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Sermon for Ordinary Time, Colossians 1:21-29
Estrangement, is a terrible experience. We have had estrangement from family, from friends. We humans are such deeply relational creatures, that estrangement from those important to us is one of the most emotionally and mentally damaging things in the world. I think this is because in our relationships, we are formed, to some degree made who we are. Estrangement, then, tears a part of who we are away from us, leaving scars and wounds in its wake.
When Paul speaks to the Colossians, he is emphasizing the work of God in Christ to reconcile the cosmos through the work of Christ. This idea of estrangement, or alienation, then, is an apt one; those who are not in Christ are estranged, hostile to the God who made them. Without even knowing it consciously much of the time, they, or rather we all, being made in God’s image, have deep within us the identity of a relationship with God. Our identities are God-shaped more than by any other relation to any other being in life that we have. And because of sin, the alien, destructive nihilism of sin, we are estranged to God, even hostile.
That is the power and significance of the cross, that in his death Christ healed the rift, and in his resurrection killed death. Christ set us free, Paul tells the Colossians and us, so that we may be made holy, which in this context means to be reconciled to God, healing the rift. And by healing that rift, our relationship to God made whole, we too are made whole.
This doesn’t mean all people who do not believe in Christ are evil, or don’t do good in the world, according to human standards; but alienated from God, we do everything for the wrong reason. The only truly good reason to do anything is towards the end of loving God. It is our love of God that is meant to generate our love of neighbor, as we all seek the face of God together. Jesus Christ, who is the wisdom of God who created all things and to whom all things will return, is the cause of and purpose or goal of all things. Reconciliation to God, then, restores in us who we are meant to be, and what we then do is directed where it should be, towards God. As long as we continue in faith, we are in Christ, moving towards the end of all creation, healing, wholeness, and completion.
Paul poured himself out for the master of God revealed in Jesus Christ. He believed that God would accomplish what he had promised and revealed, and he gave of himself even unto his eventual death to tell as many people as he could. He was “completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” Paul, a servant of God and dedicated to the growth and health of the Church, is not adding something to Christ’s sacrifice, but rather is expressing that he is sharing in Christ’s afflictions; as Jesus said, to follow him means picking up our cross to do so. But in these sufferings Paul can rejoice, not because he is a masochist, not because he enjoys suffering, but because he knows that all suffering is but for a time, and is but a part of our feeble lives, but cannot keep us from God nor will have the final say. All suffering will end, because of what was revealed in Christ. That is this: We have been reconciled to God through Christ and will be restored into a new creation.
The estrangement we had to God so mars humanity that it effected everything else. As a result, we are estranged to each other, from the creation, and even alienated from ourselves. We don’t know who we are, what we are meant to be, and so we struggle to create an identity for ourselves, creating ourselves, when the wisdom of God, as Paul would put it, is that we cannot succeed in self-creation; we were made for God, and only find ourselves in God.
The mystery is this: Christ in you, the hope of glory. So succinctly and poignantly Paul puts it here, drawing together where we are and where we are going, who we are, and who we will be. Christ in you is the object of faith: by faith we are united, by a real spiritual union, with the living God in Jesus Christ, and therefore were crucified with him but also purified by him. That is who we are.
But the work of God in each of us is not done. Christ is in you, which is the hope of glory. This is the object of our hope: because we are in Christ by faith, so also will we be given glory in Christ, and brought into the very glory of God. It is not a vain or wishful “hope,” but rather a confidence in what God is doing in and for us that is generated by our faith. Because we are in Christ, we trust that God will complete what he has begun and bring us to total completion, wholeness, healing, and rest.
Estrangement, or alienation, is not what we were made for. But all estrangement has its root in the brokenness of sin, and finds resolution by faith in the work of Christ to die in order to bring to an end the rule of sin. Broken relationships with family or friends; divorce; exile; war; gossip; hatred of others; and yes, even our self-estrangement, our brokenness within that causes depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, anger, and despair; all of this is not ultimate, and not the way we were meant to be. All of it was crucified with Christ on the cross. Right now, we still face these things, and must live with the brokenness, but by our faith Christ begins to heal us, and as our hope, we know that he will complete that work, on that day when all that suffering will end.
That is why Paul was willing to suffer, to rejoice in suffering, for the Colossians. That is the wisdom of God that no human wisdom can possibly compare to. That is the promise, received now by faith and completed in the future. Hold onto it. As Paul says, “continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard,” so that the work of God can even now be at work within you, and be brought to completion when the time is right, to the glory of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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