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Jul 30, 2017

Did You Know You Belong?

Passage: Colossians 1:21-23

Series: Colossians

Keywords: belonging, confidence, forgiveness, hope, isolation, judgmentalism, legalism, millennials, reconciliation


Why is it that so many people feel alienated and marginalized in the church today? Why are so many Millennials leaving the church? This message explores the kind of belonging Jesus has for every one of us in Him and how we can enjoy that every day.


Did You Know You Belong?

Sermon on Colossians 1:21-23

Good morning! It’s a privilege to get to preach again and I’m really excited about our passage for today.

Do you ever wonder if you belong? Do you ever feel like maybe you don’t and wish you did? That might be a thought that takes us back to our childhood, but I think we may wrestle with it to some degree in every stage of life. I know I do. Maybe it’s at work amongst our coworkers, or at school, or in our own family. Or maybe it’s in a circle of friends, or in church, or in our own city. We all have this desire, this need, to belong. To feel apart of something, to know that there’s a place where we are included, accepted, wanted—a place where we fit in, where we know we’re not alone, a place where we belong.

My main point this morning is this: in Christ, God affirms that you belong. First and foremost, we belong in Christ. There may not be any other place where we feel like we belong—but Christ is the one place, above all else, where we belong. It is in relationship with our creator and redeemer where we truly belong.

I’m the youngest of three brothers and we grew up playing a ton of sports: basketball, soccer, water polo, baseball, track. I love sports and the joy of competition, and I was really small growing up. I was a late bloomer, so through all of elementary school and into Jr. high and even high school, I was just way shorter than everyone else. You know how they would have the class line up from tallest to shortest (why do they do that?)? Well, I was always the shortest one. To give you an example, on my 13th birthday my family and I were out to dinner with a friend of mine and my dad had told the waitress it was my birthday. She had already come to the table a few times and when she came back she said, “Oh let me guess how old you are! I’m really good at this.” As she’s thinking, my mom is like, “Carter, sit up straight.” And then the waitress turns, looks right at me, and says, “I know, you’re 8 years old!” Keep in mind some guys are growing facial hair at age 13—I looked like I was 8.

In fourth grade, I was playing on a YMCA basketball team with my friends and I loved it. I wasn’t very good—I scored in the other team’s hoop at least once—but I was the team encourager and I would always clap towards the crowd to get them pumped up as we ran down the court after scoring a bucket. And now twelve or so years later, I still distinctly remember something my coach told me. He was the grandpa of one of my friends on the team, and I don’t think he meant to but he broke my heart. I remember he pulled me aside one day, I don’t know if it was in a game or in practice, and he told me, “Carter, pass the ball to Baker and Bryce. Basketball is for tall people.”

Huh, I thought. I’m NOT tall. In fact, I’m really short. So basketball must not be for me. I felt isolated in that moment, painfully aware of the fact that I was not tall like my friends and therefore didn’t belong on the basketball court like they did.

And then in Jr. High I was playing on a club soccer team with all my friends—these are guys I went to school with and church with—and I watched as they got all the things I wanted really badly. Playing time on the team, attention from girls, and all the praise, acclamation, and acceptance I so desperately desired. I remember my coach in Jr. High again telling me that it would just be tough getting playing time with my size. I felt so strongly the fact that I did not belong where it seemed like all of my friends did. I was estranged, isolated, even alienated.

Well our passage this morning speaks of alienation. We’re in Colossians chapter 1, verses 21-23. Let’s read.

We’re not exactly sure what the nature of it was, but Paul is writing this letter in response to some philosophy that was threatening the young, developing church at Colossae. It was planted by this guy named Epaphras, and his concern in 4:12 where Paul says that he was always wrestling in prayer for them that they may stand firm in all the will of God sheds light on his desire for them to be fully assured in their faith. These opponents of theirs, whoever they are, are challenging and belittling the sufficiency of Christ and their hope in him. So Paul wrote to them to help them grasp even more firmly who Christ is and all that God has done in him. Salvation is found in Christ, and Christians don’t need something else or something more. As my New Testament professor said, “Get Christ and ditch the rest!”

Paul’s words in v 21 are pretty harsh, really harsh in fact. The three words that stick out to me in that first verse are alienated, enemies, and evil. Those aren’t necessarily words I want to be associated with. The term alienated implies isolation, loneliness, and a deep sense of not belonging. And the phrase “from God” isn’t actually in the Greek text but helps bring out the idea that since the fall, humanity is somehow out of order, out of the fellowship with God for which we were made. This alienation also applies to relationship with fellow human beings, as Paul draws out in Ephesians and elsewhere. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like the idea of being enemies of God. It’s like being in a wrestling match where the winner is very clear, and it’s not me. And by saying enemies in your minds, he doesn’t just mean our thoughts were hostile to God but rather our whole intellect, our whole way of being was bent away from God, turned in the other direction. This hostility is not limited to the mind itself, but thought and act are both tainted, each pushing the other into further corruption. It’s something like: wrong thinking leads to wrong action which leads to further wrong thinking so that the mind ends up eventually applauding evil. Think Romans 1.

And he uses the term evil. Our culture is by and large pretty unwilling to call anything evil.

And then in v. 22 comes the word but. There’s a communication distinction between the words AND and BUT. For instance, say a coach is giving feedback to his or her team after a game and they say something like, “ You did a lot things well today, but there’s some things you need to work on.” That BUT negates everything that came before it so that the things they did well don’t really matter. What the team hears is what they need to work on. If on the other hand, the coach were to say something like, “You did a lot of things well today, and there’s some things you need to work on.” It allows them to hear what they did well while still recognizing they have work to do. So when offering critique or feedback, it’s a good practice to use the term AND instead of BUT.

Here though, the BUT is good news! Because Paul is indeed negating everything that comes before it. He says yes, once you were alienated from God and you were enemies because of all the ways in which you lived contrary to the way he created life to be lived, BUT now he has reconciled you! BUT now you are holy in his sight and without blemish and free from accusation. As Paul says to the Corinthians, in Christ, you are a new creation! The old has gone and the new is here. Our fundamental identity now, in Christ, is no longer sinners—it’s saints, as John pointed out a few weeks ago. Do you know what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:18-20? He says this: “But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.” For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.” Here we see that God’s answer to us in Christ of whether or not we belong is a resounding YES! Christ is God with us and God for us. You know the term mixed signals? Does she like you? I don’t know man, I’m getting mixed signals—well God isn’t giving mixed signals! He’s unambiguously for us! He’s unambiguously for YOU.

Well back to the text, the actual translation of “Christ’s physical body” is literally “the body of his flesh.” Paul frequently uses the word flesh to describe not just the physical aspect of human nature but humanity as it opposes God. Body, however is morally neutral. So by placing these together, what he’s saying is:

1) Jesus is fully identified with humanity, sharing our ‘fleshly’ existence so that even though he himself was without sin he took sin’s consequences on himself, becoming subject to death

2) Jesus is also fully identified with God bodily (2:9)

3) In Jesus, then, God identifies himself with sinful humanity so that our sins are already condemned in him and we are reconciled to God. And this reconciliation has an aim, a goal: to present us holy and without blemish and free from accusation in God’s sight

What we draw out of this passage so far is that we were once estranged, isolated from God, BUT in Christ God reconciled the world to himself, uniting God and humanity. Once we were alienated, now we have been reconciled. And it’s not just humanity that’s been reconciled but the whole of the cosmos! As Paul says in vv 19-20: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Well there’s a lot of people who feel alienated from the church today, from the body of Christ, especially people in my generation.

This is from an article released by the Barna Group last spring:

Millennials are leaving the church. Nearly six in ten (59%) young people who grow up in Christian churches end up walking away, and the unchurched segment among Millennials has increased in the last decade from 44% to 52%, mirroring a larger cultural trend away from churchgoing in America. When asked what has helped their faith grow, “church” does not make even the top 10 factors.

And this from a May, 2015 CNN article titled: Millennials leaving church in droves, study finds:

Looking at the long view, the generational spans are striking. Whereas 85% of the silent generation (born 1928-1945) call themselves Christians, just 56% of today's younger millennials (born 1990-1996) do the same, even though the vast majority -- about eight in 10 -- were raised in religious homes. Each successive generation of Americans includes fewer Christians, Pew has found.

To put it simply: Older generations of Americans are not passing along the Christian faith as effectively as their forebears.

What happened when I felt like I didn’t belong on my basketball and soccer teams? I quit. It didn’t give me a desire to play, it in fact did the opposite. I’ll just find something else. So is it any wonder why people leave the church if they’re told they don’t belong? If they feel like there isn’t a place for them in Christ’s body? Why do you think so many people feel alienated from church today? What might alienate you from church?



-divisions in congregations or across denominations!

            [According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations and organizations in the world.] There’s 242 within the Roman Catholic tradition alone!

People could argue that maybe God would communicate better

-inactive in social issues

-pastoral scandals

-not feeling like there’s a place for them

What would it look like for Mosaic to be the kind of community in which people know that in Christ, they belong? To be the kind of community that affirms in people they have a place at the table, a place in the family of God, in the body of Christ? The kind of community in which outsiders are welcomed? In which together we tell the truth, we seek the truth, and we live in the truth with people different from us, people who don’t even seem like they should belong? In which we invite others into this story, this journey of moving closer to Jesus? What if people heard that we all need the same thing: Jesus, and we don’t know everything and we don’t claim to, but that we know Jesus and we want to walk with him together, and seek together to learn more about the heart of God in the heart of this city.

Being in relationship with people who don’t look, think, or act like us, with people who are different from us takes time and it’s messy. It’s not easy. It’s not efficient. It’s easier to surround ourselves with people just like us, isn’t it? To insulate ourselves with people who make us feel comfortable and secure. It’s more efficient. But love is not efficient. And the amazing thing about the gospel is it’s for everyone! As John talked about last week, when you look at Jesus you see God. So if we can look at Jesus and see God, then who did Jesus eat with, who did he hangout with? He ate with tax collectors and sinners, prostitutes, lepers, all the people the Pharisees were certain didn’t belong. Luke 14:12-13. When you give a banquet invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. Invite everyone who doesn’t seem like they should be invited. Invite everyone that no one else would invite. Who are we inviting to our banquets? Who is sitting at our tables? Who are we spending our time with? If there’s room at God’s table, is there room at our tables?

I was in NYC for a month this January on a study trip with 7 of my classmates and our theology professor. Everyday of the trip had a theme, and we spent all of our time meeting different people who found meaning in life around these various themes and talking with them about it. One of the people we met was a guy named Christopher. Christopher is one of my favorite people I’ve ever met. He’s a vintner, so he makes wine, and we got to spend an afternoon with him at his winery. When I think of what it means to invite others into the journey of faith in Christ, I think of Christopher. From the moment we met him, he was just insanely welcoming. None of us had any clue about making wine, but he was just totally patient with us and he invited us into the entire process. He didn’t pretend to know everything there is to know about making wine and he spoke in such a way that invited us into learning alongside him. His passion inspired curiosity in all of us as he walked us through all that goes into making one little bottle of wine. He talked about it with an excitement that made me want to hear more. And by the end of our time with him, I thought, man I want to make wine too! I want to be more like Christopher. What if we had that posture when inviting people into faith? What if we had that kind of patience, humility, and excitement?

And here’s the other thing: Christopher is a Christian. When we asked him about how his faith influences the way he makes wine, he gave a pretty brief answer. He has the kind of humility where he doesn’t like to talk very much about himself, even though everyone wants to listen. But it was his friend and business partner Colin who stepped in and told us how much he sees Christopher’s faith influence everything about him, including the way he makes wine. And Colin is openly an atheist. WOW, I thought. Christopher works with this guy who believes totally differently from him, and he doesn’t force his beliefs on him but he lives in such a way that Colin knows what he believes and actually stepped in to tell us about it. You leak what you love, and Christopher leaks Jesus. He didn’t compromise his faith but he was willing to live and work in really close proximity with a guy who does not share his belief, and who knows the way God may be working through Christopher in Colin’s life.

Flesh out the IF—you might be thinking, wait. We can’t just say everybody belongs, that’s universalism. Paul says IF, doesn’t he? Yes, and he says if what? If you continue in your FAITH. But how are people supposed to have faith if they don’t know that first and foremost they belong? That God is actually for them? God has reconciled the world in Christ, but we can still refuse our side of the relationship. [2 Corinth. 5: 18-20.] We can say no to God’s yes to us in Christ. But what if people heard that before you even recognize or embrace this reality there’s a place at the table for you. What if people heard that there’s room for them in the family of God, in the body of Christ? What if we started there, with the fact that in Christ God tells us we belong in relationship with him, and what if we reflected that reality as the church to those who feel alienated?

Belonging and being accepted in Christ isn’t just saying yeah everything is OK, what’s true for you is true for you and what’s true for me is true for me, you’re accepted/I’m accepted and we both get a participation trophy and a special award. It’s not moral relativism. No, remember Paul here says the word evil, implying that yeah there are ways of living that are contrary to how God designed life to be lived, AND at the same time the invitation to be in Christ is open to everyone, we are reconciled regardless of what we’ve done or who we are. The place where we do belong is in Christ—who is the truth. Salvation is found in Christ and Christ alone, but people need to know that God tells them first and foremost they belong. And then from there we can figure out together all of what that means for how we live our lives, because Jesus does have something to say about that.

In verse 23 Paul talks about not being moved from the hope held out for us in the gospel.

What are some implications of the hope we have in the gospel? Of this reconciliation God has accomplished for us in Christ?

  • It frees us!

Galatians 5:1: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

      2 Corinthians 3:17: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

It frees us from the need to be right all the time, it frees us from pride, from insecurity, it frees us from trying to prove ourselves. It frees us from trying to fix other people, it frees us to fail. To make mistakes. That frees us to take risks. God’s grace, his ‘Yes’ to us in Christ, frees us to take risks. How we think about God matters. I think a lot of people think God is mad at them. Or they have to shape up in some way or another, to get their act together, before they can be in relationship with Jesus. I think it’s easy to have a conception of God as this sort of bad coach whose just waiting for us to make a mistake so he can criticize us and pull us out of the game. Or as this scary guy holding an axe over our heads just waiting for us to make the wrong move. But that is fundamentally misunderstanding who God is. Did you know that God DELIGHTS in you? Did you know that scripture tells us we are his masterpiece, his handiwork?

People need to hear this, don’t they?! Because I think the God that many people reject isn’t the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

God’s grace to us in Christ gives us the freedom to take risks, to step out of our comfort zone to a place where failure is a real possibility. It allows us to handle our highs and lows with greater equilibrium, because we are rooted in a gaze of love and delight. WHAT HAVE WE TO FEAR? This passage tells us that God is for us!

2) It allows us to reconcile with one another. Because we’ve been reconciled to God we can now reconcile with others. Eph 2:14-18

Reconciliation takes repentance AND forgiveness

  • we may be needing to ask for forgiveness from someone in our lives this morning, or we may be needing to extend forgiveness
  • Reconciliation involves movement. It is the constant pursuit of that which is disconnected and it’s not based on agreement but rather on a willingness to enter into spaces of tension—building bridges not armies
  • Moreover, are there parts of our past that need to be reconciled? We walk around with this weight, these weights that we carry that affect us. Are we willing to let Jesus into those painful spots in our past? We carry a lot of pain, and when we’re hurt we tend to hurt people. We can take our pain right to the cross—God has been there. There’s someone who knows your pain and actually understands it better than you do: Jesus. And he says: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
  • It was only recently that I discovered how much those painful words from my coaches back in fourth grade and then into Jr. High hurt me and how long I had been carrying that pain and operating out of it. But if I hold a grudge against the people who’ve hurt me, if I don’t forgive, then I embody the very evil of which I was a victim. For those of you who’ve been burned by the church in some way or another, you may be embodying the very dogmatism, close-mindedness and stubbornness against which you stood if you don’t offer forgiveness to those who’ve hurt you.
  • Some of us are on the side of needing to forgive, and others might be on the side of needing to ask for forgiveness. Reconciliation won’t happen unless we come together. And that takes both forgiveness and repentance.

When Jesus came back to his disciples after rising from the dead, he ate with them! He had the fire ready as they came out of their boat, and he said, “Come and have breakfast.” These are the guys who had deserted him in his moments of greatest need—who had let him down! Maybe this week we can reach out to someone we’ve hurt, or even someone who has hurt us and share a meal with them. Who knows what might happen.

3) It gives us both HUMILITY and CONFIDENCE. Humble confidence. Humility because we know we don’t deserve the grace and reconciliation God offers us in Christ and confidence because we know it’s not based on what we do.

My buddy Benji and I play music together and we played at an open mic night at the Bartlett a little over a year ago in the spring. The singer for a band called Joseph happened to be there and she played a few songs. We met her afterwards and got to chat with her for a little bit. Then a year went by, Joseph released a new album and started to get pretty big and we went to go see them play at the Knitting Factory. After the show, we waited in line for a shirt and got to say hey to the band, and Natalie remembered us! She knew us! Do you know how that made us feel? We walked out of there on cloud 9 and we couldn’t stop smiling. She knew us—she’s famous and we’re nobodies!

Well that’s nothing compared to God—the God of the universe, the God in whom all things are held together. He knows you. He knows me. How does that make us feel? And God loves you right where you are, and in Christ he affirms that in relationship with him is where we belong. It’s what we were created for.

If you’re sitting out there and wondering like I did when I was in seventh grade wondering if you belong, Jesus says here you do. And even if you belong nowhere else, even if everyone else has rejected you, has left you out—God hasn’t. God says you belong. And the reason we belong is not because of us—not because of anything in us that makes us worth belonging. It’s because of Christ that you belong. He came and died for you. And he rose again, conquering death and now he’s alive and actually at work in this broken, hurting world. And now we have this hope. This hope isn’t based on your height, your skill set, your family of origin, your connections, jobs, place of birth, good decisions or bad decisions. It’s based on what God has already done in Christ.

Do you believe this? Do you want to put your hope here or do you want to put it some place else? And if you’re here this morning and you don’t know Jesus and your curious about who he is and what it means to follow him, you can start this journey right now. And if you’re here and you’re incredibly pissed at God, that’s OK. He loves you right where you are, and he’s not mad at you.

In Christ, God tells us we belong with him. This is where you belong! This is where your hope is actually found. And even if you’ve been looking for your hope elsewhere for a long time, I’m still here. We belong in relationship with the one who created us, who knows us, who became one of us, to suffer and die for us just because he loves us. Be encouraged: you are reconciled! I am reconciled! We are reconciled! The whole cosmos is reconciled! Let us live into the freedom, the reconciliation, the humility and the confidence that comes from the truth that we belong in Christ.