Text: Colossians 1:1-12
This past spring I visited Windy Gap, a Young Life camp near Asheville. It is a very special place to me. Maybe you have a place like that, too. So much special happened there in my life, particularly my spiritual life. I visited the camp when it was first being built and I was a child. Growing up my church went there on retreat much like we do to Bonclarken. There were college retreats there as well, and that’s where I proposed to Heather. I also worked for Young Life there one summer and have continued to provide music and retreats there throughout my adult life. And now there is a pastor retreat I go to every spring with the Barnabas Center. Just driving on the winding road into the camp, nestled in the mountains, stirs up memories and feelings and nostalgia. It is special to me among all the places that are special.
This last time I visited, however, I had an interesting insight. What makes Windy Gap so special to me isn’t the place itself. It is beautiful, but the cabins and dirt and water aren’t magic. It is special to me because I had meaningful experiences with God and with people there. It’s God and the work God was doing in me and with others that was special. It’s not unlike the bread or juice we have at communion. I often mention or pray about it being regular bread and juice from the grocery store. It might even be that when you buy grape juice for home it makes you think of communion and worship. But it’s not those things that make communion special. It’s what God did through Jesus.
Why do I share all that? I do because in today’s text Paul is giving thanks for his own very special place, the church at Colossae. And in application today I want to talk about this church that is special to us: Good Shepherd. But Paul points us in the right direction. It is not the city of Colossae that is special, it is the people and what God has done among them. Likewise, I want to try to direct us to what is so extraordinary here. Like the phrase on the wall as you come in, we are ordinary people; but we follow a God who is extraordinary. And I want to give thanks with you for that.
First Church of the Colossians
This week’s scripture is similar to last week’s in that Paul writes super-long sentences. Indeed, after the opening greeting of “grace and peace” verses 3-8 form a 132-word sentence. And verses 9-12 are a 107-word sentence. I know sentence diagramming is a thing long past, but if you’ve ever done such a thing, you should try diagramming one of these sentences!
So I’m going to do like I did last week and summarize these long sentences into their main ideas. Except I’m not going to walk through it in quite as much detail as last week. It goes something like this:
He has heard of their faith in Christ and their love for each other.
That’s all there in verse 4 and all the rest of the sentence is just detail. Here are some of the details: their notable faith and love comes from the hope they have from hearing the truth about Jesus. And it’s bearing fruit and increasing. These are the things we talked about last week as well: CARE and GROW. The care about God and others and they are growing. And Paul commends that, gives thanks for it, and prays for it to continue.
In verses 9-12 he adds another reason he continues to pray for them: it’s so that they will grow in knowledge and live in faithfulness, bearing fruit in their lives. Again, themes of GROW and CARE are at the forefront.
Now Paul will go on to write a whole long letter to these Christians, but I was struck by this introduction because it is so similar to the themes we have been talking about the last few weeks. This is not only why the session and I are thankful for Good Shepherd; it is also the direction the congregation, staff, and leadership sense that God is leading us. So I want to turn to and talk about Good Shepherd in a way similar to what Paul does here in Colossians.
Ordinary Place, Special People, Extraordinary God
Like Paul, I am indeed grateful for Good Shepherd. But it’s not the building or the geography; it’s God and it’s you. I am grateful for God and I am grateful for you. And I do indeed pray for you and pray for us. And I am struck that the two main things that stood out to Paul about the Colossian church are two of the things that stand out to me about you. Good that they do – they are a close version of the Great Commandment! But I remember when I was first interviewing here. On paper I was draw to Good Shepherd because of clear faith in Jesus Christ and scripture. I pressed the search committee on that, because it’s easy to say that on paper, but it’s another to practice what you preach. Not only did the search committee affirm their personal faith in Jesus as representative of the elders and congregation; it was also the highest priority for them in a pastor and they pressed me on my own personal faith.
And then the love for one another was evident from the start, from the house-warming for us, arriving with two toddlers and four months pregnant with Elizabeth, to the demonstrable love the congregation had for one another. Paul even calls back to a previous pastor, Epaphras, crediting him with teaching the Colossians the faith they hold and practice. Likewise, I have always been thankful for the founding of the church and the effective ministry of Bill Katibah. The impact of his faithful ministry was evident from the beginning and still is a part of who we are.
And with Paul’s second sentence in verses 9-12, I pray that our future will be one of growing in that knowledge and love of God, and in our compassion and love for each other and for the world around us. That’s it in a nutshell, right… love God; love others? The question for us is two-fold: will we continue to seek God and what will that look like?
How can we combine personal caring and growing to be the church God wants us to be?
That led us to a discussion about whether there are one or two things that make us unique, for which we’d be known for the sake of Christ. We struggled a bit to come up with that. We mentioned things we have been known for in the past: clear beliefs; friendliness; creative arts, drama, and music; youth ministry. And made the observation that churches can often get immobilized trying to re-capture the things they used to be known for. What hasn’t changed for us is faith in Jesus and in God’s Word. What has changed is people, the culture around us, demographics, and more. After last night’s Jazz concert, I have no doubt that music will continue to be something we are known for. The Christmas Shoppe is coming up and this is only the second year it has been hosted at Good Shepherd. I suspect that if we are willing to continue taking it on as a whole congregation that it will be something we are known for in years to come. Our preschool continues to be something we are known for, and enrollment is significantly up for the second year in a row. We are rebuilding children and youth ministry, but we could not be more blessed in that endeavor than we are with Zach as well as with committed families who want to see that ministry grow and thrive. But it remains a question for us to ponder together: what will we be known for, for the sake of Christ?
A little bit later in the service, Chuck Jenkins and Zach Drummond are going to share around these same thoughts. They will tell you some of the reasons they are thankful for Good Shepherd. They will also probably share a little of what they believe it will look like for us to GROW and CARE under God’s leading in the coming year(s). I’d ask you to think along those same lines as well, and to share those thoughts with me or with a staff member or elder as we continue to listen carefully to the Lord in our church life together. Amen.
- Forever (Tomlin)
- Speak, O Lord (Getty/Townend)
- SOLO: O Saviour, Hear Me (Gluck, arr. Buck)
- My Faith Looks Up to Thee (OLIVET)