Sunday 3 September 2023. Thoughts on Fathers, Jesus and Home
Colossians 1: 13-23
A story from a home in Missoula, Montana:
In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ's disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman. On Sunday afternoons our father was anxious to be on the hills where he could restore his soul and be filled again to overflowing for the evening sermon.
After my brother and I became good fishermen, we realized that our father was not a great fly caster, but he was accurate and stylish and wore a glove on his casting hand. As he buttoned his glove in preparation to giving us a lesson, he would say, "It is an art that is performed on a four-count rhythm between ten and two o'clock."
As a Scot and a Presbyterian, my father believed that man by nature was a mess and had fallen from an original state of grace. Somehow, I early developed the notion that he had done this by falling from a tree. As for my father, I never knew whether he believed God was a mathematician but he certainly believed God could count and that only by picking up God's rhythms were we able to regain power and beauty.
Unlike many Presbyterians, he often used the word "beautiful."
After he buttoned his glove, he would hold his rod straight out in front of him, where it trembled with the beating of his heart. It was made of split bamboo cane from the far-off Bay of Tonkin. It was wrapped with red and blue silk thread, and the wrappings were carefully spaced to make the delicate rod powerful. My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the Universe. To him, all good things- trout as well as eternal salvation- come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.
This is how Norman Maclean’s book A River Runs Through it begins. It paints a mostly idyllic picture of a small family with a loving father. But father these days is not a straightforward word. It is a loaded term.
For some Father’s Day brings back good memories, for others not, for many perhaps a mixture of emotions. And as we reflect on our own work as Dads, there is that sense of a mixture of feelings . . . some things we have done well others not.
One of the great messages of Norman MacLean’s book though is:
We Describe What we Love.
His book is a detailed description of home and family and fishing . . . all things, he loves.
We might say the same for the whole book of Colossians.
Here the Apostle Paul finds himself sitting in prison. He wants to share with the Colossians a detailed picture of who Jesus is. We describe what we love. This description gives him hope in his grim surroundings. But Paul also wants to steer the Colossians back to the very centre of their faith. To talk about what really matters. They’d become lost around different beliefs and practices. Some of them had drifted away from Jesus. Their faith had become very complicated with beliefs in angels and special festivals.
Paul wants them to go right back to basics. That’s why he gives a detailed description of who Jesus is. His message is “don’t venture away from what you have heard.” And this is important for all of us in faith and life, to remember who we are and what we are about . . .
A number of years ago I went back to playing AFL footy. Our coach was Terry. Terry looked like he could have played HBF for Carlton in the late seventies. He had bright orange hair and a handlebar moustache. He was a far better footballer than any of us and had recently transferred from the firsts to the seconds to help us out. He was incredibly fit and could keep running for most of the game.
Terry could kick and handball on both sides of his body and play almost any position on the field.
And because of his sharp football IQ, Terry’s training drills were elaborate. We tried our best to follow his instructions, but on game day everything fell apart. The plan was complicated, our skills limited. We lost our first few matches easily that season.
Then came our fourth game in Greensborough. We sat in the change rooms. Liniment wafted through the air. Terry walked out in front of us, picked up an old red Sherrin football and said:
“Boys, this is the essence of the game. Just go and get it.”
That was it. No plans. Just one simple message.
We won by ten goals.
Sometimes in life, we just need to go right back to basics.
That’s what Paul does here for the Colossians 1: 15 - 20.
He describes the essence of faith:
Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Over the last few weeks we’ve been looking at Jesus through some incredibly earthy passages . . . a man being let down through the roof and a woman with bleeding touching the edge of his garment. But here in Colossians it’s as though the curtain is drawn back on who Jesus actually is.
This is the heart of our faith.
And reading these words,
Is like one of those moments
At Mount Bishop in the Prom
Or overlooking the Grampians,
When you just pause
What you are looking at.
The line that amazes me is:
“God was pleased that all his fullness should dwell forever in His Son.”
But Paul doesn’t finish here. He moves from Jesus’ identity to his work.
In verses Colossians 1: 21 – 23 he focuses on what Jesus does:
And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a minister of this gospel.
Here, I think, is the point that connects everything together: When Jesus is ministering to people in the gospels, he is literally carrying them home. Home back to God. The Message translation says: “Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together.”
According to Paul:
God is reconciled to us, through Jesus, and we are reconciled to God. Redeemed, Restored, Forgiven.
Picked up and carried home.
What is this actually like?
Last week, the Sunday Age had an amazing by Aisha Dow which was headed: We thought Ravi was a goner.
The story is a reminder of what it means to be brought back home.
To return to our original quote:
All good things- trout as well as eternal salvation- come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.
Paul reminds us in this passage that Jesus, incarnate God, was willing to wade into the water of our humanity, to cross to our side to bring us back home to God.
1 Peter 3:18
For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.
Thanks be to God for the Gospel.