Membership.

But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him.

The words membership and identity are hot terms in these days. That said, they have been terms used throughout history to impose or self-impose a sense of communal belonging. 

In some cases, membership and identity were imposed upon others as a result of prejudices – in an accusatory manner – to differ the other from self, to reduce people’s humanity. In other cases, we have taken on our own memberships and definitions of identity.

If we took a moment to pull out our wallets and purses, we could quickly list some of our memberships. Here are some of mine: SEFCU member, NY driver, PACC member, AARP member (how did that happen?), BJ’s Club member, and others. A quick look at someone’s Facebook – memberships and identity markers abound. Where in all of that is our Jesus card?

The most significant sign of our belonging to Christ is that we bear markers that cannot be reduced to a card or social profile.

Our communal membership, our mutuality, our identity as Christians starts with that which was written on our souls at Baptism-Confirmation, our regeneration, from which our membership and identity as family, as brothers and sisters permeates our entire being and way of living.

Jesus, joined with His disciples as recounted today, told them that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in His name to all the nations. This statement directed His disciples to go out and bear witness throughout the world. With the gifts of the Holy Spirit and, as St. John’s letter describes, the keeping of His word, they grew the family of faith. Out of people of every nation, class, status, color, and gender the Church grew as family.

Faithfulness to Jesus does not make us individuals, separate from each other. Rather, we are defined by our belonging, our obligation to God and each other.

We, the people of the Church, are not a separate people, each on his or her own path who just happen to get together for a moment. Instead, our getting together in worship is sign and symbol that we belong to God, that He belongs to us, and that we belong to each other. God infuses us with a grace to see beyond self to the family. He causes us to share with the Body of Christ as a symbol – a sacrament – of our love and of each person’s dignity.

In today’s Psalm we hear, for you alone, O LORD, bring security to my dwelling. This is not just our home, a physical structure in which we reside. Rather, the term my dwelling refers to our house, the place we reside together. He secures us in the family of faith and calls us to show our Jesus card by being “witnesses of these things” and bearing perfected love.

By what standard?

Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord.

Straight to the point. I ought to start this by saying that today’s Epistle, as outlined in the Lectionary gives us two choices. We can read all of Paul’s admonitions in Colossians 3:12-21 or we can skip over the hard parts, things that make us uncomfortable.

We all know what God wants, right – to skip over the hard parts? 

We can certainly agree that God never wants us to skip over the hard parts of His instruction. Jesus told us: “In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” (John 16:33).

What disturbs us about Paul’s words is that we read them from a perspective that the godless world pushes on us. That perspective is one in which there is no analysis, there is no search for deeper understanding. We somehow believe that English is the anointed language by which all must be understood, and heaven forbid that anyone use the word subordinate. Obviously, I, me, comes first.

I, me first, is not of Christ.

In Genesis, God creates a model of family and as we heard in today’s gospel, His very Son, Jesus, lived within that model. But let’s not just stop at the outward appearance of that model, because the inward nature of the family model is brought to the fore by St. Paul in his writing to the Colossians.

Paul is discussing an inter-relationship among the faithful. We are first and foremost a community that practices mutual love and respect. We offer each other heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. We bear with each other and forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven us (catch that – live as the Lord lived). Above all we put on love as our mutual bond of perfection. Is that hard?

Jesus was born into a family that lived all that, and one in which each person lived a sacrificial existence, where the good of the other came before their own good. That is what being subordinate is. That is what love and obedience are. That is what total giving is.  In family we must be willing to decrease so that our wives, husbands, and children may increase. That is love in mutuality. Is that hard?

Never mistake this direction as having to do with being a slave. A slave does not have a choice in the giving of self. We do. 

The bottom line – How are we to live together? What do we consider hard? For us the standard within family and community is God’s standard. A life of total self-giving should not be hard for Christians.