The Rev Cynthia K R Banks; The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost—PR 12—Year C; Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19); Luke 11:1-13
Do you ever wish that you could have lived in those early church days as the Christian faith was springing to life and catching fire, and it stood in close proximity to the Christ event? It would have been so much easier to follow the Way back then because who Christ was, and what his life meant, and how one was to live—these were all crystal clear. Or, as my daughter often tells me, were they? I think one of the illusions we have is that there was this time when faith and practice were crystal clear to those who sought to follow Jesus, but it’s just not so—the disciples are perpetually exhibit A of not understanding, and Paul’s letters are also testament to this reality.
Followers of Jesus have always struggled with who he was, what his life meant, and how that then translates to their life and practice, especially in light of all the currents swirling around them. Our passage from Colossians this morning is a good case in point.
So, Paul starts out by reminding this community that first and foremost, they are to continue to live their lives in Christ, rooted in him, built up in him, and that the hallmark of this way of living is thanksgiving. Before Paul addresses anything, he affirms the reality that these people live and move and have their being in union with Christ Jesus. They are inextricably bound up and united with him. He lives in them, and they in him. This is their beginning and their end, and everything else runs through that.
Reading between the lines, we can see that a lot of philosophies, a lot of theologies, a lot of worldviews were competing for the hearts and minds of the people of Colossae, not unlike in our day and time. There is a Platonic worldview that talks of shadows and substance. There is the Jewish frame with its attendant laws and restrictions and festivals. There is a take on reality that is based on the four basic elemental spirits of the universe—earth, air, fire, and water. There is an ascetic worldview that is pretty anti-body, anti-flesh. There is the worldview of the rulers who flex their muscles and throw the weight of their power around. There is the worldview of the authorities who had a system of tradition that was working just fine for them, thank you very much. There is a smattering of esoteric philosophy with a pinch of angelogy and a good dose of visions for the specially initiated. What is a faithful Colossian to do? What is a spiritual seeker who sincerely wants to follow a spiritual path to do? How do you know whom to follow and what to practice? How do you know?
Think of all the philosophies and theologies that are competing for our hearts and minds. There are economic worldviews, with varying roles for the private and public sector. Platonic worldviews with their vision of perfect ideals and shadowy realities still plague our culture—like the ideal of youth and beauty—and these Platonic worldviews still plague our reading of sacred scripture and our understanding of our faith. There are certainly elements in our world that function only within rules and restrictions and laws, just as there are elements that don’t hold to any human tradition and take their cues only from the elements of the universe. There are still the ascetics who deny the goodness of the body, the flesh, and there are still those who feel like they have a special spiritual knowledge and the rest of us are just hopeless. There are all kinds of worldviews espoused by our political leaders and religious leaders and pop culture celebrities. Even within Christianity, there are a thousand different ways to go. What is a faithful person to do? What is a spiritual seeker who sincerely wants to follow a spiritual path to do? How do you know whom to follow and what to practice? With so many options and so many choices, how do you know?
Well, on one level you don’t know, but on another level, you already know, you know at the deepest level of your being. This is not something you will know with your head, though your mind is a great help in reflecting on and understanding what you already know. It’s just that, hard as you try, and believe me, I have tried, you can’t think your way there. No, this is a matter of something we have already received. We are already rooted in Christ, joined with him, built up in him, established in him. And in him, the whole fullness of deity, of divinity, of Godness, the whole fullness—that’s like a double-dose of wholeness, a completely full fullness—in Christ, the whole fullness of God dwells bodily, not abstractly, bodily, incarnationally, in the flesh. I think I am starting to channel Paul’s grammatical constructions, but hang in there with me. And you, you have come to fullness in him. All that Christ embodies, all that Christ is and has, all that fullness, all of it is yours.
Can we just drop to our knees before that truth?
Do we get it? Do we realize that the whole fullness of God that dwells in Jesus, dwells in us, too? This is way beyond the power that the rulers and authorities throw around.
In him you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ. Uh-oh, that sounds awfully anti-body, but Paul is really clear that the fullness of deity dwells bodily, so this can’t be seen as just an anti-body diatribe. No, Paul is trying to get at something else here. Maybe this circumcision is a way to mark holiness, a way to consecrate us—that’s certainly what it meant for our Jewish ancestors. Maybe this is Paul’s way of saying, “Your flesh is holy.” Far from being anti-body, anti-flesh, Paul is saying that your flesh and blood is a place of divine revelation, if we are awake to what we are; if we are awake to what we bear.
Do you see yourself as a manifestation of the Divine, as a Godbearer in the very real flesh and blood of your existence?
Paul goes on to say that when we were buried with Christ in baptism, we were also raised with him in his resurrection. Whatever in us needs to die to embrace the fullness of divinity that we possess, Christ shows us how to die to it, and how to bury it. And if we can take the giant leap to die to our ego—to our patterns and attachments and dramas, as we all must—then we can trust that Christ will carry us through to a new and resurrected life.
When our egos are running the show, when our passions are whipping us around like those crazy rides at the amusement parks that make me sick, we are as good as dead. We might be going through the motions of living, but we are hollow inside. Maybe that’s what it means to be dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of our flesh. But God finds us in that precise place and makes us alive again by showing us what wholeness and fullness and divinity-in-the-flesh looks like in the grit of Jesus’ life.
And no place reveals this power more clearly than the cross. All the keeping score that humanity had surely done with God throughout the ages, all the trying to measure up and failing miserably, all the guilt and shame and fear, that whole system was nailed to a tree and done away with. All the power that rulers and authorities thought they had was revealed for the illusion and lie that it was. Jesus, of his own free will, in an act of love poured out fully, stretched out his arms and simply let go. And in that one act, completely disarmed the rulers and authorities and powers of this world.
So, Paul continues, all the competing philosophies, all the rules, and regulations—they don’t mean anything. In Christ Jesus, you are rooted and grounded in a love that surpasses all understanding. His life lives in you. The fullness of God lives in you. As you embrace that, as you wake up to that, as you let that move out in your very real flesh and blood life, you will know the liberty that is so free that it can willingly and freely yield and restrict itself because love compels it to.
Paul is making an outrageous claim—in Christ is the substance, the glue, that holds the whole universe together. It’s about embracing the fullness of deity that dwells bodily in you and in me and in every element of this world. You don’t have to eat a certain way, or drink a certain way, or observe this festival in that way, or follow the new moons, or observe the sabbath according to the law. You don’t have to abase your self or your flesh. You don’t have to be up on angelogy or have spectacular visions.
You just have to hold fast to the One who shows us what the fullness of divinity lived in the flesh looks like. You just have to drink of that Divine Life that is pulsing through the world, that is resonating deep in your own soul.
In a very real way, that’s why we come to this table week after week to eat of his body and drink of his blood—it’s the way we remember that he is who we are, that his breath is our breath, this his blood is running through our blood, that his life is living in us and through us.
Back to the question that confronted the Colossians, and confronts us still, “Amidst all these philosophies, and choices, and spiritual options, what is a faithful seeker to do?” As I read Paul, and as I experience Jesus, the answer that rises up is this—LEAP. If you can’t intellectually grasp it, simply leap into the possibility that what Paul is saying is true. Leap into the possibility that through Christ, things that need to die in you are dying and things that need to be raised up in you are being born. Leap into the possibility that the whole fullness of deity that dwells in Christ Jesus is yours and that you are coming to that fullness in him. You have been made holy; you are all swaddled up in divinity. Leap into this possibility, and live into the places that such a perspective, such a vision, such a worldview, such a philosophy will surely carry you.
And then, don’t be surprised when the possibility you leapt into becomes the deepest truth you know. Then, you won’t need to ask, “How do I know?” Then, the knowing itself will be enough. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
July 28, 2013