23 July, 2014

A Pep Talk

A sermon based on Colossians 3:12-17

As I mentioned, I was recently in Bali, Indonesia for six months. While I was there, I learned to surf. Everyone who has known me for more than two weeks has exclaimed, “What? You?” These are comments I heard when I told people I was going to learn.

Better be careful. You know how clumsy you are.

Is your insurance paid up?

Be careful of the sand, waves, water, and salt. 

OMG. You’re going to die!

Because it’s true. I’m clumsy. And in the past, when I’ve done things that were pretty risky (jumping off cliffs, snorkeling, and stuff like that) I’ve ended up hurting myself. I gashed my ankle getting in the boat snorkeling in Belize. I hit the bottom of a very deep river jumping off cliffs in Arkansas. I tore up both my knees diving off of different cliffs in Tennessee. Really, ya’ll. I fell while I was in Bali, not trekking in the woods, not doing anything at all dangerous… I fell walking down stairs in a tile pavilion at the Botanical Gardens.

And the antidote for being clumsy? It’s “Don’t do risky things.” I tried that. But not doing risky things means having a boring life. It means not going to Indonesia. It means not learning to surf. It means not welcoming new people into my life. Because loving people in life involves risk.

How many of you know Kid President? Kid President is a young African American named Robby who has osteogenesis imperfecta, which has resulted in over 70 bone breaks. Robby says brilliant things. If you haven’t looked him up, please, go home today and google Kid President, and watch his pep talk video. 

In one Pep Talk, Kid President says:

A poem: “Two road diverged in the woods…” “… and I took the road less traveled.” “AND IT HURT, MAN!” Really bad. ROCKS! THORNS! And GLASS! … NOT COOL ROBERT FROST. But what if there really were two paths? I want the one that leads to awesome.”

Rocks, thorns, glass! It’s promised. 

The recipients of our letter this morning, the Colossians and the Laodocians understood rocks, thorns and glass. Colossians was written by Paul or another follower of Jesus somewhere between in 60 CE and 80 CE. This 20 year era was full of rocks, thorns and glass. 

The government of Rome gave the illusion that they let the people worship and live how they wanted to live and worship. The reality was that you could do what you wanted, as long as Rome didn’t get upset with you. And they got upset with you if you didn’t worship the emperor. 

Christians and Jews wouldn’t worship the Emperor. In about 64 CE, Christians in Rome were accused of starting a horrific fire, which was probably set by Nero, and Nero murdered Christians brutally, just to prove that he could.

And in 70 CE, the Destruction of the Temple is coming. So the Christians are constantly being confronted with violence.

But it isn’t just state sanctioned violence. Remember that medical services weren’t available, and that children probably die at a high rate, and people just don’t live as long. The life expectancy in the Roman Empire went something like this: If you lived to be 10 years old, you’d probably make it to 45 or 47. But the actual life expectancy of this time was between 20 and 30.

These folks dealt with the same stresses we deal with. And on top of that, they had among them false teachers. Can you imagine what the false teachers might have said? They might have said, “These things are happening because of gay marriage.” They might have said, “That volcano erupted because you are all sinners.” Or they might have said, “Your children die because you don’t have enough faith.”

So Paul (or whoever) writes them a letter to refute those false teachers. It’s sort of a pep talk to the churches.

He writes:

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with 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 the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs 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.

It’s Paul’s pep talk. My paraphrase would sound like this:

“Life is short. Be kind. Forgive each other. Love each other. Be people of peace. Give thanks to God for everything.” Or, as Kid President so eloquently put it, “You were made to be awesome.”

Let’s break it down:

Clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.

Carlos Santana said, “The most valuable possession you can own is an open heart. The most powerful weapon you can be is an instrument of peace.”

Paul goes on to say: Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other. I was talking with someone this week about forgiveness, and he said, “Why should I forgive? She hasn’t apologized.” 

Miroslav Volf wrote:

Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners. But no one can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah for long without overcoming this double exclusion — without transposing the enemy from the sphere of the monstrous… into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness. When one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that the torturer will not eternally triumph over the victim, one is free to rediscover that person’s humanity and imitate God’s love for him.

Above all, clothe yourselves with 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 the one body. 

You know, Psalm 51 says, “Create in me a clean heart.” But I always wonder why we don’t ask for a new heart, one that hasn’t been broken. Clothing ourselves with love is tough. Because it’s hard to love when we know it’s going to hurt. 

Like the band Nazareth sang, “Some fools think of happiness, Blissfulness, togetherness, Some fools fool themselves I guess. They’re not foolin’ me.”

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. 

I just finished reading a book called Think Like a Freak, written by the two fellows who wrote Freakonomics… They did an experiment—

They asked people to let them (the writers) make decisions for them, small or large, by flipping a coin. People allowed them to do it, and they found that the decisions (whether yes or no) did not significantly change how happy the deciders were.

Finally, the writer admonishes us to give thanks. Maya Angelou said “Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer.” Give thanks for it all. Because at the root of all our sorrows, at the root of all our pain, is good stuff. 

Rocks, thorns, land glass, yes. But also, strength, love, peace. 

In case you’re wondering, even though I laid awake all night worrying about the sand, waves, water, and salt, and the healthcare in Bali, and sharks, stingrays, shrimp, and anything else I could worry about. I did surf. The sand, waves, water and salt were fine. And so were all the other things I was worried about. And you know what? It was hard! But there were a few moments of pure amazement. A couple of minutes (in the hours that I surfed) of pure heaven, of catching a wave and riding it, and standing up and feeling like I was the ruler of the world.

Risk it. You can’t go wrong.

Kid President follows the Robert Frost quote with this: 

What will you create to make the world awesome? Nothing if you keep sitting there. That’s why I’m talking to you today. This is your time. This is my time. It’s our time, if we can make everyday better for each other, if we’re all in the same team lets start acting like it. We got work to do. We can cry about it or dance about it. We were made to be awesome. Lets get out there. I don’t know everything, I’m just a kid. But I know this, its everybody’s duty to give the world a reason to dance. So get to it. You’ve just been pep talked. Create something that will make the world awesome.

You’ve all been pep talked.

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