Colossians 1:11-20 and an Excerpt from To be of use by Marge Piercy
November 20th, 2022 10:30 a.m.
Reign of Christ Sunday
By Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche
Good morning again on what it is in our tradition Reign of Christ Sunday which means we are approaching the end of the liturgical year and so next week is the beginning of a new cycle and in our Christian tradition Advent is the beginning of the new year, a new season in our calendar. So thank you for being here today for yourself, for one another and for the Divine. I invite you to let yourself arrive a bit more fully and if you are moved, to take a few deep breaths, knowing that our Greater Love finds its way to our hearts, however we gather.
Join me as you are moved as we pray together the preachers’ prayer from Psalm 19.
Gracious God, let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, our Rock, and our Redeemer Amen.
It’s really pieces of an argument. That’s what we have for our scripture today and it felt just right for the weekend before Thanksgiving as many will gather around tables of all kinds with people of all kinds to eat and drink and share stories and try not to disagree over things that don’t really matter.
So how perfect today that we get to dive into this. We see mostly just one side of this discussion here of course, but we can quite easily sort through what Paul is responding to. He is on the defensive and making his case, trying to challenge some of the way the new community was thinking about what might be possible for God and what mattered to them in the life of Jesus.
So he writes to them in the hope of getting them to see things the way he does, “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Spirit, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints of light…”
These lines are the beginning of what is called the Hymn of Colossians. And some see this text as extremely significant because of its list of profound theological statements. Some even believe it to be all of Christian scripture summed up in a few lines. We read of everything from the idea that Christ is The image of the invisible God and also that Christ is first in all creation and on the statements go and that you can see them listed in that Colossians text.
As Chelsea Harmon writes, “This hymn is a summary of the entire Scripture narrative- built on what we have heard described as the “bedrocks of praise” in Scripture: God’s creating power and God’s working of salvation…” She says, “It’s everything.”
This letter is believed to be written by Paul and maybe others and it is addressed to a congregation that had not met in person. Now I thought that was funny since it is only kind of new that we are gathering in person again after the pandemic.
But they are trying to understand and integrate what was and is to be the heart of Jesus’ teachings and they weren’t in agreement about a lot of things, but here we see the disagreement specifically around Christology. Does anybody remember what that term means? It’s sort of a fancy way of talking about the ratio of Jesus’ Divinity. Was he like just a little bit God and mostly human? Or was he like mostly human and with a sprinkle of God, as if super connected to the Source? Or was he basically something like God, a presence who pushed through to another realm and took on the flesh outfit of a boy from Nazareth?
To those swimming in the philosophy Gnosticism especially, they were a tad stuck because that school of thought contended that God cannot take on material form. But Paul as you see here, is adamant, arguing that Jesus is a manifestation of God, not like God, but God in the flesh… He says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation…”
As scholar Neta Pringle wrote, “Paul’s letters are not just an academic treatise, but words and ideas spoken to the problems of real churches with real people struggling to understand a faith newly embraced.” She goes on, “when confronted with new ideas and new world constructs, the temptation is to take the unfamiliar and fit it into an existing worldview…”
Let me say that again because I think it’s important for us, for over two thousand years ago and for those of us here now too. “When confronted with new ideas and new world constructs, the temptation is to take the unfamiliar and fit it into an existing worldview…”
Now our temptation is not to make space for the new idea, rather to make the new thing like the existing thing. Are you with me? The new idea or new perspective or the new paradigm makes sense within our already existing mental maps, if it doesn’t fit our already constructed categories, we struggle. And the way that usually happens, at first is we try to force it to fit but it doesn’t.
And I have seen this happen, not just with ideas, but also with people. I have had the painful experience and maybe you have too. Just like the new idea, the new person can only make sense to the group if the group tries to shape them into the existing formation and even if the contortion might cause pain. So where instead of being welcomed as another layer or a gift, the one who challenges the way of thinking or doing, or idea the one whose presence confounds us is only invited in with the hope of making them and shaping them into what is more comfortable. And when that doesn’t work, the person is mocked or shamed or their reputation harmed and they are cut out entirely. Or in Jesus’ case, he was killed.
But as much as not welcoming those new ideas, those new world constructs, that which is unfamiliar and challenges us, as much as that is easy for us to do, I wonder if part of the whole point of the Jesus way, the Jesus story, is to be willing to welcome the unfamiliar?
What I mean is that what if that was part of what he was after here because his whole existence, he was who he was in spite of the system around him, being love and light even when that was unfamiliar to the shadows in which he moved, refusing to conform to the pain and exploitation he encountered, even when his compassion was unfamiliar. What if part of the whole point of the Jesus way is about being able to be moved, changed, transformed by new and unfamiliar ideas, new and unfamiliar constructs, new and unfamiliar people?
What if we are made strong enough to be lifted higher and brought deeper by other ways of thinking?
I ask this now on this week known for heated conversation over cranberries and turkey and also because many Americans and specifically many Christians even, are involved in the effort to ban books from schools and libraries simply because they teach history outside the whitewashed point of view. And many Americans now believe in doing their own research instead of learning, which has come to mean finding data that supports your existing point of view. And many Americans now mistake commentary for news and only tune into comfortably curated offerings, so there is never the occasion to be disquieted by another perspective, let alone the facts. I think this isn’t just sad, it is dangerous for our civic life and for our democracy, I also don’t think it is faithful.
As Walter Wink wrote in Engaging the Powers, “Jesus denounced the Domination System of his day and proclaimed the advent of the reign of God, which would transform every aspect of reality, even the social framework of existence. To this end he founded an anti-structure that provided a haven for those whose encounter with Jesus left them nowhere else to go- prostitutes, toll collectors, sinners and the landless. It bodied forth a new existence under God…” An anti-structure for all of us!
So I find myself wishing I could talk to Paul and have a seat at the table for this discussion. I find myself wondering if Jesus changed everything not because enough people were finally convinced that he was literally the image of God, but because they started to do what he did? They started to tap into the same God that he was tapped into, they started to claim their power and patience, they started to joyfully give thanks and see their connection to the saints before them?
What if what mattered then and now isn’t so much believing the same things about the world, about God, about Jesus and one another, but rather choosing to embody the welcome, the Christ, that unfamiliar space that he did, when we fear doesn’t fit or doesn’t have a place somewhere else?
In the words of scholar Elizabeth Barrington Forney, “It is not enough simply to disengage from the hierarchies and idolatries to which we often find ourselves subject. The call of the Christian life is to seek to transform those systems so that they emulate grace, mercy, and compassion we experience in the Kin-dom of God.”
What if part of the whole point of the Jesus way is knowing we are made strong enough to be able to be moved, changed, transformed by new and unfamiliar ideas, new and unfamiliar constructs, new and unfamiliar people? Not just so we don’t become conformed to the domination systems around us, but also so that we transform the systems themselves. Jumping into the work headfirst. Submerging ourselves in the task. May it be so. Amen.
© Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche