First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Dr. Jane Florence
June 3, 2018
Scripture: Colossians 1:2-6,9-10
Sermon: “Preaching to the Saints”
Our reading comes from Paul’s letter to the Colossians. His salutation sounds much like his opening remarks to letters written to the Corinthians, Ephesians and many other early Jesus communities. He begins by identifying the recipient of the letter: “to the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.” What is it that one writes to the saints?
What does one preach to the saints, after one has been preaching to them for eleven years?
Paul begins his letters by giving thanks for those in the community. He gives thanks for the love they have for one another. He tells the community that he is praying for them. He doesn’t leave it at a generic, “my thoughts and prayers are will you.” He tells them what his prayers are for them. He prays that they be filled with knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom, that they may lead lives worthy of Christ and fully pleasing to God, that they will bear fruit in every good work they undertake and that they grow in intimate experiences of God.
What do you preach to the saints? At-a-boy! Good job! Way to go. You are doing great. Don’t stop. Keep it up. Keep growing your faith. Keep strong in your experiences of God. Go for it.
Remember Paul’s letters are not written to the ‘unchurched. He did not write to non-believers in an attempt to convert them. Paul wrote to communities who have committed to follow the Way of Jesus. Paul preached affirmation: You are doing great. And he preached exhortation: Don’t stop now! Keep going. That’s what one preaches to the saints. Early Jesus followers, those attempting to live as Jesus taught, appeared odd to the other folks around them. Their behaviors were strange different than the norm. They stood apart from the culture as they imitated Christ.
There was an English missionary in India whose mission board required him to keep detailed financial records. Double-entry bookkeeping would keep the monies accountable. The problem was the man had no background in accounting or business – didn’t know double-entry bookkeeping at all. He just wanted to help people and talk about Jesus. He tried to keep books right, but his balances were always off; the accounts kept getting mixed up. Money meant for food was spent for medicine and vice versa. It was a mess. He was honest, not ill-willed. He was just not very good with numbers. After much frustration, finally, the mission board released him as ‘unfit for the mission field.’ In truth, he was only unfit for bookkeeping. He accepted their decisions and left without incident, and no one knew where he landed next.
Years later, another missionary arrived in a remote village to introduce the people to Jesus. She told them of his kindness and his love for the poor. She told them how Jesus went to their home to eat with them, how he visited them when they were sick, how he fed the hungry, headed the sick, bound up the wounds of the brokenhearted. She told them how children loved to follow Jesus and how he loved them to gather around him.
The eyes of the native people lit up; their faces beamed when she spoke. She knew she was getting her message across, and she smiled too. One of them spoke up, “Miss, we know this Jesus you speak of. He has been living here for years.” They were eager to take her to see him.
It was the man who years earlier had been dismissed by the mission board. He had settled there to do his work unharnessed from the double-entry bookkeeping. Whenever anyone was sick, he visited them and waited up all night outside their hut if necessary, checking on them, tending to their needs. When they were hurt, he nursed their wounds. For the old and infirm, he brought them food and water. When cholera broke out in the village, he did his best to help.
Oh we know this Jesus you speak of. He has been living here for years…
On his last farewell address to the disciples, Jesus said, “truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and in fact, will do greater works than I.” He gathered his followers at the table, they share their meal together, he tells them, “You are going to do even more than I was able to…”
I doubt any of them ever walked on water. Or calmed a storm, or restored life to a friend dead three days. Greater works than Jesus? Us? We doubt it.
First there was one, Jesus could look into the eyes of one person, one face at a time. Jesus could heal one at a time. He could lay his hand on one fevered brow at a time. Jesus could be in one village, in one home, taking care of one person. Then there were twelve; then there were dozens, then hundreds, then thousands, and now millions claim to follow the Way of Jesus as brothers and sisters in Christ. Millions who can look into the eyes of millions in every single moment of time and show love. Millions who can do the works of Christ and show compassion. Millions “bear fruit” as scriptures says.
A group of women from Omaha, Nebraska can join together with their pink-hatted sisters from around the country along with their pink-hated brothers and sisters here and march – to show love and bear fruit.
A man who started serving donuts and coffee on Sunday morning years ago in the Gathering Place. He has been joined by dozens of others through the years to welcome and create hospitality and bear fruit.
A woman was appalled when she learned of young people sleeping on the streets of Omaha. She formed a group, and figured out how to feed the hungry, to bear fruit.
There have been groups here who felt called – who journeyed together to Russia and Chile, and Jamaica, and Mount Sequoia and all sorts of places in between. Not for a luxury vacation, but to sweat and to repair roofs and paint houses, to hold orphans and administer health care, and bear fruit.
There are a bunch of men who gather at dawn on Thursday mornings, to trim shrubs, mow grass, edge , to make our grounds a place of welcome, and share in coffee cake and fellowship and bear fruit.
Bulletin folders, newsletter stuffers, phone answerers, money counters, committee members, card writers, Sunday school leaders, protest marchers, letter writers, forum planners, ride givers, meal cookers, candle lighters, door openers…all bearing fruit.
“That they will bear fruit in every good work they undertake and in those ministries that they grow in intimate experiences of God”
Paul prays for the gathered “To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace to you and peace from God. In our prayers for you we always thank God, we have not ceased praying for you” Paul goes on in his letter, “for though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, and I rejoice to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ.” Paul continues with exhortations on how to live as Jesus people, then he says “devote yourselves to prayer, be aware of thanksgivings, and pray for us as well…”
I have no doubt that I am preaching to the saints today, brothers and sisters in Christ, all you beautiful works of God. In much gratitude, I give thanks for you.
In strong affirmation, I say, “You are Doing Great!” In exhortation, I urge, “Don’t stop now.”
In heartfelt promise, I will continue to pray for you. In much need and desire, I ask, “Pray for me as well.”