, they promise more than they deliver. When Paul speaks of hope, he is not speaking of a process or an idea but a person: Jesus Christ who lived, died and rose again. In his resurrection and ascension, Jesus reveals the future of humanity and of all creation. In this sense, Paul speaks of hope as a future memory.

He grounds this hope for the future in the memory of Jesus Christ and of the Jewish people. In 1:13-14, Paul rehearses the action of Jesus Christ: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” [1] This picture of Jesus delivering us reveals our own captivity in the kingdom of darkness as well as Jesus Christ’s act of forgiving our sins and leading us into His kingdom of light. This is the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” So in one sense, we have been transferred to this new kingdom even as we pray for the fullness of God’s kingdom to be revealed in and around us.

Simultaneously, this deliverance is framed by a more ancient memory. The memory of God rescuing His people from slavery in Egypt and leading them through the Red Sea and to the holy mountain. It is quite possible that the Colossians from pagan background would have missed this reference but it would be unmistakable for the Jewish Christians. As the community discussed Paul’s letter, they might begin to reflect on the promise of rescue for Israel that has now been extended to all peoples. The future hope is rooted in rightly remembering God’s promise of redemption and God’s fulfillment of that promise.

For St. Brendan’s this act of remembering or anamnesis is the act of retelling the Gospel story in Scripture, song, story, and finally in the great thanksgiving as we partake of Christ’s body and blood. The whole movement of our service is a movement toward freedom and hope. We enter through the waters of baptism, an image of crossing the Red Sea and leaving slavery behind. We worship the Lord, we hear his exhortation in Scripture and sermon, we retell the Gospel story every time we take communion, and then we come forward in our weakness for the food and drink of Christ, focusing upon His redeeming grace in our lives. This act of remembering is an act making the past event of the life, death and resurrection of Christ present. We lift up our hearts even as He leads us upward in His ascension. 

We are remembering our true source of hope as we look forward. Why do we hope in Christ at all? As we have heard the Gospel in testimonies, scripture preaching, and more, our hearts have been opened by the power of the Spirit to God’s unveiling truth. We have experienced the power of witness.

Witnessing is the testimony of how this promise in Christ Jesus has impacted the lives of its hearers. Paul suggests that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is self-authenticating or authenticated via the work of the Holy Spirit. We can see it by the fruit that grows out of the proclamation. This metaphor of fruit-bearing is used in two ways. This Good News bears fruit as it spreads through the empire as people retell the story. And it also produces fruit in the hearts of the people.

We can look across history and see story after story of how this simple Gospel proclamation has spread like seeds in the wind. In the early 1900s, West African William Wade Harris felt called to walk to the French Ivory Coast with the word of the Gospel. He walked from town to town proclaiming the Gospel story and in 18 months over 100, 000 people came to faith. This simple act of obedience transformed the landscape of West Africa and continues to impact the region today. In fact, many of the revivals of the last 50 years in the African continent are often the outgrowth of earlier work by individual Africans simply proclaiming the Gospel story.

This fruit does not simply spread like seeds in the wind, but it also changes people and places. prays for the people that they will “bear fruit in every good work and increase in the knowledge of God…[2] The spirit of God is changing His people, healing His people, and transforming them into the very image of Christ Jesus. As we seek to reach a distracted culture, we don’t need slogans. We are becoming the fruit of Christ. We tell our story to those around us. We return again and again to the source of our hope, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For Christ Himself is our hope and the hope of our world. I recommend reading Christian History magazine because every issue filled with stories that recount the impact of the Gospel across the ages.[3]

In the final verses of Colossians 1, Paul explains how no other power or idea or god is even comparable to Christ Jesus. He is the image of the invisible God. All things seen and unseen were created in him and for Christ. In his resurrection, he reveals the hope of new creation. Our ultimate identity and fullness is found in Christ. He is opening our future in surprising and loving ways that will reveal glory in us even as glory is revealed in all creation. This passage is so densely packed, I can only lightly highlight it. It would require more time and discussion to truly open the beauty of the final verses of Colossians 1.

Let me end with a short story of how the Gospel of Jesus Christ opened the future for one man.

Like many young German men in the 30s and 40s, Jurgen Moltmann ended up serving in the German army. Soldiering didn’t come natural for him, and he describes his experiences in battle as both chaotic and terrifying. More than once he watched a fellow soldier die at his side. Eventually captured by British troops, Moltmann ended up in Scotland. Despair overwhelmed many of the German soldiers as they came face to face with the atrocities of their own nation. Additionally, some of the SS captives routinely harassed their fellow German soldiers who turned against Hitler. Some soldiers simply gave up on life and died in their own dark sadness. Moltmann knew this dark anguish of soul. His days and nights riddled with guilt for his nation and his service to that nation. He was befriended by a Scottish family and given a Bible to read. Psalm 39 felt like his own prayer of grief,

I am dumb and must eat up my suffering within myself.My life is as nothing before thee [Luther’s version].
Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry.
Hold not thou thy peace at my tears,
for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.[4]

Over time, the Gospel took shape in his eyes and heart, opening a new path forward in his life. Moltmann writes about this gradual awakening,

“This early companionship with Jesus, the brother in suffering and the companion on the road to the land of freedom, has never left me ever since, and I became more and more assured of it…right down to the present day, after almost 60 years, I am certain that then, in 1945, and there, in the Scottish prisoner of war camp, in the dark pit of my soul, Jesus sought me and found me. ‘He came to seek that which was lost,’ and so he came to me when I was lost. There is a medieval picture which shows Christ descending into hell and opening the gate for someone who points to himself as if he were saying, ‘And are you coming to me?’ That is how I have always felt. Jesus’ God-forsakenness on the cross showed me where God is present—where he was in my experiences of death, and where he is going to be in whatever comes. Whenever I read the Bible again with the searching eyes of the God-forsaken prisoner I was, I am always assured of its divine truth.[5]

Moltmann discovered such the hope in the future through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that he has spent the rest of His life writing a theology of hope. When I first discovered him, I had a rather dismal view of the future. When I read “Theology of Hope,” I encountered Jesus Christ in a way I had never expected. I saw how in his resurrection and ascension, the future hope of resurrection breaks into our world and lives even now. Here is the hope of God creating new life, new churches, and a new future in the midst of confusion, chaos, and struggle.

New Testament churches like Colossae and contemporary churches can focus so much on arguing about liturgy, theology, worship styles, activism, politics, and even prayer books that they end up losing site of our hope in Christ.

What is the hope we at St. Brendan’s offer the culture around us? Nothing more, nothing less than the Gospel of Jesus Christ opening up a new world that is breaking in even now.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 1:13–14.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Col 1:9–12.

[3] https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/

[4] Jürgen Moltmann, A Broad Place: An Autobiography, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2009), 30.

[5] Jürgen Moltmann, A Broad Place: An Autobiography, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2009), 30–31.


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