It is hard, really hard to interpret Jesus without ending up sounding like a windbag. I think it is harder still to do it while writing a letter. Explain Jesus to me without giving me a sermon. Unlock the secrets of knowing God without using theologically loaded words I might not understand. Reveal your God to me so I can know him, not so I can know that you know him.
That’s the challenge the Apostle Paul takes up in each of his letters. The Lectionary reading this morning is Colossians 1:1-14. I love picturing Paul and Timothy sitting up late one evening with a blank piece of papyrus in front of them, a couple of cups of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee on the table, trying to wrestle with exactly this problem.
“I love writing to a church like the one a Colossae,” Timothy says to Paul. “They’ve been such a blessing to us. Such an encouragement.”
“Mmmm…” says Paul back. “They’ve been faithful. Maybe that’s where we should start. Here… add this as part of the greeting, ‘To the saints who also faithful in Christ at Colossae.’ That should help them understand how we feel about them… a little.”
Timothy puts his hand gently on Paul’s arm, sensing the depth of his affection as a Pastor. “Grace to you, Paul, and Peace from God our Father.”
Paul looks back at Timothy and says, “I thank God every time I think of you.”
They pause for a moment and soak up the blessing taking a personal risk has just brought each of them, and then simultaneously a wry little smile comes across both men’s faces. One of them picks up the quill and writes, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father. We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven…”
Timothy leans back to take it all in. They’ve both just had one of those wholly holy moments where you know the Holy Spirit has moved three dimensionally. He has said something important through you to someone else. He has said something important to you that you needed to hear. And he has allowed something important to pass between you and another person because that wasn’t the focus. Jesus was the focus, and the Holy Spirit can work in many dimensions at once when Christ is the center of the conversation.
Paul pours each of them another cup from the Box O’ Joe on the counter behind him. Timothy takes another bite out of the Apple Cinnamon donut he’s been slowly nibbling as they work. He chuckles and then blurts out, “But they already know that!” “Yes,” replies Paul taking up the pen again, and speaking to Timothy as he writes, “And isn’t that the beauty of what Jesus is doing all over the world these days?”
“Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth,”
“That’s what he meant when he said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life,’ right?”
“Sure,” Timothy says, “The one who abides in me will bear much fruit.” That’s what he was talking about. Why did it take us twenty-five years to see it though?”
Paul gets up to stretch his legs, walks over to the open door and looks out at the lush Anatolian countryside rolling out from the house they were staying at near Ismir in Southern Turkey. The moon had brightly illuminated a nearby olive tree.
“Because some kinds of fruit take a long time to grow.”
Paul happily shakes his head and returns to the table. Timothy takes another bite of the quickly disappearing donut, thinks for a moment, and then laughs out loud, “That’s for sure. Remember what Epaphras was like when he first met Jesus?”
“Or me, or you for that matter. Even though you had a faithful mother and grandmother who lived as witnesses to the Resurrection, it took time with you too, my friend.”
“I know. That’s the wonder of it! I love Epaphras so much. It kind of hurts right in the middle of me to think of us leaving him in Colossae.”
“I think that’s the donut.”
“Very funny. No, I mean it. It has been what? Two years?”
“Yes, two years and four letters,” Paul said, taking the pen again. “just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.”
“Makes me want to pray for him and for them,” Says Timothy. “Lord Jesus, fill the people in Colossae with the knowledge of your will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. Give them your grace to walk in a manner worthy of you.”
Paul continues immediately, “Make them fully pleasing to you, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. Let them be strengthened with all power, according to your glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.”
Timothy adds, “That they might always be giving thanks to you Father, who has qualified them to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”
“You know,” Paul says, looking up at Timothy again, “God really has delivered them and us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son. We’re not Romans or Jews or Greeks any more. I don’t feel like I belong to any country, really. I just belong to Jesus. That’s redemption. It’s because he’s forgiven me my sins.”
Timothy writes down most of what they had just prayed and said, incorporating it into the body of the letter just because he figured it would encourage the people in Colossae.
Paul gets up again and stretches. “I think we should continue this tomorrow. It is late, and I’m getting tired.”
As he shuffles off into the other room, he says over his shoulder, “Good luck sleeping after all the coffee and donuts. You know, you really shouldn’t do that to your body late at night. Temple of the Holy Spirit and all…”