The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians. (3:4-11)
Today in St. Paul’s epistle we have a simple set of directives. A call to holiness. How does this call to holiness appear? It appears as a form of dying. The apostle Paul tells us that we are to put to death what is earthly within us, and he goes on to mention the signs of our earthliness. He mentions “fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” He goes on to list a few more behaviors that he considers unbecoming of the children of God such as “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk.” And he ends with “Do not lie to one another.” Sometimes we make light of our sins or we say “whats the big deal?” Yet according to St. Paul, every activity of a Christian is important because everything builds on everything else, and every Christian belongs to Christ! Our Lord reminds us that a good tree doesn’t bear bad fruit or a bad tree doesn’t bear good fruit. Similarly, we are encouraged to make our lives holistic. We are encouraged to live with integrity, to be the same people at all times and all places.
He reminds the Christians of this region that they once walked in and lived in these earthly ways mentioned above. That they once lived like the rest of the world that does not know the one true God. But he reminds them that to be a Christian is by definition to be different than the world around you, to be separate, to be holy and set apart for and in Christ. Instead of saying to ourselves “how can I better fit in with the people around me who don’t know and love God?” I should be asking “How can I become worthy of the title “child of God?”
Let’s be clear, what St. Paul is saying isn’t a call to simple morality. It isn’t merely a call to be good people. Being a good person is fine, but doing good things is not quite enough. What God desires for us is true healing and transformation through faithful obedience. It is a call to a radically different, Christ centered life. When we live in this way, everything changes, because when a Christian chooses to follow Christ they reject the ways of darkness and death. They are united to Christ through baptism and Holy communion. We see this every time that we bring someone into the Church don’t we? They stand at the back of the narthex and face west and they reject Satan and spit on him. Now if we turn around and get lazy and start to live for ourselves in a way that opposes the teachings of Christ and is mostly about our pleasure and self gratification, then its as if we have turned this rejection on it’s head. Instead of rejecting Satan, we reject Christ whom we claim as our master. The very worst way to make a decision is to ask “what do I really want?” Rather the correct way to progress in the spiritual life is to ask, “what would you have me do O Lord?” One of these questions is self-centered and egotistic and the other is Christ centered. One acknowledges that we belong to a master who has redeemed us at a high price, and the other denies His existence.
The problem is that when we go after the things of this life, when we choose sin, we slide again towards darkness and death. Death is non-existence. It is the opposite of what God, the existing one, has created us to be. We forget that God loves us. We forget that God has created us and that He desires only good things for us. We forget that we were made for much more than temporary pleasures. When we act and live as if this is our only life, we in fact deny Christ, His ways, His teachings and the life that He has promised us both now and in the kingdom. Why would we reject the God who loves us and is at work to redeem us? Could anything be worth losing the presence of God in our lives? Is anything worth risking the grace of God that heals and transforms us? If you know of something that is worth risking it all and losing it all, then that thing is effectively your idol, your god.
St. Theognostos writing in the 9th century had this to say,
“Let no one deceive you, brother: without holiness, as the apostle says, no one can see God (cf. Heb. 12:14). For the Lord, who is more than holy and beyond all purity, will not appear to an impure person. Just as he who loves father or mother, daughter or son (cf. Matt. 10:37) more than the Lord is unworthy of Him, so is he who loves anything transient and material. Even more unworthy is the person who chooses foul and fetid sin in preference to love for the Lord; for God rejects whoever does not repudiate all filthiness: ‘Corruption does not inherit incorruption’ (1 Cor. 15:50).”
And perhaps that is the most important point in all of this. When we chose Christ we chose life and incorruption. We chose godliness and holiness, love and purity. They are all a package together. Should we reject and turn away from such amazing treasures and chase after what is empty and doesn’t give us life? May it never be the case! Rather, we choose Christ, His way and His love so that we can become wrapped in this love and transformed by this love, because this is God’s will, to share His love with us in the true hope that we might by grace become love because He is love.