Sermon Text: Colossians 3
Well, like most–all of you, actually–I’m a convert to Orthodoxy from Protestantism. And in the flavor in which I was raised, we had a saying that most of the sacraments are this way: that baptism is an “outward sign of an inward grace,” or an “outward sign of an inward work.” And basically what we were trying to say is that the “getting wet” part of baptism was not really that important, but it was mostly a testimony to other people of what was going on inside your heart. So we did it – we did it, because we felt like we should, you know, we didn’t want to neglect it, but we really didn’t feel that it was completely imperative, either, because what really matters is what happens inside the heart, what happens inside your head, at the moment of baptism.
But in the Orthodox Church, we actually teach and believe quite a bit differently. We teach that the holy sacraments are more than just mere symbols of something greater. We teach that the sacraments actually do something–actually do something to the person, both body and spirit.
Now, last November, when the Harshman family was joined to the church through baptism, they certainly did get wet, didn’t they? I still remember when Xander came up the third time, panting, almost hyperventilating, and he said, “I didn’t know I was going to get THAT wet.” You remember that? And one by one, all five of them were submerged in water three times, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and if all they got out of that was wet, what a waste of time that was. Right? All it was, was just a really good pious skit that we did, just pretending to do something, because what really matters is what’s in the heart–that’s not what the Orthodox Church teaches.
More happened that weekend than just five wet people coming out of a dressed-up horse trough, right? What happened was that the Harshman family was joined to the one holy and apostolic church, and in that moment of obedience to Christ, the Harshman family’s bodies and hearts were simultaneously baptized, and their sins were forgiven.
Each time we say the Symbol of Faith, the Nicene Creed, one of the lines that we say, we confess that we believe in one baptism for the remission of sins. Remission means forgiveness. They’re put away. They’re wiped away. Your sins are forgiven. And when we say that, whether we know it or not, we are confessing that we believe that the baptism that we receive actually baptizes our hearts at the same time as it does our bodies. And in that moment, our previous sins are completely cleansed and forgiven, which I think is just awesome!
And a lot of people–even we did, as Protestants–we said that, prior to being Orthodox. I don’t think we really knew what we were saying. We didn’t really mean it. I mean, you know, we would sometimes in our heads say, “But they really meant baptism of the heart, not the real baptism.” We just thought it was what mattered inside, what mattered in your hearts and in your head, but you know, a lot of people would then ask, “Well, how does just dunking in water three times bring about the forgiveness of your sins?” And the answer is, “It doesn’t.” Quite simply, it doesn’t. Dunking yourself into water three times is not a formula for getting your sins forgiven.
In the book of 2nd Kings, in chapter five, we read about the story of Naaman. Do you remember him? He was a commander in the army of the Arameans [Syrians] and Naaman had a skin disease called leprosy. It was bad enough that he wanted to get it healed. It wasn’t bad enough, apparently, that he needed to be kept separate from the rest of the people, because he was a commander in the army and he was a very notable man. But at one point, one of the children, one of the young girls from Israel had been taken captive and had been taken into the land of Aram [Syria], and had been given to him as a slave girl. And she’d been faithful, and she talked to her master. She’s a slave, but she talked to him, and she said, “You know, you need to go back to Israel. There’s a man in Israel who can heal you, who can heal this leprosy.” And so, Naaman then goes to meet the prophet Elisha.
What’s interesting enough about this is that when Naaman gets to the prophet Elisha, Elisha doesn’t even come out to greet him. He doesn’t even come out and talk to him. He sends a messenger out, and Naaman thinks this is rude, and almost leaves. Because, you know, “I’m a commander in an army, you should come out and meet me . . . “ and Elisha didn’t. And you know what else Elisha didn’t do, is he didn’t stand over him and wave his hand over this leprous spot, and call on the Name of the Lord and heal Naaman. Nope. He told Naaman, through the messenger, to go to the Jordan river, the filthy, dirty, stinking Jordan River–in Israel, of all places–not a river that he loved in Aram [Syria], but the one in Israel, and dunked himself seven times in the Jordan River, and he would be healed. That’s ludicrous. He throws up his hands and he just about leaves, and then he’s talked into it. “You know, you’re already here, what can it hurt? Why not try it?”
So, begrudgingly, Naaman goes to the Jordan River, and he gets in the water, and I can just picture it. He’s looking at his servants on the side of the road, and he says, “Don’t you laugh. Don’t you even smile. I’m going to do this, but don’t you even laugh at me.” And he gets out there, and he probably waits for a while. He’s probably standing in the water, and he’s looking at his leprosy, and he dunks. And he comes up, and he checks. Still there. “Don’t laugh at me.” Right? And he goes down again, and he comes up. And he checks, and nothing. And then a third time, and then a fourth time and by now they are probably laughing, and he’s probably lost track of them—he’s counting, right? And a sixth time he goes down and comes up and nothing. And you know what? If he had quit, he would have walked away without healing.
But he was obedient. He went down a seventh time. And when he came up, the laughing stopped. Because Naaman was healed. Immediately, upon coming up out of the water the seventh time, he was healed and not only was his leprosy gone, and maybe he had scars left or something like that—it says that his skin was like a baby’s. It was brand new skin. Dunking seven times in the Jordan River. What he thought was stupid, now was “wow.” It was healing. It’s healing.
Naaman could have gone home to Aram [Syria] and found another river, a cleaner river, and dunked himself. He could have dipped seven times or seven hundred times, and he still wouldn’t have come out of that river clean. He wouldn’t have come out healed. Another person with leprosy could have seen Naaman in the Jordan River and jumped in right behind him, and dunked himself seven times and he would have come out still with leprosy. How’s that? How does it work that Naaman was healed by dunking himself seven times in the Jordan River, when it wouldn’t have worked in another river, and another person couldn’t have done it? Why is that? It was because he was being completely obedient to the command of the man of God who healed him.
It is the same with holy baptism. If, on the same day of her family’s baptism, Jeni had decided, “I don’t want to get all dressed up and go over to the church and do all that. I’m just gonna fill up my bathtub at home, and I’m gonna dunk myself three times in the bathtub,” and she would have come up out of that water the same as she was before. No sins forigven, no joining to the Church through baptism. None of that would have been efficacious. Someone else could have, that same day, before we all got up here—Joseph and I hauled water in buckets and buckets and buckets up here to fill up the baptismal font—if another person had come into that same water, into that same trough of water, before we ever got here, and had dunked themselves three times into the same water you guys were, that person would not have their sins forgiven and they would not be joined to the one holy and apostolic Church. They would not be Orthodox just because they came and jumped into the tub of water that you guys did. That’s not how it works.
The reason that being dunked by the priest into the baptismal font three times in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit have any efficacy at all is because the Harshman family was being completely obedient to the command of God at the same time. Faith, obedience, water, dunking and the Name of the Holy Trinity–it all goes together. And when it happens, the person comes up wet on the outside and forgiven on the inside, and joined to the Church. That’s how it happens. I think that’s pretty awesome. And the thing is, man is not only spirit, neither is he simply a body–he’s not just physical matter. In order to be truly human, truly man, there has to be unity of both body and spirit. Both things have to be together, and Hollywood even understands this.
They understand that when the body and the spirit are separate, this is an unnatural and most unwelcome state in which to be. A body without a spirit is shown as a zombie. A spirit without a body is shown as a ghost. Neither of which is typically portrayed in a good light in Hollywood. It’s not a preferable state in which to be, and when we die, our bodies are laid to rest in the earth, and most of us decay and return to the ground. Our spirits, on the other hand, are with the Lord. And while being with the Lord is a wonderful state in which to be, it’s still unnatural. We’re separated from the body, and that’s not good, and God knows it. It’s not a state that we will live in throughout eternity. You see, at the second coming of the Lord, He will somehow, mysteriously, take all those bodies who have died and who have been laid to rest in the earth, who have been burned up in fire, eaten by sharks, blown up and whatever, He will somehow mysteriously take all those bodies, remake them into a new, glorified body, and we still have a body separate from a spirit, but God puts them back together again. Your spirit will be rejoined with your body for eternity. That is the natural state of man. That is what Jesus is right now in heaven.
Jesus is not some spirit. Father Michael often says, “Jesus did not hang up His man suit and ascend into heaven” after what we read at the end of Matthew. That’s not what happened. There is complete unity in Christ between spirit and body and there is a whole human being in heaven right now, in Christ, and there will also be whole human beings in heaven in each of you and I. Okay? And I think that’s awesome, because you know what? We’re told in Scripture to encourage each other with these words, too, and this is an encouragement: we don’t have to live in these sinful, corrupt bodies forever. There’s an end to it. There’s an end in sight to the pain, to the arthritis, to the fibromyalgia. There’s an end in sight. Thank God that we get to separate for a minute and have that body remain and then be brought back together again for eternity to be with Him. That is what we are supposed to do, that we’re supposed to be looking forward to.
And when Adam fell in the garden of Eden, he not only fell in spirit; he fell in his body, too. And all of creation, actually. All of creation fell at the same time. And because of this, it isn’t just man’s spirit that needs to be restored. It’s man’s spirit and his body. And because man is both body and spirit, when you’re baptized, and you come through the experience completely wet, your heart also comes through the experience completely cleansed of sin. There are two things that happen at baptism–and every holy sacrament that we encounter in obedience is the same–with a simultaneous effect on both the body and the spirit. Whether it’s marriage—even Paul said, “I tell you a mystery . . .“ I don’t know how it happens—we don’t know—but we do know that both spirit and body are affected by the holy sacraments.
Now, why that’s important: because as a Protestant, I was told that what mattered was what happened to the spirit only, and what happened to my body was just simply a side-effect. I got wet. Right? But we do not believe or teach that in the Orthodox Church. In fact, we teach that the heart is cleansed completely of past sins in baptism, but the body now begins a lifelong–actually, an eternity-long–process of physical and often measurable changes. We begin to speak differently. We begin to think differently and we eat differently, and we work differently. We are different. We don’t just act different. Our bodies are changing. We are becoming different. We are partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ. Every time we go to Eucharist, our bodies are physically changing because of that. They have to. And it doesn’t happen overnight, but with time, those around you start to see changes.
And I’ve told Christa, and I’ve told Deacon Joseph a few times that I see so many differences in them since our conversion to Orthodoxy, but I don’t always see the differences in myself. I guess they’re too gradual or something, I don’t know. I’m not looking for a “congratulations” or a pat on the back, or a compliment or anything when I say this, but it feels good to know when my mom or Christa or Deacon Joseph or somebody tells me, “Oh, I see it. And here’s where. And here’s what, and this is what, and this and this.” Thank the Lord that there are changes going on in my physical body, too, that are not just in my heart and in my spirit. And I do praise God, that being in His Church, and partaking of His Body and Blood change both our hearts and our bodies. We want both changed.
Why I bring all of this up has to do with the Epistle that I actually read today from Colossians. There’s a lot of meat in that this morning, and when we read from the–actually from the middle of the third chapter—but oftentimes in Scripture, God, through the authors, sandwiches that meat between two really thick pieces of bread. And I want to go back a little bit to the beginning of the chapter and I want to go progress to the end of the chapter as well as we do this. We’re going to discuss the whole chapter basically, because we can eat the whole sandwich. We need to see the whole picture of what Paul was trying to do in this third chapter of Colossians.
So in the first eleven verses, Paul is talking about the believers’ baptisms. He said specifically, “If, then, you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, which Christ is.“ And he also says, “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.“ So he’s showing you died and you’re raised with Christ. He’s showing what happens in baptism. And yes, in baptism, our sins are forgiven, but we also have to remember our baptisms, and remember that in that moment, we also died to this world, and we were raised again with Christ. That’s an important thing to remember because our bodies and what we do with them after baptism must change. They have to. And we are to begin to seek the things above, and no longer the things of the earth.
And Paul then tells us what these “things of the earth” really are. He lists them. He says, “fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire and covetousness“ (which he calls idolatry—covetousness), wanting other people’s things is idolatry. He tells us to put off anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language, and lies. He tells us to put off all those things and he says that we put off the old man and put on the new man. Our bodies have been changed, he says, and we’re being renewed in knowledge and the image of Christ. So what we’ve put off is the old man; what we’ve put on is Christ. Alright?
So we’ve put that on at baptism and we’re taking His Body and Blood every time we do the Eucharist; we can’t help but change. But let me ask you this: is it evident in your life that you have put off the old man and that you have put on the new man? Is it evident in your life? Have you put off the old woman, and put on the new woman? Have you put off the old boy or girl and put on the new boy or girl? Has that happened? Is it evident to those around you? Or are you still the same person that you used to be. Yes, you’ve been baptized in Christ’s Church, you’re in! Yay! And that amounts to about a pile of beans, if your body isn’t changing.
If you were to make inventory of your sinful actions, your thoughts, and your words and your deeds, and everything that you did prior to baptism and make a list of those things, and then make a list of the things that you do now that are unhealthy, that are missing the mark right now, would those lists be any different? Would the lists you make of your sins before your baptism and the list you make of your sins after your baptism—would they be different? Would the second one be shorter? Or would it be the same? Hopefully it wouldn’t be longer. Right? But are you able to see the changes in your life? Are others able to see those changes?
Now, listen. I’m going to talk to you kids right now for a second. If before your baptisms you were disobedient, if you were talking back to your parents, if you were making them have to tell you over and over to do certain things, are you different now, or are you still doing those same things? Are you still being disobedient? Are you still making people—your parents—tell you over and over to do the same things? You need to listen up. Listen to the Apostle Paul, even if not me. He says that we need to remember our baptisms, and that our sins are forgiven and we’ve been changed. You are to be different. You are called to be different now than you were then. You are to put off anger. You’re to put off lying. And you’re to put off disobedience. Landon, Joel, Rebecca, Xander, are you better now than you were before your baptisms? You’d better be. If you’re not, you might want to start.
And parents—adults—I’m going to talk to you now. Myself included. If before your baptism you were guilty of anger, of wrath, of filthy language or of laziness and sloth, if you were guilty of overeating, or of covetousness, which he called idolatry, uncleanness, or focusing on your own wants and needs over those of others. If you’re gossiping and judging other people, are you now different? Those sins that you were doing beforehand, are they different, or are you doing the same things today? Are you still having fits of rage? Are you still letting unwholesome talk come out of your mouth? Are you still excessively worrying? Are you still pursuing your own desires over the desires of other people? Are you still overeating? Are you still having lustful thoughts? Are you still wasting time being guilty of being lazy or slothful? Are you talking bad about others and judging their motives, too? Are your actions any different today than they were before your baptism? They’d better be. If not, you need to start right now.
It’s easy for us to get caught up in this rut in our lives. “We’ve always been this way, it’s just who we are, it’s our personality, and we think that . . .” you know what? That’s not true anymore. This is not who you are. You have put off the old man. You have put on the new man, and you have died to yourself, and your life is now hidden in Christ. You are a new boy. You are a new girl. You’re a new husband, a new wife. You’re a new parent. You’re not the same person you were before your baptism, and you need to remember that and to act accordingly, and let those changes that affect you not only affect your spirit, but affect your body as well, and begin to produce fruit. It needs to be visible to your spouse. It needs to be visible to your parents, to your children, to your friends. We need to let the changes brought about by our baptism actually be seen by other people. We used to walk among the sons of disobedience, Paul says, but no longer. We’ve been baptized into the Body of Christ, into His Church, and those old things have been put aside.
So what does he say this new man, this new woman, or this new boy or girl should act like? Well, Paul tells us. He says specifically, put on tenderness, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering–or what he calls patience–we put on patience with our kids, patience with our parents. We bear with one another. We forgive one another, if we have a complaint against them. We let the peace of God rule in our hearts. We’re thankful. We let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly. Praise in our hearts to the Lord. And he says, “But above all these things, we put on love, which is the bond of perfection.” And, I like this. “Whatever we do,” he lists a bunch of things, but he basically says, “if I miss anything, let me cover it all. I’m gonna put this umbrella over it.” “Whatever we do, whether it’s in word or in deed, do it all in the Name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to the Father through Him.” That’s what your life should look like.
If you make a list of what you were like before your baptism–which has been forgiven, by the way–and make a list of who you are today, they should be black-and-white difference. They should be radically different. You should hardly be able to compare the two people. So how does this play out into our lives, practically? Well, Paul gives some examples, and he doesn’t leave anyone out, which, I like this. He says, “Wives,” Betty, Jeni, Christa, “submit to your husbands as fitting to the Lord.” Even if he’s mean. Even if he’s lazy. Even if he talks too much or if he doesn’t talk enough. Even if he leaves his dirty socks on the floor, drinks too much, or whatever. As much as is fitting in the Lord, wives, you are instructed to submit to your husbands. That’s what the new woman looks like. That’s what the new woman does.
Husbands—Jeremy, Alan, Russ—you are to love your wives and not be bitter towards them. Even if she tries to tell you what to do. Even if she drives you crazy with her demands, and even if you think she isn’t respecting you like she should, do not be bitter toward your wife. That’s the old man. The new man loves his wife.
Children—Landon, Joel, Xander and Rebecca—you are to obey your parents in all things, because this is pleasing to the Lord. He said obey your parents in all things. Even when she tells you to pay attention in church, Rebecca. Obey your parents in all things. Right? And this means that when they tell you to get in the car, you get in the car and you stay in the car, and you don’t get out of the car again. Right? This means that when they tell you to go pick up poop in the yard, from the dog, you take the bag out there and you go pick it up, and you don’t argue and complain about it. Right? This means that when you’re told to do the dishes, you don’t stand in front of the dishes for five hours and get a hundred swats before you do it. That’s the old you. That’s the old Landon, the old Rebecca, the old Xander, the old Joel. The new one doesn’t do those things anymore.
That’s what we need to be focusing on: changing from that old you into the new you. You are to obey your parents, because it pleases the Lord. Now, fathers—Jeremy, Alan, Russ—you are not to provoke your children. Do not purposefully make them angry or antagonize them. This is discouraging to them, also. And then to the rest of us, including Jon back there, who I’ve missed.
Jon: Oh, I’m one of the children.
Subdeacon Ambrose: Yeah.
Subdeacon Ambrose: The rest of us—Jeremy, Christa, Alan, Jeni, Russ, Jon–We are to obey our masters, not with lip service, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. This means that we are to obey our supervisors at work. This means that we obey our overseers in the Church, whether it’s Deacon Joseph or Father Michael, or Bishop John, and we don’t do it with lip service. We don’t go, “Well, they’re well-meaning, but they just don’t understand. They don’t get it. Mm-hmm.” You can’t do that; you obey your overseers. You obey those people. And it says to do it with sincerity of heart. Don’t give lip service to it and make them think, or make yourself feel, like you’re obedient. You obey. And it says, “fearing God.”
Then it says, whatever you do in this life, no matter whether it’s at work, or at home or at church, or on your own, you are to remember your baptism. You are to do whatever you do from your heart as to the Lord and not to other people. Do right, all the time. Let the changes to your body from your baptism be evident to the other people. Let it be as evident as it was to Naaman, and to those on the side, that his leprosy was healed. There are not even scars left. He has baby skin now. That is how much different your baptism should be in your life: the old, leprous person that you were, to the new person that you are. And do that, knowing that you will receive the reward of inheritance from the Lord, for you serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
Because if these changes are not made, and you continue in the behavior you exhibited prior to your baptism, Paul says that we will—specific words—we will be repaid for what we do, and there is shown to us no partiality just because you happen to be baptized into the Orthodox Church. There’s no partiality for that. He doesn’t show favoritism. You are different, and if you’re not, you’re repaid for it. So our baptism is a momentous and a life-changing event. Our sins were forgiven, and our bodies were changed, and as you go through this week, kids, adults, take a look at your thoughts, your words, your actions. And compare them today with your life before your baptism. Are you different? Are you changing? As Father Michael put it, are you loving more and are you sinning less? Put off that old man, and put on Christ, and let this spiritual and physical reality, this change, be evident in your life.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, God is one. Amen.
This sermon was preached on Sunday morning, February 10, 2013, at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Sdn. Ambrose.