Colossians 2:9–15 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.
One day I asked one of my lecturers at College, “What is faith?” He knew I wasn’t asking for the answer “Certain of what we do not see…. etc.” He paused for a moment or two and thoughtfully replied, “you’d stake your life on it.”
This morning, I want to tell you why I still have this thing called faith, and why I’m in it boots and all. Today I want to tell you why I’m holding on in spite of it all. Today I want to tell you why the story of the “Cross and Resurrection” is the reason I keep on going.
You know I’ve so much uncertainty at times, so many questions, so much to learn. But this is one thing, perhaps the only thing that I dare to claim that I think I might be, possibly, slightly, getting right. This is something I’d stake my life on…or feel some pain.
The narrative arc of our faith follows a pattern where once upon a time everything was Godly, then it became anti-god and then it will become Godly again. Everything falls into that arc and we locate ourselves in the space in between.
Arc is wrong. It implies slow degeneration and slow regeneration. The actual diagram looks more like this I think. Much steeper cataclysmic slopes.
Nevertheless, the story we are familiar with tells us how ultimately God takes the anti-God and makes it Godly.
Interestingly, some may think it’s important to know where we are on this diagram. I personally don’t really care. But I would pick that if it did matter, most of us would put ourselves closer to the end of time. For the sake of this sermon, I want to suggest that we position ourselves way back over here. It completely changes the mandate for faith if there’s no immanent ‘out’. And it is in this context, a context where it profoundly matters how we express our faith today because it impacts on the future, it matters how we engage with our Christian story today for it impacts on the future, and it matters how we understand who Christ because it impacts on the future—it is in this context that we can hear these words:
People of the Christ, the light is coming!UNBELIEVABLE
The light is shining in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. The resurrected Christ is an eternal light. A light that shines not just on what was, not just on what is but also on what is to come. It is a light that penetrates the cosmos and radiates the love of God into its very fabric. This is a light bright with grace, hued with hope and lovingly broad enough to cast minimal shadows.
Yes, this light sees what is and how it got there. But it provides the luminescence so we can see how it can be changed. It’s a light that exposes it all, and by its persistence implores us to change, asks us to see differently, demands that we hope anew.
This is a light that takes the moral economy where evil appears to triumph in the universe, that takes the evilness in corporate and political dehumanisation, where war, civil rights and waste are stopped once and for all, where love might reign supreme, where love might conquer all sin in all people for all time.
It is the light that is expressed in the wails of a nation in exile, in the suffering of God’s people who had lost their identity, in the waste of the oppressed who do not know their worth anymore. It is there in the prophets and it is there in John’s revelation. It is a vast a cosmic hope that transcends understanding of how it might happen, but it is talked of and promised to us in no uncertain terms.
But, do I believe this? No, not really, but it IS something I hope for.
People of the Christ, the light is coming! BELIEVABLE
We see in this scripture that our access to God has never been greater, never been clearer, never been so intimate as it is now with Christ. Paul talks of how God’s godness dwells in the body of Christ. Not a mere image of God as we are, but a fully articulated cosmic divinity, as far as that may be conceivable, is present in the Christ.
In the Gospels we see the Christ’s engagement with the created. He exposes the aimless absurdity of what we might consider power and success to be, the disconnect that we experience by our sense of entitlement to have that which is not ours in the first place. And the injustice that goes into feeding that hunger, that external self-expression of hubris where we place our value in things, or in status or in achievement or anything else that can be abstracted out from the core of our beings. The abstractions become a hollow shell that protects us from ourselves and the world from ourselves.
In the midst of this multitude of mini-towers of Babel that we have constructed at the cost of those around us, it’s like Jesus walks among them and calls out to us from his heart.
“It is not all waste!”, says the Christ. “These are beautiful towers, but they are a far cry from what you could build if they were built from the right stuff! Currently they’re made of sand, the sand’s sense of belonging to you doesn’t at all match your sense of owning it! These are fickle—but the effort is good!”
And with those words Christ can take our tools of the trade, our experience of the build, the arrogance of the designs and even the outcome of our projects and change them. And redeem them without destroying them.
Christ takes the context and framework of our stuff, of where we inflict waste on others and ourselves, you know, it’s what we call sin—Christ takes the raw material of not just what we have been and even just what we are, but he takes the whole package and transitions it all into something we now become.
Here’s the power of the resurrection! Here’s the power of the light! Here’s the power of the Easter story! The broken, wounded, battered and pierced body of Christ, was risen again and not perfected, but transitioned into life.
And miracles happened. And people were astonished. And hearts were overwhelmed in an instant with the realisation that yes! Even our battered selves can offer something into the darkness, we can now offer goodness out of our badness. We become echoes of the divine.
As we are, all that we are, the good the bad and the ugly, becomes something of great value.
All the symbols from this text in Pauls’ letter point to this. The physically expressed covenant of circumcision transitions into a spiritual circumcision. Our spirits that were killing us are put to death by baptism and transitioned into a spirits seeking life. God takes the ruling powers and authorities over our lives, the damage inflicted by these and God nails it all to the cross, and transitions even these experiences into symbols of God’s life giving power.
That’s the power of gaining life. That’s the power of the light shining in our darkness. That’s the resurrection story that says of that which we thought was dead, is now alive. That which we thought was dead in us, is now alive! That which was destroying us, now becomes a source of life.
But do I believe this? Yeah kinda, I like the promise it brings, but it doesn’t seem all that consistently worked out in practice.
People of the Christ, the light is coming! BELIEVED
In my mind I’ve been picturing working in the garden during twilight. Weeding and tidying the darkest shadows in the thicker parts of the overgrowth. It’s a garden that could be our souls, our families and also the world around us.
I think for many of us, we feel like we are stuck in the twilight of a very slowly emerging dawn. In the same way that we squint to recognise objects in the low light, our ability to discern who Christ is and how Christ works is always subject to our imaginations. And then there’s the discerning of what needs work and what doesn’t. It’s so hard for us to see clearly, and often what we think we see and hear are mere apparitions based on our fears.
Yes, the Christ is the fulness of God, but also true is that we find it so hard to apprehend the Christ for ourselves, let alone our community and for our world. It is hard to describe and to discern what was given to us by the fully divine Christ.
But we need not be discouraged if we don’t get the full picture. In fact it is precisely because we are looking in the shadows that twilight isn’t always enough to help us see. Perhaps we expect too much! It’s a light that moves slowly.
Yet when we emerge from time to time, our eyes adjust to the even dim light once again, and the twilight is also just a little brighter. And we can go back into the shadows, and we can clear the way some more, or we can go deeper as the light allows. Or we may stand back and wait for more light to shine. There is no hurry. We can only do what we can do. We can only be what we can be. Be intentional yes, for there is work to be done. But it can’t all be done at once. Let’s ease up and be normal.
And we can then apply a gentler work ethic to our response to our faith community, and we can apply that to our response to our world. The slowly emerging dawn makes us give grace.
We do not need to see it all, just enough to make a difference. But we can always come back to the light that is coming and take a rest. Let our eyes be re-adjusting to the light not the darkness. Let our eyes adjust to see how was was anti-god is becoming Godly again. Just in small amounts.
People of the Christ, it is no small wonder that the journey of our redemption the, journey of our peace, the journey of our fulness requires the suffering of not just letting go, nor just denying ourselves, but indeed putting to death all that we are, all that we think, all that we hope, all that we dream, all our passions and all our heart. Because then we are left with raw materials which in resurrected form inject life into this world.
And it is great that we can do this annually. It’s like we get to push the reset button again and emerge again with the light shining in our darkness.
Do I believe in this? Yes. Maybe it’s not much of a vision, but I’m willing to feel at least a little bit of pain for the Christ that gives even me hope.