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This is not the sermon I had planned to preach this morning. I did have a sermon written about Jesus and how we relate to God in prayer and how God meets our needs through prayer. But I preached on this passage from Colossians this morning at 8.00 Communion, and realised that maybe this is the one thing that I want to say today to us as a church community. So, if you have come following my Facebook post stating that I am preaching on Mark’s Gospel, I apologise, and I am very happy to send you a text version of my sermon.
But it struck me this morning at 8.00 just how important this passage from Colossians is and how much we have to learn from it.
And I want to start by telling you a story – it’s one of my favourite stories in fact. And it is a story that, unlike any other I’ve heard in my life, has helped me to understand who I am before God.
It’s a story about a conversation between a toy rabbit and a toy horse who are upstairs in the child’s bedroom while the child is at school and the mum is at work: so it’s safe to talk!
Well, Rabbit had been confused for a while about what it meant to be real. He kept hearing his owner call him a toy and he wanted to know what it was to be real.
So Rabbit turned to the Toy Horse and he said, “Mr Horse, what does it mean to be real? Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a sticky-out handle bit?”
And Mr Horse said to him, “Real isn’t how you are made. It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really love you, then you become Real”.
Rabbit looked at Mr Horse and said, “Does it hurt to become Real?”
“Sometimes”, said Mr Horse. “But when you’re Real, you don’t mind being hurt”.
Rabbit thought for a bit and then he said, “Does it happen all at once, like being wound up, or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once. You just become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you’re Real, you can’t be ugly except to people who don’t understand”.
This morning, I want to talk about becoming Real. Because it’s the same process for you and me as it was for the Toy Rabbit. As Christians, we are in the process of becoming Real, as Paul says in verse 10: “We are the new being which God, its Creator, is constantly renewing in his own image.”
God is renewing each of us – we are becoming Real. So what does it mean for us to become Real?
The first stage is to have our minds transformed – verse 5: “You must put to death, then, the earthly desires at work in you”.
I had a very embarrassing moment a couple of years ago when Jo and I went to the Archdeacon’s house for dinner; a very posh dinner, as you might imagine, and I was trying to be on my best behaviour. And we were sitting at the dinner table and I was sitting on an old Georgian chair and I leant back – and the chair fell apart under me and I went crashing to the floor, lying on a heap of timber.
The whole thing was hundreds of years old, it looked beautiful, but it was riddled with woodworm! It looked great on the outside but was being eaten from the inside out. And that can be like us, too. We might look great on the outside, beautifully polished, very self-assured – but the reality is that we are being turned rotten from the inside by earthly desires that destroy us. Greed, pride, lust, evil passions – all these and a whole lot more.
As Paul says in verse 7, outside of Christ we are dominated by them. They control us and dictate how we behave and what we say and do. But part of the process of becoming real is to allow the Holy Spirit to transform the way we think, to transform the attitudes we have, the way we think about other people and the world around us. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote: “Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind.” Through the work of the Holy Spirit in us, we can be free from the domination of a negative mindset.
But becoming real – becoming the person God wants us to be – isn’t just about how we think. It’s about how we behave too.
Now it’s interesting to note that, in verses 8 and 9, Paul stresses only one type of ungodly behaviour, which we need to reject – and the reason will become clear in a minute. But the behaviour Paul stresses is speech – verse 8: “No insults or obscene talk must ever come from your lips. Do not lie to one another.”
The Bible has a lot to say about the tongue, because it’s a great measure of our spiritual life. If we insult people or gossip about people or spread rumours – to their face or behind their back – we know there is anger and hatred in our hearts. If we lie to someone, we know there is deceit in our lives. Anger, hatred, deceit – all the filth of our lives finally exhibits itself through our speech.
And so we need to ask the Holy Spirit to transform our conversation.
A friend of mine was a Vicar in Nottingham – a lovely man devoted to his parishioners. He helped to nurture me in my early faith – he was a good and godly man. But every week, people would moan at him; nothing major, all little things – “I don’t like the way you do this”, “I don’t like the way you do that”, “Why don’t you do this?”, “Why don’t you do that?” Each person thought their moan was too little to cause offence but by the end of each week, he was drained because he had listened to 10, 15 or 20 little digs about his work and ministry. And in the end, about 4 years ago, he just gave up and resigned – it was the saddest thing to see.
He had been destroyed by the unthinking speech of other people constantly digging away at him.
But you don’t have to be a Vicar to go through that. What about the housewife who slaves away at home all day and then the husband comes home and complains about the messy house and the kids don’t eat the meal you’ve prepared? What about the man who works all day in a job he hates, trying to please a sarcastic and critical boss, and then gets moaned at by his wife for not spending enough time with the kids? What about the parents who are always criticising their children?
Negativity flows so easily from our lips. We are so quick to criticise.
You know the word ‘sarcasm’ comes from a Greek word and it literally means ‘to eat flesh’. To eat flesh. And that’s exactly what sarcasm and criticism feels like: it’s like someone is eating away at us, destroying our self-confidence and self-worth.
But Paul urges us to live differently. Don’t insult one another – don’t let your speech be filled with negativity. Instead, seek to speak only kind words to one another, to speak out of compassion and understanding, with patience and kindness.
Words of encouragement that come from the heart are worth their weight in gold.
Well, I said that only one type of behaviour was mentioned by Paul here and it’s for a very good reason, because Paul is getting to the climax now of what he has to say to us. Because if we want to become Real – and to know what it is to be truly fulfilled – we can only do that as we develop our relationships with one another. And that is why the church is so important, because it’s only as we grow in fellowship and love with one another that we discover our true potential as children of God.
Community is vital for us if we are to grow as the people of God. In verse 11, Paul says: “As a result, there is no longer any distinction between Gentiles and Jews, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarians, savages, slaves, and free, but Christ is all and Christ is in all.” In verse 15, he says: “God has called you together in one body. And be thankful.”
If we want to become Real, if we want to grow in the image of God, we need to grow in our commitment and our love for each other. So what does he say in verse 12? “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Be tolerant with one another, forgive one another…And to all these qualities add love”.
The Christian faith is not a private faith. We are called to live in community with one another; to learn to love one another, and be tolerant and forgiving and, above all, to encourage one another in what we say.
As Paul says in verse 11, “Christ is all, Christ is in all”. Christ is in the person you are sitting next to. But, more importantly, Christ is in the person you chose not to sit next to because you may not know them or you don’t really like them!
The Toy Rabbit said, “Does it hurt to become to become Real?”
“Sometimes,” said Mr Horse, “But when you’re real, you don’t mind being hurt”.
Becoming real can be painful because the Holy Spirit convicts us of aspects of our life that are inappropriate. Change always hurts a bit but, when you’re real, you don’t mind being hurt.
By the time we become Real, God will have loved all our hair off and we may have loose joints and be a bit shabby. But as Mr Horse says, “These things don’t matter at all, because once you’re real, you can’t be ugly except to people who don’t understand’.
God understands. We understand each other.
Let’s get a bit shabby for God and let’s begin loving the hair off each other.