“DANCING WITH THE SAINTS”

COLOSSIANS 1:1-14

 

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              We embark on a new sermon series today that will take us to the beginning of Lent.  Over the next two months we will work our way through Paul’s Letter to the Colossians.  Open your pew bible and let’s begin.            

             As you turn there, I want to mention one curious fact about Paul’s relationship with the Colossian church.  The curious fact is this: in all likelihood Paul never, ever preached there.  Instead, it was probably a guy named Epaphras, who we will meet in just a moment, who carried the Gospel to Colossae.  Epaphras was converted to Christ during Paul’s three year stay in Ephesus, which was 120 miles west of Colossae, and being a native of Colossae, Epaphras became Paul’s representative to the city. 

            OK, got your place?  Colossians 1:1...

 

            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 Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

 

            As a quick aside Colossae was one of three churches in close proximity to one another in what today is modern Turkey.  It was Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis.  Laodicea and Hierapolis were larger cities, but Colossae had the largest church, probably because Epaphras, the founder of all three churches, hailed from there.  Let’s continue reading.

 

            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.

 

            Note, Paul has “heard” about their faith, he has not experienced their faith first hand.  This becomes clear in what comes next.

 

            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 leaned from Epaphras, our beloved servant. 

 

            Note, they did not learn this from Paul.  They learned it from Epaphras. 

 

            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 has 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. 

 

            I want to share something with you this morning, that may cause you to think less of me.  It will put me in jeopardy of losing my “man card.”  Here it is.  I love the television show, “Dancing with the Stars.”  Apparently, a lot of other people love it as well because season ten saw “Dancing with the Stars” beating “American Idol” in the ratings.  Anyone here watch it as well?  It’s quite a mix of contestants.  Some of the “celebrity” dancers are star athletes -- Apollo Ono, Kristi Yamaguichi, Chad Ochocinco, Jerry Rice - but a large number of the celebrities are recycled “has-beens”, retreaded actors, entertainers, singers, celebrities whose days in the limelight have come and gone.  Aging astronauts, pooped pop-stars, actors on extended hiatus - they all strut their stuff one more time.  Most of the “stars” have already burned out, but as they gamely give themselves over to their professional dancing partner, we find ourselves rooting for them.  At least I do, hoping they can pull it off and find that dancing muse to guide their steps.

            I suggest that’s the gist of what Paul is saying to the Colossians.  For Paul, what what he watches on TV is not so much “Dancing with the Stars,” as it is “Dancing with the Saints’”  He’s praying that the Colossians will grow in their faith, become mature, sharing in the inheritance of the saints.

            I’m sure you are familiar with the old Dixieland band standard “When the Saints Go Marching In.”  It’s traditionally played after graveside services.  After burying the dead the mourners leave the cemetery to the jazzy, jumping, jubilant strains of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”  Of course, nobody could march to that music.  “When the Saints Go Marching In” is a misnomer.  The saints don’t go marching in.  The saints go dancing in, and “Dancing with the Saints” is what Paul invites the Colossian Christians to do.  But to truly “dance” with these “saints,” requires some special steps.  Think of Paul as our dance partner, our dance instructor.  He’s the professional dancer - the Derek Hough, the Max Chermerkovsky - and he’s teaching us the steps we need to master in order to dance with the saints.  These steps are found in verses nine, ten and eleven, one in each verse, and each step begins with the word “may.”  

            Let’s begin with step one, outlined in verse nine. 

 

            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.

 

            That’s step one in our quest to “Dance with the Saints.”  We are to “be filled with the knowledge of God’s will.”  That’s the first step Paul wants to teach us, and as a quick aside, don’t you find it interesting that Paul says, “Since the day we heard it,” that is since Epaphras told us how well you are doing, “we have not ceased to pray for you.”  Wouldn't you think Paul would have said, “Since I've heard you're doing so well, I'm spending my time praying for someone else.   You've already arrived.” 

            Paul, however, does not do that.  What a contrast to what we normally do.   We come together and somebody says, “Well, what are the prayer requests?”   And people say, “Mr. So‑and‑So's got cancer and Mrs. So‑and‑So's got this, and her husband left her, and I know So‑and‑So needs a job, and there's a disaster over here and so, who gets prayed for all the time?   Generally speaking, we pray for all the people in trouble, and it’s important to pray for them, but we tend to neglect the people who are doing well, the people who are growing in Christ, the people who are being faithful, but not Paul.   Paul says, “Since I heard you're doing so well, I haven't stopped praying for you.”

            And he wants to make sure they continue doing well, so he reminds them of step one of the Saints Cha-Cha.  Keep being filled with the knowledge of God’s will. 

            Let me ask you a question: What do you hope to get out of being here at church today?  What do you hope to accomplish?  How will your life be any better as a result of you being here today, singing these songs, taking communion, visiting with your Christian family, and of course, from listening to this here sermon?

            The reason you are here, at least I hope it’s the reason you are here, is to come to a better knowledge of God’s will: for yourself, for humanity, for the created order.  We come, hopefully, not out of guilt or habit or tradition, but to be further filled with the knowledge of God’s will. When we know what God wants, when we have mastered step one, we are ready for step two.

            So that’s step one.  Now we come to step two of the Saints Cha-Cha: doing what God wants.  Verse 10,

 

            So that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work, as you grow in the knowledge of God.

 

            Step one: being filled with the knowledge of God. Step two: living a life worthy of the Lord.

            One of golf’s immortal moments came when a Scotsman demonstrated the new game to U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant.  The Scotsman, however, was not a very good golfer.  Carefully placing the ball on the tee, the Scotsman took a mighty swing.  The club hit the turf and scattered dirt all over the President’s beard and the surrounding vicinity, while the ball waited placidly on the tee. Again the Scotsman swung and again he missed.  After six tries and six misses, the President quietly stated, “There seems to be a fair amount of exercise in the game, but I fail to see the purpose of the ball.”

            President Grant made a statement that could be true about many lives, maybe even some of us here.  There seems to be a fair amount of exercise in our lives - we fill our calendars with things to do and places to go, but what’s the purpose of it?  For all the busyness in our lives we have to ask, “Are we getting anywhere from it?”  "Is there a purpose for it all?"  You see, purpose gives meaning to our lives.  It gives us the ability to say, “I know why I’m doing what I’m doing!”  And why are we doing it?  Remember step two: we do what we do in order to put a smile on God’s face.  We do it to live a life worthy of the Lord.  At the end of the day we ask God, “Did we put a smile on your face today?”  If the answer is, “Yes,” then we have led a life worthy of him. 

            OK, step one: being filled with the knowledge of the Lord.  Step two: living a life worthy of the Lord.  Now, step three of the Saints Cha-Cha:  being strengthened by God’s power.  Verse 11,

 

            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 has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.

 

            We need strength to live a life worthy of the Lord.  We need strength to keep our marriages together in a country where the divorce rate is over 50%.  We need strength to find our purpose in a culture where value is placed on all the wrong things.  We need strength to know how to be a good Christian in our workplace, the place where many of us spend more time in our week than we do at home.  We need strength to be good parents to our children, knowing that much is at stake as we strive to bring them up in the Lord. 

            Of course, the question is, “Do we really want that strength?”  I’ve just moved from preaching to meddling, haven’t I?  I mean, do we really want the strength to do what pleases the Lord?  If we really wanted to do what God wants we would be in God’s word every day so that we would KNOW what he wants.  And we would be in prayer every day asking for the strength to be able to DO what he wants.  We would be repenting of every sin that keeps us from being in his will.  We would want our speech, our dress, our giving, our time, our thoughts, our actions… everything to be in his will. 

          I’m guessing that most of us, and I’m including myself in this, are not really desiring to please God in every way.  Why?  Because there would be things we would have to give up.  We know we would have to make sacrifices with our time and money.  We know that there are things that we have been avoiding doing that we would have to start doing.

            And yet, this is Paul’s prayer for us: that we would know God’s will and that we would do it.  When an apostle prays for you, you listen up.  And since this letter is not only written to those in Colossians but also to us, this is Paul’s prayer for us.  Paul wants us to have strength in our Christian walk that can only come from the glorious might of God.  Paul’s prays that we would be strengthened with all power, not our own power, not the power of a motivational speaker, not the power of human wisdom, but the power of God’s glorious might. 

            Do we really want that strength as we start the New Year?  Do we really want to dance with the saints?