The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (July 28, 2019)
He 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.
And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— 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.
I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them 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.
- Scratch out the sermon title in your bulletin. Insert “Resistance Song.” I put out a call on Facebook for a sermon illustration, which I seldom do: “Facebook folk, which songs come to mind when you see the phrase “resistance songs”? What songs have brought you hope and strength?”
- I was surprised by the number of responses. 100 comments. 80 + songs. Youtube and Spotify playlists. Hymns. Musicals. Ballads. Protest songs.
- Some songs were mentioned multiple times (“We Shall Overcome”). Some artists were listed a lot: Bob Marley, Woodie Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez.
- People of multiple faiths (or no faith perspectives) and political stripes responded.
- The outpouring made me wonder what was so moving for people. Do these songs remind them of their youth? Do they express political commitments? Faith? Outrage? Patriotism? Movements for social justice?
- What undergirded them all was hope, of course, because that was in the question. But it was also the sense that of alternative possibility. That different outcomes are possible. That a different situation/country/world is possible. That despite the horror and the heartbreak of the present situation they express the idea that “things do not have to be this way.” And not only that, that the values we hold dear matter the most and are what’s enduring. They are truly true. Really real.
- Why in the world are we thinking about resistance songs after reading Colossians 1?
- I chose this reading because I’ve long admired the letter as a whole and this section in particular because of its poetic style and “high Christology.” It echoes Jewish Wisdom literature. More on that in another sermon. Listen to how it speaks about Jesus in a cosmic, mystical sense…
- But a campus minister in Canada opened this passage up for me in a commentary. Brian Walsh is his name. He points out that this church was the one who met in the home of Philemon, to whom Paul wrote about embracing the person enslaved in his household, Onesimus, as a beloved brother. Walsh writes: “If you read this magnificent poem about Jesus in the context of the Roman imperial imagination you will see that it engenders a seditious imagination.”
- Verses 15-20 are part of a hymn that was likely already being sung by the church at Colossae and was incorporated into the letter. It was sung before read.
- Colossians 15-20 is a resistance song.
- Images of the emperor were everywhere, yet the writer has the boldness to say that Christ “is the image of the invisible God.”
- Caesar was considered to be a son of the gods, yet this letter claims Christ is “the firstborn of all creation.”
- Colossians says “all things in heaven and on earth were created … through him and for him…” Thrones, rulers, powers, are all Christ’s subjects. Even in the face of an empire that ruled the known world with its military, economy, cults.
- Colossians states that with the resurrection, Christ will “have first place in everything” and that Christ “is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Christ is the lynchpin of the cosmos. What a claim!
- God has accomplished all this through the cross. The Roman Empire’s instrument of execution, torture, and a clear, public warning against seditious activity has become an instrument of redemption.
- Christ is the head of the body. And if Christ is the head, who isn’t?
- The writer then goes on in the next two paragraphs to speak about how God has reconciled the whole world in Christ.
- That’s the gospel for the whole creation.
- That’s the gospel entrusted to the church.
- That’s the gospel Paul proclaims and has suffered for.
- That’s the mystery that has been revealed to Jewish people and people from other countries alike. What a hopeful and radical message!
- To them 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.
- The writer says “in Christ” so many times as Paul does in his letters. The Colossians in Christ. Christ in each one of the Colossians.
- That’s our hope this morning as a church centuries and oceans away from Colossae: we are in Christ. Christ is in us.
- Jesus is Lord. No emperor or other despotic leader is. Jesus–in the words of Williams Barber II–“Jesus, a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew… called us to preach good news to the poor, the broken, and the bruised, and all those who are made to feel unaccepted.
- Christ’s way of love, peace, healing, welcome, faithfulness, and courage is the “law” that governs our lives.
- Christ’s church is an “embassy” of another “empire.” We who are citizens of this realm are “citizens” of another.
- The One in whom the fullness of God dwells, dwells in you.
- This is our resistance song. This is the song that gives us hope. This is the song that gives us strength. This is the song we sing in the world.