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Sermon for Ordinary Time, Colossians 1:1-20
Today we begin a short series on Colossians, which will take us through to the end of August. There is much that can and should be said about Colossians, to me one of the most compelling, overwhelming, and even mystical books in the scriptures. In it, St. Paul seeks to teach and explain the mystery of Jesus Christ, his incarnation, his work on the cross and in the resurrection. He begins with a worshipful, even liturgical expression of Christ as the wisdom of God, and the very person of God united to humanity.
All of this was to specific people in a specific place, of course. Paul wrote letters to address particular problems that the various churches were facing. Paul begins very differently from our last letter, Galatians, because here he begins by praising the Colossians for the height of Christian virtues: “we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.” Faith, hope, and love.
But they were dealing with a specific problem, which is clearly alluded to in what follows the praise for the Colossian believers. In vss. 9-10, we read: “For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.” The issue with the Colossian church has to do with this idea of “knowledge, wisdom, understanding,” and the life that the right (and wrong) knowledge leads to. The Colossians seemed to be facing a philosophy that had come in that was teaching principles that contradicted the reality of the gospel, and that led to lives of undue self-denial, worship of angels, and interest in the elemental powers that supposedly rule the world.
This was, obviously, a very different world than ours! These ideas seeping in we can’t understand as “philosophy” the way think of it, as purely academic; to them, philosophy, the pursuit of wisdom, was a life-embracing ideology. And here, Paul counters this arcane philosophy by making clear to the Colossians who Jesus Christ is, and that is this: Jesus Christ is the creator of all things and the end of all things.
That sounds simple, but it is not. Paul tells them he prays for them, they who have been promised the inheritance of Christ, who have been rescued by God from darkness and transferred into the kingdom of his Son, who won for us redemption and forgiveness of sins.
More importantly, Paul then makes sure they know, no human philosophy can usurp the truth of the gospel in Jesus Christ. Paul flows from here into what is widely acknowledged to be an early hymn or perhaps liturgical quote. How is our redemption, our forgiveness, our transference into the kingdom of light achieved?
By the God who became man in Jesus Christ. Paul, in vss. 15-20, is caught up in the mystery of Jesus Christ, telling the people of Colossae, and us, that he is truly the creator, the wisdom of God, the very image of God, and the one who reconciles, unites not just all people, but all things to God. And he, the one who created all things, is the one by whom all things will be re-created.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;
We are made in the image of God, he is. Firstborn is the one who receives the inheritance, in this case, all creation.
16 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.
Christ is here associated with wisdom, which in the ancient Hebrew texts both Scripture and otherwise, the agent of creation. God’s wisdom. And all that is, that we are, that exists, was created by him and exists for him.
17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
How can we begin to understand? All things hold together, only by Christ. He, the one who was and is a man, a human male, Jewish, from the 1st century, is also the eternal God the Son, who if he chose in an instant all things would cease to exist, fall into oblivion.
18 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. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 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.
All things. Of course, the height being us image bearers of God; but consider the great expanse of the universe, and that all of it, all of it is reconciled to God, by what? By the blood of the cross, the blood of the eternal God united to human flesh, the only holy humanity and his blood being spilled in the ultimate act of self-giving for the blessing and benefit of others.
This is the Gospel. Jesus Christ, the only true human, who is the incarnate God, has taken us from darkness into light, from the deep blackness of the abyss, to the light of the stars and sun that grace the face of our world. And that is in what we must trust, that the very one who created all things, and without whom all things cease to exist, has done what is needed for us to enter the presence of God, and to receive from him grace and peace. Trust in the God revealed in Christ, for this is the ultimate truth, the ultimate reality, and Jesus is our hope in the new creation where all pain and evil ends.
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