Sermon VI Pentecost July 21 2019
It’s so nice to be back in the pulpit! As nice as it was having spent the last couple of Sundays in the pew, it is good to be presiding over the liturgy again. That said, when one is able to simply let another priest lead the service, certain aspects of Sunday worship really do come alive. Last week, for example, I was especially mindful of the epistle reading; the beginning to the Letter to the Colossians. In the final piece from last week’s lesson, a reader or listener can enjoy the Apostle’s warmth as he reached out to that ancient community. As a pastor, in hearing those words my heart was cast to my own congregation, and as Paul wrote, finding myself “praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”
That pastoral affection is actually a major feature of the letter to the Colossians, and it is one the many reasons it is my favorite of Paul’s letters. Interestingly, we don’t read of much controversy and Paul does not appear to be in the mood to give much correction. Rather, we read a letter of encouragement and exhortation that was meant to be read at Colossae and sent around to surrounding churches. That’s why this letter is often called an “encyclical.”
Today’s lesson contains one of the most important aspects of this letter, and indeed one of the most important aspects of any early Christian writing. This morning we read what many New Testament scholars describe as an early Christological hymn; a text that may have been adapted from early Christian hymnody, a text that certainly has the ring of many early creedal statements. And Paul was using this both doxologically, that is, in order to praise and glorify God in Christ, and to remind the Colossians and their neighbors of the primacy of Christ. Listen again carefully to the first section of this text, allowing it to refresh your own conceptions of Our Lord:
Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 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. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 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. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 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.
Listening carefully, we might be impressed to hear that even within a generation of Christ’s ascension, the Apostolic teaching reveals that Jesus was much more than a solid bro with some great teaching. It is not idly that Paul, a pharisee of pharisees from the tribe of Benjamin would say that the fullness of God dwelled in the person of Jesus, and that the entire universe, once addled by the effects of human transgression, would be reconciled to its Creator through Jesus. In theology, we call this a “high” Christology, in the sense that as doctrine, Paul’s understanding of Christ is not just as good guy (even though he was), and that his work has truly universal significance and importance.
But notice that Paul doesn’t end his ode there. Rather, he described Christ’s reconciliation of all things in personal terms, as an end to hostility between God and humans, and between humans and humans. In Christ, the believer finds true and lasting peace, a security in him that allows the Christian to stand before God as a friend and not as a stranger. Christ is first, and deserves our adoration worship as firstborn from the dead, firstfruits of the resurrection, as he invites us into his own person, work, and proclamation. As our lesson concluded this morning, that reality is where Paul found himself as one sent to a world in need of Good News, News that a couple of milennia hence, this world still needs to hear.
So, you might be saying, “welcome back Father, we’re glad you’re back and all, but what’s with all the high-Christology talk?” What are we supposed to do with that? I think we find the answer in today’s Gospel reading as recorded by Luke. Recall this familiar text, wherein Jesus is over at his friends’ house. One friend, Martha, is very busy with the affairs of her hospitality. So busy, in fact, that she
gets a annoyed by her sister’s apparent lack of regard for the project; her sister Mary who by contrast sits at Jesus’ feet to listen, enjoying his presence among them.Jesus responds to Martha’s complaint by saying: “there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
What I think Jesus was telling Martha, and indeed teaching us, that as the One who is busy with the work of reconciling the universe with its Creator, the One who through whom all things were created and have their being, the One who by whose +Cross and Passion are sins forgiven, the One who reigns for ever and ever in heaven, the King of the Universe, this guy? This guy wants to be with us. And because all the other stuff is true, and proclaimed to all creation, we know that we should want to be with him.
As a side note, if I ever write a theology book, it will probably be about this kind of thing and will likely be subtitled “the theology of the hang” (a man can dream right?).
Christ is the ultimate host, himself the ultimate invitation. As his people, sacramentally marked as his own, our entire lives might be properly seen as in the mold of Mary of Bethany: seeking after the presence of Christ, listening for his voice so that it may enter into our hearts, so that we can participate fully in his restoring Gospel. Jesus did not condemn Martha for being distracted, which is good because we are all so easily distracted. There’s a lot to do in inviting Christ into our hearts, there is much to do in the world to prepare a way for him. As I often say, there is much to concern the Christian heart in the world as we see it in 2019, much more still to be distracted by. But may we never be so moved by our various concerns that we do not first seek to be with Jesus.
After all, He is the one who will bring our hearts stability in troubled times, and since he helped design everything, he is the one whose loving design will see us through all of our trials. And we can count on him to do this by and through his faithful people, standing on the needful thing of our desire to be with him and present to the world.
As I close this morning, I pray that whatever it is that keeps us from the most needful thing of basking in Christ’s presence, especially that which distracts us from the guarantee of his presence with us on Sunday, I pray that those things would dissolve before our eyes, revealing the love, beauty, and truth of Christ Jesus. Because it is to the eyes of the saints that “God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
To God be all laud and honor, from age to age. Amen.
Emmanuel Episcopal Church
The Very Reverend David Bumsted