4th Sunday after Pentecost
As a father shows compassion to his people, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. In the name of Jesus, who has enabled us to call God our dear and heavenly Father, dear friends in Christ, there once was a farmer who was out in his field on a tree line by a tree when he noticed that there was an eagle’s egg lying there on the ground. He looked up and sure enough way up in this tree was an eagle’s nest. But there was no way that he was going to return this egg to the nest. But he saw a different nest on the ground, it turned out to be a nest of a prairie chicken with other eggs in it. Soon the eggs all hatched. The baby eagle grew up with the prairie chickens shuffling it’s feet, picking at insects and seeds on the ground. It would look up and see the beautiful eagles flying above and it asked it’s fellow prairie chickens, what are those? Those are the magnificent eagles. Wow, he thought, to fly and soar like one of those eagles. But I’m just a lowly prairie chicken, pecking around and shuffling my feet. Then one day an owl came (who could also speak prairie chicken) and said, what are you doing? You’re an eagle, fly! No, no, no said the eagle, I’m just a lowly prairie chicken. Finally, the owl said, come with me, he put the eagle on his back and started to fly, at first the eagle thought this was great, but soon he was flying higher and higher and was getting scared, put me down! But then, the owl turned over, the eagle started to fall thinking it was going to die, but then stretched out its wings and soon it was soaring and flying like an eagle.
Now maybe you’ve heard that little story before. There’s a ton of different ways you could apply that little story. But today let’s think about this: how often in life do we forget our identity? Forget who we are? How easy it is for us to go through life pecking at the ground and shuffling our feet, wallowing in self-pity because we have this problem or that problem. How easy it is for us to fill ourselves with envy because we want the life of that person or we wish we had what that person has. How easy it is for us to dwell on our own sins, our own failures, our own problems, our own troubles. How easy it is to forget what it means to be a father, or what it means to be a mother, or what it means to be a Christian and a child of God. How easy it is to get all caught up with the things of this earthly life and forget who we really are, who God not only tells us we are, but whom He has made us to be. We can so easily be like that eagle who thought he was a prairie chicken and it reflects in they our attitudes and in our lives. But in our text for this morning God refocuses and redirects our attention. In our text, the apostle Paul was writing to believers in the city of Colossae. Today the city is in modern day Turkey and it seems like Paul actually hadn’t been to Colossae, but he had heard a lot about the believers there. Paul begins his letter with this prayer of thanksgiving to God for the believers at Colossae. In Greek its actually all one long sentence where he not only thanks God for the believers’ identity but also reminds them and us of our true identity.
He begins with thanksgiving to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, Paul says that he always gives thanks to God when he prays for them. How important thanksgiving is to our true identity. You see, giving thanks forces us to look outside of ourselves and at what God is graciously and wondrously doing in our lives. There is always reason to give thanks. And thankfulness changes our attitude. Is it possible to be down, depressed, angry and thankful at the same time? And what more reason do you and I have for being thankful! Not just physical blessings of which you and I would never be able to complete the list, but far greater than that is the fact that God is our Father because of the Lord Jesus Christ! God redirected us from the path of sin that led only to hell and eternal punishment and by His grace has given us heaven as His gift! That gives us every reason to give thanks, always!
But notice specifically what Paul gives thanks for here: he gives thanks, “because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints.” He’s thankful because he’s heard of the faith of other believers. Their faith wasn’t something that they could hide deep within them, it wasn’t something that helped them blend in with the rest of the world, faith does just the opposite. In a world full of selfishness and self-service, faith stands out. Living faith produces a self-less love for others. Living faith can’t help but show itself in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness. And this faith and love “spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you.” You see what happens? Through the gospel, the message of Jesus our Savior, the good news about how Jesus lived, died, and rose for you and me we’re brought to faith and strengthened in faith. It is through faith that God gives us a sure and certain hope of eternal life. Heaven is our home, that’s where we’re headed. We have a sure and certain hope that is unlike anything in this world, we have an inheritance that will never ever perish, spoil or fade. And that’s our identity- we are citizens of something that is outside of this world, we’re citizens of heaven! And knowing that shapes the way we live our lives. Our hope in heaven produces in us a love for others because we want others to have what we have, we want them to reach the same goal as us, we want them to enjoy the same inheritance we will!
And what is it that gives us that faith, gives us that hope, gives us that inheritance? “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.” It’s the gospel, the message of God’s grace for you in a Savior who lived, died, and rose for you that brings your faith to life and keeps your faith alive. It is the Word of the gospel as we hear about God’s love for us and what He’s done for us, it is our baptism in which we are reminded of how God adopted us into His family, it is the Lord’s Supper where Jesus gives us His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. Yes, there isn’t much to be seen with our eyes. We can’t see faith growing stronger, we can’t see faith increasing in someone’s heart. Faith is hidden to our eyes, but, the fruits of faith should not be. Rather, the hope hidden in us and given to us by the gospel causes us to see everything in life not as ends themselves, but as tools for expressing visibly the faith that is hidden in our hearts.
So here’s the question: Could Paul have written this letter about you or me? Could Paul have said these things about St. Mark’s congregation in Bemidji? Could he have said, “I’ve heard about your love, the love you have for all the saints, your faith and love that spring from your hope in heaven, I’ve heard about how the gospel is producing fruit in your life, just like it is all over the world, people have told me about your love in the Spirit”? Could God write that about you or me? Are the fruits of our faith visible? Are the visible things in your life ends themselves or means to express visibly you faith in a gracious God?
Too often you and I are like that prairie chicken shuffling our feet, looking for seeds and insects, pecking others if they get in our way. Why? Because we’ve forgotten who we really are. So what do we need? A reminder from God. A reminder from our true heavenly Father who tells us, “I’ve loved you with an everlasting love, I’ve removed your sins as far as the east is from the west, God is love, this is how he showed his love among us, he sent his one and only Son that we might live through Him, I have justified you freely, by my grace that came through Jesus Christ.” You are a child of God, washed, cleansed and forgiven. God’s given you a sure hope in life and in death. Heaven is your home. And God says, “Live like it.” Our faith looks at what God says, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love” and says, “Yes, I want to do that.” That’s what faith that is alive says.
Today is Father’s Day and I’ve noticed something as a father. One of the ways that children often show their love for their father is trying to be like him. So, we got back from our trip on Friday and we’re busily unpacking our van. You know how it feels so good to finally get out of the vehicle after sitting almost constantly for 4 hours? Well, here’s David and I was holding him for a while and needed to set him down so I could continue to unpack. I thought he would run around or play with his siblings, but what does David do? He climbs back into the van sits in the driver’s seat, where I usually sit because I usually drive, finds a set of keys (not the car keys) sticks one in the ignition and grabs the steering wheel with both hands and pretends to drive! He’s not even two years old!! Well, what does he see? This is what dad does. And isn’t there part of him that says, “I want to be like dad.” There’s a mutual love that exists between us, I love him and he loves me.
Well, infinitely better than my love for my son, is the Heavenly Father’s love for you. He’s loved you with an everlasting love. You are the true Heavenly Father’s child. Loved, bought, and sealed by Him. So be imitators of your Heavenly Father, be who you really are, be the redeemed child He has made you to be. See all the things and all the people of your life not as ends in themselves, but as opportunities for you to show visibly your faith in Jesus, your hope in heaven, and your love for God. That’s faith that is alive. Amen.