Passage: Colossians 1:11-20
Date: November 24, 2007
Preacher: Dr Jim Moiso
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She looked up at me from her hospital bed as I walked into her room ten days ago. At 96, Mina had been there for over a week, the result of a fall and a heart incident. The day before I saw her, she had probably had another incident. On oxygen, she had also contracted pneumonia. In her earlier fall, she had fractured a couple of vertebrae. On this day before she died, I said to her, "Mina, this isn't much fun, is it?" Contradicting me, she responded, "Oh, no, Jim. I have had such a wonderful life. I feel so blessed." Her face broke into her great smile. She went on to tell me yet again how grateful she was. This from a woman whose life was not easy, hardly privileged. She viewed life's glass as half-full, not half-empty, and overflowed with gratitude.
The writer to the Colossians prayed for those early Christians:
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from Christ's glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son... (1:11-13)
Mina would not have quoted these verses to explain how she did it, what was in her that enabled her to approach her life and life itself with joyful gratitude. But, as I have studied these words, they seemed to fit. "May you be prepared to endure everything with patience," we translate. Endure. In its Greek original, the word points to a kind of perseverance which is proven in battle, which holds position against enemy attacks. And patience? Makrothumia in Greek. Macro-large, great. And thumia, temperament or breath. You ever get to the point where you are about ready to loose it? Maybe not you, but I do, on very rare occasions, of course. And someone coaches me, "Breathe. Take a deep breath." Macrothumia, that big breath which enables us to endure.
Next that great phrase: do all that "while joyfully giving thanks to God, who has enabled us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light." Genuine gratitude originates, I believe, in joy. One cannot actually be truly thankful without joy. It is like the little girl, who opens the Christmas present from Aunt Sue. The dress's style is goshawful. There is no way that the child will ever consent to wear it. Yet, Mom instructs her, "Now, go over and thank Aunt Sue for the beautiful dress." If the child can conjure up the words at all, they will not reflect genuine gratitude. Joy will not accompany that exchange. Hardly what the writer had in mind for this small Christian community nestled in the middle of what is now the nation of Turkey. "May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from Christ...and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to God, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light."
What a prayer! Nothing goshawful about it. Our security, our strength, our ability to endure with joyful gratitude, none of that depends on our own efforts, our skill. From God's point of view, there is nothing we can do. There are no spiritual disciplines, there is no kind of compassionate caring for others, there is no ministry of justice we can do that will strengthen God's commitment to us. God's strength has already intervened and transferred us into the realm of Christ. Its done, and God did it. We celebrate that holy doing especially in infant baptism. The child cannot earn God's love. Babies are helpless and only selfish. Unable to love, to give, they only demand. And in Christ, God says "Yes, yes, there is nothing you can do. Moreover, there is nothing you need to do. I have done it for you. I already have enfolded you in my embrace." Accomplished. Eternally secure. We can bet our lives on it.
What a huge amount for which we can be grateful, any of us, all of us. Because of God in Christ, our glass is half-full and we do not have to fill it. Light streams in.
Four short days ago, many of us paused to look at our thanksgiving. My experience is that even for people of glad faith, thankfulness can be elusive. Feeling blessed often would not describe our experience. Consider just our prayers together on Sunday mornings. Even we clergy at times work to come up with items of joy. But concerns easily overflow. Rather than reflecting our faith, what a reflection of our culture that is. Reading the paper, watching the news-it is pretty obvious the half-empties are in charge. Listen to our own conversations about global warming, national politics, immigration law, Iraq, Iran, the Middle East, the price of gasoline, medical care, families in trouble, parts of Africa, wild fires in southern California, the mess in Colombia, child welfare-anybody getting depressed yet? Half-empties rule, and their dark powers often threaten to overwhelm us, even us as people of Christ Jesus.
It has always been so. It sure seemed so on that day when the Prince of Peace was executed by the powers of darkness. "Crucified, dead, and buried," we say. And then that hinge word, that powerful half-full word: "But... But, on the third day he rose again from the dead!" And God's world has been forever changed. Because darkness was not the last word. Half-empty is not of God.
A few years ago, a number of us traveled to Cuba to visit Presbyterian sisters and brothers. We knew their recent history, how beleaguered they were. We realized the paucity of their material resources. What we encountered, though, did not match our expectations. At times pushed down, these Christians stood tall. Their lives and their life together were permeated with joy and gratitude. They had so little, yet their hospitality and generosity were overwhelming. The strength to endure and deep joyful gratitude permeate their lives. Yes, they are subject to all of the weaknesses and foibles that we are. And yet, what we experienced in them was that half-full glass of life, of grace. They know that they are not alone. They need each other. They look to Christ. And like Mina, they proclaim their gratitude, their blessing.
In one of his books, Brother Roger quoted St. Augustine:
"Jesus, light of my life, do not let my darkness speak to me." In writing that prayer, Saint Augustine had this intuition: When our inner darkness invites us into conversation with itself, a dialogue takes place not with the Risen Christ but with what hurts us both in ourselves and in others. Where can that lead? Nowhere at all." (Peace of Heart in All Things, Nov. 13)
In Jesus Christ, we are graciously invited not into darkness, but into light. We are invited out of half-emptiness into half-fullness. We are invited into the strength that comes only from Christ's power. Martin Luther, faced with darkness, over and over again needed to remind himself. So he put his hand on his head and said, "I am baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. I belong to him." It is a gift, a gift of light. We are blessed indeed. The glass is half full, thank God. Amen.