May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer.
Last summer, my husband planted a number of fruit trees in our backyard.
The house that we bought in the middle of North Oshkosh, came with a surprising whole acre of backyard.
When Chris planted these trees,
Neither of us were prepared for how much anxiety the health of those trees would bring him.
He’s pretty constantly nervous about what seems to be excess sap,
About whether there are aphids,
About why this tree hasn’t left dormancy yet,
About whether the trees that lost most of their growth from last year will grow enough to survive this winter.
This anxiety drives both of us nuts.
And in the midst of it all, it’s easy to forget that the point of having these trees,
Was to actually get FRUIT.
Not to fret and fuss about the health of the trees.
But that anxiety,
That amount of time putting out fires,
That majority of my husbands attention goes to the trees that need the most help:
Sometimes makes it hard to celebrate the good that is happening in the midst of them:
The fact that some of these trees are already bearing some fruit:
Even just one year after having been planted!
It’s quite easy to lose the forest for the,
Well, not exactly the trees:
But maybe to lose the forest for the WEEDS.
Church life, especially in this day and age,
Is not too dissimilar to this.
We can get so bogged down in trying to manage problems:
In dealing with the misery people experience,
In negotiating conflict,
In turning to address social ills,
In dealing with buildings:
Running toilets, and higher than normal water bills.
We worry about how many people are coming,
And how old they are,
Worry about whether this program or that will have enough volunteers,
Or even enough participants:
That we forget to take time to simply give thanks for the places where ministry is flourishing:
Where it is yielding what were in this ministry together FOR:
For bearing fruit.
Today, we heard a reading from Colossians.
And Colossians is a book often overshadowed by Ephesians:
Which takes its themes and extends them and makes them more universal.
You add on to that the fact that what we have today is the intro to Paul’s letter.
And it seems like it might not be a reading for an enthralling sermon.
But this introductory material hides within it an opportunity to revel in the sort of unusual:
And NON-controversial aspect of this book of the Bible.
I don’t mean controversial by our modern standards.
What I mean is,
A lot of times: when Paul is writing his letters,
It’s to address a controversy or problem within the community.
But not in this letter to the Colossians.
By all accounts,
Paul seems NOT to have known the church at Colossae.
Rather, he’s HEARD about the faith of the people at Colossae.
What’s more: is that there doesn’t seem to be any real problem in the church that occasioned his letter.
No real conflict.
The issues that Paul addresses throughout the letter,
The issue of the potential for false philosophy of teaching that could lead astray,
Seems more aimed as a general threat posed in the wider church:
Not a particular problem at the church of the Colossae.
Unlike with the Romans, Galatians, or Corinthians,
The Colossians don’t seem to have any active harmful teaching or discord in their community.
And this is good!
It's good because it shows us about Paul’s priorities and what he thought was important in ministry.
Paul decided to write a letter:
Something that involved a scribe, and runners to deliver the letter:
As well as taking significant time to have the letter transcribed,
To send some teaching and good news to a church that he had never visited.
He did this because he was impressed by the strength of their faith:
Of the fruit that they were bearing in terms of growth in good works,
And in terms of the growth in understanding.
Paul understood that it was important not only to correct those who needed correction (as in the case of his letters to the Romans, Galatians, or Corinthians)
But in the case of the Colossians, Paul shows the importance of remembering (and praising!) the real purpose of ministry:
The growth in fruit bearing Christians:
The growth in people who were themselves growing in the knowledge and Love of the Lord:
Of having more and more people actively moving from death into life.
What fruit are we bearing here at St. John’s?
What do we have to celebrate?
It’s easy to get bogged down with the anxiety around what we feel is missing,
And Paul reminds us today to celebrate what is right here.
The fruits of us:
To worship the living God.
The fruits of this congregation:
Moving out into the world:
To support the community through the food pantry, the thrift store, and our healing ministry.
The fruits of children:
Even little acolytes who are distracted by their games of rock-paper-scissors during the reading of the lessons.
I can imagine Paul writing a letter to the church in New London:
Imagine it with me today:
Maybe even turn into your reading insert,
To imagine these words written to us:
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in New London:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
In our prayers for you we always thank God
The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
For we have 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.
You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you.
Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world,
So it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.
This you learned from Epaphras,
Our beloved fellow servant.
He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf,
And he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
For this reason, since the day we heard it,
We have not ceased praying for you
and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him,
as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power,
And may you be prepared to endure everything with patience,
While joyfully giving thanks to the Father who as enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.
He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Let us remember the goal that Paul presents to us:
The goal is the JOY that comes from fruitful ministry.
Naming, and celebrating those places (and there are many) where our ministries are bearing real fruit.
Enjoy the weekly sermons at anytime.