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The New Humanity
a sermon based on Colossians 3:12-17
by Rev. Thomas Hall

Whatever else is going on among the Colossians that required an epistle, the feedback to this congregation included a reminder "to live wisely in relation to outsiders." [1] That’s good, sound advice, isn’t it? Be wise and live appropriately. Live in a way that makes outsiders take notice of the God you claim to represent.

The writer instructs, "As, therefore, God’s picked representatives of the new humanity, purified and beloved of God himself, be merciful in action, kindly in heart, humble in mind." [2] Same thing. As God’s picked representatives, live appropriately. Be wise in relation to outsiders.

But when it comes to living out our faith, in the timeless saying of Martin Luther, there’s "many a slip between cup and lip." Apparently this "appropriate living" had gotten derailed in the 9 to 5 grind at Colossae. Apparently a lot of incongruity was spilling down the front of Christians that made them and their God appear less than appealing. Maybe they were celebrating Christ’s forgiveness of sin, while refusing forgiveness to fellow Christians. Maybe they would sing lustily of God’s mercy yet choke when it came to working the soup kitchen down the street. Many a slip between cup and lip.

Whatever the slippage between being God’s picked representatives of the new humanity and their 9 to 5 life, the gap was large enough and rendered them ineffective enough for someone to call them to task. "C’mon, you Christians, be merciful, kindly, humble, forgiving, and loving." Of course the idea behind such wheedling was an unuttered "because" clause-"live appropriately, because that’s who you are-God’s new humanity."

I think the challenge that lies between cup and lip-the challenge to live up to our high calling as Christians-is part of the brokenness that we are still trying to work through. Through experience we’ve discovered the incongruity-to sing our faith on Sunday and to lose it on Monday. To mouth theological words on Sunday and to mouth those same words on Monday-though in an un-theological context! Sometimes despite our best efforts we betray our "new humanity" through our actions or inactions. Brokenness keeps us in a sort of new-humanity-in-transition status. And that’s a very uncomfortable place to be in for any length of time.

The slippage between the ideal and actual in life occurs both in our culture at large as well as within our Christian communities. As a young man, Benjamin Franklin made a list of thirteen virtues that he sought to build into his life. Soon into his new humanity reform he discovered a problem that sounds similar to the one in our lesson.

"Mastering all of these thirteen virtues at once," he admitted, was "a task of more difficulty than I had imagined." [3] The problem was that "while my care was employed in guarding against one fault, I was often surprised by another." In the end he noted, "I was surprised to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined."

C.S. Lewis made the same discovery-that slip between cup and lip: "After the first few steps in the Christian life," he wrote, "we realize that everything which really needs to be done in our souls can be done only by God." [4] We know of some of the struggle and failure standing immovable on the other side of those words. Our attempts to become the new humanity. And our failure to become the new humanity.

I know a couple who appear great Christians. In fact from my observations they are exemplary in Christian living-they are faithful in worship attendance, attend prayer gatherings, lead Bible studies, participate in our choirs, and tithe gross not net. Good folks. They’d never go to the mailbox and find a letter from Paul telling them to show mercy, be kindly, humble, forgiving, and loving. I see it every Sunday.

But the brokenness is there. Only later did I discover that slippage between being and living the new humanity hit their children hard. Their five children just couldn’t see those qualities outside of church-in the home, for instance. Instead they put up with the brokenness of hypocrisy, yelling, criticism, arguments, and rules. The impact? Now grown and most of them on their own, sadly none of the children want anything to do with God and they especially want nothing to do with the Christian faith they saw in their parents. This couple have since recognized the cup and lip thing-incongruities can be devastating.

We might follow suit with our five friends and wave our hand in a final disdain for hypocrites. Yet the writer clearly does not write hopeless across his letter to the Colossians. But the writer does suggest more than just good manners, or self-reform in order to live as God’s new humanity.

Remarkably, the writer does not suggest the "try" method -"c’mon, you can do it, just try harder." Fresh resolve is great for being "in the moment," but a poor substitute for "being in the lifetime," that God calls us to. Instead, the writer points to a single historical event in two parts: Christ’s death and resurrection. "Something happened at that moment," the writer seems to say, "that impacted you." And what was this impact that the Colossian Christians needed to know? When Jesus died, that single death penetrated all human deaths. And when Christ arose to a new life, that new life also impacted all of humanity. To respond to the good news, to entrust one’s Self to Christ, is to be formed by God into the "new humanity," - a life with the capacity to be lived and shaped by Christ within.

Today is a very cold snowy day in my part of the world. Through my office window I notice the leafless trees towering around my building. Yet, there are some hold-outs-some crinkled, brown oak leaves still clinging tenaciously to their branches. No wind, freezing temperatures, or waist-high snow will sever them. But in a few months new buds will once again burgeon and simply dislodge the old ones. New life happens and produces expressions of the life that is God’s.

All through the centuries, we’ve needed reminding just like the Colossians did, that God’s new life within us has the power to change us. We give God our lives and God gives us God’s life . . .


Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked-the whole outfit.

. . . I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours. [5]

The word to the Colossians is quite a simple logic-as Christ-followers they have the ability to let Christ live within their very selves, thus expressing a new kind of humanity-marked by the very qualities of God.

What about us? We could toss such logic aside as gibberish or as being overly simplistic. We might write the advice off as "tried that, didn’t work," or too spiritual, too fundamentalist, too mystical, too radical-whatever. But if, on the other hand, we choose align our thinking to such profound instructions, what changes adjustments might we have to make?

C. S. Lewis, with the encouragement of his friend, J.R.R. Tolkien, chose the latter. It probably wasn’t an overnight thing, but Lewis began to notice changes in his own behavior that startled him. In a letter to a friend in he wrote:


Terrible things are happening to me. The ‘Spirit’ or ‘Real I’ is showing an alarming tendency to become much more personal and is taking the offensive, and behaving just like God. You’d better come on Monday at the latest or I may have entered a monastery. [6]

Behaving just like God? Wouldn’t that be a cool criticism of church people! "Yeah, Cheryl will be here when she said she would, she behaves just like God!" "I know George will forgive you, gosh, he acts just like God!" Holy monastery, this could be revolutionary!

Far from being handed yet another set of New Year’s Resolutions for 2004-I won’t chew, I won’t smoke, I won’t go with those who do-far from being handed a Christian version of the Ten Commandments-thou shalt showeth mercy, be kindly, humble, forgiving, and oh, yes, be loving.

Far from thou shalt lists, we are being handed a life-a new life. When we accept this extraordinary life and allow him to move and live and act through our lives, we will represent God’s new humanity. Amen.

[1] New Interpreter’s Bible XI (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), page 558.
[2] Phillip’s Translation.

[3] Walter Isaacson, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2003), page 91.
[4] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (page 165).
[5] C.S. Lewis quotation in Devotional Classics, Richard Foster and James Bryan Smith, eds. (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1993), page 9.
[6] Letters of C.S. Lewis, W. H. Lewis, ed. (NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1966), page 141.