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Breaking Out and Bringing Back
November 20, 1977

St. Paul's United Methodist Church


A class was given the assignment to write a paper, titled, “Things I am Most Thankful For.” A fourth grade boy wrote, “I am most thankful for my glasses because they keep the boys from hitting me and the girls from kissing me.” I'm thankful today for the Pony Express campaign, for all those who worked on it, for the great success it's having in getting us to talk with one another, and for the significant increases in giving. I'm thankful. I'm thankful that Israel and Egypt are sitting down and talking together, and the great hope that promises for the Middle East. I'm thankful—well, we can go on and on. And you can all add your list. 

What a great time to be alive! What a great Thanksgiving! Paul in his letter to the Colossians, a tremendous passage filled with power and meaning, urges us to go beyond the level of making a list of things for which we're thankful. Paul urges the Christians to go down to a deeper level and give thanks for that out of which all good things come. As I interpret this passage of Scripture, Paul is urging the church to give thanks for salvation out of which all good things come. Give thanks, express gratitude to God for the fact that God is working in our lives. God is working in your life. God is working in the world in the present tense, not that God just has worked in the past, and not just for the great promises for the future at the end of time. God is at work today. This passage as is most of the Bible when it speaks of the activity of God is in the present tense. Now, today, here and now, give thanks for the fact that God is working in our lives. 

What is God doing? According to this passage, Paul uses two words—bringing back. God is at work in the world, God is at work in your lives to bring us back. Paul wrote, “Through the son, through Christ, God decided to bring the whole universe back to himself.” There is a separation, estrangement and alienation, which the Bible calls sin. Sin is the separation of the created order from the Creator, the separation of you and me from God. God is at work to bridge this gap, to bridge this chasm, to bring all back to himself and to one another, to unite the universes and the people on the universes. God is at work bringing back now, presently. The Greek word used here for bringing back is translated “reconcile" in the Revised Standard Version and probably the King James Version. God is at work reconciling the universe to himself. The Good News Bible uses the phrase “bringing back”. The Greek word used here really means transfer, or a transplanting. It's used in reference to ancient wartime. The conquering nation would take not only prisoners of war, but most of the citizens of the conquered land back to their home where the captives would be slave laborers. These were the days when the world wasn't as populated as now. So when the victor conquered a place, it took the people back to do the work. When Syria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, when Babylonia conquered the southern kingdom of Judah, they took the people out of the land and transferred them, transplanted them into their land. That is the word used here. God is at work transferring us, transplanting us into God's realm, God's kingdom, family, fellowship—whatever term you want to use. God is at work transferring Christians, transplanting us, with him in that new dimension of life, bringing back. 

Then Paul uses images that mean being rescued, bringing back out of darkness into light, out of condemnation into forgiveness, out of slavery into freedom. I like the term—breaking out. God is at work in our lives breaking us out, as if we're confined in a jail, in prison behind bars. God is at work to break us out of this confinement, break us out of darkness into light, which is a familiar biblical image. 

Think of those times in your life when everything seemed dark, when the road ahead was dark, and you really didn't know where you were going, like a brick wall. There were doubts, anxieties about the future. There just didn't seem to be any way out. It was like being in a dark cave. But God is at work to bring us into light, to bring us into the state where we can see where we're going, where we can see the future, where we can see the end—the kingdom of God, heaven; where we can see God's righteousness and justice, where we can see peace and love, where we can see the meaning, purpose and significance of life—why you were born and why you're here. God is at work to bring darkness into light. Thank God when you experience that in your life, 

God is at work to break us out of condemnation into forgiveness. How people are tied up as if they were imprisoned in a cage, tied up in their feelings of self unworthiness, tied up in their feelings of sin, remorse and guilt, tied up in their failures. They're so hard on themselves. They feel so unworthy. But God is working in our lives to free us, to break us out into forgiveness, into the healing music of you are forgiven. “You are a good and great person. You are mine and I love you.” Thank God that he is at work washing our sins away. As our fathers and mothers used to sing, “Oh happy day when Jesus washed my sins away,” meaning tremendous release when we are free from guilt, free from burdens, when we are cleansed, washed and made whole, when we can stand erect as a forgiven person. Thank God this Thanksgiving God is at work, bringing us back to himself— breaking us out of darkness into light, breaking us out of condemnation into forgiveness. 

God breaks us out of slavery into freedom. Paul wrote, “We are set free through Christ.” We are set free. Not we will be, we are now. All over the world we can see God at work freeing people, God at work liberating people. All over the world we see skirmishes, the evidence of the desire to be free. We see black people, especially in southern Africa, unwilling anymore to be content with being slaves to systems or slaves to another people, unwilling to be second class citizens. We see them in their unquenchable thirst for freedom, the same kind of unquenchable thirst which formed this country, the same desire for freedom that made our nation what it is. We see it all over the world today and we’ll be tried as a nation if we align ourselves with the oppressors, rather than with those desiring to be liberated. 

All over the world we see God at work. We see a national women's conference in Houston convinced that women have been oppressed and are fighting for the freeing of women. Many men and many women don't understand, but I was talking to a lady right in our church this week, a retired lady. She said, “You know, it's not fair. It's not right. My husband and I worked together all through the years. We paid into social security. Now he's gone, and I only get half. If he were alive, and I was gone, he'd get full.” It's not right. There are many subtle ways in which people because of their sex have been discriminated against, and they're not putting up with it anymore. God is at work. All over, we see signs of people not being willing to be oppressed, but wanting to be free.


Can you sense that in your own life? Look at how we have been confined by fear, not wanting to be embarrassed. Or look how we are imprisoned and chained by the way we were brought up or by the way we were not brought up, or by what other people thought of us, or didn't think of us, or by rules and regulations we really didn't want to buy into. How we have been confined! God will set us free. Look at what we do to people. Haven't you been horrified to read in the Stockton Record of the three year old baby beaten to death over a period of months by the mother's boyfriend, while she stood and watched? What we do to children! 

But the gospel says the hope and thanksgiving that we have today is that no matter what has been done to people, there is still a possibility of liberation and freedom. There is still hope. No matter what has been done to a child, that child still has the possibility of redemption, that child still has the possibility of breaking out of those constraints, and being the free person God made that child to be. That's the gospel, and that's why we're here. No matter what sin has done to the world, there is hope and redemption through Jesus Christ. Thank God for bringing us back and breaking us out. 

This passage says more. Paul goes on to say how God does this, what means God uses to bring you back, set you free and give you forgiveness. These are characteristics that I hope we can see in our lives. I hope these characteristics are increasing in our lives. These are characteristics that we need to nurture, to develop and to seek after in our lives for these are evidence that God is at work. 

First of all, Paul says, ask God to fill you with a knowledge of his will, then you will be able to live as the Lord wants. Hopefully through the Holy Spirit, we are increasingly realizing that we are in God's will, and that what God wants for your life is becoming increasingly clear to you. If not, nurture and develop through prayer, study and self understanding what your life is about. For in the knowledge and in the certainty that you are in the will of God comes your freedom. You owe your soul to no one else. You owe your soul to no institution, no employer, no spouse or anyone else because you are in the will of God. When you know you are in the will of God, when you know you're following where the Lord leads, when you know you're doing what you were meant to do, when you are being who you were meant to be, therein is your freedom. You are brought back and you are set free. God works through you by revealing to you what God’s will is for your life. 

Secondly, God works in us by giving us strength. Paul wrote, “to be made strong with all the strength which comes from his glorious power.” There is strength, there is power available to live in freedom. The purpose of the power is so that you may be able to endure everything with patience; to endure that you may be able to cope. But the word used is stronger than that. What we mean by patience is the ability to handle what happens, to cope. But what Paul meant by patience, what the Greek word means by patience, is not only the ability to handle what is dealt out, but the ability to turn it around into glory, to turn it around into victory. Patience means to take what is handled, and with the power and the strength of God, turn it around and remold it into something beautiful, powerful and meaningful. That's patience. Thank God when that happens in your lives. 

And then perhaps the most tremendous of all is when God gives us joy. Thank God for joy. Thank God for the joy which helps us to endure, persist and conquer. Thank God for the joy that comes from knowing that we are in the will of God. Thank God for being rescued, thank God for the joy of knowing that God is moving in our lives, the joy that is born out of facing and dealing with what life gives us. Moulay has written, “If joy is not rooted in the soil of suffering, it is shallow.” Thank God for suffering, for in suffering is the possibility of joy. Thank God for suffering, for pushing, enduring and being patient. Through suffering comes the discovery of joy. 

And then Paul crowns it all: give thanks to the Father who has made you fit to have your share of what God has reserved for his people in the kingdom of light. Gratitude. God is at work. What I'm trying to say is God is at work in you and me in the world to bring us back to himself, to unite us all together in him. God is at work breaking us out of all that constrains us, out of all that prevents us from being what God wants us to be. God achieves this by working in our lives, by nurturing and developing the knowledge of God’s will, the strength and power to endure and cope, the discovery of joy that bubbles over into Thanksgiving. 

How great is the Lord? Great is the Lord, worthy and highly to be praised. O give thanks to the Lord for his steadfast love endures forever

© 1977 Douglas I. Norris