The Barrel

by The Rev. John H. Pavelko
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Year A - 2001-2002 | Year B - 2002-2003  | Year C - 2003-2004

When Third Place is the Right Place
Year C - 1st Sunday in Christmas Colossians 3:12-17

"There is no place like home!"

"Home, sweet home!"

"Home at last!"

The old clichés remind us that 'home' for most people holds first place in our hearts. It is the place of safety, security and familiarity. We feel most comfortable there. It is the place where we can put aside our facades and inhibitions. We do not have to impress anyone or defend ourselves. At home, we can relax and unwind from the stress of life. But home is not the only place. After the home, we spend more time at work than anywhere else. It's the place where we form friendships and enjoy community. If we are not careful, we could easily spend more time talking with your co-workers than your family during any given week. But we usually assign the workplace a secondary role in our lives.

The home and the work place can provide a nice balance to our lives. The home provides relaxation and tranquility and the workplace offers an opportunity to fulfill our vocational pursuits. However, sometimes neither place can be very satisfying. After a few days of company, family closeness can get a little too close. And the "salt mines" are the last place we want to be when suffering from an overdose of family togetherness. Sometimes we need a third place for respite.

Howard Schulz founder and CEO of Starbucks coffeehouses built his franchise on the premise that Americans need a third place for camaraderie and rest. He noticed that on a business trip to Italy that the Italians had adapted a balance to their lives. They worked with an impressive passion but still found time to enjoy their rest and friendships. Schulz believed that the secret to their balanced lives was the 200,000 coffee bars that opened their doors to conversation and coffee. Given Starbuck's success, Schulz has demonstrated the America is indeed in need of a third place. The challenge for the church is: How can we convince people that the church is a much better third place than a coffeehouse.1

In his letter to the church in Colosse, the apostle Paul mentions fives virtues that are essential to creating such an atmosphere-compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. The five words are interrelated. Compassion is also used to describe the feelings God projects toward believers. It conveys an attitude of mercy, caring and acceptance; kindness refers to the look and speech of one person to another. William Barclay adds that the ancients defined the term "virtue of the man whose neighbor's good is as dear to him as his own."2 Andrew Murray says:

Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble. 3>>>>>And patience is required because others will not always show the first four virtues toward us.

Once again, William Barclay makes an astute observation about these five qualities. He notes that Paul does not mention any individual oriented virtues-discipline, creativity, inventiveness or spontaneity. Barclay states, ..."all the graces listed has to do with personal relationships between man and man...Christianity is community. It has on its divine side the amazing gift of peace with God and on its human side the triumphant solution of the problem of living together."4 

Paul not only lists the virtues that must be evident in our lives but also offers several suggestions for making them lives. First, he tells the Colossians that they are to clothe themselves with these virtues. Paul will not excuse the insensitive behavior of a mean spirited person to genetics. He understands that because of our fallen nature we are prone to selfish, callous, unkind, impatient and cruel thoughts and deeds. Christian virtues are acquired qualities that may be developed and nurtured through intentional effort. They are not adorned at birth. They are not absorbed through osmosis. They are not contagious. We must consciously decide each day to adorn ourselves with these qualities.

In our family, the demarcation from childhood to adulthood is very evident on Christmas morning. A child's list of gifts is dominates by toys, games, videos and books with a few clothes sprinkled into the mix but at some point in time a change occurs. Clothes begin to increase in number and the toys and games decrease. Parent knows when their children have crossed into adulthood when their excitement for the clothes is just as high as it was for the toys.

Clothes serve an important role in our society. They are an impression of who we are. Bold striking colors project a positive optimistic, outlook. Stylist tones represent confidence and self-assurance. Paul encourages the Colossians make the effort to clothe themselves in the virtues that Christ made fashionable.

After presenting his list of five virtues Paul than spends a considerable about of ink writing on the subject of forgiveness. Underlying his discussion is the assumption that disagreements are unavoidable. Two people will approach a situation from two distinctly different perspectives, words will be exchanges and feelings will be hurt. The gospel is not insurance to prevent conflict but it does offer guidance on rectifying disasters. Paul says to allow the "peace of Christ to rule your hearts." The Greek word for rule means to control the actions of someone based upon correct judgment and decision.5 Paul is saying that in tense circumstances, when the atmosphere is hostile, when feelings have been hurt, let the peace of Christ control the judgments and decisions you make.

At the congregational meeting, two young men delivered an oral report on the pending upgrades to the sanctuary sound system. They presentation was accurate and concise. Afterwards they asked if anyone had any questions. A retired engineer challenged the use of a technical term made during the presentation. They had significant differences about the exact meaning of the phrase and sparks began to fly. Given the expense of the system none of the men were inclined to concede. The three men argued as if they were the only two in the room. Everyone was embarrassed and uncomfortable. The meeting ended awkwardly with unanimous approval for the new upgrades.

After the meeting, the elderly gentleman whose challenge sparked the quarrel ambled toward the presenters. He apologized for his conduct and invited one of them to discuss the sound-system project over breakfast. That elderly man refused to allow envy, strife or bitterness control his actions. By apologizing and extending a breakfast invitation, he demonstrated a life ruled by Christ.6 

The Starbucks Principle centers upon the notion that people are hungry for connectivity. People are yearning for authentic relationships in which they give and receive emotional support and encouragement. Walk into any coffeehouse, restaurant or bar and you will find people engaged in conversation seeking to find that third place atmosphere. Their conversation is filled with story telling and discussion about local and world news. Through the exchange of words, bonds are formed between the participants. Friendship is strengthened. But how do our typical discussions help us to be better disciples? How do are friendships encourage us to expand our commitment to Christ. Paul would argue that such a friendship is only developed when believers engage in conversation that is focused on the Word of Christ. He tells them to let the word of Christ dwell in their hearts and speak to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.

This week I asked you in my email to invite someone out for coffee and conversation but not just any conversation. I suggested that you include a discussion using the questions from one of my emails. I believe that we cannot grow as a Christian unless we are reflecting on Scripture with other people. Through out conversations, our biases are challenged and inconsistencies exposed. We are encouraged to consider new ideas. We also receive encouragement and support. We experience God's love through affirmation of another. While this may happen during any conversation, it is magnified when the discussion includes a spiritual theme.

Books have been written about applying the Starbucks Principle to the church. I doubt that I will purchase any of them. It is not that difficult of an assignment if we would just follow the advice of Paul but it will take more than coffee grounds. We must first, take seriously the deep hunger in modern culture for a third place. Secondly, we must become a community marked by compassion, gentleness, humility and patience. Thirdly, we must become on inviting congregation that enables people to discover a third place. 

1 "When Third Place is the Right Place," Homelitics, Vol. 15, No. 6.
2 The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians. Edited by William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series, Rev. ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 2000, 1975
3 Paul Lee Tan, "Humility," Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations : [A Treasury of Illustrations, Anecdotes, Facts and Quotations for Pastors, Teachers and Christian Workers], (Garland TX: Bible Communications, 1996), 1979 quoting Andrew Murray.
4 William Barclay, op.cit.
5 Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains. electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, Page 473. New York: United Bible societies, 1996, c1989.
6 Citation: Dave Goetz, "Suburban Spirituality," Christianity Today, (June 2003)

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