This Is Us

THIS IS US

COLOSSIANS 3:18-4:1

Listen To This Is Us

parenting axis

 

It is important to know the house rules before you dog sit. I learned that lesson when I dog sit.  My pastor was going on a short vacation with his family and he asked me to stay over at his house and dog sit Fonzie, the family dog.  The family showed me where the dog food was and gave me their number if I needed to call. It seemed like an easy task as far as I was concerned.

But when I took a shower in the morning I realized my pastor had neglected to tell me one house rule which was rather important. My pastor forgot to tell me that sometimes the door handle to the bathroom came off the door and I should be careful when I put it back on.  After I took a shower I discovered the fact that the door knob came off the door easily. And unfortunately, I only managed to push the metal piece that connected to the knob to the other side of the door. Because I didn’t know this rule I ended up being locked in the bathroom that morning for about four hours. Out of all the places you could be trapped in a house a bathroom is not a bad place. I would not die of dehydration. I did end up getting out of the bathroom after being trapped for several hours. You can ask me after the service about the details of that great escape. While it was a funny experience after the fact during the time I was trapped in that bathroom I certainly did not find it funny. And it was all because I didn’t know about a defective doorknob. I didn’t blame my pastor for not telling me. It was just a rule of his household that the doorknob was loose. They had become so used to it they didn’t give it a second thought. It only became a problem when me, an outsider entered into their household.

When we enter into a marriage, when we have children, or when we start a new job, we try to establish ground rules. Often, in marriage we come to a marriage with different expectations and goals, some of which we find hard to articulate. And it is hard to blend together the rules we received from our family of origin with those our spouse received form their family of origin. Often, when we are raising our kids we are trying to find good rules for them to live by. And because each child is different the rules we set for one child may not work as well for another. When we enter a new work environment we may dysfunctional rules that don’t serve the organization well. In each of these different spheres, house rules, rules of organizations and individuals can conflict, and when they do we can feel trapped. Unsure of when we need to give in, when we need to stand up for what we believe, uncertain of how to make those we walk through live with feel love and respected because they seem to be speaking a different organizational language that the one we were raised with or are used to that we can feel trapped.  A tiny rule, a tiny expectation, that we didn’t understand or know about can get us stuck in relational cycle of blame and bitterness.

But the good news today is when we clothe ourselves with the kindness of Christ and submit to one another out of reverence for Christ we will find peace in our households.

  1. In the marriage sphere
  2. In the sphere of raising children
  3. In the public sphere

First, submission and kindness in the marriage sphere. Perhaps I am wrong, but I doubt there are many wives in this room who’s hearts leap for joy when they hear the words, “ Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” And indeed many women who have suffered abuse, disrespect, and neglect, have reason to be skeptical of these words. A wife may promise to love her husband but we in our modern times would rather leave out the outdated word idea of obeying one’s husband. But Paul uses a different word here for submission than he does when he tells children to obey their parents. Obeying is not a voluntary act for children.  But for wives here submission is voluntary.

This may not sound much better to the wives here today. But in Paul’s day the Roman household codes of the time gave ultimate power to the Father and the husband. Wives were not asked to submit they were told to obey. Father’s were not told to be kind, they were allowed to do whatever they wanted with their children. So while modern women today may feel offended by what Paul is saying it would be ancient men who would be offended by what Paul was saying because he was infringing on their ultimate power as the husband and the Father.

Paul tells us in the book of Ephesians that submission, is a mutual requirement. We are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21).  But Paul’s focus seems different for men and women in a marriage relationship. Perhaps this is because Paul knew women and men struggled with different things in relationships.

Paul expresses this in more detail in Ephesians when he tells husbands to love their wives and wives to respect their husbands (Ephesians 5:33). When I love someone I listen to them because I just value being with them. When I respect someone I asked their opinion because I value their knowledge, ability, and authority. It isn’t that husband’s shouldn’t respect their wives. They should. It isn’t that wives shouldn’t love their husbands. They should. The point is what is generally harder for a wife and harder for a husband to do. Often we have to be reminded to do what is harder for us. Generally, it is harder for husbands to be empathetic and to listen without immediately offering his opinion as to how to fix it. And it is harder for a wife to seek impute as to how a given situation might be resolved. Women value empathy and understanding and men value impute and problem solving. These are general trends. Love and respect are two things that both men and women need. Which is harder for you to give to your spouse? That is what you should focus on.  Mutual submission is about giving up our own preference and putting the other person first. It isn’t about always agreeing or doing what the other person wants. Attack the problem not the person. We need trust, we need empathy, but we also need to solve the problems that face us in our relationships.

On the issue of raising children the Bible does not use the term submit it uses the term obey. As Paul points out earlier in Ephesians, the commandment to obey your parents is the only one that comes with a promise, that it may go well with you in your life. Children are simply not capable of making the same type of decisions as adults. So having a debate about whether a child should or should not submit in any particular circumstance is not only unhelpful it could be dangerous. From a Biblical perspective the response, “because I said so,” is within the right of parents to give.

And yet, in Paul’s society a Roman Father was much like a Roman husband. He could do whatever he wanted to a child without consequence. Again, Paul shocks Roman men by curtailing their power. He says, “ Father’s, do not provoke your children lest they become discouraged.”  The word here for discouraged means to become bitter, to loose heart, or to loose passion.  And this is what happens when submission is requested or obedience compelled without kindness. Contempt, shame, bitterness, these things have come to corrupt the souls of a child.

Julie Lythcott Haines was a former freshman dean at Stanford for over ten years, so she knows a little bit about stressed out parents and their kids. She is the author of How To Raise An Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kids for Success.  She points out that the longest longitudinal study, the Harvard Grant Study, shows that there are two keys to success and happiness in a child’s life. 1. Chores. 2. Love. Chores give a child agency in the work of the family. It shows children that life is not about them, it is about us, the household, may that be our family, our work, or our nation. Love, for a child, studies show that our love is not based on our children’s grades, or whether they do their chores, but just because they are our children. A child should never doubt that they are loved.

The people who study parenting say there is an axis. On the Y axis is how demanding we are. And on the X axis is how responsive we are to our children’s needs.  The authoritarian parent is highly demanding but not responsive to a child’s need. The indulgent or permissive parent is not demanding and highly responsive. The parent who is not demanding or responsive is a neglecting their child. A parent who is highly demanding and highly responsive is an authoritative parent. We are to aim for the sweet spot. We are to be highly demanding but also give a darn about our kids as human beings who are flawed and frail like us.

Finally, we see that clothing ourselves with kindness and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ applies to our public life as well. This is addressed in Paul’s comments about slaves and masters.  To gain more insight into Paul’s comments here we can look latter in the book of Colossians where Paul is giving his final greetings. One of the people he mentions is Onesimus. Oneismus’s name is mentioned again in the short letter to Philemon. Some scholars think this is the same Oneismus.

In the book of Philemon we learn that Onesimus is a slave who has run away from his master who has gone to support Paul in his imprisonment. Apparently, Philemon does not heed Paul’s advice to be kind to one’s slaves and thus Onesimus flees for Colossae. The book of Philemon is a page long so you can probably read it in under five minutes. The basic message of Philemon is that Paul had the power to command Philemon to free Onesimus he wants Philemon to free him of his own accord. Paul’s message to Philemon can be put simply as this, “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”  In Colossians Paul says there is no slave nor free but we are one in Christ Jesus. His view of society is one of radical equality. But Paul and Jesus did not believe in radical revolutions from the bottom up because of the chaos that often ensues when governments and households fall apart.  Instead, the Bible envisions a radical revolution from the top down.

Paul’s message to Philemon the man with power is, “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” Paul did not want to compel Philemon to free Onesimus because he wanted to give him the opportunity to be a Christian, to do what was right.  Paul expressed his love for Onesimus and his disapproval of slavery in the letter to Philemon. But Paul had no political power, and besides, he preferred people do the right thing out of a sincere conscience rather than ordering them around.

The temptation when we find ourselves with more power, prestige, or money, is to do things just because we can, to do things for ourselves and not consider others. Even in a marriage we may find ourselves in a position when we can legitimately say, “I told you so,” when our spouse has done wrong, and we are in the right, and we have every reason to be harsh, to Lord it over them, to treat them like a lesser human being than we are.  But power, prestige, wealth, even being right,  are fleeting things in this world. The tables can turn so very easily. We can be on the top of the world one day and the bottom of the heap the next. If we find ourselves at the top the scriptures tell us we are there to lift others up not lift ourselves higher or to put others down. In the Gospel of Luke Jesus tells of a cruel manager who thought his Master was delayed in returning from a journey. Thinking his master would not find out the head servant beats the servants below him. The Master gave this manager who was cruel as severe beating more so than the other servants who may not have fulfilled responsibilities but had less power.  As Jesus says to whom much is given much is required (Luke 12:48).

As I was thinking about a good example of a parent and leader who exemplifies the character traits that Ephesians and Colossians talks about the character Jack Pearson, from the NBC television show This is Us, came to mind.

For those, who have not seen the show, here is a synopsis. “The series follows the lives of siblings Kevin, Kate, and Randall (known as the “Big Three”), and their parents Jack and Rebecca Pearson. It takes place in the present and using flashbacks, at various times in the past. Kevin and Kate are the two surviving members of a triplet pregnancy, born six weeks premature on Jack’s 36th birthday in 1980; their brother is stillborn. Believing they were meant to have three children, Jack and Rebecca, who are white, decide to adopt Randall, a black child born the same day and brought to the same hospital after his biological father abandoned him at a fire station. Jack dies when his children are 17.” The series takes place in the present as well as in flashbacks from Kevin, Kate, and Randall’s childhood. One of the main plot points of the series is learning how the Big Three’s father Jack, died when they were 17. In the most recent season this plot detail was revealed. Jack died when the family Crock Pot sparked and set fire to their kitchen. After getting his family out, Jack goes back into the fire to rescue the family dog. Jack survives the fire but later succumbed to a heart attack triggered by smoke inhalation.

To quote one reviewer who wrote about Jack after the fire episode. “ On This Is Us, Jack’s family is his whole world, and he takes pride in raising his children well and keeping his wife happy. He is shown as a compassionate, loving dad, who would give everything he had for the people he loved. (He told the doctor treating him post-fire that he saved Kate’s dog because he “loved the girl who loved the dog.” Ultimately, he died because of it.) Never snarky or cruel, Jack was revered because he loved deeply and honestly. He set an enormously high bar for his children, not because he had some intense career or achieved some great external accomplishment, but because he was good. Kind.

Jack’s tragic end will still be one of television’s saddest moments, but Jack didn’t have to live a long time to make his mark on his family. Let’s hope his influence extends to all of television — because you don’t have to be a jerk to be worth admiring.”

The character of Jack, from This Is Us, is the best popular modern example of a man being a Biblical leader that I could think of. He is an example that many of you can relate to of an authoritative and not authoritarian leadership style. For true spiritual power comes when people see our sincere concern for them, not when we want to use them to get what we want.

I also think, “This Is Us” is a good description of the theme of this passage. Paul is trying to move the Colossians beyond their individual Christian Faith to how their Christian Faith affects the community around them. He is trying to move them from singing, “Jesus loves me,” to “Jesus loves us.” Paul tells us  in every sphere of life we have one master, Jesus Christ, whom is powerful and kind. And if we misuse our power or neglect to be kind we will give an account of what we have done. Who are we Christians? We are those who cloth ourselves in the kindness of Christ and submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. This is Us.

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