Okay. You may already know this about me, but maybe you don’t. I’m … well… I’m a little odd. I am a responsibility junky. When I was a kid taking on new chores meant taking on a new responsibility. It meant my parents trusted me to handle something new. I loved that feeling of acceptance and reward. As an adult this has translated into being that guy who tries very hard to take responsibility for his actions and short fallings. I admit I some times make excuses, but for the most part I’d rather just go ahead and accept the responsibility for whatever it is, so we can move forward and try to put things right. Out of that appreciation for responsibility comes what I would call a distaste for “the blame game”. Let’s have a show of hands. How many people here know what the blame game is? The blame game is simple (point to some one specific) She did it! Not me. I didn’t do it. She must have done it. It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault! If it’s not my fault it must be her (point to same person) fault. (Pause a moment) That’s the blame game.) (Now apologize to the person I pointed at.) As I read this morning’s passage from Colossians I think Paul is also someone who cannot stand blame, and I think Paul is someone who takes his responsibility very seriously.
Paul takes his responsibility so seriously Paul is willing to suffer physically for his calling. By this time Paul has suffered much for the gospel. Paul is now in a Roman prison on trumped up charges because a Roman governor hoped for a ransom, and because the Jewish leaders wanted Paul dead. In the midst of all of this Paul says I rejoice in my sufferings. I do not think Paul is a masochist. I think Paul rejoices in his suffering because Paul believes he is setting an example for all those who believe in Jesus Christ. For Paul, the response to the upward call of Christ is this. If you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior you will suffer.
In the Roman Empire in the centuries before Constantine legalized Christianity – Christians suffered. There is no historical question. Around the time of Christ’s birth the Roman Emperor Ceasar Augustus declared himself a god. At its heart this idea was all about a human grab for power so the Roman Emperor could do whatever he wanted. However, for Christians this is a big problem. To become a Christian we start off believing there is no other God but our God – no other name by which all are saved. Jesus taught through the Son we come to the Father. And there is no other way to the Father except through the Son. So if you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior you are saying you love the Lord your God more than any of the other gods – even Ceasar. This meant if you live in the Roman Empire you are going to suffer. Jesus told Peter flat out, “another will dress you and take you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18).
With news like that I don’t know why anybody would want to be a Christian in the first century. And yet Christianity grew. Like a freshly made fire which gets smaller and brighter when you blow on the coals the Roman persecution just made the light of Jesus Christ burn brighter. However, in this country today it is pretty easy to be a Christian. No one is out to arrest us. No one is out to hurt us. No one is out to kill us for our beliefs. And yet, Christian churches are shrinking and dieing. In a land with religious freedom shouldn’t the Church be growing and thriving? Why is the church shrinking? I do not think the church is shrinking because we are not persecuted enough. I think the church is shrinking because Christians have stopped taking our responsibility seriously. The people of the church have kept saying, “I don’t want to.”
What is our responsibility as the hands and feet of Christ? What is the base line of Christian responsibility? This morning’s passage says Paul was given stewardship from God to make the Word of God “fully known” (Col 25). In a sense Paul would come along and share the gospel with anyone who would hear it. Then Paul would take the hand of these born again baby Christians and walk with them, teaching them to be mature in their relationship with God. Are we doing that? Are we making God known? How are we to know how good a job we are doing? Jesus lays out a means for measuring our work as the Church in Matthew 7:15-20
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
If we want to measure how good a job we are doing of being the hands and feet of Christ we need to ask this question. Are we being fruitful? Are we being fruitful in the moment? Will the fruit we are bearing lead others to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior? Are we bearing good fruit which builds others up for Kingdom glory, or do we have something ugly to say about everything and everyone? What made Paul fruitful is Paul was eager to proclaim Jesus Christ wherever Paul traveled. Paul taught the people he met to flee the wrath to come and to accept the love and grace which are freely given from Christ. Wherever Paul went Paul shared what he knew and tried to help those he taught to seek Christ for themselves. I believe this is a huge part of what it means to mature in Christ. There is a difference between being a member of a church and being a God fearing believer of Jesus Christ. There is a difference between believing in Jesus Christ and being a mature disciple of Jesus Christ. Paul is not just looking to convert people to Jesus Christ and move on. Paul is working very hard, and suffering all manner of hardships for a single purpose. Paul wants to walk along side baby Christians. Paul wants to present as many mature Christians as Paul can before the throne of God. Can we as the church say we want the same thing? How hard are we working to see that happen?
Now, y’all know we started “Choosing the Faithful Path this week.” In the book for the course there is a reference to the United Methodist Book of Discipline. The Book of Discipline is the book where the bylaws which keep all United Methodist Church’s united in commonly held beliefs about what is in Scripture, what it means to be Christians and what it means to be a church are written down. According to paragraphs 201 – 204 for a congregation to be a United Methodist Church a congregation must:
1. Preach the word faithfully
2. Administer the sacraments regularly
3. Actively lead people to accept and profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior
4. Build up believers to become faithful disciples of Jesus Christ
5. Minister to the needs of people in our community through our members
(i.e. It’s not enough to just send money. We have to be willing to get our hands dirty.)
6. Cooperate with other churches to meet the needs of our neighbors.
Sisters and brothers are we being fruitful in any of these? Are we being fruitful in some of these? Hear this brothers and sisters; these are the minimum. These are the bare minimum requirements for a congregation to be a United Methodist Church. How are we doing? (pause) Let me ask y’all this. Look at the passage of Scripture Colossians 1:24-29. Did Paul stop with just these six? (Pause for answers) Paul pushed on to do more. Look at verse 24 and tell me why Paul pushed on to do more? (Pause for answers) Paul did it for the Church. Paul pushed harder to set an example for others. Paul toiled with all of the energy God gave him so we would have an example to follow – so we would be fruitful – so that fruit would be the seeds of fruit to come in the generations to follow. And there aint no time like the present to make sure the crops are planted for future generations. When we look around this room where are the fruit of our labors? Where is the lasting fruit which will nourish and encourage generations to come? If we don’t see what you are looking for then come join us on Wednesday night. Now is the time to start looking for our answers. In the Name of Jesus Christ – Amen