Both the Gospel and the Epistle for today have the same message: Give thanks to God. However, in the Gospel from Luke 17:10, lepers have been healed, whereas in the Epistle to the Colossians 3, we are urged to thank God whatever our situation, happy or difficult.
Children, lepers are people with serious skin diseases. In the first century at the time of Jesus Christ there was no cure. The disease was quite contagious, so lepers were sent away from their homes and required to live in very difficult conditions with other lepers. Children, when these 10 lepers were healed what did those 10 people do? . . . Right, just one of them, a Samaritan, a non-Jew, came back to Jesus and thanked Him. Now, a difficult question—What did Jesus say to this one former leper who thanked him? . . . . “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” That’s a good recipe for how to live—when we are healed from an illness or a problem, thank Jesus Christ for that healing.
The beautiful Epistle today from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, chapter 3, verses 12 to 16, is having considerable impact at this time on my life and the life of my wife Sylvia. I hope it also has something to say to each of you, young and old. I have called this sermon, “Seek Ye Now the Peace of God.”
Several hundred years before St Paul arrived in the great city of Ephesus, the nearby town of Colossae had been a major city on the trade route between Ephesus to the Aegean Sea. However, by the first century Colossae was, as one Biblical scholar phrased it, “a second-rate market town, which had been surpassed long ago in power and importance by the neighbouring towns.” However, there was one man from Colossae, Epaphras who came to Ephesus, heard St Paul and brought the new Christian religion back to the people of his small hometown. St Paul was so impressed with what Epaphras did that he prayed powerfully in the opening chapter of this Epistle for the people of Colossae. That prayer is for each of us, too:
“From the day you understood the grace of God in truth . . . I have not ceased to pray for you,” wrote St Paul, “asking that you may be filled with knowledge of His will [for you!] in all spiritual wisdom to lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power according to His glorious might for all endurance and patience with joy giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the dimension of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His Beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”.
We all sin; but we are each forgiven if we repent—that is, if we are sorry for the sin—and seek forgiveness from whoever we have hurt and from God.
This prayer has hung on a wall in my and Sylvia’s home for many years, because that is what we wish for each of the guests in our home, for ourselves, for each of you in this church today and for the listeners on Ancient Faith Radio’s “A Voice from the Isles”—“to be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will [for each of our lives] . . .to bear “fruit in every good work . . . increasing in the knowledge of God . . . [to be] strengthened with . . . endurance and patience with joy.” How can we achieve what Epaphras achieved for his little town? How can we in our lives follow in the footsteps of Epaphras—not seeking to become someone great following in the footsteps of St Paul, as the BBC Television programme with David Suchet has it, but following in the footsteps of the unknown Epaphras bringing Christ to our own families and friends and to our own small neighbourhoods?
In the third chapter of today’s Epistle to the Colossians, St Paul tells us how to proceed—how to move ahead in bringing Christ to others:
“Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone, just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you [forgive them]. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of God be presiding in your hearts. . . . Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you . . . .”.
To me, that sounds rather difficult; and I do not find that peace of God easy to achieve. I think the key challenge is to “let the peace of God be presiding in your hearts”—that is, let the peace of God take the lead in our hearts, be the dominant motivation in each of our hearts.
A literal translation of that verse 11 is: “Let the peace of God be umpire in your hearts.” St John Chrysostom reflects; and I quote: “If two thoughts are fighting together, [let] not anger . . . hold the prize, but peace. . . . If the peace of God stands forth as umpire, it bestows the prize on that which bids . . . to endure, and puts the other [that is, anger] to shame.” St. John Chrysostom continues, “[St Paul] has represented an arena [that is, a place of conflict] within [each of us], in [our] thoughts, and a struggle, a contest, and an umpire . . . But why has he not said, ‘Let the peace of God be victorious,’ but [rather, ‘Let the peace of God] ‘be presiding’ in your heart]’? St John Chrysostom concludes, “[St Paul] made [the peace of God] more trustworthy [than the experience of anger]. He would . . . have the evil thought [of anger] . . . to stand lower [than the peace of God]” [End of quote]. What is striking to me is that St. John Chrysostom—one of the greatest of the Early Church Fathers, preachers and theologians—states openly that we all experience conflict between anger and peace, been frustration and calmness.
That is real life now. Within each of us, there is an ongoing struggle every day between anger and peace, between frustration and achievement. How do we deal with that struggle? St. John Chrysostom advises, “Keep on becoming thankful [to God].” St Paul suggests the same approach in verse 17: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” My experience is that we can achieve peace “presiding in our hearts” as long as we are grateful to God for what we have received in our lives and for what we will receive.
Whatever illness or problem you may be experiencing, give thanks to God. He has not brought that illness or problem upon you, even if He has permitted it to happen. You or I may or may not discover in our lives why a particular problem or illness has come upon us, but we can still give thanks to God the Father for the beauty of our lives as Christians, in the midst of the experience of both Christ’s suffering and His glory. Each of us, young and old, share in both that suffering and that glory, until we finally rest with peace and joy in His kingdom. Whatever our experiences in this life, let us together as members of the Church seek ye now the Peace of God.
And so we ascribe as is justly due all might, majesty, dominion, power and praise to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, always now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen
Father Emmanuel Kahn