Soil and Stars
Quick show of hands… Is there anyone in here who always sits through the credits at the end of a movie? When those names start rolling up the screen, most of us check out and leave. But I respect those of you who sit through the credits. Because whether we loved the movie or whether the movie bored us, most of leave before the final name rolls.
This our final week in the letter to the Colossians and it feels a bit like the credits have begun rolling, doesn’t it? There are 10 names in 12 verses. Tychicus and Onesimus and Nympha and Aristarchus and do-you-remember-where-we-parkedamus? The names are just rolling past us and it feels like a good time to check out.
But has anyone ever known someone who has worked on a movie?
Maybe they were an animal trainer who happened to got called up to help on set? Or they run a catering service and they landed a contract to supply the cast and crew with food? Would that change your perspective on the credits? Suddenly those names become super meaningful. You start realizing that what you just saw did not just magically arrive on the screen. These people—all working together—to varying degrees and in different roles—helped make what you just saw. The movie didn’t just drop out of the sky, it’s the fruit of these people’s labor.
There are some parallels, I think, with what’s happening here at the end of Colossians. The end of this letter reminds us that Colossians didn’t just drop out of the sky. The end of the letter reminds us (again) that this is a letter. Colossians is the fruit of someone’s labor. It’s the fruit of hard work.
Paul is the guy writing this letter—or at least dictating it. We heard that as we started the letter (1v1) and now again as we end it. In verse 18—with dictation done, with the letter over—Paul picks up the quill and scribbles out:
“I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.Colossians 4v18
Remember my chains. Grace be with you.”
He’s the most obvious candidate for saying Colossians comes about from his hard work. When the credits begin rolling for the Bible, Paul’s name gets listed. And these ten colleagues and coworkers played a part too. They’re listed in the credits of a book of the Bible.
This short little book of the Bible revealing that Jesus is God made human and that God has reunited all things back to himself (ch 1), and reminding us that there is nothing deeper than Jesus (ch 2), so stay close to him, and then emphasizing what it looks like to take off death and put on life (ch 3), and giving us practical challenges (ch 4) of staying close to God, and sharing the good news, and living full of kindness and grace—there’s a lot packed into only a few pages—this book didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s the fruit of hard work. It’s the fruit of Paul and at least ten other people.
But not merely them.
Because notice what Paul writes early in the letter:
“I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.”Colossians 1v29
Paul is working hard, but Jesus is working Paul’s energy. Jesus grows love in us—through us. There’s fruit to be seen in Paul’s life—things that have been done, letters written, communities guided, love growing all around. It’s the fruit of Paul’s labor… grown by Jesus.
It’s an imperfect analogy, but perhaps we could think of this way: As you’re driving home today, which is working harder? The engine…? Or the fuel…? An engine drives the car but the fuel drives the engine. The fuel is the engine’s engine. There’s an absolute impossibility that the engine can do anything without the fuel but the work of the engine DOES matter. At the most basic, never-forget-it level, the fuel matters… but the engine matters too.
The engine really is working… because of the fuel.
So… who wrote Colossians? Well, Paul did. Driven by Jesus. Fueled by Jesus. We could say it this way:
Jesus fuels our fruit.
That’s where we started this series. That’s how this letter started. There’s fruit growing throughout the world—throughout the cosmos (1v6)—and it’s because of Jesus. The gospel (the story of Jesus) goes out into the world and love grows out of it. It bears fruit. There’s fruit growing within those reading Paul’s letter… and it’s because of Jesus. When people hear about Jesus and begin trusting Jesus that means Jesus is at work.
And here, at the end of his letter, we’re reminded that gospel—the good news that God has become human to restore humanity—this good news bears fruit in the everyday not in a vacuum. Colossians doesn’t end by allowing us to say: “Well, those are some nice ideas. You sure have given us some really interesting things to ponder.” Colossians ends with ten names in twelve verses. It ends with a glimpse behind the curtain (a peek at the credits) to remind us where God and his gospel are at work.
And it’s in people. In names. In faces. In everyday details. In everyday conversations. Fruit grows in the soil not in the stars. The gospel is always inviting us into a spirituality of the nitty-gritty not a spirituality of outer-space. The nitty-gritty, everydayness of who we are, of our personalities… of our responsibilities, of our relationships… our struggles, our sufferings, our doubts… the everyday soil of our lives—with all its richness and all its muddiness—is where God is at work.
Very often our temptation is to look elsewhere. To look outward. To look upward. Out there. Somewhere else. “Outer space” is maybe what I sometimes think. Somewhere else… that’s where God is and where I need to get to. Or maybe we’re not looking outward or upward. Maybe we’re looking backward or forward in time. Sometime else… God was at work back then… Or God will be at work when…
But with his simple closing, Paul is inviting us into a spirituality of right here, right now. Fruit grows in the soil not in the stars. This is such good news, and some of us need to repent of our despair. The gentle, patient presence of God is already at work in our life, in our relationships, in our suffering, in our midst. We’re waiting on something that’s already happening. The soil is here. The soil is now. The Spirit is here. The Spirit is now.
Some of us need to repent of the way we despise the present, the here, the now. God is gently, patiently at work right here, right now. The work of the Spirit doesn’t always look like Pentecost. You can see it here. Because after Paul gives his greetings—after the credits roll—we’ve got one of those post-credit scenes… you know the kind that’s like one minute long? Well, this scene is one verse long. And it just says this:
Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.”Colossians 4v17
If everything that God’s Spirit was always up to looked like Pentecost, no one would need this kind of encouragement. If everything God valued looked obviously marvelous and miraculous then Paul would just need to say:
Tell Archippus: “See to it that you enjoy the ride.”Nowhere 4v17
But that’s not how it ends. Paul names names (he remembers the everyday soil where God is at work) and then he says to Archippus—someone we basically know nothing about: “That thing you’re doing—that diakonia—that ministry—that way you’re serving people… make sure you keep at it.”
We don’t know what Archippus was up to, and we don’t need to. It might just distract us from asking ourselves, “What the diakonia I have received?” What have you been called to? Who are you called to love, to serve, to care for? Where’s the nitty-gritty soil that you’re responsible for? What’s the thing—mysteriously burning in you—or spoken into you by friends and family—that will help goodness and love and hope to grow? Where do you come alive helping others come alive? Because that… that’s a good clue to where you’re called.
Don’t retreat from what you’ve received. Keep at it. Complete what you’ve received. See to it—watch it happen—make sure it does. That’s what Paul is doing. Paul says:
“Remember my chains.”Colossians 4v18
He’s passionate enough about Jesus that he’s writing a letter to people he’s never met from a prison cell. And it’s not a prison cell with a miraculous escape. Prison doesn’t feel like Pentecost… but God is no less at work. Paul is coming alive helping others come alive…by reminding them of Jesus—our king, our brother, our God, who endured death to make us alive.
Paul invites Archippus—and every Colossian—and every reader of Colossians—to keep following Jesus. Keep trusting his love. Keep trusting that you are forgiven. Keep hoping that future is bright and that death is not the end. Keep believing the good news, and then keep to your calling. Even in chains, in the grime, in the discomfort. Even in the dirt… because that’s Jesus grows fruit.