Sermon July 21, 2019
July 21, 2019/ Sixth Sunday after Pentecost /Richard E. Holmer
First Lesson: Genesis 18:1-10a /Second Reading: Colossians 1:15-28/Gospel: Luke 10:38-42
On the Mount of Transfiguration, the disciples Peter, James and John had a remarkable experience. In dramatic fashion it was made known to them that Jesus was more than a former carpenter from Nazareth, more than a charismatic teacher. As Jesus prayed, his face and his garments began to shine with an otherworldly light. Then out of nowhere, Moses and Elijah appear and are conversing with Jesus. A cloud descends, cloaking the mountaintop in mystery – and out of that cloud comes the voice of God, saying, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!” The disciples were bowled over with astonishment. It was now apparent to those disciples that this Jesus, who called them to follow, was God’s own son – full of divine power and authority.
In a different way, today’s reading from Colossians serves the same purpose. In these verses, St. Paul uses the power of language to present the cosmic reality of Jesus, the Christ. Jesus, who was fully human, is also revealed to be full of the majesty and greatness of God. Paul employs all the superlatives at his disposal to portray the magnificence of Jesus, the Son of God. Listen again to the dozen phrases Paul uses to describe out Lord and Savior:
“He is the image of the invisible God” – the best picture we have of God.
“The firstborn of all creation” – before anything else existed, Christ was present.
“In him all things were created” – Christ is the Word God spoke which brought the universe into being out of nothing.
“All things were created through him and for him” – He is not only the source, he is the purpose, the goal of creation.
“He is before all things” – Jesus is absolutely unprecedented!
“In him all things hold together” – the existential glue of reality – more on this later.
“He is the head of the Body, the Church” – as the head directs the body, so Christ leads the church.
“He is the firstborn of the dead” – He tasted death – but death could not hold him.
“He has first place in everything” – There is really only one Number #1!
“In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” – not 50% human/50% God – but 100% and 100%
“Through him God reconciled to himself all things” – Christ bridges the gap between God and the world.
“He made peace through the blood of his cross” – Christ saves not by force, but by surrendering his life.
Pause for a moment to consider the magnitude of what Paul is saying: Jesus is the very source and meaning of life! These are colossal and cosmic claims to make about the man who was born to his mother, Mary, in a stable. We ought to be as astonished as the disciples were on the Mount of Transfiguration.
Along with being a profound theological statement, Paul’s words are implicitly a political statement as well. Christ’s absolute authority presents a challenge to the authority of Caesar and the Roman Empire. Christ’s realm far exceeds the boundaries of that empire – encompassing the entire universe. His status of having first place in everything commands ultimate allegiance. Christ does what no worldly leader would ever dare to do: he always speaks the truth – because he is the truth. This cosmic Lord of all comes in humility to serve, to sacrifice, to suffer and to die – all for the sake of an undeserving world. He is the Lord who does not lord it over others, instead seeking to bless and to redeem them.
This Christ is the living focus of our faith. In his divine personhood, the grandeur, and also the paradox, of the gospel are made fully known. He is the alpha and omega: our beginning and our ultimate destiny. We never cease giving thanks for his unique work on our behalf. Of all the phrases Paul uses to describe the glorious nature of Christ, one that sticks with me is: “in him all things hold together.” Consider what Paul is suggesting. Christ is the divine energy that holds all things together. Jesus is life’s existential glue.
At times we wonder why the world is such a mess, why things don’t work better. Actually, it’s a wonder that this world hasn’t come completely unglued. It’s amazing that it works as well as it does – given the human resources God has to work with.
It’s the same with the Church: we might ask, Why can’t the Church be more, do more? We might ask instead: how has the Church made it this far? How is it that all of us bothered to show up here this morning? It’s no small thing! Without Christ, the whole church would have collapsed and disappeared a long time ago.
The same thing goes for my life. Christ is the source of my life. It is Christ who gives me meaning and purpose and direction. Without Christ, what could I hope for? Where would love and mercy come from? To what or to whom would I belong?
Christ holds things together by helping us to make sense of things. In a chaotic and confusing world, Christ provides a solid place to stand, and a means to determine what matters – and what does not. Through him I can make sense out of: both life and death, suffering and blessing, of the need for both justice and mercy (and the balance between them), of the reality of sin and of forgiveness, of the necessity of law and the blessing of grace.
I’ve been preaching for 40 years, and I sense what I imagine Paul felt: I can never say enough about the goodness and greatness of Jesus. As persons of faith, we keep returning to the endless, inexhaustible and gracious mystery – what Paul refers to as “the mystery of Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Does that notion send a tingle down your spine? Perhaps give you goose bumps? We’re not talking about small potatoes – we’re talking about what’s most wonderful, most beautiful, most powerful, most transcendent, what matters above all else: This supreme God of the universe chooses to live in your heart and mine – providing us with the hope of eternal glory.
This is a lot to absorb – yet when we take it all in – it transforms our lives. A close reading of the bible reveals how the understanding and recognition of Christ evolved over time. It’s a whole lot to comprehend all at once. It took the early church some time to fully comprehend what God was doing in and through his Son. In the same way, our faith and understanding keep growing. As St. Paul himself said: “Now I understand in part. Then I shall understand fully – even as I have been fully understood.”
The good word to us is this: Trust God, relax, and keep growing in faith, hope and love. We are never done coming to know and love the fullness of Christ – not now, not even when we arrive in heaven.
Thanks be to God.