Colossians 1: 15-29
15 He is the image of the unseen God,
the first born of all creation,
16 for in him were created all things
in heaven and on earth:
everything visible and everything invisible,
thrones, ruling forces, sovereignties, powers –
all things were created through him and for him.
17 He exists before all things
and in him all things hold together,
18 and he is the Head of the Body that is, the Church.
He is the Beginning,
the first born from the dead,
so that he should be supreme in every way;
19 God was pleased to have all fullness dwell in him
20 and through him to reconcile all things to him,
everything in heaven and everything on earth,
by making peace through his death on the cross.
21 You who were once estranged and of hostile intent through your evil behaviour; now he has reconciled you, by his death and in that mortal body, to bring you before himself holy, faultless and irreproachable-
23 as long as you persevere and stand firm on the solid base of the faith, never letting yourselves drift away from the hope promised by the gospel, which you have heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become the servant.
24 It makes me happy to be suffering for you now, and in my own body to make up all the hardships that still have to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church,5 of which I was made a servant with the responsibility towards you that God gave to me, that of completing God’s message,
26 the message which was a mystery hidden for generations and centuries and has now been revealed to his holy people.27 It was God’s purpose to reveal to them how rich is the glory of this mystery among the gentiles; it is Christ among you, your hope of glory:
28 this is the Christ we are proclaiming, admonishing and instructing everyone in all wisdom, to make everyone perfect in Christ.
29 And it is for this reason that I labour, striving with his energy which works in me mightily.
The Poetry of Sedition
The fullness of God, very God, the grand canyon carving, comet hurling, DNA writing God, came to reside in the frail, time bound form of a human being and if we are not astonished at this we do not understand it. God’s fullness was pleased, pleased to dwell in him, to abide, to take up residence, imagine, just imagine. The overwhelming act of the fullness of God drawing near. Like staring at the sun, one can only come so close to God. The ancients knew that to gaze upon the face of God, the full aspect of God, was to be consumed, annihilated. Even Moses, God-law writing Moses, Moses who spoke to God on the mountain, only saw God’s backside, only saw God in the act of departing, of moving away. But in today’s scripture, this poem attributed to Paul, we dare to imagine God’s fullness being pleased to dwell among us, being pleased to abide deep within one just like us.
So Paul goes on to remind us that all the things we are taught to give priority to in this world, the image of Ceasar, painted on pottery, carved in stone, looking up from every coin, all of this self-promotion by the one styling himself as ‘the son of god’ was, is pretty irrelevant. It’s all secondary and eh, not really all that important.
Paul tells us it’s time to give notice to the images we are asked to worship, whether it is the perfect figure, the unattainable thigh gap, the shiniest, newest sports car, the elaborate house with full guest bedroom suites and in-house theater, the pedigreed dog, the well, I could go on. You all know these images, the ones that advertisers dangle in front of us during prime time TV suggesting that if we only had this, could only succeed here, could only, could only…all would be fine. It would be great in fact! And most of us have bought into one or two of these because they sneak up on you. They fill your life with should’s. I should be this, I should have that, I should be able to..speak five languages, write poetry, translate Greek and Hebrew (oh wait, that’s my inner demon speaking). We begin shoulding, judging and evaluating our lives and discovering that we have fallen far short of where we ‘should’ be.
Like falling in love the spirit moves where it will and faithfulness asks that we follow the spirit into each adventure like a lover, never asking if this is what it should be but falling head over heels in love with God. It’s awkward, it’s clumsy and it breaks all the rules. It is an act of sedition against all the should be’s and musts that have been grilled into us since we were children. To prefer God’s touch and presence to propriety, to seek after any glimpse of God always watching the eyes of passersby and strangers on the street looking for any sign of the image of God. Looking for some glimpse, some sign, perhaps not the fullness but does God dwell in you, some partial piece, some little bit, dwelling in you?
The fullness of God was pleased, pleased to dwell within him. A largesse that must have been all consuming, did not Jesus’ humanity feel the threat of being burned to a crisp by the nearness of God? And Paul, in his arrogance states he is here to complete Jesus work and we begin to doubt our text and question Paul when he says there is anything left to complete as if Jesus were not lit from within by a light too bright to look upon, too consuming to be understood, and the commentaries and study bibles begin to apologize for Paul, you know he didn’t mean that literally. He wasn’t really saying that he could complete Jesus’ work nor that anything was left untidy, unfinished, a work half done or cut short by an untimely death, he didn’t really mean it, they say, and we might wonder at Paul, shaking our heads a little bit, just as we might wonder at our commentaries so quick to excuse his indiscretion.
Our text becomes not the unerring, all knowing, final truth but the writings of a man who so desperately wanted to know God, to be close to God that he welcomed suffering, pain and loss in the attempt to get closer to the God of abundance, life and vitality. To a God who no suffering, pain or loss, not even death itself, could consume or diminish. So the commentaries apologize for Paul’s zeal while encouraging us to accept suffering, loss and pain as a way of getting closer to God and if we really hear them we ought to doubt. We ought to wonder at Augustine, that African monk whose guilt and struggle with his own passions caused him to decry all earthly passions. We ought to question Calvin who could not stand to watch a woman walk toward him to receive communion and therefore suggested we all stay seated please and for the first time communion in the pews was born, because the beauty of a human form was too disturbing and he wanted nothing to distract him from the beauty of God. So we question these saints and their feeble attempts to get closer to God by looking away from God’s beloved—which my friend is you and me.
For if we do not see God’s image when we look at each other, if we do not see God’s image when we look at the wonders of all creation, we have missed the freely given reflection we have of this great artist, the one we know intimately by the works made manifest around us every day, if we only dare look.
For God has not left us alone and God has not simply disappeared nor removed God’s very self from us but continues to shift and move, to create and disperse these creations, as one sunset fades into the brilliance of the night sky, only to be followed by another glorious sunrise, like the flowers giving way to heavy pendulous seedpods, like love letters written in the curve of every wave that washes the beach, God reaches for us.
What then, is truth, if, as the Catholics decried during the reformation, “All you protesting protestants have a paper pope, where we lionize and follow a spiritual descendent of St. Peter, at least the image of God beheld in a living breathing man, you praise and lionize the writings of others as if they were infallible.” Because if they seek certainty and security, some final definitive answer to the mystery of God in a man, we too often seek it in the writings of men.
But not today. Today we are wrapped in poetry, the poetry of Paul and the poetry of some long forgotten psalmist, attributed to this person or that but long lost to history in truth. The poetry of scripture calls us beyond the written word and into experience, to let God reach in and touch our hearts, hold our minds captive with a turn of phrase, “God’s fullness was pleased, pleased, to dwell in him.” To allow that simple phrase, fullness of God, to suggest, to imply more than we can ever know, and if we are attentive, to open our minds and hearts in awe and wonder.
The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord, yes? Or maybe no, because the word translated as fear is closer to awe and trembling, is closer to some visceral comprehension of the fullness of God, God, very God creator of the winds. God, very God, who whispers words of encouragement to the seed buried in the earth and causes it to grow. God, very God, who turns the earth on its axis and causes the stars to take up their stately dance.
For there is more, there is so much more than fear and correct theology, there is the subtle, tender lift in your chest, an openness ripe with vulnerability which threatens to overwhelm you and knock you to your knees if you allow it to touch you, to soak into your flesh, as if you just might drown in it. And this is to stand in awe and trembling, this is to bravely face the all consuming presence of God’s love and if we aren’t a little afraid, perhaps we don’t understand, because this will change everything.
All too often we join Paul in our attempt to complete God’s work because the rawness of real encounter is so frightening, is so vulnerable. So we try to contain God with the correct theology, correct worship; we name God and claim God, saying we know God best, and God laughs gently and says, “Yes honey, I love you too,” and slips away like a gentle breeze. Because we can’t contain God or limit God with even our best, most profound understandings. Because we forget sometimes, that knowing God is an experience and not even the most brilliant creeds or confessions can grasp or contain that experience.
Like falling in love the spirit moves where it will and faithfulness asks that we follow the spirit into each adventure like a lover, never asking if this is what it should be but falling head over heels in love with God. It’s awkward, it’s clumsy and it breaks all the rules. We need poetry, music, and art to even begin to communicate this experience. We need these arts because they give us courage to enter the dance, to let our hearts and souls be stirred. We need these arts because we know that God speaks the language of our heart and for each one of us that language is peculiar, is particular, and God speaks to us in all that particularity.
Falling in love with God we might write poetry or sing songs, we might join in the careless dance of David abandoning all propriety. Falling in love with God we dare to trust that we are eternally loved and will never be forgotten or abandoned and trusting in that, lose all our fear. And what wild reckless fools for God we become when we lose all fear!
Paul says, You who were once estranged and of hostile intent through your evil behavior…but the enemy is not hostile intent nor evil behavior, it is fear. Perhaps it is the fear that all of this is just too good for you, or you won’t measure up and all those should’s and should not’s rise up like an army against you, but stand firm and hear the good news. This wild, audacious love is for you and will never let you go, nor will it constrain you, but wherever you wander in whatever foolish attempt to find love and happiness, it is always with you, tugging at your sleeve and saying, “I’m right here. If the game is love, you ought to know I never lose. Turn to me and let me love you and I will hold you through whatever storms might come.”
Falling in love with God we might write poetry or sing songs, we might join in the careless dance of David abandoning all propriety. Falling in love with God we dare to trust that we are eternally loved and will never be forgotten or abandoned and trusting in that, lose all our fear. And what wild reckless fools for God we become when we lose all fear! We might even abandon all those foolish and misguided attempts to make everything OK and everything certain and instead join the dance! We might even feel that gentle tug on our sleeves and hear that voice saying, “Hey you, yeah, you, I love you to the moon and back.” So let your heart grow tender and let awe and wonder take up residence. Stand outside under the night sky, listen for the hooting of the doves, run your hand through the tall grass as you walk on by, and know in your heart these are all love letters from the one who dearly, dearly loves you and in whom all things hold together. Amen