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A Sermon: Who is Christ to reconcile us? Col. 1:15-23

Who is Christ to reconcile us?

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of 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.

Who is Christ to reconcile us?

17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Who is Christ to reconcile us?

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.

So what does that mean?

21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— 23 provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.  (NRSV)

Sandtown Baltimore, a neighborhood in west Baltimore, was devastated by violence, white flight, and economic down turn in the late 60s.  After the assassination of Martin Luther King, the neighborhood erupted with hysteria and crumbled shortly after.  At one time it was a neighborhood that hosted some of the best jazz and blues musicians that have ever graced the presence of this earth.  People such as Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane.  After the riots, those who had the financial means, both whites and later blacks, escaped to safer places with better schools.  Sandtown, left in this condition, quickly turned into a neighborhood where, the murder rate is double the national average, about half the children live below the poverty line, and nearly a quarter of adults are out of work.  Sandtown, that place where Freddy Gray died from a van ride to the police station.  Oh, the Lord laments over Sandtown.  Who will make things right in Sandtown?

Who are you to reconcile us?  It’s a question to ask when you’re trying to mend fences, who are you to make reconciliation?  I saw this question asked quite a lot last week.  African American friends asking, “who are you to tell me what it will take to reconcile unnecessary police brutality?”  From other friends who ask, “who are you to tell me that police lives don’t matter as much?”  “Who are you to make right the disparities and discriminations that are occurring throughout the world?”  Who are you to fix the world?  

In this morning’s passage from Colossians, we find an ancient hymn or creedal statement that has been used by Paul to show the preeminence of Christ and answers that very question, “who is Christ to reconcile us?”.  Notice how inclusive this picture is.  There isn’t one created bit of the universe that stands apart from God’s creative and redemptive work through Jesus.  How many times do you see the word all?  If you include the word everything (and you should as it is the same word for all in Greek; pas), you see it 8 times attached to Christ and how God the Almighty has worked through Christ in both the creation and redemption of the world.  Drawing from creation and redemption this hymn moves at lightning speeds to display the primacy of Jesus over all created things, even seats of earthly power such as thrones and dominions and spiritual forces such as rulers and powers.  

So I want to flesh this out a little this morning and see where that takes us.  To do that we are going to take some snap shots or snapchat versions of the biblical story so as to see what is actually happening.  

Creation

After the first days of Creation, all of creation, especially humanity, has been estranged from one another and from all of the created world.  There was a time when all was truly good and right in the world.  But then two people, our ancestors, came onto the scene.  Perhaps you know the story?  Adam and Eve, in the garden of paradise, in full communion with God and one another, chose to play God, chose autonomy over dependence upon God.  In that moment, a fracture occurred, a discrepancy, a wrong note was played, that reverberated throughout all of creation.  The land and weather no longer cooperated in the production of food.  Pain, emotional and physical, entered into the world.  

By the second generation, brother plotted against brother.  Perhaps you remember that story too?  Cain and Abel, some of Adam and Eve’s children, sought to worship the Lord by offering to God part of what they produced from their labor.  God found Abel’s offering more acceptable than Cain’s.  We don’t know exactly why but that’s what we know.  Rather than come to terms about God’s good pleasure over Abel, Cain envied Abel, became jealous of Abel.  Killed Abel.  That escalated quickly!  

Sin and death came to reign in the world, causing division between family, friends, neighbors, strangers, and all of creation.  The threat of death came to power.  For who wants to die?  So as to survive, people groups formed with promises of protection for one another so as to ensure continuation.  All the isms and phobias, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and on and on the list goes of how we are all divided from one another by fear of the other, by fear of death, by fear of violence.  The world was a mirror created to reflect back to God God’s goodness and love and that mirror has been shattered and fragmented.  

 

Who can put this picture back together?  Who can reconcile us back to God and to one another?  

 

There have been many answers to that question.  

 

Perhaps if we educate one another on how to treat one another, that will bring reconciliation?  If we learn history and hear of abuses made towards various people groups, then, THEN we will come to terms and reconcile.  Yet, some of the most sophisticated people have caused some of the greatest harm.  Education is a good, God given thing but it’s not going to bring us together.  It won’t make us less racist, homophobic, or xenophobic but it can help.    

Or maybe if counseling is made available so as to psychologically rehabilitate to each person that will bring the world together?  Yet, the rates of people who recover through counseling are abysmal.  Yet, psychology is a good and God given thing.  As Methodists, we affirm the fruits of both the hard and soft sciences.  God has endowed us with reason to understand how things work such as emotions and trauma.  Yes, it provides helpful tools for us to learn about how to speak to one another and listen to one another, but families, friendships, and marriages remain broken.  Psychology by itself won’t bring us together but it can help.  

Perhaps more money and economic prosperity would solve this dilemma.  If we advocate and work hard to sway the decision makers and the power brokers that each person should receive a salary increase, better housing, health and life insurance, then, then we will have peace with one another.  Then we shall find the sin of Adam and Eve reversed and brothers, like Cain and Abel, will no longer kill one another.  Yet, America is one of the most wealthy nations in the the ENTIRE world and we are tearing each other apart.  Working with and on the behalf of the poor is a good and God worthy thing to do, but it won’t bring the classes together.  

Perhaps, the answer is older than time and as current as the present moment, what we have is a God sized problem.

Paul writes to us that Jesus is the image of the invisible God.  The Greek word their is eikon.  Everyone say eikon.  Like an icon used in more formalized worship settings to give a visual of Jesus or of another figure of church history that will cause one to worship God.  Jesus is the icon of the invisible God.  No one has seen God almighty but we have seen Jesus in the Gospels.  If you want to know the kind of God we serve look to Jesus.  Surely, the author has in mind is the entirety of Jesus’s life but specifically points out two moments of Jesus’ life that we should know, the crucifixion and the resurrection.  

Through Jesus’ blood shed on the cross, we are told that all things (how many things), whether in heaven or on earth, all things, have been reconciled through Christ’s blood.  It is by the crucifixion that Christ is murdered, wrongfully executed by the state.  Jesus knows what it is like to be wrongfully murdered by those charged to uphold law and order.  But what gives his blood the power to reconcile the world is not the fact that he was wrongfully put to death — since Cain and Abel, innocent people have been murdered, by those who hold power, those enthroned and those with social and political power –but what gives him power is that he was raised from the dead!  Our passage tells us that Jesus was the first born from the dead, he was the first to be resurrected into new life.  

He broke the power of death, the power that has caused the world to war with itself, he demolished that power.  It was sin that put him on the cross.  It was sin that crucified him.  It was sin that fractured the relationships of Peter to Jesus and Judas to Jesus.  It was sin that warped the views of the religious leaders.  It was sin that made Pilot so weak and spineless in  the face of the people.  It was sin that roused the people into a riot to demand the death of Jesus.  Sin crucified Jesus but it could not keep him in the grave.  Death could not keep Jesus in the grave.  For through Jesus all things were created, and all things are held together in Jesus.  Jesus stands over the world in power and in might but Jesus does not stand against the world but for the world, with the world, and all that is called creation!  

Jesus, fully God, took on human flesh.  Lived amongst us.  Poor.  A beggar.  Homeless.  As a Jew living in the Roman empire, a minority.  Jesus lived on the margins of society, oppressed by the powerful.  Yet, Jesus did not only spend time with those on the margins of life but did indeed eat with the rich and powerful.  Jesus did infact eat with the religious elite, the politically savvy, the business owners, and the bank presidents.  Jesus knew what it was like to have power, authority, and prestige.  But he gave it all up, to condescend to us, to live with us and make his home.  

Jesus blurred the lines of social division and inequality.  He ate with sinners and yet did not sin.  He was hated on but did not hate in return.  He had violence performed against him but did not return violence for violence.  Who is it who can reconcile us?  The answer is older than time, it’s Jesus.  

Now you might think to yourself, “Pastor Matt, that sounds really good but this passage makes it sound as if reconciliation has already happened.  Did you see the news this week about France?  How about last week with all the shootings and bombings.  Doesn’t sound like the world is reconciled back to God to me.”  You’re right.  The world is still broken.  What is evidenced in Colossians and several other passages in the New Testament, is what’s called “already, not yet” logic.  We’ve been reconciled to God now but that has not been put into full effect yet.  It will be but not yet.  It will be when Christ returns in final victory.  God has made peace with all creation but that peace has not fully taken hold. It’s has already happened but has not yet happened.  It’s a tension we feel when we choose to forgive someone who has wronged us but still feel as if it has not yet taken hold of our lives.  

I have a friend whose step-mother kicked him out of the house on a blizzardy morning in North Dakota for seemingly no reason at all.  Luckily, by the good graces of God, he found a place to stay.  But what little meager means he had, he had to stretch further to pay rent etc..  This happened in November.  As you can imagine this strained the relationship between my friend and his father as my friend wanted nothing to do with his step-mother.  The plans to spend Christmas together were decimated.  

The holidays were at hand and so Christmas music filled the air at his work, at every shopping center, and all the classic Christmas movies played on TV nonstop.  Christmas Eve came, as my friend was at work, he heard a familiar tune.  It was Little Drummer Boy.  “I have no gift to bring, that’s fit to give to a king.  Shall I play for you, on my drum?”  It was in this song, this lyric, that God spoke to my friend.  You don’t have gifts to bring me but you could forgive your stepmom.  Play the drum of forgiveness.  Play the beat of reconciliation.  So my friend, after work was over, went to his Father’s house to tell his step-mom that he forgave her.  What a powerful moment as they were able to spend Christmas together.  But you know, my friend, still feels hate and anger from time to time towards his step-mom over that.  He already forgave her, but it has yet to take full effect.  God has reconciled the world through Jesus already but it has yet to take full effect.  

It is so because Christ is the head of the body and has chosen to use the body, that is the church, to bring about peace in the world.   Christians have been charged with carrying on this same work of reconciliation.  And friends, there is work to be done.  For where ever sin has touched this world, reconciliation must be had.  How many things did Christ reconcile?  ALL!  So no wonder we hear of the need to care for creation.  Fallen humanity has abused and used God’s good creation and it needs reconciliation.  No wonder we see different people groups at odds with each other.  No wonder there are so many friends and families struggling to hold it together.  There is work to be done.  Christ, our Lord, invites each of us to participate in this work of reconciliation.  

Partaking in communion teaches us both the posture and the words necessary to participate with Christ in this great work.   It teaches us words like forgive as we have been forgiven.  It teaches us that the work of reconciliation requires a reliance upon Jesus for wisdom and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  And this is good and right but I wonder if it might make one think that God only cares about interpersonal relationships and not bigger picture issues.  

There are many kinds of reconciliation aside from interpersonal reconciliation.  There is economic, racial, and geographic.  Earlier this week, we had the food bag distribution.  As the participants waited in line to receive their food, I had a long conversation with Sergeant Beth.  She comes to block off the parking lot and to be a presence of law and order.  New to the area, I asked her many questions.  She told me about how many of the food bags will be delivered to other people who cannot get out of their homes.  A few bags of food will be sold so as to buy beer.  She told me that not everyone who receives food is homeless.  Some who are homeless, though, do not want a home.  They prefer to live in a tent and live off the grid, not because they are troublemakers but simply do not want to be on the grid.  Questions about how can we get those persons into homes, are not good questions.  Questions about reconciliation arise out of friendships and learning about people on a first hand basis and not from top down, legislation.  It grows from the grassroots and then it can make decisions that make far sweeping changes.  

The work of racial reconciliation is not done.  The US passed the Civil Rights act in 1964 making possible fair practices for employment, voter registration, and equal treatment of all people.  Yet, this fundamental act, has not made America less racist, though it has helped.  Affirmative Action has not made America less racist, though it has helped.  I confess that I do not know what program would make America less racist but I do know that the Church, the body of Christ, who is the head, can create a space where people can become less racist.  For in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female, neither slave nor free person, but all are one in Christ.  Yes, we can fight for economic equality and racial equality but let us do it as people who have become friends with those who are marginalized by society.  There are at least two places I know where this is happening, Monday morning breakfasts and the community worship services.  In those spaces we have the opportunity to make friends with people who will teach you something about yourself and about the world.  There you will meet Jesus.  

The need for Geographic reconciliation confronts us almost daily.  We are geographically separated from one another in ways that keep us from coming to terms with other reconciling needs.  An example from overseas would be Palestine and Israel.  Christ has reconciled all things whether in heaven or on earth.  Whether here in this space (point to worship space), or in that space (point to other worship space).  Whether on this side of the train tracks or that side of the train track (point to both).  Whether on this side of 95 or that side of 95.  Whether in this country or the countries to the south or the north or the east or the west.  Jesus invites us into the work of reconciliation that work which moves people to new geographic spaces for the purpose of making peace with one another.  Jesus did not make peace by staying in Heaven.  Jesus made peace by dethroning himself and moving into the neighborhood.  

The reason I was in Sandtown, Baltimore, was because I had moved into the hood for a a teaching internship through Duke Divinity.  I was there to learn from and about two churches who worked hand in hand in Sandtown – New Born and New Song churches.  Both churches were racially diverse and doing great things for God.  These two churches do not have a formal place of worship.  Rather each congregation worships in unique locations.  New Song worships in the gym of a school they helped build.  It’s for K-8 and is one of the nicest schools you will ever see.  New Song brought Habitat to Sandtown and consequently have rehabbed over 120 homes for residents.  Without education, without a home, reconciliation will not happen.  

New Born worships in first floor of a fine arts and dance studio they helped to create.  The congregation of Newborn looked around and realized that there wasn’t any funding in public education for the fine arts, for music, for dancing, for cultural artifacts that had been long ago neglected.  So they teach many youth and adults how to dance, how sing, how to create art.  They also looked around and saw that those seeking employment couldn’t find employment with a felony on their record.  They also noticed that they were living in a food desert.  A food desert is a region of a city that doesn’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.  With a partnership with a couple of business and the city, New Song leased a city block with buildings that had fallen down, cleared it and then built hoop farms.  Each hoop row produces over two acres of vegetation.  Who did they hire and train to work these hoop farms?  Returning citizens from incarceration, those with felonies.  

The work of God has already begun in Sandtown but has not yet been fully realized.  The work of God through Jesus has already begun in R.M. but has not yet been fully realized.  The work of God through Jesus has already begun in this church but has not been fully realized.  The work of God through Jesus has already begun in your life but has not been fully realized.  I don’t know what God is saying to you this morning.  Perhaps it’s to reconcile with a family member or a friend or to go and learn how to make peace with someone different than yourself.  Or maybe you feel the nudge of the Spirit to reconcile with God?  Whatever it is, know that Jesus, who created you and holds all things together, is with you and for you and able to guide you every step of the way.  Please, do not resist this Spirit this day, but give in to the work of God.  Let’s pray.

 

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From Desert to Oasis

I was born into, raised, and ordained in the Wesleyan Church.  The Wesleyan Church is a cousin to The UMC.  It evolved out of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1843.  An abolitionist denomination, it has its theological heritage rooted in John Wesley.  I’m the third generation to go into full-time ministry.  I received my call from the Lord to ministry when I was 19.  A few weeks prior, I had given my life to the Lord.  As I was trying to explain to my at-the-time roommate all the changes I was experiencing because of Jesus, I had a moment of clarity.  In that moment, as I explained how Jesus was disrupting and rearranging my life, that I had been created for ministry.  It was a knowledge that I had long known but had forgotten.

Upon receiving the call, I applied to college, something I never thought I would do.  You see, I dropped out of High School when I was 18.  College was never on my radar.  Yet, when the Lord calls and you respond, the Lord clears the way.  I was accepted into Oklahoma Wesleyan University for their Bachelor of Arts in Pastoral Ministries.  

While in college, I acquired a thirst for learning, again, the Lord’s doing.  I love to read and learn about a variety of subjects.  Classic literature, mid-20th century history, philosophy, theology, psychology, and science are some of the subjects that fascinate me.  I “read” Ancient Greek, Hebrew, Modern Spanish and desire to learn Latin.  All of these interests in a person who once proclaimed to his youth pastor, when asked about what he wanted to do when he grew up, “I want to be a professional homeless person.”  I had no plans for the future, no dreams, no desires to stretch and grow as a person.  Thank God for God’s never failing loving kindness.  

It’s odd to think that at one point I had no desire to learn, to read, and to explore the world of ideas.  Certainly, the Lord can make the desert of life into a lush oasis.  Often we write people off as lost causes, yet God looks at those same people as brimming with possibilities.  We may see a desert but God sees a forthcoming oasis.  May we learn together to see one another as God sees each one of us.  

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Failure by Rupert Brooke

Because God put His adamantine fate

Between my sullen heart and its desire,

I swore that I would burst the Iron Gate,

Rise up, and curse Him on His throne of fire.

Earth shuddered at my crown of blasphemy,

But Love was as a flame about my feet;

Proud up the Golden Stair I strode; and beat

Photograph of author in front matter of The co...

Photograph of author in front matter of The collected poems of Rupert Brooke: With a Memoir (Second Impression, Aug 1918). Cropped to remove text and signature. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thrice on the Gate, and entered with a cry —

All the great courts were quiet in the sun,

And full of vacant echoes: moss had grown

Over the glassy pavement, and begun

To creep within the dusty council-halls.

An idle wind blew round an empty throne

And stirred the heavy curtains on the walls.

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“How often the …

“How often the priest had heard the same confession–Man was so limited: he hadn’t even the ingenuity to invent a new vice: the animals knew as much. It was for this world that Christ had died: the more evil you saw and heard about you, the greater the glory lay around the death; it was too easy to die for what was good or beautiful, for home or children or civilization–it needed a God to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt.” -Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory

Something to think

Cover of "The Power and the Glory (Pengui...

Cover via Amazon

about for this Sunday afternoon…

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June 9, 2013 · 8:39 pm

“Her heart was …

“Her heart was a secret garden and the walls were very high.” -The Princess Bride

I recently stopped dating a woman who could have said this same thing.  We connected on a variety of levels – from sex to intellect we found each other stimulating.   I have always been so trusting with people that my heart was a public garden for all to have a share.  After the past several relationship failures and losses of friendship, the walls are growing and my heart is becoming a secret.  Trusting others becomes harder and my genuine interest in others devolves into selfishly preoccupied thoughts of the present, past and future.  Surely there is a better way than me-first and high walls of distrust?!?  I know that God has more for me than that but right now I am licking my wounds in high-walled secret garden- there hangs a sign, “stay the fuck out”.

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June 8, 2013 · 10:11 pm

Living in the “hood”

Harlem
by Langston Hughes
What happens to a dream deferred?

 

      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?

 

      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.

 

      Or does it explode?
I was pointed to this poem while reading a book which is about a community and church that I am a guest of for the summer.   Mr. Hughes grasps the decay that abounds where I temporarily reside.  Decay, it’s everywhere.  From the dope dealers on the corner to the couple down the street that argues over the cost of weed, moral decay pervades.  Yet, in the midst of such decay, there is life.  Houses are rebuilt.  Struggling addicts, like myself, find needed help and support.  There are cracks in the sidewalks and flowers grow between them.

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Bourbon Night.

Bourbon Night.

The beginning of a bourbon crew always starts with friends desiring to know the mysterious ways of bourbon and a minimum of three bourbons to sample.

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May 27, 2013 · 5:15 pm