The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians. (3:4-11)
The Church is not a philosophical club. It is not a place where we come and share ideas and then we leave and go about our lives living as we please. When you were brought into the Church you were brought in freely but you were bought at a very high price, through the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ. He paid for your salvation. Out of our exceeding love for the Lord Jesus, we come to the Church in order to consistently, actively, draw nearer to Our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. It is my joy to see this community, to see each of you growing in Christ. Sometimes growth is difficult. Sometimes, in order to draw closer to Christ, it means that we have to actively be removing obstacles that stand between us and the Lord that we hope to know and to serve. This means dying to ourselves and our desires so that Christ can be formed in us.
In today’s epistle, given to us specifically for the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers, we hear the words of the Apostle Paul as he speaks forcefully to the Colossians. He does this out of extreme love for them. He doesn’t want to be their boss or their judge. He wants to help them to avoid judgment. He corrects them because he desires that they should go further than simply claiming to know the truth. He desires that they should live the truth and have real life in Christ. Christ is our life, and our life must be in Christ.
So he tells his fellow Christians to put to death what is earthly within them. What are these things that need to be put to death? He has quite the list. He begins with fornication. What is fornication? The Greek word used here is porneia, from which we get the word pornography. By this he means sexual sins of any nature but especially adultery, casual sex outside of marriage and other forms such as homosexual activity to name a few. Fornication is ultimately any form of sexual practice that is not part of the holy marriage between one man and one woman.
Today we have people teaching many confusing messages regarding sex, to the degree that we might begin to believe them. This often happens because we have not studied or known the teaching of the Lord and the Scriptures. People who don’t know any better, tell us that whatever is good according to your feelings, is actually good. But our standard for what is right and wrong cannot be our own thoughts and feelings, it must be the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, every one of us knows that sometimes a choice feels good at that time, but just a few minutes later, we may have deep regret.
Fornication can also be understood metaphorically as a symbol of idolatry or the worship of anything but the living God. So first the apostle Paul tells us to put to death fornication. Next he mentions impurity which can also be translated as uncleanness. Now we know that St. Paul is not so much speaking of physical uncleanness as he is the moral uncleanness. That is, the moral impurity. One of the Greek dictionaries lists moral impurity as lustful, and/or luxurious, self-indulgent living. These things are contrary to the life lived in the Spirit. He continues by naming passion, evil desire and covetousness, which he also calls idolatry.
We might be quick to say “Father, I do not worship idols.” And it is true that you may not have a stone statue of the buddha or krishna or some other deity in your home (at least I hope you don’t), but we worship things by the focus of our attention, our love and our resources. Whatever I give my time, my energy and my money, is a true and sure sign of my priorities. If we have a heartfelt desire to make God our priority, we have to act like it through the use of our time, energy and resources. We can’t covet anything that belongs to others because this act of coveting, leads to greater sins. We spend so much time fixated on the desires that we have. We spend so much time feeding our urges with more attention, that we are negatively changed by them. We show that we are still attached to meaningless things. On top of all this, we demonstrate to God that we are not thankful for all that He has generously given us.
And then the apostle says something that seems harsh to our ears. He says that on account of all these sins “the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience.” We must understand that to be called a son or daughter of disobedience is not good. The Lord is trying to give us new life, which begins when we are baptized. But the life of sin is disobedience, and it is a life that is drawing us away from God and from life in Him, and towards death. After naming these sins, St. Paul mentions a few more: “anger, wrath, slander and foul talk.” He completes the list by saying “Do not lie to one another.”
If we as adopted sons and daughters of the Lord, practice the behaviors mentioned above, we are no different than the world. We the children of God must not be confused with the children of the world, the sons of disobedience. If we tasted what joy and life the Lord has shared with us and turned back to living like the world, we are worthy to receive what the world will receive for it’s rejection of God’s love.
And what does the apostle tell us to do about all of this? He tells us to put all of these behaviors to death and put it all away from us. Our behaviors become part of us. St. Paul says that when you were baptized, you were buried. The old man was put to death and the new man is born, raised in Christ! At times it is difficult for us to follow the narrow way and live for something that we can’t clearly see and can’t always perceive. But St. Paul says “when Christ, who is our life, appears, them you also will appear with Him in glory.” Imagine the honor that He has bestowed on us that He would allow us to appear with Him and to share in His glory? This is His desire for each of you, that you should be saints who live as if you are dead to the world and alive to Christ alone.
In today’s gospel Our Lord tells us that many are called to the great banquet but few are chosen. That means that each of us has work to do. Let us accept the new nature that has been gifted to each of us, and let us put all our energy into knowing Christ through deep prayer, study and obedience to the gospels and the receiving of His most holy body and most precious blood. This is how Christ will come to life within us. As we spend time seeking His face, this beautiful face will be transferred to us. This is how we are renewed, how we are recognized as sons and daughters of obedience, leading to everlasting life and glory. AMEN.