A sermon preached at Southminster on November 21 2010
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.
He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.
He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
As I mentioned last week, today is the Reign of Christ, or Christ the King, Sunday. It is the last day of our church year. So when we gather next week, we can wish each other “happy new year!” as we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent.
And I know that Christmas music has been playing in the stores since August, but before we rush headlong into the Christmas celebrations, preparing to welcome the little baby Jesus, I invite us to take a moment and consider our relationship to the grown up Jesus. The crucified and risen Son of God whom we call Lord.
We’re Americans, so we don’t spend a lot of time considering our relationship to kings. More than just Americans, we’re in Idaho, so it is a pretty independent spirit that pervades our civic life in this place.
When we call Jesus “Lord”, I suspect we think it is a synonym for God. And in some ways it is. But to call Jesus “Lord” is to make a political claim. Because the Greek word for Lord means “master, sovereign, prince, or chief”.
To claim Jesus as Lord is to claim that he has authority in your life.
So, just what kind of Lord is Jesus? How does he seek authority in our lives? While there are many different perspectives in the Bible on this subject, today’s passage from the Letter to the Colossians presents a very strong image of Christ as King. This letter was sent to a group of believers in modern-day Turkey. The writer of the letter had not visited this congregation, but sends them greetings, encouragement, and instruction in the faith. Most scholars agree that this letter seems to have been written to correct some false teaching that the congregation had received.
Our passage picks up at the end of the opening ‘greeting and thanksgiving’ section of the letter. “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
In these first verses, we get a sense of just what kind of Lord it is we’re following. He shares quite a bit—strength from his glorious power, endurance with patience, and inheritance. We get brought into the family of God, able to inherit the kingdom.
The writer then goes on to talk about how we are “transferred” from the power of darkness into the kingdom of his beloved son. This word is the same word that would describe how a captured people are taken by a victorious military power and taken into captivity and exile. But here, rather than being carted off by the Babylonians and taken into slavery, we are being taken OUT of the kingdom of darkness, slavery, and captivity, and carted off into freedom and into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son.
So, from the beginning of the passage, it is clear that Christ rules the world as King in a different way than other princes, kings, and rulers. We follow a ruler who doesn’t seek worldly power and authority.
But don’t mistake that for weakness.
The author of Colossians includes a passage here that scholars refer to as the Christ Hymn. It seems to be different in its language and structure than does the text around it. Perhaps it gives us a glimpse of how the early Christians understood Jesus, and an idea of what they would have said in worship.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together….”
So, while he may not seek power as earthly rulers do, it isn’t because he’s weak. It is because he created it all. It is because all thrones, dominions, rulers, and powers were created by him. All that is made answers to him, whether visible or invisible, in heaven or on earth.
While Jesus is saving us from darkness to light, we shouldn’t see it as a victory over darkness. He is even transforming the darkness. The corrupt world around us will also be redeemed through Jesus.
“He himself is before ALL things, and in him ALL things hold together.” The author of Colossians makes a claim for the universal power of Jesus to redeem the world. I don’t want you to mistake this for a claim of universalism, which is a topic for another day. What Colossians is claiming is that Christ didn’t just save you and me. Christ’s redemption is for the world—for all people and all of creation.
One possible implication of the universality of God’s concern is that we can’t act as if anyone or anything is outside of God’s interests. We have to look at each other, at our enemies, at the strangers at the gate, and even at creation around us, and see God’s created and beloved world. “He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
So, rather than determining that God hates all the same people we do, we have to trust that Jesus’ death and resurrection might just possibly have been for “them” too. And while I might be able to get my head around the idea that God’s love is for ALL of God’s children and not just the ones we like—I have a much harder time really believing that God’s love is seeking redemption for the powers and systems of this world that hurt, enslave, and oppress people.
“and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.”
Peace through the blood of his cross.
There’s another one of those oxymorons—things that shouldn’t go together. “peace” and “the blood of his cross”. Because we know there was no peace in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It was violent and painful. Yet even in that act of torture, God was able to redeem it, to make it peace. So we pray for those systems that enslave, that oppress, that keep people from living abundant and full lives. We pray for their transformation and redemption as surely as we pray for our own.
I love this passage from Colossians, because I love these images of a transcendent Jesus, much more Godlike than humanlike. But it is precisely his humanity that the author of Colossians wants us to note.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” and
“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things”.
The humanity of Jesus is what makes visible for us the invisible nature of God. Jesus, as firstborn of all creation, and as the babe born in a manger, helps us see who God is and how much God loves us.
I know that some of you are more comfortable with less transcendent images of Jesus. Some of you prefer the image of Jesus the Palestinian Jew, who lived as we lived. And that image is in scripture too. But that’s the thing about Scripture. All of these different texts give us many different images of Jesus. And we believe that the collective image we get from the different voices of Scripture help us better understand who Jesus is. And the collective image also challenges our tendency to just pick one and conform God to our comfort level.
We’ve been reading through Luke’s gospel for the past number of months, which has reminded us of Jesus as champion of the poor and the oppressed, healer of the sick, and prophet to the world. As our new lectionary readings begin next week, we’ll hear Matthew’s stories of Jesus.
The author of Colossians gives us one more way of looking at Christ as Lord, king, ruler. As you consider your image of Jesus, I invite you to let it be informed by all of the other voices in Scripture as well, trusting that the chorus of voices together will help us see Jesus more clearly. In Advent, we’ll be praying, “come, Lord Jesus”. May it be so. Amen