Sermon Podcast Audio
It’s finally November and I think for most of us, this signals that the holiday season is upon us. Thanksgiving is two and a half weeks away and Christmas is just around the corner. Most of you have probably begun making your plans for the holidays already—you know where you are spending Thanksgiving and Christmas, you know which days you are taking off work, and you know what dessert you are most looking forward to eating! Mine is cherry pie with a lattice top, in case you wanted to know.
Many of you have fond memories of holidays past and look forward to this time of the year. You love the laughter around the table, the excitement of watching the football game together on Thanksgiving, or watching kids open presents on Christmas. I know many of you are looking forward to having your whole family together for the holidays, with family coming from all over the state or the country for the special occasion.
I grew up with a really big extended family on my dad’s side and Thanksgiving was really the only day of the year where we ALL came together as a family. And when I say ALL of us, I mean nearly 100 of us. That’s what happens when grandparents have 12 kids who give them 33 grandkids. Bring in all the in-laws, all the great-grand kids, the step-children, and suddenly you’re not meeting in homes anymore, but you’re renting a restaurant that’s closed for the day so you have enough room for everybody! True story—we had our Thanksgiving meals in a restaurant!
But when you bring that many people together for the holidays, two things happen:
1) The line for food is really long and requires a lot of patience as you wait… and wait… (as the cherry pie goes)
2) There’s always a bit of tension about whether the black sheep will show up or not, or if anybody will bring up that major failure you just experienced, whether she will bring her girlfriend, or if he will drink too much. As I mention these examples, I’m sure many of you can imagine those really uncomfortable situations you’ve experienced at these holiday gatherings.
With that conflict and those strained relationships comes anxiety and resentment. And suddenly, the most wonderful time of the year turns into the most stress-filled season.
I want to take a really practical look at how we, as Christians, can respond to these stressful family situations. How can we respond in the middle of the conflict and how can we act as peacemakers to help bring reconciliation in the family where the relationship is broken?
Today we are going to look at what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Colossae about how they are to live in their new faith. While his words here are directed at the people who make up the new church, I think you will realize quickly how this has application to your upcoming Thanksgiving day with family!
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
Is that not fitting for Thanksgiving? It even points that out in the last sentence (Give thanks)!
But honestly, I think this little section of scripture has a lot for us to look at today and to apply to our lives as we approach these anxiety-causing events with family.
The verse starts off saying that those of us who are called, chosen by God to be a part of his family, those of us he dearly loves, are to be holy. We are called to respond to conflict differently than the world. Our attitude toward each other is actually counter cultural. And how so?
We are told to clothe ourselves with this list of virtues. This ties into what Paul said earlier in the letter when he told the Colossians to put on their new self. The big point in these statements is that we need to take action. You have to make a conscious decision to clothe yourself. It doesn’t just happen. You don’t just think about wearing a nice suit and tie and boom, you climb out of bed dressed like James Bond. That takes effort. You have to have the end result in mind—looking nicely dressed—and then you have to put on the pants and the shirt, tie the tie, remember the belt, and then finally put on the jacket.
The same can be said of clothing yourself in these virtues. Just hoping to be more compassionate, kinder, more humble, gentle, and patient won’t make it so. You have to think about how you can do that. What would that look like in your life? Then take those steps—clothe yourself in those virtues.
What are those virtues the Apostle Paul lays out:
Compassion – show mercy or concern for the poor, the afflicted, those on the outside. This is having an eye for those who need your help. In your family, maybe that’s the black sheep who is always hearing little comments about his or her life choices or who is talked about from the other room. Maybe compassion in this case is showing a little extra care for that person or speaking up on their behalf when others are ridiculing them.
Kindness – Are you genuinely kind? There’s a difference between being NOT mean and actually being kind. Kindness takes effort. It takes thoughtfulness; it takes a willingness to think about what the other person actually might want or need. This Thanksgiving, kindness might mean giving extra attention to the person who normally struggles to fit into the conversation. Or maybe its giving a complement to somebody after the loud-mouth of the family gives a back-handed compliment.
Humility – thinking less of yourself and more of others. Humility allows you to serve others around the table and not worry about if you are doing all the work—the cooking AND the cleaning—or not. You are just glad the family is able to be together.
Gentleness – the Greek word here used for gentleness suggests the yielding of a judge, who, instead of demanding the exact penalty required by strict justice, gives way to circumstances which call for mercy.
Patience – the ability to tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry. I can guarantee that at some point this Thanksgiving or Christmas you will experience delay or trouble caused by another person—maybe even suffering. But how are you going to respond? If you choose now to clothe yourself in patience at that moment, the outcome of the situation will be much better for everybody.
Endure – Paul then continues with his instruction to the Colossians. Not only are they to clothe themselves with these virtues, but they are to “bear with each other.” Another way to say this is to endure, to hear the offensive comment, but to let it slide, to choose to not hold a grudge, to choose to not fight back, to not gossip and talk to others about how terrible that person’s comment was. Yes, they are a sinner and they wronged you, but we are to let it go.
Forgive – And not only are we to let it go, we are to forgive. Not fighting back is one thing, but forgiving the person for what they said is far better. Without forgiveness, the relationship remains damaged. If all you do is endure the comments, you live with a damaged relationship and try to ignore how damaged it is. Forgiveness is what brings healing to the relationship.
Now I know for some of you forgiveness is hard. You want to hear an apology from the person who wronged you before you forgive them. But that’s not how we are to live. We are to follow Jesus’ example. He died for us and forgave sin before we ever said we were sorry. And that’s the pattern we are to follow.
When we choose to actively clothe ourselves in these virtues, to bear with each other and to forgive, I believe two things will happen:
1) We will help lessen the tension at our family gatherings. Rather than adding to the conflict, the anxiety, and the tension, we will be calmly clearing it from the air.
2) We will be bringing glory to Jesus for being an example of what it means to respond to difficulty and conflict with grace and peace rather than how the world does—with defensiveness and back-biting. And likely, your non-believing family will notice.
This is what makes us so different than the world. This is how we can bring some semblance of peace to our family gatherings.
Notice that nowhere here does Paul correct the one causing the trouble at your family table—instead he calls out our own response to that person. We are to endure; we are to forgive. We’ve probably all heard it before, and now we know it’s Biblical—the best way to solve group tension is always to begin with your own behavior and not the behavior of others.
Finally, and most importantly, over all these virtues, over these two important steps of enduring and forgiving, we are to put on LOVE. I know we talk about Love a lot here at Ashworth Road, but this is truly what makes Christianity unique. Islaam is about following rules, Hinduism is about good deeds and ritual devotion, Budhism is about checking off your duties on the 8-fold path. But Christianity focuses on love and our relationships with God and others. Christianity teaches us to put on love—even for our enemies. Even when we are in deep conflict with somebody, we are still called to love them. And we do that because Love binds us together with everybody in unity. Love is how we turn a situation from division to unity.
Peter wrote essentially the same thing in his first letter:
Above all, love each other deeply because love covers over a multitude of sins. —1 Peter 4:8
This idea of loving others, even those who sin against you, runs all through the Bible. It is the key to bringing reconciliation into your family conflict.
I know it sounds ridiculous to say that you are to love the person who is making life so difficult for you, who is ruining your family Thanksgiving or Christmas, but the Gospel of Jesus is foolishness to man. Jesus loved us enough to die for us while we were still sinners. If we are to forgive people as Jesus forgives us, shouldn’t we also love others as he loved us?
Now I know what I’ve talked about today doesn’t cover every one of your situations you face this holiday season.
Some of you are the black sheep, or you’re the one who needs to make amends, the one who wronged somebody else. And Jesus had clear words for people like you: “Go and be reconciled.” Go make it right and ask for forgiveness.
For others of you, the situation is really bad and you are wondering how being compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, and loving is going to help the total disaster in your family. It may not. You may need another path, one that requires wisdom to navigate. But clothing yourself in these virtues is never wasted.
For most of us, if we consciously remind ourselves to put on these clothes, to endure, and to forgive—we will find that much of the tension in our family gatherings can be eliminated. We can help restore the brokenness, help heal where relationships are damaged, and see our families grow in unity again.
For those of us who have given our lives to Jesus, he calls us to deal with conflict in a very different way than the world. The world argues and gets mad, slanders and gossips behind people’s backs, and holds grudges—ultimately tearing relationships and families apart. But Jesus shows us a better way. He shows us how to lay down our own rights for others. And this is what Paul described to the church at Colossae. He laid out, for a new church, rules for how to come together as a new family—the family of God.
If this is how Jews and Gentiles, and people of drastically different backgrounds are to engage one another to resolve their differences and unite as a single family, then I think this can show us the way forward in resolving conflict within our own families.
Over the holidays, let the peace of Christ that rules in your heart be seen in how you handle the conflict and how you treat the black sheep of the family. May your actions shine like a bright light in the darkness. May your love penetrate the feelings of bitterness, anxiety, and isolation that others in your family may be feeling. Let your love cover over the uncomfortable moments and snarky remarks. And may your presence be a tiny taste of what dinner at the banquet table in heaven will one day be like!