It might sound an odd thing to say but one of the lovely things about Funerals is the insight we are sometimes given into what truly motivates people. What I have in mind are those eulogies that really lift the lid on peoples’ obsessions with things such as golf, stamp collecting or whatever. ”Oh, he just lived for his garden”, they’ll say. And of course, alongside these affectionate observations is a nod and wink to a very understanding and forgiving spouse(!).
This morning I’m inviting us to pray with how each of today’s readings invite us to reflect a little on those core priorities of ours. The things which motivate or drive us. Firstly, the Lord lays things out in simple terms in our Gospel. His parable about the rich man concludes with those words: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.” He gives a warning about an unhealthy attachment to wealth and the like. An attachment which blinds us to the ways of the Kingdom. And then, secondly, Paul, in an expression we might easily have overlooked, talks to the Colossians about, “Christ who is your life”.
And this is a familiar expression from Paul. He told the Philippians, “For me, to live is Christ,” He told the Galatians, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me”. In other words, (bearing in mind that he was executed by the Romans) there can be no doubt about what they said about Paul at his funeral. “He lived Christ.”
So, where are we going? Well, when Paul talks about Christ being “our life”, firstly, it involves a new way of seeing. Paul came to see himself, indeed everything, through the prism of what God had done in and through Jesus. Getting mixed up with this Jesus brought on a fundamental change in Paul’s priorities and life choices. Everything assumed a different perspective. And in this morning’s passage he points out the change he expected to see in the life of that congregation in Colossae. In the same way, this is what Jesus constantly does in his teaching. He often says: “Behold!” or “Look!” doesn’t he? And so today he warns us about seeing the world solely through the lens of financial security. And I suspect we’re all wrestling with this a bit nowadays.
Then, secondly, Paul is reminding us that when Christ is our life, we have a new strength for living. This morning in that rather vivid phrase, he says, “You have died and your life is hid with Christ in God.” This is strong and no-nonsense stuff; revolutionary in fact. Certainly, it challenges that assumption that all religions are the same. I mean, all too often the assumption is made that you can categorise the way of Jesus as just one, among many philosophies or religions that we might choose.
And this is convenient to us because, by definition, taking a religion off the shelf and choosing to follow it leaves me, as it were, in the driving seat. I judge the whole thing by its utility; its usefulness to me. I judge the reasonableness of its teachings according to my own convenience. But what I mean is, we’re not surrendering to anything. Which is why when Paul says, “You have died”, we should take note. It means that in the way of Jesus we are taken out of life’s driving seat. There’s an echo here of Jesus’s words to the disciples, “You did not choose me, I chose you.” In other words, Christian life has a totally different centre and source of energy.
Then thirdly, notice how having Christ as “our life” also points to our ultimate hope. He says, “When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”
So, as Christians we have a new way of seeing the world, a new centre and a new hope. However, what preoccupies me this morning is that, whilst enthusiasts can often come across as charming or eccentric; I think the religious enthusiast is often prone to suspicion, aren’t they? And I wonder whether, as we look more closely at some of Paul’s enthusiastic language, there isn’t within us a certain ‘reserve’?
What I mean, is that when it comes to religious enthusiasts, we’ve become very adept at spotting certain ‘warning signs’ haven’t we? For instance, the one who speaks about having been ‘born again’, has become a caricature, haven’t they? We raise our eyebrows at those who raise their hands in worship. We look askance at those who sing a bit too earnestly; at the ones who are always down at the Church.
Now, I don’t think I need to say anymore. But, here’s the thing. It doesn’t really matter whether such observations are justified or not; accurate or not because the problem is ours. What we fail to realise about this resistance to such religious enthusiasm is the danger of staking out our position in terms of not becoming like them. And when you add to this the notion that one should never get too involved (in most things) then you end up with an understanding of faith which hedged around with far too many caveats. “I’ll be a Christian… but not like THAT.”
And we’re defining ourselves by a negative. Worse still, we’ve already staked out the terms of engagement with God; what he will or will not be permitted to do in our lives. So, the caricatures of the enthusiast, acts like a shield, of sorts. They insulate us from letting the notion that “Christ who is our life” might really become part of our lived experience.
But it’s worth noting that whenever I speak with enthusiasts of one sort or another and ask them how they got involved in their particular obsession; they usually point to something which happened to them; which overtook them. They say something like, “I just found it captivating.” Now, that’s a good word. In a sense it’s always good to be alert to those things which, as it were, take us captive. Think again about the rich man in Christ’s parable today.
But the point is that this thing which comes to occupy every waking hour is perceived as coming from outside them. And curiously, this is how St. Paul speaks of his experience. He said, “I press on to make all this my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”
As you may have gleaned by now, in his youth, St. Paul used to work very hard at his faith. Paul was very good at religion; and proud to tell us so. But what (literally) knocked him off his horse; what made him a new man, was becoming aware that anything and everything we do, can only ever be a response to what God has done in Christ. Good Friday is what one writer called, “The Day the Revolution began.”
The ongoing battles which Paul had with his contemporaries, in a sense, revolved around this one point. Whereas we instinctively want religion to have some utility value. We want it to be useful for living. We want it to give us the life we want. And nowadays there is a whole marketplace of so-called ‘spiritualities’ designed to give us exactly this.
When Paul says “Christ is our life” he’s telling us to give up this foolhardy quest and to surrender ourselves to an entirely different; Christ’s way of seeing and living in the world. It’s a way in which there’s no place for pride or sense of achievement. We’re not in control and as such, no, it won’t market very well! But Christ is our life. He is all that matters. It’s through him that we become rich towards God.