11/20/16: The "You" Is Plural, Colossians 1:11-20
The “You” Is Plural
First Lesson: Luke 1:68-79
Second Lesson: Colossians 1:11-20
To the rest of the country, today is known as the last Sunday before Thanksgiving, which means the last Sunday before the onslaught of food and sales and parties and family and football and all that comes with this season of the year—much of it good, but all of it exhausting.
But in the church we know this Sunday by a different name. Today is Christ the King Sunday, the final Sunday of the Christian year.
It’s the Sunday that brings to a close the story we’ve told together over the course of the year: the story of what God has done and continues to do through Christ in the world and in us. And like any ending, it offers an opportunity to pause and reflect on where we’ve been together over these past twelve months: what have we seen, what have we heard? Which child a year ago had to be helped up to sit on the chancel, but now jumps up all by himself? Who have we traveled with, perhaps even, who have we lost along the way? Who have we gained?
Next Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent, which marks the beginning of a church new year together, when we’ll once again begin to tell this story we’ve been given together. And of course, all the rest of it is about to start up again very soon, in fact, for you, it may have already started—you may have already started making plans and menus and cleaning out the guest room. And—
It’s all about to start again, but I submit to you that this is exactly why you’re here this morning.
You’re here this morning, like you are so many Sundays, to pause. To exhale. Or perhaps, before you exhale, to truly inhale—to breathe deep in a way that is difficult when you’re constantly running and hurrying from the next thing to the next thing, to the next thing—like so many telephone polls along the highway—you’re here to breathe. I suspect this is why you’re here because this is why I’m here, and I think we’re more alike than we are different.
You’re here to lift up prayers—to confess and seek forgiveness, and also to open your heart for others to seek forgiveness of you. You’re here to pray for yourself, of course, but also for others. You’re here to sing the hymns of the church, because singing is good for your soul and there’s probably nothing we do that opens us up to the presence of God in the present, and stirs our imaginations to how it will be than singing together.
You’re here to make a joyful noise, but also you’re here to listen, to take in silence—it’s a goal of mine each week that there be some period of silence in this hour. Have you noticed this? Usually before or during the prayer. You’re here to give—this is a big part of what we do in this hour. We give. We give our time, our voices our presence, our warmth, but also our money. You’re here to give because you know there’s no greater act of faith than letting go.
This is why you’re here this Sunday and other Sundays: to do these things and in so doing to pause, to reflect, to immerse yourself in a story that is much bigger than you but of which you are an essential part. But perhaps most importantly of all, you come to do these things with others—with these people. Yes, you’ve come to pause, yes you’ve come to reflect, to breathe, but you’ve also come to remind yourself that we’re all breathing the same air.
At times the Christian faith has taken its cues from the world around us and turned into an inward-facing faith, a faith that’s all about personal salvation, personal fulfillment, finding our true selves—but that’s not quite it. Of course there’s a personal component to faith—as Baptists we say that each of us is responsible for answering the call of God in our own life. But the thing is, that call often leads you to others. It leads you away from your own wants and needs and priorities and opens you to the lives of others—to see them as you see yourself. When we’re baptized into the church we become part of a body—as one of my mentors likes to put it, the church is a body not a bunch. We’re part of a connected whole, not a collection ofindividually wrapped Christ-like pieces.
And we see this over and over again in Scripture: the promises of God are almost always made to people of God, not the persons of God. In Scripture, you see, the “you” is almost always plural.
This is actually a casualty of reading the Bible in English, which has no second person plural pronoun: you can mean you or you—you feel me? Unless you’re here in the South, where we say “y’all.” “Y’all” is actually a very useful word: we make it clear that we’re talking about a group of people.
In the original languages of the Bible, you can usually tell whether one is addressing a person or a group of people, but this clarity often gets lost in translation. And it happens to be the case that when you come across a you in the Bible, and especially in the New Testament, chances are it’s really a y’all. Scripture is almost always written to “y’all, not just “you.”
So when Jesus says in the Gospel of John, “Abide in me as I abide in you,” he’s saying, “All of you abide in me as I abide in you…as I abide in y’all.” Each of you individually, but also the you that you become when you’re together. Or later on in Colossians when Paul talks about “the mystery” of salvation, which is “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” he’s not talking about Christ in each of you, but Christ in “y’all.” The mystery of salvation involves all of us.
And in our passage today, when Paul says, “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from God, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to God, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light,” he’s saying this to all of us, not so much individually, but to us as a group—as a community gathered in Christ’s name. May you find strength and endurance and patience and joy and thanksgiving—but may you find these things together. May you find them with and for and in each other.
And this even bleeds into the way Paul describes Christ here: Christ as the one “in whom all things were created”—we tend to focus on this idea of Christ being in us, and that certainly found in Scripture. But Paul is much more concerned with this idea of us being in Christ. Christ is the head of the body, Paul says, not the bag of the bunch. With Christ the “you” is almost always plural.
And when we’re doing it right—and we do get it right from time to time—church becomes a place where the “you” is plural, too. A place where this outward-facing approach to life is put into practice, week after week, year after year, generation after generation, so that it becomes the very air we breathe in so deeply each week together.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where I attended college at Wake Forest University, is home to one of the region’s largest Moravian communities.
The Moravians are a wonderful little protestant group that dates back to the mid 15th century in Moravia, in present day Czech Republic, as one of the earliest reformation movements, known for their humility, unity and their delicious sweet rolls, which they eat this year as part of one of their great traditions, the Moravian “love feast.”
The love feast dates back to the 1700s but is modeled after a practice of the early church called an “agape meal,” which is something like Communion but where actual food and drink were shared. In the Moravian version, it’s an informal worship service where the congregation sings hymns, offers prayers—there is no sermon, you might like to knw—drinks coffee and most importantly, eats these delicious sweet rolls.
There are two main Moravian bakeries left in Winston-Salem. One is Dewey’s, for which I’m partial and have even ordered sweet rolls on rush delivery when we lived up in Boston. And Winkler’s, which may be the older of the two and is located in historic Old Salem, the site of the original Moravian community there.
I was talking with a friend of mine about Winkler’s recently, this old, old bakery, where they’ve been making these sweet rolls to be used in these “feasts” of love, peace, and unity for years and years. (1) And he told me something I never knew before. He told me that when they make the dough for the sweet roles there in this generations-old bakery, they just ball up it and place the rolls there on racks over in the corner, not using any yeast to help them rise. They don't have to add yeast to making these rolls rise, you see, because from all those years and years of baking there's simply enough yeast in the air.
I like to think the same is true in this place. That within these walls where people have gathered for so long for the same reasons you have and I have and we have: to worship, to pray, to sing, to listen, to wait in silence, to give, reflect, to pause, to breathe—people have been doing these things for so long, that there is so much of the Holy Spirit (that heavenly breath of God we seek) that it’s simply in the air.
So take a deep breath, friends.
Take a deep, deep breath. Each of you, all of you. Breathe deeply of the same air, and the same Holy Spirit.
Next week we will begin to tell our story together again. But this week we breathe.
(1) Special thanks to dear friend, Alan Sherouse, for passing along this tidbit about Winkler's.