In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Well, first I’d like to thank you for the sabbatical—a very generous gift for which I am truly grateful—thank you, thank you, thank you. It is a joy to be back and see you all today.
Today I’m preaching from just one phrase from the third chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Colossians: “your life is hidden with Christ.”
Throughout this letter, Paul describes various ways the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has changed things for us forever. “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved son (1:13)… through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things (1:20)… you have been raised with Christ (3:1)… you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3:3).
Your life is hidden with Christ.
Last month, I spent some time studying at Nashotah House, an Episcopal seminary in Wisconsin. During the weekend between two weeks of classes I took a road trip to two places I wanted to see: North Dakota, because it was one of three states I hadn’t yet visited, and Hibbing, Minnesota, hometown of Bob Dylan.
That Friday evening, I drove to the middle of Minnesota and was looking for a place to crash and found a little hotel in a town called Monticello. The next morning, I drove to Fargo and while eating lunch saw something on my map of North Dakota that looked very interesting: the tallest structure in the entire Western Hemisphere, a giant television transmitting mast for the local NBC affiliate, KVLY near the town of Blanchard.
You could see the mast from miles away and when I drove up the dirt road to it I found myself all alone. I parked about thirty feet from the base and stepped out of my truck. When I bent my head back and looked straight up the 2,063 foot-tall structure, it was so overwhelming I nearly fell down.
I took a few deep breaths, and while holding onto the side of my truck, I looked up for a few minutes, some small clouds whisking by the top of the mast in the clear blue sky. It was awesome, unforgettable. Who knew the tallest structure in the entire Western Hemisphere was in North Dakota?!
After driving north to Grand Forks, I headed west across northern Minnesota and arrived at the town of Hibbing that evening. At a local restaurant called Zimmy’s, a bar and grill filled with Bob Dylan memorabilia, I spoke with a couple locals. “I’m a huge Bob Dylan fan and only here for a couple hours. What do you recommend I see?”
I took their advice and walked several blocks to the house where Bob Dylan was raised, and later walked around the high school where he played gigs with his first band, the Golden Chords, and where once a performance at a talent show was so loud the principal turned off the microphones. Ironically, the name of the song they were performing was “Rock and Roll is Here to Stay,” rather prophetic.
That entire day was surreal, and I was overwhelmed by what I saw.
There are times when we are overwhelmed by what we see, and other times we are overwhelmed by what we cannot see.
When I was a senior in high school, I was considering the Navy ROTC program. I had dreams of being a fighter pilot like Tom Cruise in Top Gun (“I feel the need for speed!”), and flying jets like the model jets hanging by fishing line from the ceiling of my bedroom. Part of the application process involved a physical at Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County. I was part of a group of about twelve guys as we were herded like cattle from one room to another for the various parts of the physical.
Late that afternoon, I took the Ishihara Color Blindness Test, which involved a series of plates with circles on them. Each circle contained a series of various colored dots blended together and within which was an image of a number. I was sailing along through the cards, reading out the numbers as I saw them, “10…33…17,” etc.
And then the nurse held up a plate that appeared to have no number at all. I paused and figured it had to be a trick. “There’s no number in this one, right?” I asked. The nurse responded, “No, there’s a number there.” I looked and looked and saw nothing. I tried looking from different angles, tried straining my eyes, tried relaxing my eyes, but no matter what I did, I saw nothing—the number was completely hidden. I decided to guess… maybe a good biblical number…“12?” No. Maybe the uniform number of John Riggins, my all time favorite Washington Redskin… “44?” No. I just shook my head.
The nurse showed me several more plates and I saw no numbers at all, just masses of colored dots, which then began to blur as my eyes began to well up. When we were finished, I said to the nurse, “I didn’t pass did I?” She gently said, “No, I’m sorry.” When I rejoined the other guys, one of them asked me what was wrong. “Nothing,” I lied as I thought to myself, “so much for the need for speed.”
Think about your life for a moment. Perhaps there are times when you try to see the big picture in the midst of the myriad of thoughts and experiences and emotions and relationships that dot the circle of your life and you see…nothing.
That’s okay, because your life is hidden with Christ.
And Christ knows you better than you know yourself and sees the big picture, even if you can’t.
I’ve been trying to expand my musical horizons and the incomparable Sam Bush has introduced me to a band called The Shins. Their front man, James Mercer, wrote a beautiful song that reminds me of how Christ identifies with us. Mercer sings the following in a song called “It’s Only Life”:
Well I guess it’s only life, it’s only natural
We all spend a little while going down the rabbit hole
The things they taught you, they’re lining up to haunt you…
And I know it breaks your heart
Open up your parachute, something’s gotta stop the free fall
I’ve been down the very road you’re walking now
It doesn’t have to be so dark and lonesome
It takes a while but we can figure this thing out
And turn it back around (from their 2012 album Port of Morrow)
Christ has “been down the very road you’re walking now.” Your life is hidden with Christ.
And because your life is hidden with Christ, God will eventually bring healing to the hidden areas in your life that are the most painful.
A couple “heavy” illustrations…
In the TV show, Mad Men Jon Hamm plays Don Draper, an advertising executive in 1960’s Manhattan. Professionally he is successful, but personally he is riddled with self-centered, and at times misogynistic, behavior and riddled with self-hatred as well. In the season finale, Don is at a meeting with executives from the Hershey Company. After blowing them away with a pitch for a possible new advertising campaign, he comes clean about something he had always kept hidden, the truth about his childhood:
“I’m sorry, I have to say this, because I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again. I was an orphan. I grew up in Pennsylvania in a whorehouse. I read about Milton Hershey and his school in a magazine, and I read that some orphans had a different life there. I could picture it. I dreamt of it. Because the woman who was forced to raise me would look at me everyday like she hoped I would disappear… (When) I’d get a Hershey bar, and I would eat it alone in my room with great ceremony, feeling like a normal kid. And it said ‘sweet’ on the package. It was the only sweet thing in my life.”
In 1970, Jack Nicholson was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Robert Dupea in the film Five Easy Pieces. Robert is a childhood piano prodigy who later became a drifter ricocheting among various odd jobs and various relationships with women. His sister informs him that his father, with whom he had not spoken in three years, has had two strokes. He goes home to see his sister Tita and to try and reconnect with his father.
Near the end of the movie, Robert takes his dad, who is confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak, to see the ocean. It is a brisk, windy day and he asks his father, “Are you cold?” No response. In order to have eye contact with his father he squats down in front of him and continues:
“I don’t know if you’d be particularly interested in hearing anything about me. My life… most of it doesn’t add up to much that I could relate as a way of life that you’d approve of. I move around a lot…not because I’m looking for anything really, but ‘cause I’m getting away from things that get bad if I stay… I don’t know what to say.” He begins choking up. “Tita suggested that we, I don’t know, I think that she feels that we have some understanding to reach. She totally denies the fact that we were never that comfortable with one another to begin with. The best that I can do is apologize… we both know that I was never really that good at it anyway… I’m sorry it didn’t work out.”
Both Don Draper and Robert Dupea were desperately trying to deal with the hidden hurts in their lives. They both had yet to experience healing in those places.
Perhaps it’s the same with you. Perhaps there are hidden hurts in your life that have yet to be healed.
The good news of the Gospel is that your life is hidden in Christ.
In his death and resurrection the love of God in Christ for you was not hidden.
The love of God for you was not hidden as Jesus stumbled “down the very road you’re walking now” to Calvary.
The love of God for you was not hidden as Jesus was stripped and nailed to a cross, alone, with great ceremony.
The love of God for you was not hidden as Jesus was lifted high on the cross, transmitting the love of God farther than any structure in any hemisphere.
The love of God for you was not hidden as the parachute of God’s grace stopped the freefall of your sin.
This means when God looks at the color test plates of the sin in your life he sees nothing, because your life is hidden in Christ.
This means that even if some things in your life have not worked out, in the big picture God has worked everything out.
Back to Bob Dylan for a moment…in 1964 at the age of twenty-three Dylan released his third album, The Times They Are A-Changin’. In the final verse of the title track we get a glimpse of the future hope of the gospel:
The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast
The slow one now will later be fast
As the present now will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’
At the Second Coming, the times will be done a-changin, and you will see everything clearly, as Paul also writes in today’s passage: “When Christ, who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory” (3:4).
The big picture will be crystal clear and every hidden hurt will be totally healed.
In the meantime, be encouraged, because the good news of the gospel is that your life is hidden in Christ.
- Colossians 3:3 - 3