Dont let them put you down
A Sermon on Colossians 2: 6-19 by Nathan Nettleton, 29 July 2001
In baptism we are joined to Christ and we now live as he leads, and celebrate the freedom of others to do so also.
There are some dangers that arise from the decisions we have made to worship in ways which are quite different from those of most other evangelical churches. One is the danger of us thinking of ourselves as superior and thinking that everyone else should do as we do. At the other extreme is the danger of feeling uncertain and fearful because others say that we are inferior and that no one should do as we do.
In the letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul seems to have been more concerned about the latter. It would appear that there were some people in the church at Colossae who were peddling some questionable theories about the beliefs and practices that were essential to Christianity. Paul is obviously not impressed with some of their beliefs, particularly those about various spirit-powers that were seen as controlling much of the course of life. But what he seems to be even more concerned about is that the rest of the folks in the Colossian church are being made to feel that the practice of their faith is inadequate if its not as elaborate as that of those from the disruptive faction. Do not let anyone put you down, he says, and do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on having everything done their way.
These are important words for us to hear. I know that a number of you have friends who are suspicious of what goes on here and suggest that youd be safer to have nothing to do with it. To you Paul is saying: you dont have to answer to them, but to Christ. Christ is the head, and we in the body answer to the head, not to other parts of the body. Hands and knees operate quite differently and, so long as both are responding to the directions of the head, thats fine.
But maybe for some of us certainly for me it is the other danger that we need to be warned against. Our approach to worship is much more elaborate than that of many churches. In that regard we may be closer to those Paul was criticising at Colossae. For example, the Colossian trouble-makers were arguing that everyone had to observe certain sacred festivals and holy days. We pay closer attention to sacred festivals and holy days than many churches. But Paul doesnt say there is anything wrong with observing them they can foreshadow the coming reality of Christ, he says. However, there is no doubt that we would rouse his ire if we started speaking disparagingly of churches that didnt observe them as we do and suggesting that they were less Christian than us.
The same issue is present in dealing with the diversity in our own midst. Some like to kneel during certain prayers; some dont. Some like to cross themselves when naming the Trinity, others dont. Paul is saying, Live and let live. That is not to say that anything goes. Paul had no doubt that there were limits to the diversity that he was willing to tolerate. In this example, differing practices over sacred days could be tolerated; but attempts to enforce conformity could not. If a teaching or practice is a threat to the faith or freedom of others, then Paul would stop at nothing to oppose it. If it is just a variant response to the love of God in Christ and it is gracious and respectful of others; no problem.
In this passage, as in many others, Paul comes back to our common baptism as the basis of our unity in diversity. It was in baptism that we were marked out as Gods people, for in baptism our old lives were laid in the grave with Christ and we were raised by God, with Christ, as new people with a new identity. Now we are united to Christ. We are the body of Christ. And we live in response to the leading of Christ. We may not always perceive that leading the same ways. We may not always believe or do exactly the same things. But in Christ we are one people and, except when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we trust that others in the body are living out a faithful response to the love they have received in Christ; even if theyre doing it quite differently to us.
In a few minutes, we will be witnessing Garry reaffirming his baptismal vows and welcoming him into the membership of this church. That doesnt mean we think that he is the same as us in every way or that from this day on he has to be. I dont always agree with everything Garry thinks, even the bits I understand! But we share a common baptism. We and Garry been immersed into the mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and that is far far more significant than any of the things that make us different. For the time being, our journeys are running in parallel not identical, but compatible and mutually enriching. So we celebrate what we have in common and the diversity we can share with one another. But what we celebrate most of all is Christ, for it is Christ that has immersed us into this common life and enabled us all, with all our various beliefs and ways of doing things, to be one people, born of one baptism, fed by one loaf, filled with one Spirit, and destined for one future in God.