Sunday, April 14, 2013

One Lord, Many Gifts, One Faith

It’s good to give credit where credit is due.

And they don’t seem to do that on TV any more.

Watch a classic repeat, be it Dad’s Army, the Morecambe and Wise Show or Last of the Summer Wine you get to the end and the credits appear written in big print and scrolling down the screen slowly enough for you to read each one.

Watch a new TV programme and you get to the end only to find the credits are in such small writing they cannot be read, they seem to scroll up the screen at twice the speed it’s possible to read them at and as if to rub salt into a sore wound they are often condensed into a third of the screen as a trailer for the next programme takes pride of place.

Paul was careful to give credit where credit was due.

I suspect, however, that we are influenced to such an extent by those modern TV producers that we almost subconsciously skim through the credits that often appear at the end of a letter.

After all, they often contain long un-pronouncable names and are little more than personal comments.

We know next to nothing about any of the people named.  They don’t have any memorable stories that have been recorded.  We skim over them.

But as far as Paul was concerned they mattered.  They counted.

Today I want to celebrate the bit players in one small out of the way church.    The ones you don’t really notice.  What Paul does in this letter is to give each of them a particular credit.  He describes each one.

Take them all together and it gives you a wonderful snapshot of the great variety of gifts and giftings there were in this one particular church.

It’s the kind of variety you will find in any church.

It’s the kind of variety you find in our church.

Reading:  Colossians 4:7-18

 Tychicus will tell you all the news about me; he is a beloved brother, a faithful minister, and a fellow-servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts; he is coming with Onesimus, the faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you about everything here.

 Aristarchus my fellow-prisoner greets you, as does Mark the cousin of Barnabas, concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him. And Jesus who is called Justus greets you. These are the only ones of the circumcision among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you. He is always wrestling in his prayers on your behalf, so that you may stand mature and fully assured in everything that God wills. For I testify for him that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas greet you. Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters in Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. And when this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you read also the letter from Laodicea. And say to Archippus, ‘See that you complete the task that you have received in the Lord.’ 
 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

I want to stop at each one and then ask the question – are you this person to someone in this church?  Is someone in this church this person to you?

Beloved brother.  Church is about family.  It is not for families – it is family for us who belong.  In a sense we are brothers and sisters to each other.  But some people stand out.  Are you ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ to someone who needs the care you can share?  Is there someone who is ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ to you.  We need that kind of support from time to time.  How can we build up that sense of belonging to one family where we are brother and sister to each other?

I was in two minds which translation to go with in the next one.  The Good News Bible has ‘faithful worker’.  How important it is to have ‘workers’ in a church family.  Those who hold it together behind the scenes.  What area of the church are we called to be a ‘faithful worker’ in?  Behind the scenes – making it happen.  The NRSV has a different translation.  ‘faithful minister’.  I like that.  It’s what I have been called to.  And I believe it to be a calling that’s important in the church.  And we should be open to recognising that calling in one another – as Mark sensed his calling and we recognised it in him.  Is there anyone among in our church we sense might have a calling to that role as faithful Minister.   Even with that translation, however, there’s something more to be said.  It was good to hear Michael Green, at 80 still as fresh as ever – one of those who has over the years prompted the church to think about evangelism and what it means to be church.  He reminded us that a church cannot look to one person to be its minister and leave that work to that person.  Each of us who belongs in a church can minister to others in one way or another.  We all share that one calling to minister to each other and it is as we release everyone’s ministries that we can be the church God calls us to be.

The key to all life in church is the key of service.  The willingness to serve.  Jesus came to serve and he called us to serve too.   There is one spirit  that binds us together it is the spirit of service.  How good to be regarded as ‘fellow-servant’.  Who is it we are called to be a servant to?  To whom can we give thanks for the service they have given us.

Tychicus was someone special to Paul, a beloved brother, a faithful minister, a fellow-servant.

Next to be named is Onesimus.  When Paul speaks of him as the faithful and beloved brother that means something even more powerful.   Michael Green again, spoke of the uniqueness of the Church.  It is the one insitituion where one who has nothing can sit alongside one who  has everything and be on completely equal terms.  Onesimus was a slave, worse, he was a runaway slave.  He had become very much of a help to Paul in prison, so much so that he lived up to the meaning of his name – Onesimus means useful.  And Paul thought of him as useful by name and useful by nature.  The church in Colossae met in the home of Philemon, a well-to do householder.  As far as paul was concerned Onesimus was to be welcomed back as a member of the family – very telling a faithful and beloved brother.  That’s earth shattering stuff in the hierarhcical structures of Roman society.   Is church for us a circle of like-minded, similarly placed, reasonably well –to do people.  Or is church truly open to all where we don’t mind who we sit next to or who sits next to us?  That is a fundamental question for us all to share.

On one occasion Paul speaks of the need to laugh with those who laught and to weep with those who weep.  It is of the essence of Church that we share each other’s burdens and ocme alongside each other in our needs.  That’s what made Aristarchus specail for Paul.  He had gone through what Paul was going through and was a fellow-prisioner.   Is there someone in the church family who has been through what we are going through and can therefore be a special help to us?  Have we been through what someone in the church family is going through and so be a special help to them?

The stories of Mark and Barnabas are told elsewhere and we will come back to them some time.  Jesus who is called Justus is not someone we know anything else about.  But they are all Jewish and that is important to Paul – and he speaks of them as ‘co-workers for the kingdom of God’.

That’s a wonderful tribute Paul pays.  Co-workers – is something very powerful – it is not a boss / employee relationship.  Paul’s relationship with the likes of these people is not as one who is superior to ones who are underlings.  They are all co-workers for the kingdom of God.  Is that a calling for us all? Co-workers, working collectively, co-operatively, for God’s rule, God’s kindome to come on earth as it is in heaven, for God’s will for good for justice for peace for mercy to be done on earth as it is  in heaven?

It is not so much that we are all brothers and sisters to one another, co-workers together in camaraderie.  It is not so much that we are servants together and servants of one another.

The key thing maybe for us all to realise is that we are called to be a servant of Chrsit Jesus.   We are part of his company of workers, his company of those who serve.

To serve another person is to serve Jesus Christ and that is the calling we share here with Epaphras.

Paul speaks of Luke as the beloved physician – Luke the travelling companion of Paul who is responsible for Luke and for Acts.  A beloved physician.    There’s a sense in which we are all called to share in prayer for healing.  Maybe something else for us to explore further together.  Maybe there are those with a special gift for healing – maybe a gift they use through the skills of medicine and care in a hospital setting.  It maybe in the care we share and the healing we releasee with each other.

The last to be named is descibed at the beginning of the personal letter that accompanies the letter to the Colossians – the letter to the person who hosted that church, to Philemon.  Archippus – is descibed there as a fellow-soldier.  There are times when we can be up against it.  There is a very real sense that there are powers of darkness around.  You feel that at some moments in hisory, at some moments in your own life.  There is a sense in which we are involved in a spiritaul battle.  And are called to be fellow-soldiers in that battle.  Some calling to share

One Lord, Many Gifts, One Faith

One family - beloved brother
One calling - faithful minister
One service - fellow-servant
One loyalty - faithful brother
One love - beloved brother
One sacrifice - fellow-prisoner
One job - co-workers for the kingdom
One Lord - servant of Christ Jesus
One healing - beloved physician
One battle - fellow-soldier

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