Some years ago I walked out to get my morning paper and saw a very odd, amusing and slightly disturbing sight. There were a couple dozen teenagers walking very slowly down our street. The first thought that raced through my mind was that it looked like a scene from The Walking Dead – the TV show about a group of people trying to survive when the world is full of zombies.
It was the first day of school and they had moved the neighborhood bus stop to the end of our street. And there they went, in a slow semi-aimless shuffle.
Now, they were teenagers and I don’t know what they were thinking, but they came to mind this week as I was studying these scriptures. Today we get a reminder of direction and purpose, of order in the midst of chaos. Whatever those kids were thinking, it wasn’t apparent that they had much interest at all in getting on that bus.
Setting aside the appearance for a moment, we know that the more or longer a teenager or young adult struggles to find meaning and purpose in life, their odds of having a productive life start to fall. The odds of them wandering around aimlessly go up, and that can easily become its own type of hell on earth.
I think that may be why zombie shows and movies are so popular. Whether you like them or not, they are popular, especially with young people. What is a zombie except a being that has lost all the qualities that make us people? They are in human form but have lost all humanity. They don’t think or feel. They just exist to feed and if you get bit by one, infected with their existence, you become one too.
No one wants that. So run. Find other survivors. Find sanctuary. Find a cure.
That’s where we come in.
We don’t know exactly what the specific problems are in the church at Colossae, but there are clearly some conflicts in the church from errant teaching sowing seeds of discord. After affirming their bond of fellowship, Paul starts the process of pulling the community back together by affirming the reason they have gathered in the first place.
What does Paul emphasize to the Colossians about Jesus? (Colossians 1:15-28)
1. He is the firstborn of all creation. As we affirm in the Nicene Creed, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made. In that is his primacy of being.
2. All things were created through him, or as the Creed says, “Through him all things were made,” which also ties directly to the first few verses of John’s Gospel. In that is primacy of action.
3. All things are bound together in him. In that is his primacy of order. In other words, with him, everything falls into order. Without him, without God, nothing has purpose or meaning. That leads to chaos, zombies.
4. He is the head of the Church and the firstborn of the dead. In that is his primacy in the new creation, his victory over death itself. He leads to life that never ends.
5. Finally, the primacy of his work in reconciling the creation to the Father. That is why he came. That is why he died. That is why he rose from the dead and that is why he ascended to heaven.
In all things, Jesus must come first. When we get that right, life falls into place.
This applies to everything. An example in the life of Good Shepherd is our love of hospitality. Or to be more clear, it’s our love of food and fellowship. We love getting together and we are blessed with a bunch of very talented and dedicated people of lots of different ages and backgrounds who pull these feeds together. Breakfasts, social hour, Wednesday night dinners, the Christmas banquet and other functions.
All of that is critical to the life of the parish. It is absolutely central to our life and health. We dedicate a lot of time, energy, resources and space to food and fellowship. People put their hearts into setting up, preparing and serving the food and cleaning up. That’s family. Fellowship is an integral strengthening glue our faith together and building the faith of our children and youth. We don’t put the kids off to the side. They are at the center of the room. They know to the core of their being in ways that they may not even notice that they matter to God and to us. That is who we are.
When we did our vestry retreat last spring, we identified it as highly important and not really needing much attention. (At this point you may be thinking, “Good. Fr. Tim is catching on!”)
As important as the feeds are, where would they be without our worship and focus on Jesus Christ as first in all things. It holds together in him, or not at all. Which helps us understand this scene with Martha and Mary. (Luke 10:38-42) This isn’t a knock on Martha’s busy-ness or an excuse for Mary to get out of work.
What Martha is doing is very important, necessary even, but it only holds together in him. That is why “Mary has chosen the better part.” Martha doesn’t get rebuked because of what she is doing, but because her resentment pushed her out of being gracious. She could have said, “Mary dear, could you please give me a hand?” But she had let the tasks at hand become more important than their purpose.
Don’t pass it off. It’s evil. Resentment will destroy a life, a family, a community.
Which poses some hard questions for us. In him all things hold together. That includes your job, your trip to the beach, your haircut, your doctor’s appointment, your vacuuming, your children’s activities.
Are we putting Christ first in our lives, day by day, moment by moment? Are we giving to him out of our first fruits, or what we can spare? Are we starting and ending our day with him or giving him a little time when we can spare it? Are we giving him a little effort when we can spare it? Are we putting him first in our budgets or after other “necessities”? This isn’t primarily about amounts in time, talent or treasure. It is about heart and direction.
Note what Paul said. He didn’t say, “As long as you behave.” He did say, “…provided that you remain securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard…”
“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” So keep Jesus first. Always.