Colossians 1:15-28 |:| A Full Bodied Faith
Calvary Baptist Church of Denver; July 17, 2016
Why do we come to worship? The answer can be found in our text for today. The hymnic structure of Colossians teaches us of the cosmic Christ. The Christ born before all things; Christ whom all things were and are created through; Christ where all order is held within; Christ who contains all powers – earthly and angelic – in His lordship. Paul reminds us we are redeemed and reconciled through Christ.
We learn from Jewish wisdom and in the language of our text today that the universe was ordered by a benevolent God, and with humanity also being created in this manner, we possess within ourselves the capacity to sense and locate the “divine order.” Paul identifies the activity of the church as completing this mission in Christ for the entire world.
This knowledge of Christ and mission of the church pushes us beyond our doors and embraces the Christian experience in proclaiming the gospel as the fruit of faith, hope and love of their community. Given that Christ is the very structure of creation, to live in accordance with his gospel is to follow the grain of the universe. Thus, living in harmony with the gospel produces good works that bear witness to the divine order of all things in heaven and on earth.
We are joined together, all of us this sanctuary, to all created through the mystery of the cosmic Christ. So with this examination of our text, why do we come to worship? We come to worship to proclaim Christ. Seems simple enough, no? It would be if we all understood Christ the same way.
In the book “ A Generous Orthodoxy” Brian McLaren recalls the seven Jesus’ he has known in his life. McLaren recalls the Conservative Protestant Jesus, Pentecostal/Charismatic Jesus, Roman Catholic Jesus, then how he understood the Eastern Orthodox Jesus, Liberal Protestant Jesus, and to the Anabaptist Jesus, and Liberation Theology Jesus.
It makes sense how McLaren has experienced seven understandings of Jesus and his teachings – when we grow in theology, are shaped by experiences, and are impacted by people in our lives our understanding of Jesus develops and shifts. I know for myself I have known the Roman Catholic Jesus, the Conservative Protestant Jesus, the Mennonite Jesus, and the Liberal Protestant Jesus – to name a few. Pieces of all of these understandings of Jesus have shaped how I engage my faith. Those of us here have a variety of understandings of Jesus.
Paul was writing to the Colossians from his understanding. In his book McLaren illustrates the complexity of proclaiming Christ, all the while reminding us the purpose of the church is to proclaim Christ, whatever that particular church understands Christ to be, it is meant to be proclaimed. That, too, can be complex, given our human need for certitude against the philosophical claim that all belief is relative and therefore subject to our individual whims or conceptions of the truth.
If we are to proclaim Christ and have varying understandings of Christ how can we come together to worship? How are we to come together as the Body of Christ when we don’t agree on all things? If I look around this country I can see how the Body of Christ is disjointed. What hope do we have to be reconciled?
According to Colossians this isn’t the first time the Body of Christ has been out of harmony. In verses 21 – 23 we learn the Colossians were estranged and hostile in mind – they were then reconciled by the Cosmic Christ. They were moved toward right relationships with early Believers through Christ. Sounds nice. Christ reconciles us and all is well, so what do we have to do … leave it to Christ and sit back?
Paul shares how his own experience has been a full body experience; recalling how he has suffered in his own flesh for the sake of proclaiming Christ and living out the gospel. Paul states how God commissions all of us to make the Word fully known, sharing the mystery has been revealed to the saints. That because Christ lives in us we are to use our full selves to live into the divine order issued by a benevolent God.
The work of the gospel includes being reconciled with ourselves to God; meaning we learn who we are. We work to learn our biases, wounds, gifts, privileges, talents. This can be hard, even painful work. Being conscious to all we are includes naming those who have harmed us, living through the cyclical emotions of healing, and moving to a place where those who harm us no longer have power over who we know ourselves to be.
The work of consciousness is a lifelong process as we continue to learn more of who we are and heal. It also means we don’t ignore or dismiss our skills or talents. The Body of Christ needs our skills and talents which can frighten us, because the spirit of God moving through us can surprise us in doing more than we could have ever imagined. Being reconciled within ourselves with God does not leave any portion of ourselves out – our full bodies are included in this journey.
Living into the divine order of a benevolent God includes pausing long enough to hear where those who disagree with us and where they are coming from. This can seem exasperatingly slow, pointless, or manipulative … perhaps that is only my experience.
If I’m being candid the work of learning how those who believe differently have come to their beliefs, and genuinely hear them, takes time because I need to listen and not be in a posture to wait to speak or wait for them to only finish. I need to hear them with the intention to understand them; that means more than one conversation. That means not limiting these conversations to a slot in my calendars but being guided by the openness of reconciliation.
It can feel pointless to me because at times I wonder why listening matters when there are people without adequate food, housing, income, or human rights. Listening can feel so trivial, but then I remember I perpetuate the “us/them” mentality that has aided the Body of Christ continuing to be disjointed when I don’t listen.
If I’m being transparent in these experiences of learning how others have come to their understandings of Jesus I have to check my motives; am I genuinely wanting to learn and find common ground OR am I waiting to prove my point and show how they are wrong?
Reconciling with other people is not easy or quick. It places our full selves on the line and takes all of you. Reconciliation does not mean we will agree fully with those we listen to; it does not mean during the process that those we hope to reconcile with will be open to dialogue; it can mean that common ground is found; and relationships replace the labels we give ourselves and others.
If it were solely up to us this work of reconciliation would not happen. As Paul reminds us it is not us who does this work, but we who continue the work with Christ. It is Christ who moves through us as the head of the Body to reconcile all of us to him and to one another.
This work is exhausting and maddening more often than not. I mean look at the world, everyday we see how terrible things are! Acts of terror, shootings of cops and civilians, people who are homeless, people controlled by addiction, a society only known by labels. In an election year that intensifies our labels this work is terribly hard but remarkably necessary.
In a society that shares information in 140 characters, through likes, shares, and follows we need to reset ourselves to engage the slow work of learning others beyond the labels we see them to be from one comment or post or conversation overheard passing through the narthex.
If we only see others as a label we miss who they are, we open ourselves to defend our fears and insecurities because labels can place us on the defensive. A benevolent God created the first of creation, the one who lived life – flesh and bones, sweat and tears – and taught us how to hear where others were coming from. Christ taught the disciples through word and deed.
Jesus didn’t ignore those who tried to prove him wrong, but spoke to them in truth and through story. When those who questioned him about his teachings he shared what it was to follow his teachings; if they didn’t want to follow he didn’t scorn them but let them on their way; if they did want to follow he shared life with them. More often than not Jesus called out injustice by bringing truth to the oppressors through questions rather than a diatribe to show how he was right.
We can learn from the full bodied faith of Jesus in ways to continue the work of the gospel. In ways to Proclaim Christ. If we don’t know who we are we miss out on the wholeness God is drawing forth from us. If we don’t work to learn how those who understand Jesus differently than us, we hear their beliefs and concerns as agendas, as opposition policy, as ignorant or pompous ideologies. Not all of us are ready for reconciliation with ourselves or others. That makes sense for this work draws out the pains and beauty in us and those we encounter.
All of this comes back to the purpose of why we worship. We worship to proclaim Christ. Fore you see the church of Jesus Christ does not exist for us. We, the Church of Jesus Christ exist for one reason: to proclaim Christ, the firstborn of all creation! This can scare some because it might sound exclusionary, but as our Colossians text enlightens us with repetitive language of all being included, and of earth and heaven taking part, we see the breadth and depth of how all of creation are included and invited into redemption through Christ.
This expansion of the baptismal formula found in Galatians 3:28 and 1 Corinthians 12:13 emphasizes worldwide community that surpasses all divisions based on ethnicity, gender, social class, or nationality. The reconciliation of the Body of Christ does not mean we erase our unique identities but rather that our differences no longer divide us but unite us in the beauty of God’s diverse image. This is possible because we are held together in the oneness of Christ.
We come to this place to worship Christ. We worship Christ because we are held together in Him, reconciled to all through Him. We leave this sanctuary to continue the gospel work of reconciliation. This is not passive work but work requiring all of ourselves – a Full Bodied Faith. Practicing the work of reconciling ourselves to God and to others. Practicing because we listen, learn, and relearn about how we are healing and being brought to right relationships with those alike and different than us.
Support each other in this work. Learn each other’s stories. Allow those around you and yourselves to be more than societal labels. Ground your life in proclaiming Christ – in worship in this sanctuary and worship beyond these walls.
Leave here today and think about who you can engage this gospel work with. It could be someone in this congregation; a neighbor; a co-worker; it could even be a member of your family. As you take this step think of all you are bringing to the conversation – how does your body feel, what is running through your mind, are you open to the conversation.
Learning about who you are when you go to make this step will aid you in the work of reconciling yourself with God. The conversation might not be fun but remember the work of the gospel will try us and frustrate us, but Christ is holding you in the power of a benevolent God.
Learn who they are and where they come from. Realize reconciliation won’t happen after one conversation, but that it is a process. That their story teaches you how Christ is working in their lives. Turn to those you trust to encourage and support you in continuing the work of gospel reconciliation.
Through it all proclaim the Jesus you have come to understand. We proclaim Jesus and trust in the reconciling power of Christ. We can’t wait for all us to agree on our understanding of Christ before we worship Him together. It is through each conversation we worship Christ and we worship Christ proclaiming Him in this diverse body of believers.
Go. Listen. Learn. Be reconciled.