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Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)

What motivates you? What is it that causes you to live your life the way you do? What animates your being? These are the questions at the heart of this passage from Colossians.

“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord,” Paul writes, “continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him...” Paul gives the Colossians-and us-a reminder that a relationship with Jesus is not something that we can have on the side while we go on with the rest of our lives just like before. No, if we have received Jesus as Messiah and Lord, our lives are to be rooted and built up in him.

A couple of years ago, my wife Teresa and I started a patio garden and we have kept up with it since. We plant various vegetables in pots on our front deck-mainly tomatoes and peppers. This year our tomatoes are doing exceptionally well. In fact, the plants have grown so much they are beginning to look like a maze of strings holding up branches to the cage, making sure they don't break off.

We have one particular tomato plant that has grown exceedingly tall with a large number of tomatoes in various stages of growth. As this tomato plant grows taller, we've noticed that the plant has begun to sprout roots even from the part of the plant above the ground. (No worries-we have added more dirt as it was planted too shallow for the height to which it has grown). The more the plant grows, the deeper and more plentiful the roots need to be. As the plant prospers more and more, it has a natural “desire” to be more well grounded in the healthy soil from which it draws nourishment.

So it ought to be as we grow in our relationship with Christ. “As you have received Jesus, ensure that you remain well-rooted and built up in him.” As we receive Christ, there ought to be a natural desire-just like our tomato plant-for our roots to grow more deeply in Jesus, in order for us to bear the fruit of the Spirit (though that is another sermon).

Paul gives us this reminder because he knows that we might unconsciously become rooted in other things. Even in the midst of having received Jesus, we might unintentionally be built up in ideas and worldviews that don't reflect the Kingdom of God. Paul specifically mentions philosophy and empty deceit according to human traditions, the elemental spirits of the universe, and the rulers and authorities of the world.

One could write a book of all of the things Paul might be referring to with these phrases. We don't have time to exhaustively explore them. Still, it would behoove us to look at an example.

For North American churches, it can be extremely easy to become rooted in the worldview of the church as commodity. So much about the way we speak about worship services (for instance) betray this worldview, whether it is intentional or not. “The sermon just didn't speak to me.” “I would attend there if they had more people my age.” “Their music/service/sermon just isn't my style.”

So much about the way we speak about church betrays this worldview of church as commodity. The way we speak of success in the church often exposes this worldview of church as commodity. The problem is this is a worldview that grows out of the human tradition, to use Paul's term, of consumerism. Another example is the role of politics in the church. It is becoming more and more common for our political identity to rival our Christian identity. It is hard to imagine how a “true Christian” could've voted for this candidate or that candidate, for this policy or that policy. We are becoming more and more deeply rooted in our political identity, to such an extent that it causes division among Christians and as such, is more primary than our Christian identity, from a practical sense.

I'm reminded that Jesus called both Matthew, the former tax collector for Rome, and also Simon the Zealot, who presumably believed any means was justified against Rome, even violence. It's hard to think of two political points of view more in opposition, yet they both were part of the Twelve.

The church, even in the midst of all the differences of her members, is to be united. The church isn't a commodity; she is a community born out of communion with Jesus. This, too, is central to Pauline thought and to our passage specifically. How and why? Because we (individually and as the church) have died to these other ways of living through our communion with Jesus in his baptism. We were buried with him in our baptism and we have been raised to new ways of living-ways that leave us deeply rooted and built up in him.

Our passage ends with a dig to the leaders and proponents of all those other worldviews: “God disarmed the rulers and authorities and made them a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.”

It is in the cross that Jesus is shown to be messiah and it is in the cross that all these competing worldviews are exposed as shams. All of these other worldviews & ways of living end up being too shallow to nourish us. Like a tomato plant whose roots don't have enough room to grow, we will remain shallow and malnourished if we try to root ourselves in these unhealthy ways of living. On the other hand, if we will heed Paul's call to “continue to live [our] lives in him, rooted and built up in him”, we will bear the fruit of the kingdom in our personal lives, in our churches and in our neighborhoods.