Staunton Mennonite Church
Real relationships are really worth it
11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for 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. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He 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. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and 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. 21And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— 23provided 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 servant of this gospel.
I enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving meal this past Thursday. Homemade rolls, cranberry sauce, sweet potato casserole, garden salad, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and we had a wonderful turkey with homemade gravy. But I wasn’t sure I would be able to enjoy any turkey this year. You see, I ate my Thanksgiving meal this year with some of my friends in Dayton and a few of these friends are vegetarians.
So as Thanksgiving was approaching, Sonya and I began to wonder what would be served by these vegetarian friends of mine. Now I have nothing against vegetarians, I believe it is a healthy lifestyle to live. But I enjoy meat too much to be a vegetarian. So the fear of a turkey made of tofu was very real to me. Because even though people can put a lot of work into making tofu taste like turkey, there is no substitution for the real thing.
It seems to me that a lot of people in our society are living tofu turkey lives with tofu turkey relationships. We live in a society where we sacrifice real relationships for something less than real. We live in a society where we know more about the lives of celebrities than we know about our own next door neighbors. We know celebrities that we have never met by their first names and we don’t even know the names of our neighbors. We know more about the marriage of Brittney and K-Fed than we know about the marriage of the people right down the road. We know more about the adoption process of Brad and Angelina than we know about someone in our own community’s own effort to start a family. We have traded in real turkey for tofu turkeys. We have traded in real relationships for fake ones. And as far as I am concerned, there is really no substitution.
Today I hope to use the scripture from Colossians 1:11-23 to explore what it means to have real relationships. I hope to show you that real relationships can be really hard sometimes, but they are really worth it. We need to have a real relationship with God and we need to have real relationships with our fellow human beings because we were created as relational human beings to join in one another’s joys and concerns, to help each other through the good times and bad.
Our scripture for today comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae. This is a letter to a group of relatively new believers, a group of Christians young in their faith. Verse 11 from our scripture for today says, “11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience.” Why is it that Paul blesses the Colossians with this request for God to strengthen them? They are already Christians, they have accepted the gift of salvation, they have made the decision to follow Jesus with their lives. So now life gets easy, right? Isn’t that what happens? Life gets easier when we become Christians.
No, life doesn’t necessarily get easier when we become Christians. Life becomes better, you gain meaning and purpose in life, but it is not necessarily easier. Look at Paul himself. He was living a successful life as a Pharisee, persecuting Christians. He had power and prestige. People respected Paul. But when Paul became a Christian, things got a lot more difficult for him. He went from a majority to a minority. He went from persecutor to persecuted. He went from one who killed others for their Christian belief to one who was killed for his Christian belief. But do you think Paul would trade his new, more difficult life for his old, easier life? No, he says himself, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” His greatest accomplishment was to live for Christ!
But Paul knew that he would not have to take on his new, more difficult life alone. He new that the one who had called him would be faithful, that God would be his strength. And now he is wishing that same strength to the Colossians. That they might be able to endure everything with patience while giving thanks to the Father.
Now you and I will probably never have to experience the same difficulties in our Christian walk that Paul experienced. Probably none of us will be put in prison for our faith. Probably none of us will be whipped or tortured or killed for our faith. But life for us as Christians is not always as easy as living the life of a pagan. As Christians we are to love one another and to love someone else is a lot more difficult than hating someone else. It is much easier to turn our backs on someone else’s problems and say, “I have problems of my own Bubba. Go complain to someone else.” It is easier to keep every penny you make and spend it on yourself rather than giving money to those in need. It is easier to hold a grudge against someone that has done you wrong than it is to forgive them.
So even though us 21st Century Christians living in North America have a lot less to worry about than Paul did as a first century Christian, we still need the strength of God to get us through. And that strength of God is something that we acquire by being in a real relationship with him.
But what does that really mean? What does it mean to be in a real relationship with God? It means that you care for one another and that you are willing to do things for one another. Think again about our earthly relations. My wife and I have a real relationship. When we were dating we wanted to know everything we could about the other person. We asked each other about our childhood. We wanted to know about each other’s family. And it wasn’t enough just to hear about these places and these people, we wanted to experience them first person. I wanted to go to rural Nebraska because I knew it was a place that was important to Sonya.
And now that we have been married for 4.5 years we still want to know more about each other. We talk to one another. When we get home from a day of work we ask each other about their day. We want to know what happened to the other person, if it was good day or if it was bad. We ask one another’s opinions on things from what to wear to what does God want of our lives. We know one another better than we know anyone else. Sonya may even know me even better than I know myself.
This is somewhat like the relationship that we are called to have with God. This is the kind of relationship that Paul is wishing upon the Colossians. He doesn’t want tofu turkey relationships between God and the Colossians. He wants real relationships.
Now obviously there are some differences in our relationship with God when we compare it to our human relationships. First of all God already knows everything about us. So that part of the relationship is different. God knows about our past and he knows how our day was. But we need to seek to know God just like Sonya and I sought to know one another when we were dating. We need to spend time talking with God every day and listening to hear what God wants to say back to us. Even though God already knows all about us, we need to learn all about him. And God has revealed himself to us in the form of his written word the Bible. We must spend time in his word every day if we really want to have a real relationship with God. We cannot be content with the relationship that we already have with God, we must strive to grow in our relationship. And though it might be difficult to have a real relationship with God, it is really worth it.
But it is not just our relationships with God that tend to be tofu turkey relationships. Our relationships with other people tend to be less than real sometimes as well. As I began this message I mentioned that we know more about the lives of celebrities than we know about the lives of our own neighbors. And I am probably the guiltiest of us all when it comes to not knowing my neighbors. I thought about the other people that live in our town house development. Sonya and I live in a center unit, our house is connected to two other houses, one on each side. There are a total of four houses connected.
Now as I thought about my neighbors, I was glad that I could remember each one of their names, both first names and last. But that was about it. I don’t know a lot more about these people, even when we share a wall with them! How hard would it be to walk out my door and knock on the neighbor’s door and invite them to dinner? Not hard at all. But the only time we interact is if we both happen to be going out to our cars or to get the mail at the same time. I have a tofu turkey relationship with these people. And I think I know why.
I think I have a tofu turkey relationship with my neighbors because it is difficult to be in a relationship with someone else. It is difficult to really get to know someone else and it is pretty scary to really let someone else get to know you. What if I find out that they are not perfect people? What if I find out that they have secret pasts that they are not proud of? What if they begin to trust me and come to me for help? Or what if they found out about some of the things that I have done? No, it is just easier to stay in my own house and watch television. I will just stay inside and watch another reality television show rather than living out my own reality.
But many of us know what real relationships are like and how important they can be. Many of us have had real relationships with our spouse, with our siblings, or with our parents. And that is why my wife is not here today. Because she has developed a real relationship with her family. Our busyness can be a real hindrance to us developing real relationships. But having grown up in Nebraska, Sonya had the opportunity to really get to know her parents, her sister, her cousins, and her grandparents. Developing these relationships takes time. It takes energy. It takes patience. And it takes grace. But even though it takes all of these things, Sonya would never tell you that it hasn’t been worth it.
The real relationships that she has established with her family have allowed her to go to these people when life gets tough. These real relationships with her family provided her with exactly what Paul was blessing the Corinthians with when he said, “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience.” And because of these real relationships she has not had to endure her struggles alone.
When Sonya’s grandmother died last August, Sonya lost one of her real relationships. She lost someone that was there for her when she needed a recipe or a shoulder to cry on. Sonya lost a friend that prayed for her daily. Bernice Steider was no tofu turkey. She was the real deal and no fake alternatives would have been a suitable substitution.
And perhaps this is why developing real relationships is so scary sometimes. Because people die, people move away and we have to start all over again. And sometimes it seems like it is just easier to not let people into our lives rather than building relationships with others and knowing that it cannot last forever. Perhaps that is why I only know so much about my neighbors, I know I will be moving away from them this summer and it just doesn’t seem to be worth it to begin building relationships.
But when I think back on all of the real relationships that I have developed, I know that the work that I have put into them was well worth it. And even when people do move away, or even when a loved one does pass away, it is always worth it to have invested so much time in our relationships. Ask Sonya when she gets back from Nebraska this afternoon, ask her if she had it to do all over again if she would have developed as much of a relationship with her grandmother. Ask her if she knew back then how much it would hurt today to loose someone that she was so close to, ask her if she would have invested so much energy into their relationship. Actually, don’t bother asking her, I can answer for her. She would say yes. Real relationships are always worth it. Whether they are relationships with God or relationships with other people, real relationships are really worth it.
When Paul wished strength upon the Christians in Colossae, he knew exactly what he was doing. He knew that the life that these people were choosing was not going to be the easiest alternative, but he knew that it would be worth it. Following God always is. And Paul also knew that the Colossians didn’t have to go through this life by themselves. Paul knew that real relationships were the key to living life to its fullest. A real relationship with God through Jesus Christ and a real relationship with others is always really worth it. Don’t settle for tofu turkeys. There is no substitution for the real deal.