Grace and Peace from the Mystery in whom we live and move and have our being.
That’s how our Brother Jim greets us weekly. This greeting is embedded in the Hebrew tradition. It was critical in the commitment to reach out beyond the Jewish Christians to the rest of us. And it sustains us today as we grow into effective servants of the gospel.
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation… in him all things hold together.”Colossians 1:15-23
So, where does this passage touch me?
- First of all: In my world, this kind of language seems so big, so extensive, and so out there that it is almost too much to believe.
- And secondly: I need to believe this, especially at this time.
The invisible God
The statement, “Christ is the image of the invisible God” – that’s something we can maybe handle. We can put that on our coffee mugs and tee shirts, and even in our movies. That part maybe we can handle.
But the rest of it is harder to easily take in:
- “Everything that was created was created in him” (or “by” him, as some translations show).
- This includes “all things,” whether we can see them or not; and even includes governments and ruling powers.
- Christ is held out as being “before all things.”
- And then the passage suggests that in Christ “all things hold together”!
Really? In the halls of our seminaries, this is what you might call a “big Christology”!
What’s going on here with the Colossians? A little background: According to the best biblical scholarship out there, this epistle was written somewhere around the year 80. It was written about 50 years after Jesus’ life, ministry, execution, and resurrection. The earliest of our four Gospels was the Gospel According to Mark, written around 70 A.D. Our other three Gospels were written between 80 and 110 A.D.
Why is this important?
Why is this important? Because in those years before this, people knew about Jesus, and the believing communities had become a growing reality:
- They had already established that the “followers of the Way” could include both Jews and Gentiles.
- They were already struggling with whether or not they could or should put restrictive requirements on insiders vs. outsiders in their faith communities.
- They already knew, and had passed on by word of mouth, and dozens of writing fragments (which did not make it into our Bible) the life and message of Jesus.
- And, they lived under the dominion of the Roman Empire’s imperial theology that proclaimed that the emperor was the Son of God, Lord, Savior of the World, and the one who had brought peace on earth. This is the context of their reality.
Into this world, the early writers in the faith proclaim something quite to the contrary:
- Jesus, not the emperor, is the Son of God, Lord and Savior. God, as revealed in Jesus, was Lord, and the emperor was not!
- In this context, St. Paul’s most concise affirmation about Jesus was “Jesus is Lord.”
- And to teach that was high treason. It is not surprising that Paul, like Jesus, was eventually executed.
In Christ all things hold together
Into this environment, the words to the believers are heard: In Christ all things hold together. Really? It must have been tough to believe that then too, don’t you think?
Further, I can’t imagine that the Apostle Paul, in his wildest imagination, anticipated that his letter to these believers in Colossae (modern Turkey) would be read by us 2000 years later!
Seeing the big picture
Today, our world view has expanded a bit since then. Our “big picture” has continued to grow. Even the brilliant Apostle Paul did not likely comprehend the vastness of space, or space travel. As my friend, Jim, an astrophysicist who worked on the James Webb Space Telescope helps me understand:
- There are more stars in our single galaxy than there are human beings who have ever lived on the face of this earth in all of its history.
- There are more galaxies in our universe than there are stars in our single galaxy.
- Our galaxy is only one of billions of galaxies in the universe.
- And now, we are talking about the “multiverse” – more than one universe.
As a teenager, I attended a good Lutheran church in North Hollywood, California. And I was introduced to a little book written by J. B. Philips – Your God is Too Small. As I have learned every year since – clearly, he was right. Our understanding of God continues to expand, as our understanding of “all that we can see” continues to expand.
The need to believe
In the last few weeks, I have become aware of how much I want and need to believe that “in Christ, all things hold together”:
- Every morning I am reminded of the countless examples of the brokenness of our country and our world.
- As neighbors on this spinning little globe, we seem unable to find and choose the “reconciling” paths that sustainably embrace all of us.
- I am increasingly aware of the difficulty we have in “following the Way” of Jesus as we live and move and experience life. (As Anne Lamott recently wrote in the New York Times: “I pray to remember that God loves Marjorie Taylor Greene exactly the same as God loves my grandson, because God loves, period. God does not have an app for ‘Not Love.’ God sees beyond each person’s awfulness to each person’s needs.”)
- And lately, I have been feeling so deeply the pain and loss of the health and vitality of close friends who are fighting for their lives.
I need to hear…really need to hear and trust these good, bold, hope-filled words:
- In Christ, all things…visible and invisible…all powers that seem at times to overshadow the mercy and love of God…
- all things are held together because of Christ.
- God was pleased to have his fullness dwell in Christ.
- And through Christ, we have been reconciled to God.
holding on to bold promises
Is this easy to hold on to? “Easy” is probably not the right word. I think I need to ask, “HOW can I hold on to these bold promises?”
Listen to the message: Yes, you can do this – “…if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.”
So, again today, we gather around our ZOOM table, to re-member ourselves as Christ’s body, in Christ’s compassion for each other and our world.
As the early Christians gathered to support each other, shared their table of food and drink, and remembered the new covenant promise in Christ’s body and blood for forgiveness, and reconciliation of all things…
They, with us, heard these words: “In Christ all things hold together.” I want to believe that. I “need” to believe that! And with God’s grace, if we can hold each other together, with patient expectation and prayer, we just might be able to join St. Paul as servants of this gospel.
Trust in the slow work of God
I close with a prayer from the great theologian/scientist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin:
Wednesday Respite is a 30-min contemplative service of scripture, prayer, music and a Spirited Touchpoint by Spirit in the Desert guest speaker, Paul Evenson.
Touchpoint is a reflection on where God’s story touches our life story. It is a short homily based on a biblical story of people in the Old and New Testaments and their relationship with God. Our spiritual ancestors’ experience of God’s grace connects with our lives in the present and our relationship with the Divine. Previous Touchpoints are available as PDFs or on SoundCloud