Monday, July 15, 2019

Bearing Fruit - Colossians 1:1-14

Bearing Fruit
Tony E Dillon Hansen

A Sermon based upon Colossians 1:1-14, Deuteronomy 30:9-14, Luke 10:25-37, Psalm 25:1-10

Let us begin with prayer. May the words of my mouth and meditations of all of our hearts be accepted in Your sight, Our Rock and Our Redeemer!

The Young Student
First a story about a young student testing for promotion in TKD - asked to break a board. She looked at the board and the holder with serious apprehension and looked around scared. I am sure she could describe to you how the board looked big and menacing to her. I as the holder said, “you can do this.” She lifted up her leg and bam - nothing broke. Then a second time, same thing . Then, I said to her, “pause and breathe we are with you and not against you.  Go through the board – don’t meet it. You can do this!” Other people offered words of encouragement as well. She collected herself, set, lifted her leg, bam and through the board she went. She looked with astonishment and jumped at her accomplishment while the room applauded.

Sometimes, we just need some encouragement that we are doing the right thing - that people see or recognize the effort, and our lectionary today gives us some of that.

Our epistle today comes from Colossians, and this is written as a strong encouragement for that community (and ours) to continue to be faithful.  This encouragement is done with prayer and the image of bearing fruit is core to this message.  So what does “bearing fruit” mean? (I am glad you asked, and to help this...)

One theologian remarks that one cannot read the epistles without digging into the other parts of the scripture, and this lesson is a perfect example of that.  Our lectionary offers some specific examples and takes us through Torah law in Deuteronomy with “God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock and the fruit of your soil…” The lectionary also takes us to the story of the Samaritan in Luke with a fellow offering much needed comfort to someone in distress. 

How do these texts inform us as to what this letter to Colossae says about bearing fruit?

Deuteronomy Fruit.
Of Deuteronomy, the scripture reminds that command in the Torah is to do the good work of God with all your heart and all your soul. This calls to our familial, growth, agricultural and ecological fruitfulness traits. (We could go further into Genesis with this and observe “be fruitful and multiply.” )

This however could be misconstrued to expect a certain kind of prosperity as reward. (Besides prosperity for a single person might be different than a person, like me with a family.) Prosperity can be defined in so many ways – not just money. So what kind of reward is God mentioning in Deuteronomy.

The fruit may be an allusion to the covenantal relationship as the gifts of God that permeates all parts of our lives – not just at worship.

Last time I was here, we talked about justification by faith and daring greatly to live our faith and this portion of Deuteronomy roots our faith, our justification and our prosperity in good works of (oh oh oh not you or me but God). 

That leads us to the Gospels.

DOC General Assembly - Abide as Fruit
I should note here that Des Moines will be hosting DOC version of GS this coming weekend.  Their theme comes from John 15 where Jesus refers to being “the vine… and those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.” Thus, this fruit again talks about covenant: to love God and to love our neighbor “with whole heart and soul.”  You ask who is my neighbor?

Summary of the Samaritan.
Another great because in Luke, Jesus was asked the same question.  Jesus provides us a lesson (a parable) of a Samaritan in Luke where two people were given a chance to help a person in need.  A priest and a Levite, people of privilege and duty, walked along the other side of the road and who did not, could not and would not be bothered to help.

When a particular Samaritan arrives, he sees the traveler and moves to help – the Samaritan sees (sees) while the others ignored. The Samaritan is moved to help - without knowing the details about the traveler.

Seeing the Invisible.
I have remarked about my work with UBFM in our work with area homeless. In these interactions, one thing the Spirit teaches us is the value and dignity of every single human being. For so long in my life, I would simply walk by and not even know there was person sitting on the park bench.  For so long, I would drive by an overpass and not realize that someone has been living in the crevice for the last couple months. (Maybe you are nodding because you recognize your behavior.) For so long, I just did not see… 

We could deliberate for a long time why we do this.

In the face of that, I submit that the Holy Spirit works magic, and that can yield unexpected and remarkable changes our lives.  You can no longer un-see, and you might suddenly realize how beautiful your own life is with wonders, privileges and joys in the midst of our own brokenness, bills, worries – when you are willing to see. This is not necessarily a sense of righteous pride but realizing the privileges that we have been afforded are things we could lose.  

Seeing is Mutually Beneficial
I can tell you stories about some of these encounters where the sustenance we provided was received with joyful tears of honest, grateful blessings upon us in turn.  While they were appreciating the food and supply, one thing I feel is that we seeing them instead of looking away or ignoring is the important part.

As someone who studies martial arts and self-defense, this is two-fold. Seeing means I recognize who is in my environment, but seeing people is recognizing God’s child  and God’s creation right there in some actually interesting and subtle beauty.

We don’t hand out money but when I do see a person on a corner holding a sign -- I no longer quickly turn up the windows or hastily look busy trying not to make eye contact. I, at least, acknowledge they are there – and that can be powerful for each of us. 

I know some people and media like to paint a picture that these people are just manipulating our good emotions, but I guarantee you people are in real distress all around our community. And all God’s children deserve to be treated with dignity rather than ignored. Go ahead and say hi!

That is where the Samaritan is important because this person crossed culture lines and walls of society but gave no question of condition for giving comfort – like a good caregiver  would do.

Bearing Witness
So these texts reminds us of our covenant to God and our neighbor and compel us to see our neighbor – and does not put conditions on that. 

That brings us back to our epistle. Another way to read Colossians is in parallel where bearing fruit is bearing witness. 

When we witness the suffering (whether racial injustice, kids in cages at the border, Native Americans having water rights stolen from them, shaming or bullying), are we moved to help? -- because that is what God is calling us to do.

That seeing might make us uncomfortable and uneasy, but loving God and the rewards of that Spirit call us to do the good Christian work “daring greatly” even when it makes us uncomfortable.

It could be easy for us to quietly brush aside someone’s hurt as someone else’s issue or when we defiantly refuse to see what is happening… We are forgetting the command we have been given – to love God and our neighbor with our whole heart.

What if it was you?
You could even flip the roles. What if you were put in a position where you felt like you had no one to help you, the system fails you, or people were constantly avoiding the systemic problems while calling it “good.”  You might be a little annoyed and would you feel hurt. (Our theme from General Synod is to be the seasoning and to light the world with God’s love, less we are tasteless and buried from sight.  )

Transformative power of God
Thus, we are called into service, we can “dare greatly”, and we can “rise strong” in our faith. That starts with us seeing and witnessing the power of God and light in the children of God that are all around us. We can see the blessings of humanity in all the nooks and crannies of our lives, the world. There, we will see God at work.

When we see and we witness God working, then our lives and our hearts can be transformed by the mighty power of God. Then no one will be able to put out your light or that of others because you felt love of God deep in your heart.

We can be rescued from the power of evil and transform into the full power of grace, faith and hope. That becomes contagious in good way.  Wouldn’t that be nice? To see a whole community moved to be and do the graceful work of God (rather than be consumed by division and hate because we refused to see.)  All it takes is just one act to start – to see, to bear fruit, and to bear witness.

When the TKD student felt encouraged and in community with us, then she witnessed what she could do, and she lit up and filled the whole room with her joy!

Lift up your eyes, bear fruit, bear witness to the light, bear witness to God, bear witness to your neighbor (no matter where they are on life’s journey) and be moved to mercy with love, compassion and faith.

Then, you may be filled with spiritual wisdom and understanding as you share that witness with our neighbors – near and far. Then together, we can all lift up God’s grace, and bear fruit that God has blessed us all, as children of God, with these wonderful gifts with all your heart and all your soul.

Thanks Be to God.