Thursday, July 26, 2007

Colossians 2:6-15 - “Owen the Saint”

9th Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 12)
(Year C - Lutheran Service Book Readings)
Thursday, July 26, 2007

(I usually walk the baby down the center aisle after they’ve baptized introducing them to the congregation and using it as a teaching moment. It is something I learned from my home pastor during high school, Rev. William Utech. I took the opportunity at Owen’s baptism to sing a song I wrote for him to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In”).

Owen the saint,
Owen the saint,
Owen the saint just got baptized,
Owen will now be in that number
When the saints go marching in.

Owen the saint,
Owen the saint,
Owen the saint just got baptized,
Owen is now free and forgiven
With his sins all washed away.

Owen the saint,
Owen the saint,
Owen the saint just got baptized,
Now he joins the others in this room
Who are God’s big family.

Our passage from Colossians chapter 2 tells us exactly how this happened—how Owen became a saint today and how all of us who believe and are baptized became saints. We are saints—we are forgiven, free from sin, holy, clean, and children of God.

This is actually a spiritual, invisible, hard-to-comprehend reality. Becoming saints, becoming holy in God’s sight, that’s a mystery, something that happens in God’s justice. He works it out in the spiritual realm, and it is so hard for us to even come close to knowing what that really means. So like in other places in Scripture, Paul uses a metaphor, picture language, to show us what God has done. Paul takes words and concepts we understand, so that we can see something that we don’t understand.

Today we’re going to take the metaphor one step further. I’ve put the metaphor into your hands with that envelope you got from the ushers. Don’t open it just yet. If you didn’t get an envelope, raise your hand and an usher will bring you one now.

In Colossians chapter 2 verse 14, Paul talks about “the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us” (NIV). Another translation gets at the picture language in the Greek saying, “the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” (ESV). In other words, the charges against us, our record of sins, the list of the ways we’ve broken God’s laws, that’s like a bill, a financial debt we owe.

Your bill is in your hands. Open your envelope.

This invoice is a visual representation of what Paul is talking about in Colossians; this invoice is a visual representation of God’s charges against us for our sins. By the end of tonight’s sermon, this invoice will represent how Owen and all of us have become saints of God.

Let’s walk through each part of the invoice, so that you understand the bill you’ve received.

First of all, this invoice comes from the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. The charges you’ve racked up aren’t against your own account or someone else’s. Paul reminds us that Jesus “is the head over every power and authority” (NIV), which means when we sin, we can’t think that we aren’t hurting anyone, just hurting ourselves, or perhaps just hurting one or two other people. No, our sin goes against the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. It’s not a personal thing; it’s not just you as an individual. That’s why this invoice comes from the Triune God.

Next, notice that this invoice isn’t personalized. It could be. In fact, there’s a personal invoice for each of us listing our own personal sins, but the invoice you have today is charged against all people. If you notice in Colossians, Paul isn’t making some kind of distinction between people who are sinners and people who aren’t. He seems to be talking about all people, and indeed, if we look other places in Scripture, that’s just what we find. All people are sinful. So while our individual invoices may look different, they all end up looking the same: we are sinners with a debt owed to God.

Over to the right, you’ll see the purchase date is listed as conception. An important reminder here on a night when we’ve baptized an infant. We teach according to Scripture that infants are to be baptized, because they too need the saving grace of God. There is not a moment of our lives when we are sinless, when we don’t need forgiveness, when we don’t need God to intervene to do something about this debt, this invoice. While certainly that’s part of what Paul teaches, one of the clearest places in Scripture that emphasizes this purchase date is in Psalm 51(:5) where David writes, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (NIV). The day you were conceived is the day you began purchasing or charging sins against your account with God.

What are your actual purchases? There are three general categories that describe our sins. First, there are the times when we “follow our own desires,” following our own sinful nature. The quantity is listed as “too many to count,” because who but God could keep track of this? This invoice, this record of debt, is a picture for helping understand what it means when we sin. Instead of accepting what God gives to us for free, the things He gives to us and wants us to do, we purchase our own desires. The cost of these purchases is sin, and it’s adding up quickly. You rented time from God to do your own thing, but you can’t pay for renting that time. You rented your body and your skills from God to your own thing, but you can’t pay for renting your body and skills. You purchased the ability the do your own thing, but you can’t pay for those purchases.

Sometimes our sins fall under the category of following the philosophies of this world. Instead of following God’s ways for our lives, believing what He has taught us, we decide to purchase a philosophy, wisdom, or thought of the world. Those purchases are sins, and they cost a lot.

Finally, sometimes our sins are in the category of following Satan’s ways. In Colossians, that’s what Paul means in verse 15 when he says that Jesus “disarmed the powers and authorities.” Satan and his henchmen are the powers and authorities of this world, trying to destroy this world and God’s people, but Jesus has power and authority over all things—even over Satan. Yet, even if we know this, still sometimes we get tricked by Satan’s advertising and marketing, fooled by his promises, and so we have also made those kinds of purchases. It’s all very costly.

All of these purchases add up to the total cost: death—death of the body but also eternal death. There’s no other way to pay for all of these sins, no other way to pay off this debt, this invoice with God. Sin demands death as the cost, and unless something is done, unless someone takes care of the debt, unless someone gets the creditor off our backs, death won’t just mean death of the body. It will mean eternal death.

That brings us to the terms. This invoice is payable on death, and the interest is compounded with every second. In other words, don’t think that you’ll ever stop racking up charges, because it is sin upon sin, charge upon charge, building up to such a great debt that there’s no way you could ever pay it off. Only death can pay off this bill with God.

Interested in making that payment? Remember that it must be made with blood. The Lord does not accept credit cards, cash, checks, money orders, I.O.U.’s, trade, or good works in payment.

So this is your bill, your invoice, a visual representation of what separates you from God. Your sins haven’t just been marks against you; your sins have created a huge debt with God.

But like I said at the beginning, this invoice will be a visual representation of how Owen became a saint today, of how all of us who believe and are baptized have become saints. We are saints; we are holy; our debts have been canceled; our loans have been paid off; we don’t owe anything more; your account with God has been zeroed meaning that you are no longer in debt and you can have eternal life with Him.

That’s what Paul means when he says, “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross” (NIV). Forgive is a commercial word, a financial word, to forgive a debt, to act as if the debt was repaid. Again, in the other translation, listen for the financial metaphor, “God made [us] alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses [our debts], by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (ESV).

Your invoice has been paid in full by Jesus dying on the cross. Jesus took your bill and paid it. Jesus died to cover your debt. Jesus paid your invoice with His own blood. One way of understanding the cross is to see it as a financial transaction. We owed God for our sins; Jesus paid our bill.

Remember you didn’t pay that bill with your own money or actions; the payment terms are clear. Only blood is accepted, and God accepted the blood of His Son to pay for your invoice.

So there’s only one thing to do to make this visual representation complete: mark it as paid. (moving toward communion rail where a stand is set up) This is Owen’s invoice, and because he was baptized tonight, I am going to stamp his invoice as paid, paid in full by Jesus Christ.

Now I invite all of you to have your invoice stamped paid, paid by Christ, paid by His innocent blood shed on the cross, paid by His death to cover your debt of sin. Come forward row by row. Jesus has paid your invoice in full.