"If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for …
"If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." Colossians 3:1-11
When I was reading our lessons for this past week, our New Testament lesson from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, and the gospel reading, I kept thinking about reality TV. I know that reality TV is very popular, but it was like Paul was watching it from afar as he wrote his letter. Keeping up with the Kardashians and The Bachelorette seem to be about sexuality and sensuality and glamourizing having a bunch of sparkly material things.
And American Pickers, a favorite of my husband, follows the pickers around to homes and warehouses and barns where a hodgepodge of hoarders and collectors have accumulated massive amounts of stuff that they sometimes have to literally climb over to sort through looking for treasures. And I always think there is a fine line between hoarders and collectors. And there were these shows a few years back, maybe they still go on today, about the housewives of New Jersey or Hollywood or somewhere, and I believe they were full of slander and anger and coveting and adultery.
Not to mention all of the shows and movies that glorify violence, drug lords, gangs, mercenaries and guns. The problem with reality shows is that they ignore the truth of the pain of real reality. They ignore the pain, the sadness, the despair, the forever effects that come from hoarding, adultery and violent death. There is a dark flipside to all of these subjects, and it is not entertaining at all.
After I wrote all of the above, I then learned of two mass shootings last Saturday. Twenty people were killed and 26 people were injured in the El Paso Walmart while doing their Saturday morning errands and back-to-school shopping. And then that night in Dayton Ohio, another 9 people were killed in an entertainment district. Not to mention the people killed at the Garlic Festival in California the week before, and the never ceasing highly divisive and hostile political rhetoric that just goes on and on.
The darkness is not just on television, on social media or in political townhall meetings. It is also right here in Walker County where we heard this same week about the fact that we seemingly are the epicenter for the prescription opioid epidemic, not to mention the illegal sales of those same pills as well as heroine, meth, and other drugs. You only need to spend a couple of hours at our food bank or at the hospital or the jail or in homes all around us to see the effects of that madness.
And so those words of Paul, seem to echo through the ages. He lived it too and saw it too. He lived in a world filled with false gods and temples and worship of all sorts of idols. There were temple prostitutes, and sacrifices, and violence. The early Christians themselves were subject to sometimes unbelievable persecution for the message of faith they were sharing. They were publicly stoned, crucified, and executed. And in the days of Nero, they were fed to lions and bears and other wild animals as spectators cheered the madness from the stands in the Roman Coliseum.
Paul also lived in times of black line divisions and distinctions. A time where the haves and the have nots were treated so differently and had very different lives. There were political divisions, and religious divisions. Slaves were treated as nothing or less than nothing. Intellectuals looked down on the ignorant.
The term Scythian here is just the Roman version of slang for those rednecks and presumably ignorant people from other side of the world as in far eastern Asia. And Barbarian referred to anyone who was not from the Roman Empire. The attitude of Paul’s world was, are you a slave? Too bad, so sad, glad I’m not. Are you poor? Too, bad, so sad, glad I’m not.
People who lived on both sides of the clear black dividing lines in Paul’s world were therefore probably surprised, and either delighted or troubled, to hear his message of equality in Christ. That they were all valued and all loved and all created in the image of God himself. And that through Christ, they were all adopted sons and daughters of God. This would have been unheard of. The only human who was thought to be a god on earth at that time would have been Caesar, the emperor himself. To say that a slave, a Scythian, a Jew, a Barbarian, or a woman, not to mention everyday Romans, were gods destined for heaven was unheard of.
Gods back then were things you had to appease so that there would be peace in the empire, so that your crops would flourish, or so that you could have children. People were certainly not gods. But then came Jesus with his message of salvation and his claim to be the Son of God, and then his resurrection, and these crazy followers who claimed to see him alive, back from the dead. That message of the resurrection of Jesus was wild enough, but then to add to it that believers would also rise to live forever in heaven with God. This offshoot religion from the Jews was truly radical.
Paul is therefore telling the early Christians that in the greater reality of earth and heaven, you have standing higher than even the emperor himself. He is merely a man and a false god. You, on the other hand, are sons and daughters of the one true God, so act like it. Stop this lower stuff, this nonsense of the earth. Quit acting in your own version of an earthly reality show. And start acting in the True Reality, the Greater Reality of Heaven.
These early Christians needed to hear this message and so do we. They needed it for themselves, and the world around them needed to see people living in the way of light. Because when you live in the reality of heaven, the drama of earthly reality does not shake you. Even in times where you face death, oppression, persecution, and deep loss, you can live in peace and light despite the darkness swirling all around you.
I am not certain what we can do for the people in El Paso, Dayton, Ohio, or California other than keep them in our prayers. But as to the people in Jasper, and the people with whom we live and interact, I think perhaps it is time for us to speak up and to live into whom we are called by God himself to be. To turn off the so-called “entertainment” of darkness, and to start focusing on what is good and pure and holy and light. Paul in his letter to the Colossians in the very next few lines goes on to say:
"12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord[f] has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.""
Kindness, humility, compassion, forgiveness, love and peace — those are things that are pure. Those are the things of above. As Christians, that is what our lives are called to be. When we live into those things and speak of those things and practice those things with all people and in all aspects of our lives, I guarantee you we will shine with a light from within. We will then begin doing our part in dispelling the darkness in the corners of our world.
The Rev. Robin Hinkle is rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Jasper.