Link to service

Psalm 137.1-6

Colossians 2.8-9, 20-3.4

Imitation & Intimation

(Overlooked and Underpreached – III)

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

Colossians?  Colossians!  How in the world can I be on the cusp of five years in Chester and not have preached from Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae yet?  Especially since I’ve always had a special place in my Bible for the letter:  my very first candidate sermon, for the Community Church of Calumet, Michigan, took its text from Colossians.  I did two different study weeks looking at hymns and confessions of faith in the Bible, one of which, as we heard this morning, is in Colossians.  Colossians is one of a small handful of New Testament books I’ve translated from Greek to English.  I’ve used it in thirty-two different sermons over the past forty-two years, and yet here we are hearing it for the first time in Chester since I’ve been your minister.  A greater case of gross homiletical negligence I cannot imagine.  Let’s sit back and see where Paul’s letter takes us this morning.

I grew up in a Protestant household, but that does not mean we did not maintain vestiges of my mother’s Roman Catholic upbringing.  The one I remember most, probably because it has to do with food, was our annual Good Friday dinner of fish sticks and macaroni and cheese.  Now, my mom never liked fish – she wouldn’t eat it – but we never ate meat on Good Friday, and fish sticks is the only kind of fish mom knew how to make.  Now, when my dad started cooking, the night progressed to grilled swordfish and stuffed clams, but still, even though we were a completely Congregational family, it remained that we ate no meat on Good Friday.  Oh, and Good Friday in this Froggatt home?  It’s lobster mac and cheese.  Even now the vestiges of latent Catholicism are difficult to avoid.

Paul was not writing about fish sticks when he wrote his letter to the Colossians, but in a way he could have been:  “Why do you submit to regulations, ‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch?’  All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings.  These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety [and] humility… but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.”  Now Paul’s target was not the Roman Catholic practice of giving up meat on Fridays or during Lent, or both; he was writing more about Jewish legalism and pagan rites.  He was writing about the difference between the outward appearance of fidelity versus the inward reality of faith.  He was writing about the folks who cloaked their ambivalence about Jesus in the rites and rituals of worship.

You wouldn’t guess this to hear my theology today, but I attended a small, conservative liberal arts college in Rhode Island.  As with so many evangelical schools, there was a long list of sanctioned behaviors.  Smoking and drinking on campus were strictly forbidden.  Men in the women’s dorm and women in the men’s after hours was prohibited.  In fact, when I got to Barrington College, even dancing was outlawed.  I take a small amount of pride in the fact that, in my Barrington years, we convinced the school’s Trustees to let the student government vote on overturning the dancing rule, and the vote was understandably unanimous in favor.  The school closed nine years later, and I sometimes wonder if it was this particular abomination that brought it down?  But the point in loosening the school’s behavioral rules is the same point I believe Paul is making in Colossians:  there is a difference between exhibiting pietistic appearance and behavior, and having a heart for Jesus.  It’s like the Pharisees in Matthew 6, who disfigure their faces when they fast, who pray in public places, who sound the trumpets when they are about to make their temple offering, but neglect the deeper needs of the worshiping community.

And it’s more than just the notion of appearance vs reality, although I think this is a piece of what Paul means.  It is also a reminder of the real marks of faithfulness and the strong temptation to let the culture and customs of the world around us shape our devotion.  I’ve mentioned before the mistake I believe the Protestant church made back in the 1950s and 60s when it decided to mimic the corporate model, with its boards and committees and flow charts and direct reports and numbers and profits.  It is a mistake from which today’s church continues to recover.  Jesus came to establish a community, not a corporation.  “Why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?..  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”

I was sorely tempted to go back to something I spoke about last Sunday and wrote about on Friday, the quasi-religious rally called “ReAwaken America” that gives the appearance of a revival when it is actually a political movement.  But that would be too easy a target, and you don’t need to hear any more about that from me, you know how I feel about it.  But it occurred to me that as dangerous as it is when politics cloaks itself in religious garb – and it is very dangerous: Christian Nationalism is a threat to both church and state; as dangerous as it is when politics cloaks itself in religious garb more dangerous to the soul of the church is when we cloak ourselves in civilian garb, when the church imitates the culture instead of intimating the present reality of Christ.   That is, we do a lot of good for our church, for our community and for our world.  Many churches do.  But Paul wants  us to keep our eyes on Jesus at all times, because it is the Christ we see in our neighbor that sustains our conviction, sustains our commitment, sustains our compassion.  We aren’t in it for ourselves, we aren’t even in it for our church, we are in it because the Christ in us recognizes the Jesus in our neighbor.  “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above where Christ is… When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”

It may be that what most of us know best about the letter to the Colossians is the lovely encomium, the words of praise that spell out what it means to live together in Christian community.  And I also want you to hear in it the particular reference it makes to music, to “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs,” much like the one Diane and Pat brought us this morning from Psalm 137:

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God our  Creator through him.”

May these words of the apostle be our blessing this morning.

Uniter 2

 community 2

Current Events Button

 donate 2

Join Us!

Sunday worship

is at 10 a.m.

In-person &

online on our





Handicapped Accessible 



United Church of Chester, 29 West Main Street, Chester, CT 06412. (860) 526-2697


From the North: Take CT Route 9 South to Exit 8 (old exit 6) (CT 148). Turn left; we are 1 mile on the right.


From the South: Take CT Route 9 North to Exit 8 (old exit 6) (CT 148). Turn Right; we are .8 miles on the right.

Office Hours

Church Office:

Tuesday - Friday 9-1


Minister's Hours:

Wednesday  - Friday



Mailing Address:  

Post Office Box 383, Chester, CT 06412


Physical Address:  

29 West Main Street, Chester, CT 06412





Email Address: