Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:12–17, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
This whole text sounds great. I think we should do it. Listen again: be compassionate, kind, humble, patient, bearing with one another. And don't forget forgive. Just think how great things would be around here if we all did all of these things and put them on just like we would our coat to go outside in the chilly air. And oh, not just do them, but do them all, all the time, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. What is this mean? It means not dividing what we do at church, whether it's here in the sanctuary or in the fellowship hall, from what we do outside of the church. You know, where you live, where you work, where you eat, where you play, everywhere, always. It means to everyone, too. That is, be kind, compassionate, humble, patient all the time with everyone you meet and know. Now look around you. Certainly there's someone here who puts at least one of those things to the test for you. And you can put on a happy face, but inside, your patience, your ability to bear, your kindness, is stretched to the limit. And that's here in the church where everything is supposed to be "nice". What about outside these brick walls? There's that neighbor who just won't cooperate for "neighbor's" sake. Or the person you work with who undermines everything you do, or sits waiting for you to make a mistake and pounce. Or even more now days the people who disagree with you on politics, social issues, and even religious issues. These days there just is no polite political, social or religious discourse. People now seem to think that you think like they do or you are evil. Out there where the world is not always "nice" it's even harder, isn't it?
And we are to do all of this, "in the name of Jesus". That means, we are to do it like Jesus did or how he wants us to do it. Well we know he was perfect, did everything perfectly, but does that mean he expects us to do it that way? Well I'm afraid so. The gospel writer Matthew tells us that Jesus says exactly that. In the sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapter 5 verse 48 Jesus requires us to be perfect.
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48, ESV)
and right after that he says
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1, ESV)
So not only does he require you to be perfect, it's not just on the outside to be seen by other people. Jesus wants you to be perfect in your heart. That means not just acting compassionate, kind, humble, patient, and bearing but feeling it in here (in your heart). You have to be motivated to do it with a pure heart, a perfect heart, one that thinks more of your neighbor than yourself.
Well, you know what the problem with that is? Have you ever tried to make yourself humble? You start by making yourself look humble. And then you try to make your heart itself humble. And as soon as you see someone looking at you, you start to feel pride welling up at how humble you're looking. And have you ever tried to make yourself thankful? The problem is in order to be thankful, you have to have something happen to be thankful for. That's just the way it is with humbleness and thankfulness. In fact that's the way it is with all of these things, kindness, humbleness, patients, and even forgiveness. These things must come to you from outside of you. You do not have them in you. And Jesus says this too:
And [Jesus]said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” (Mark 7:20–22, ESV)
Actually, this is the whole point of the text. St. Paul is not telling you to gin up some motivation within yourself to get these things going. He says "put them on." Just like you will put on your coat to go back outside today. You have your coat, you put it on, and you stay warm. So St. Paul says just like your coat, put on these things. Well actually, he says "Put on then…" The "then" is the thing that happens that enables you to put them on. He doesn't leave you guessing he tells you exactly what the "then" is. Back in Chapter 2 of this letter:
having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,” (Colossians 2:12–13, ESV)
This is your connection to Jesus, his life death and resurrection. This is what makes the things that he did yours. In Holy Baptism your old sinful nature was crucified to death. And then you were made alive by God together with Christ. You have the forgiveness of sins in Holy Baptism. Jesus' death on the cross satisfies God's anger, pays the punishment you deserve, for the sinfulness that is in your heart; for your inability to do anything with a pure motivation; for your hypocritical "looking good on the outside" but being corrupt and self-motivated on the inside. This forgiveness is the "then" that comes to you from outside of yourself. It's the thing that gives you all of what God would have you do. Martin Luther said it like this:
What does such baptizing with water indicate?
It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
St. Paul says it like this:
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.
The peace of Christ is the peace proclaimed by the Christmas angels to the shepherds. It is the peace brought by Jesus in his birth, life, death and resurrection. It is the peace Jesus gave to his disciples on the first Easter Sunday when he appeared to them behind locked doors. They were hiding out, guilty of betraying him. And he appears not bringing punishment and anger but says instead "Peace be with you." In other words, "I know your sin, I know your heart, and I forgive you." Jesus put on them forgiveness and peace. When St. Paul says let this peace rule in your hearts he is saying nothing less than focusing on the gifts given in the water and the Word that were poured and spoken over you that made you a forgiven child of God. And then St. Paul says:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
And now because you have the peace of God, that is the forgiveness of sins, you can let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. And you can put on kindness, compassion, humility, patience and forgiveness. This is the new man that daily emerges through the hearing of God's word, confession of one's sins, and the receiving of forgiveness. Which is nothing less than living in your baptism every day. You can be compassionate because you know God was compassionate to you in forgiving the sin that comes with your internal motivation. And your neighbor benefits from your compassion. You can be kind because you know that God was kind to you in forgiving your sin that comes from your internal motivation. And your neighbor benefits from your kindness. You can be humble because you know God forgives you your hypocritical humbleness. You can bear with other people because you know God bears with you and your sin through the forgiveness won by Christ. And your neighbor benefits. And you can forgive. In fact St. Paul gives special attention to forgiveness. He says to forgive each other "as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive." Your inability and unwillingness to forgive is a sin also forgiven by Christ on the cross. When your neighbor comes to you and asks for forgiveness you must tell them they are forgiven. You cannot withhold Jesus' forgiveness from your Christian brothers and sisters as if your unwillingness to forgive them somehow made Jesus' forgiveness invalid. It is theirs because God gives it for the sake of his son's death on the cross. You can't change that by your sin, that is your unwillingness or inability to forgive. This is exactly why we used the confession and absolution this morning from Compline. We stand and face each other across the aisle, confess our sins to one another, and pronounce the forgiveness that is ours through Jesus Christ. And living in that forgiveness, you know that your sins are forgiven, as great as they are, you are able to forgive. You announce the grace of God to those who sin against you knowing that your sins are forgiven. And your neighbor benefits.
So put them on, all of them. Practice compassion, kindness, humbleness, patience, bearing with one another, oh and don't forget forgiveness. These are all yours given to you by God through faith in Jesus Christ who gives you forgiveness above all. You can put them on and do them for the benefit of your neighbor knowing that even though your motivation is not always right God forgives your sin and your neighbor benefits. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen