empty chair Cols 3 15 to 17

What’s to be done about an empty chair?

Members of WPC, you’re a busy, dedicated, productive bunch. This Thanksgiving you’re feeding hungry people, helping folks recover from storms, building next year’s church budget, teaching Sunday School, preparing for the Christmas pageant, writing Advent devotionals, repairing the roof, cleaning out storage areas, buying poinsettias to honor others, and comforting the sorrowing. You are doing the work of the church.

Our question this stewardship season has been “how are we doing at multiplying the resources God gives us in order to strengthen and grow Christ’s church at WPC?”

To answer that question we have affirmed the stewardship of our spiritual gifts. We have dedicated ourselves to being present in worship, and devoted in our calls to Christian vocation. Last week Pastor Melody taught about financial giving. And in a bit we’ll respond with our financial pledge cards.

But first, as we approach Thanksgiving, it’s important to consider the Apostle Paul’s question to believers about the stewardship of our thanksgiving.  How is that going?

I learned a new word this week paranesis – it has to do with a style of writing and speech popular in New Testament Greek. Paranesis involves exhorting moral or ethical behavior. A paranetic passage in scripture establishes a rule for believers based on what God has already done.

The first seventeen verses of Colossians chapter three is such a Paranetic passage – establishing two clear rules. Here the Apostle Paul describes what new life in Christ looks like.  The first rule we noted back in October on the 158th anniversary of WPC called Membership Sunday.  It is this: because of Christ’s saving, redeeming, eternal love and forgiveness, we who are in Christ, therefore, must love and forgive others.

Today’s passage invites us to a let the peace of Christ rule us and the word of Christ inhabit us to such an extent that thanksgiving to God in, all things, spills out of us. When this happens whatever we do -whether voting or shopping, writing a poem or a check, shaping educational curricula or a sculpture, establishing a household or a business enterprise, having babies or caring for the elderly, paying taxes or lobbying government, singing praise or singing the blues, making a film or making a pie, or building a house for the homeless or protecting an endangered species – will be done in the name of Lord Jesus and will thereby become an act of giving thanks to God.

[i] How do we become generous people with hearts full of praise for God? The key is found in doing everything in the name of Jesus.

  • Our words, how we share our thoughts, feelings, yes even our frustrations – in Christ.
  • Our actions, how we exercise authority, how we care for the needs of others – in Christ.
  • Our emails, our session dockets, how we treat the waitress or barista at our favorite deli or coffee drive thru – in Christ.
  • Soccer moms – in Christ.
  • Math teachers – in Christ.
  • Bull markets – Bear markets – in plenty and in want – all of life shaped by our new life in Christ.

Verse seventeen puts it this way, whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Renown theologian Henri Nouwen, when faced with ‘success’ at Harvard felt his soul was in danger. The peace of Christ was not ruling his heart. In Nouwen’s book In the Name of Christ[ii] he recounts how challenging it was to be formed in Christ when seeking healing for his soul. He offers this, “we must be willing to be led to a place we would rather not go”. The same is true for us. Perhaps our soul care will not be as dramatic as Henri’s, involving significant downward mobility,  but the question lingers. Are we willing to be led to places we’d rather not go so that Christ may be formed in us?

We may not wish to love unlovely people, or forgive when it is awkward, or invite the peace of Christ to rule us corporately. Many here do not want to be led in songs you do not enjoy. It is just plain inconvenient to have Christ formed in us. That’s pretty much what it comes down to, isn’t it?

Ah, but isn’t Thanksgiving the perfect time to let the peace of Christ rule us? You might think of it this way – a big boisterous Thanksgiving dinner. The whole clan present requiring generous measures of grace in order seat everyone comfortably.  That’s the Kodak picture perfect version.

Yet, at many of our tables this holiday season there will be an empty chair. A chair symbolizing a broken relationship, wrongs that have not been made right.  Someone is going to be missing. The question is does that chair have to be empty?

Jesus welcomed broken people to his table; the lost, the vulnerable, those far from God, those who had not been around for ages. Welcome. Jesus seeks reunion as a step toward reconciliation. And we can too. Go after the one who is missing. It’s what Jesus would do. One meal together won’t fix everything, but it could be a step.

An empty chair, as I’ve been reminded by widows in our midst, may appear because of a recent tragic loss. This vacancy at our table too beckons for an in-Christ response, perhaps the most appropriate being to weep with those who weep. When Jesus faced heart wrenching loss, such as the death of Lazarus, it’s worth noting that death was observed in the context of community.  Pursuing connection with those who face loss this season is another important way to gracefully face the sad reality of an empty chair.

Let an empty chair symbolize for each of us today something we are to do in the name of Christ. When we act in word or deed, letting the peace of Christ rule, that’s when Christ is formed in us. Be brave, pick up the phone, drop by, take a friend or bring your kids along if that helps. As recipients of God’s extravagant grace, may we, in the name of Christ, offer grace in abundance in return. Warm, welcoming, table expanding, chair filling, grace.  Amen? Amen.


 

[i] Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, a commentary by Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat, 2004.

[ii] In the Name of Christ: Reflections on Christian Leadership, Henri Nouwen, 1989.