Scripture – Colossians 3:1-11

Sermon preached by Gregory Knox Jones

Sunday, July 31, 2022


In 2008, Bill Bishop authored a book entitled, The Big Sort. Bishop pointed out that more and more Americans are sorting themselves by moving to places of like-minded people. Conservatives who live in blue states are moving to red states. Progressives who live in red states are moving to blue states. However, the segregation has even smaller boundaries. Americans are not simply moving to states where people share their views, they are moving to particular cities and even specific neighborhoods where there are like-minded people.

Is this good for our nation? Bishop made it clear what he thought. The subtitle of his book is: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart.

In February, NPR interviewed Bishop because the past 14 years have proven his thesis as the divisions have hardened. “Red zip codes are getting redder and blue zip codes are getting bluer, causing many to rarely interact with folks with whom they disagree. People are purposely moving to places reflecting their views.”1 While living around people who think the way we do can be comforting, it also leads to deeper suspicions of those who think differently.

In today’s passage from The Letter to the Colossians, Paul recognized trouble brewing. Divisions were surfacing and the community of faith was in danger of fracturing.

Paul writes, “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on the things that are above, not on the things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

As often happens when I read the letters of Paul, I so wish that Paul would have had a good editor. He is famous for run-on sentences, for repeating himself, and for employing 100 words to say what he could more clearly communicate in 35 words. Perhaps in the first century he was considered a clear communicator, but not in our day. With Paul we generally need to slow down and carefully decipher what he is saying.

To what is Paul alluding when he writes, “So if you have been raised with Christ?” Baptism. For Paul, baptism was not simply a ritual that marked one as a follower of Christ. Rather, baptism was a powerful symbol to remind people of a profound turning point in their lives – a dramatic pivot. It signified something no less than death and resurrection: death to an old way of living and resurrection to a new way of living.

What is this new way of living? First, he says, “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” He follows with, “Set your minds on the things that are above, not on the things that are on earth.” It might sound as if he is drawing us toward becoming so heavenly-minded that we become no earthly good. Fortunately, he switches from speaking in the abstract to the concrete.

Also, it helps to know that when Paul speaks of things that are “earthly” it is his code for what is evil, corrupting, and sinful.

He names a few. He says, “Put to death whatever in you is earthly: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed.” He adds: “You must get rid of anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive language…and lying.”

Paul says to put these things to death. Or, as a colleague says, “God is invited to be the surgeon, to cut out whatever malignancy threatens to kill us.”2

Note that Paul is not only detailing behaviors. He is primarily talking about attitudes and emotions. He is savvy enough to know that it is our attitudes and emotions that trigger our behaviors.

Who among us does not know the sting of someone questioning our motives or maligning our character? Our first thought may be to seek revenge by lashing back. Soon we are behaving in shameful ways.

Paul fears that if these dark attitudes and actions are left unchecked, cracks will begin to appear in the foundation of the church and soon it will splinter into wildly opposing factions.

First, Paul spoke of dying and rising; then, he contrasted earthly things with heavenly things. Next, he switches to a metaphor of clothing. He says to strip off the old self and clothe yourselves with a new self. With the new self, divisions can dissolve.

Finally, comes the sentence to which Paul has been building. He declares that once we have put on the new Christ-like self, “There is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, enslaved and free, but Christ is all and in all.”

Paul rejects the notion that human beings are destined to exclude one another. We need not fall prey to racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, trans-bashing, and demonizing those with whom we disagree. We are to see others not according to stereotypes, but as individuals created in the image of God.

“In the summer of 1990, Dan Clendenin taught at a seminary in Nairobi. His family lived in the dormitory with students and their families. His son was seven at the time, and next to eating the delicious mandazi that was served every morning, his favorite part of the day was playing soccer with his Kenyan buddies. The family has a ‘team’ picture in which he’s the only white boy among a dozen African kids. After returning to the U.S., the first time they showed this picture to their friends he eagerly identified himself. He said, ‘I’m the one in the red shirt!’ His father says it was the most color blind experience he has ever had.”3

We live in a time when our differences are constantly being trumpeted. We separate into factions and become suspicious of people who see things differently. We not only maintain our convictions, but we can be quick to question the motives of those with whom we disagree.

Three weeks ago, late at night, Nick Bostic who makes pizzas at a Papa John’s, was driving down a street in his hometown of Lafayette, Indiana when he spotted a house on fire. He whipped his car around and pulled into the driveway. That’s when he realized he didn’t have his phone and could not call 911.

Nick ran to the front door and knocked but heard no reply. He tried the door, but it was locked. He raced around to the back of the house and found an unlocked door. He opened it, but all he could see was smoke. His eyes and nose began to burn, so he shouted, “Anybody here? Fire! Get out!”

No response. And just as he was about to leave, he spotted a teenager and some younger children at the top of the stairs. Eighteen year-old Seionna was babysitting her three siblings and a young friend while their parents were out on a date night. Moments before, she had smelled smoke and was frantically pulling the little ones out of their beds.

Nick rushed the children outside, but Seionna said her youngest sister was missing. Six year-old Kaylani was still inside the burning house.

Nick ran up the stairs and quickly looked in bedrooms and under the beds. He could not find her and the smoke was making it impossible to see. Just as he was about to bolt from the burning house, he heard a faint crying downstairs. The staircase was full of smoke, and he hesitated a couple of seconds thinking, “I don’t want to die here.” Then he scrambled down into the darkness toward the voice.

He found Kaylani and scooped her up. It was extremely hot, smoky, and painful to breathe. The only light he could see was up, so he ran up the stairs with Kaylani under his arm like a football.

His only escape route was through a window, so he broke it with his fist and jumped two stories to the ground. He fell in a way that spared the little girl from the force of the fall. Just as he hit the ground, police came screeching up to the house.

Suffering from smoke inhalation and severe burns to his back, ankle, and arm, Nick was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. A couple of days later, he was released.

Interviewed by a news station, Nick said he’s not a hero. He hoped if someone saw his house on fire, they would do the same. And concerning his injuries, he said, “It was all worth it. I kept reminding myself what a small sacrifice. This temporary pain…it’s so worth it.”4

When Nick, who is white, saw Seionna and her siblings who were black, he did not turn and walk away. When he plunged into the dense smoke and risked his own life, he did not consider race or political affiliation or religious preference or any other possible differences. He simply saw fellow humans who needed help and he responded with courage.

May his courageous actions jolt each of us – no matter which side of the wall we inhabit.

The lines of division in our nation are becoming more rigid and the rhetoric more toxic. Incivility is ascending as people think in terms of us versus them. Rather than listening to others and attempting to understand their fears and opinions, we are encouraged to impugn the motives of those who think differently and to write them off as the enemy.

Certainly there are extremists on both sides who may never bend in the slightest and we should resist their ideas. But as followers of Christ, can we disagree with others without being ugly? Can we be gracious to those who are disagreeable? Can we extend respect even to people who are surly?

We can go through each day eager to draw lines in the sand and to sort people into opposing camps. Or we can strive to soften the boundaries and to emphasize the things we have in common.

In one of Paul’s other letters, he wrote, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble.”5 What would happen if each day, we consciously put on our Christ-like self and focused our thoughts on what is gracious and generous and virtuous? What would happen?



  1. John Burnett, “The widening political chasm is revealed in real estate data,” February 17, 2022.
  2. James Howell, “Weekly Preaching Notions,” com, July 26, 2022.
  3. Dan Clendenin, “Christ Is in All,” net, August 1, 2010.
  4. The details of this story were gathered from two sources: Cathy Free, “Bystander rescues 4 kids from fire, then jumps out window to save a 5thThe Washington Post, July 19, 2022 and com, July 22, 2022.
  5. Romans 12:17.