Lectionary Reflection: Colossians 1: 11-20 Get Out of Yourself

            There are two points here that Paul makes, and they are summed up in verse nineteen and twenty:    19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (NIV)  And what that means is Jesus is God  (Jesus is Lord) – the fullness of God dwelling in him.  Paul speaks of him as both creator and sustainer of us and all things.  And it means that God himself came to us and became human, or as we say at Christmastime, the Word became flesh, and he was perfectly happy to reconcile us to himself, to redeem us, to forgive our sins, to make peace with us by the shedding of his blood on the cross.  Jesus, God came to us so whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  Nothing else is needed.

 

            The city of Colosse was in the Roman province of Asia, now modern Turkey, roughly 125 miles from Ephesus where Paul was known to preach.  It was near the cities of Hierapolis and Leodicea.  Originally, it grew into a great city, being on the old main Highway, the main trade route through the area.  But by the time Paul wrote his letter, it was shrinking in size and importance, because when the Romans built their interstate, they went through Hierapolis and Leodicea and bypassed Colosse altogether.  I am sure many communities in America can relate.

            Now, the story is a man named Epaphrus, whom Paul calls a dear fellow servant, went to Ephesus, heard Paul preaching, and was converted.  He then took the gospel back home, to Colosse, and founded a church.  But the people of Colosse were typical people of their times, even as we are typical people of our times, and this business about Jesus was all so radical and new, it was not hard to get sidetracked and import ideas from the culture around.  Underline that: the people of Colosse were polluting the gospel by importing ideas from the culture around them.  Paul does not list the errors the Colossians got into, but he infers they were worshiping more than just Jesus, worshiping Angels or Spirits and they were looking for redemption in more than just Jesus – looking to be reconciled to God Almighty through a combination of many things, Christianity and other things mixed in.  Paul says, no.

            In Jesus is the fullness of God.  He not only made everything and sustains everything, but everything was made for him.  Jesus alone in the firstborn and head of the Church – the head of you and me.  Jesus is unique in all of space and time, and he does, and has done, all that is needful for our redemption and reconciliation – to make peace with God.

            So, give up Ramadan and the Hadj and praying so many times per day as if there is some way to earn Heaven.  Speaking for myself, any God who will bless with Heaven a person who blows themselves up an takes a bunch of otherwise innocent lives with them is not the sort of God I want anything to do with.  So give up worrying about what you shall eat and what you shall wear, and keeping all those festivals and rituals and being Pharisaically correct, or as we call it these days, politically correct.  Forget all that stuff.  You are already covered.  And give up worrying about Nirvanah and keeping the eight-fold path, or any other path.  A life full of even extraordinary good works will never come close to heaven.  You can’t get there from here.  In this world, broken by sin, nothing we say or do will ever be good enough or pure enough or righteous enough to get us to Heaven, and God knows this.  That is why God came to us instead, and did it all for us in Jesus.

             God himself came to us and became human, or as we say at Christmastime, the Word became flesh, and he was perfectly happy to reconcile us to himself, to redeem us, to forgive us our sins, our brokenness, to make peace with us by the shedding of his blood on the cross.  Jesus, God came to us so whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  Nothing and no one else is needed.

 

            I imagine most of you are aware that November 22nd 2013 was the 50th anniversary of the death of John F. Kennedy.  I don’t suppose that most of you are aware that November 22nd 2013 was also the 50th anniversary of the death of another Great man: C S. Lewis.  some of you may have read some of his works, like the Narnia series, the Screwtape Letters, and possibly Mere Christianity.  He was, in the end, a great man and a great defender of the faith; but you may not know that when he came out of the trenches after World War I, he was an avowed atheist.  He reasoned that it was impossible to reconcile a benevolent God with the cruelty of nature.  Fortunately for us all, he did not stop reasoning.

            In time, he began to see something else in nature, something he could not explain by science or theories or reason itself.  He saw beauty, awe inspiring beauty, and he saw it as a universal human capacity that defied explanation.  One could step out into a fied at night and see the stars laid out, glorious, like a blanket in the sky.  One could drive through the back roads in the fall and see the trees changed in so many colors to reflect the beauty of the sunset.  There was no reason for it.  the appreciation of beauty in nature, the ability to be awed and inspired and no practical benefit whatsoever.  It did not improve natural selection.  It did not square with the notion of a random, irrational universe.  And he concluded it could only be a gift.

            On further reflection, he realized reason itself – our ability to think and understand – also could  not be explained in a random, irrational universe.  It would be like trying to build bricks out of water.  You can go to the ocean, but no matter how much water you use, you are never going to come up with bricks.  With his mind sufficiently open to inquiry, he reasoned that reason could only exist in a reasonable universe, and that suggested something outside of himself, something bigger than himself that he maybe ought to pay attention to.  And it suggested creation by design.  Nothing else made sense.

            The idea that human beings, creatures of enormous complexity, could have come from simple single celled animals made no sense to him.  Reality and Nature work the other way around, forever simplifying, headed toward entropy.  It is the complex in the universe that is made simpler.  The copy cannot be greater than the original.  Again, design made sense; but then Lewis thought the idea of design and a designer should spur scientific inquiry, not the other way around the way some people speak these days.  Without design, without a designer, why should there be any laws in nature at all?  When a discovery is made in a lab, and a scientist decides something is true, in a random, accidental, irrational universe, what is there to believe that same fact will be true tomorrow?  Sir Isaac Newton understood this when he suggested the laws of motion and gravity he discovered were like looking into the mind of God.

            Some people these days say the Laws of Nature alone can explain all things without having to refer to a designer.  When the cue ball hits the rack, the laws of motion fully explain the transfer of energy and the movement of the other balls.  But what science cannot explain is how the cue ball starts moving in the first place.  Lewis understood it takes a person with a cue in their hands to get things going.

            All of this, Paul summed up when he wrote: 15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together  Paul had no reservations about understanding that God, that Jesus designed all things, from complex human beings to the Laws of Nature, and not only creation, but Jesus holds it all together so that what the scientist discovers today will also be true tomorrow. 

            Jesus, Paul says, is the one in whom the fullness of God dwells, and we can see him and know him by the eyewitness accounts we have in the scriptures.  He is the one who came for us, to make peace with us and with all things.  And it makes perfect sense if our minds are open enough to realize there is something, or rather, someone outside of ourselves who is bigger than we are, who we ought to be paying attention to.

 

            There was one more thing Lewis believed pointed directly to the Creator.  It was morality, which people fifty years ago still believed in, even if they were mixed on the idea of keeping the moral code.  These days, people are more inclined to sneer and attack and ridicule others just for bringing it up.  Who are you to impose your morality on others, they say, as if there is more than one moral code.  Social conventions differ.  Cultural norms differ.  Religious traditions differ.  But morality is the same in every place on earth and has been the same throughout history.  It is well summed up in phrases like, thou shall not kill, thou shall not steal, thou shall not bear false witness, honor your mother and father, and so on.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, or as Confucius said, do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you.  And where does this universal moral code come from?  For Lewis, the answer was obvious.

            Even those who these days sneer out of ignorance at the whole idea of morality, they still, invariably have an idea of fairness.  People know that life is not fair, and believe it ought to be.  One thing to say in favor of Obamacare is it was meant to make things more fair.  Without reference to the full moral code, specifically, thou shal not steal, thou shall not bear false witness, and depending on whether or not we end up with so-called “death panels,” thou shall not kill and honor thy mother and father may go by the wayside.  On the fairness test, Obamacare fails miserably, but I accept that the intentions were honorable – to make life more fair.  Curiously, the Affordable Care Act was written by progressives, secularists, communists and atheists, but they all had some idea of what might make life more fair.  Again, Lewis asks where this universal idea comes from?  He answers that it can only have been built into the design. 

            That Jesus is the Creator and sustainer of all things makes sense.  That he is also the head of the church, the firstborn, the decider of what is right, good and true, the decider of life and death, the decider of our purpose, individually and as a church also makes sense.  But to see that, you have to open your mind enough to believe that there is something outside of yourself, someone bigger than yourself who is worth paying attention to.  Jesus, the fullness of God, came to us where we had no ability to go to him.  He came to us to reconcile us and all creation through us to himself.  That is a simple enough idea.  I don’t know why some people have to insist that the Bible is complicated and hard to understand.  Here is another simple idea.  That whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 

            The Colossians needed to be reminded that the one who designed us and sustains us is also the one who redeemed us by his blood on the cross.  The one who was born in a manger for all to see, was raised up on the third day and showed himself to may eyewitnesses.  No one else and nothing else is needed for any reason.  The deed is done.  The position is filled.  No other prophet or charlatan or deceiver or spirit or Angel need apply.

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