"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

The Power of God

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Christ Behind us, Christ Before us
Colossians 1:15-28

Today I am going to focus on the epistle reading from Paul’s letter to the Colossians. What we have heard today is one of the true summations of Paul’s understanding of Christ, the Trinity and the Creation. The reading is so marvellous that I almost just want to read it over and over again and “just bask in the sheer awesomeness of the words”. Well, I’ve been doing that all week so it is probably fairer for me to share with you some of the insights God has chosen to gift me with. Be forewarned, this topic is not for the faint at heart.

Let me start with a rereading of the text from Colossians, but this time broken out in poetic structure, this being the setting of the original text.

(After Lincoln, NIB, 602-3)

Who is the image of the invisible God?
The firstborn of all creation.
For in him were created all things,
In heaven and on earth,
Things visible and invisible,
Whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers.

All things were created through him and for him,
And he himself is before all things,
And all things hold together in him,
And he himself is the head of the body, the church.

Who is the beginning?
The firstborn from the dead.
So that he himself might have pre-eminence in all things,
For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell,
And through him to reconcile all things for him,
Making peace through him,
Through the blood of his cross,
Whether things on earth or things in heaven.

The imagery in this text is marvellous, awe-inspiring, wondrous, and completely confusing and overwhelming. I remember times in the mountains of British Columbia when you would turn a corner and see an amazing vista spread out before you, so beautiful you almost could not describe it and so large that it seemed to fill all space. This first part of Paul’s writing is like that for me. It is as if I have walked around a corner and looked into eternity.

Listen again to some of the things that Paul says about Jesus:
the image of the invisible God
the firstborn of all creation
in him all things were created
all things were created through him and for him
in him all things hold together
he is the head of the church
he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead
Christ is both the force through which all things were made; while at the same time is the glue that holds all of creation together; while at the same time being the process through which all things will be made right. In our Eucharistic prayer, we acknowledge this by saying: through Christ, with Christ and in Christ/ everything was, is and will be. This imagery is difficult to keep a firm hold on, isn’t it?

Then Paul moves immediately into relating this sweeping vision to the listeners of this letter. They were on the ‘outside’ previously, literal ‘enemies’ of God. Before the Jerusalem temple was destroyed only Jews were permitted into the outer courts, Gentiles would be put to death if found there. Only the priests could go in to the inner precincts and only the one high priest, once per year, could enter in inner sanctum, the holy of holies, where God himself dwelt. Paul tells us that we; although Gentiles, are now through Christ, purified and invited into not just the temple precincts, but right into the tabernacle itself. Paul is telling us that we are now allowed to live with God through our faith. What Paul has to say will get even more exciting before he is done . . .

Our baptism initiates us into the supreme mystery in Christ, such that nothing else is required (Johnson 399). We are already members of the ‘messianic body’ through this initiation and everything we need to distil out of that body is already present! In the words of our 6th Article of Religion, and my ordination vows, I believe that the words of the Old and New Testament contain everything necessary for salvation. Paul’s point is made throughout this passage, that instead of seeking the ‘extra’ or ‘higher’ things, instead of looking for miracle workers, magicians and mystics, Christians should look to their own community and their own experience of God today, for there they will find the manifestation of everything they so desire. (Johnson 402)

Perhaps the most outrageous statement in this epistle passage is Paul’s assertion about the secret: “Christ in you, the hope of a glory to come”. What is outrageous is that Paul says we are not just cohabitating with the Almighty in some special room in the temple, for He has actually entered into us and now dwells within each believer. We are living with him within.

“The secret is this: Christ in you, the hope of a glory to come”. In fact this cosmic being who holds the very stars in His hand is within each of us . . . what would it mean to have the entire Niagara generating complex in your basement? So much power that you could microwave an elephant in a microsecond . . . To have a 100-megaton Hydrogen Bomb, a literal small sun, in your shirt pocket, and using it to power your cellular phone so you could speak with people on Pluto. For within each person, truly limitless power, limitless potential existing as a visceral part of each of us.

My mind immediately says, great, how can I use this power to help the world and me? This is not what Paul is suggesting. Power to us is a means of control, a means of safety. We have control over our bank accounts, our property, our wills and seem happier when we can determine what will happen to us when. But, and there is always a but, our God is not a safe God. As C.S. Lewis says about Aslan – the great golden lion and the Jesus figure in the Narnia series: you know that Aslan is not a tame lion. Aslan is not a tame lion, and our God, Yahweh Sabaoth, King of the Angel-Armies is not a quiet, compliant God.

Paul’s image to Colossae is one of the cosmic Christ: a God in unity around which the entire creation was made, exists and will exist. This is an overpowering God, a God that leaves us fearful of our very survival when we come into His presence. A God so powerful that the Rabbis still believe that to speak His name aloud, or to write it down, could have eternal consequences. This is a God that is, to be frank, bloody frightening. As the author Reynolds Price writes, to come into the presence of the living God is truly terrifying, for He is nothing less than burning to the touch.

Our tendency to shy away from a God of awesome power is one that has always been with the followers of God. One of the major heresies or false teachings of the 1st and 2nd centuries was Gnosticism, This name comes from the Greek, Gnosis meaning ‘knowledge’.

A Gnostic believed that there were certain secret truths that could be learned and that would allow you access to a higher reality and more power. That power could then be controlled, but only for those who knew the secret words. For a Gnostic, the idea that creation itself, the messy, sometimes smelly physical world, was a creation of the Supreme Being was horrifying. To solve this dilemma they proposed a supreme, remote and unknowable Divine Being and a second, lesser, evil and fallen creator who made earth and humanity. So to keep this straight, the Gnostics have a big mighty God at a distance who is not really watching us and a smaller, not so mighty God that was messing around with his creation chemistry set and accidentally made a smelly potion that became the earth and all of us.

What was at the core of Gnostic thought? Indeed a better question to ask is what is at the core of almost every false teaching and false religion, and at the core of false Christianity? The answer is fenders.

Fenders, for those who have been around boats are large rubber tubes filled with air. You tie them off to the side of your boat that is along the dock, and the squishy rubber keeps the boat away from the dock. Neither the boat nor the dock end up scuffed if you have fenders. Gnosticism was a set of fenders to keep God away from the Gnostics so neither party would get scuffed up in meeting.

In fact the core of all false teachings (and magic) is an attempt to keep God at arms length from us, to be able to control Him, to keep ourselves safe. This has also been the approach of many Christian churches for the past few centuries. When people arose and suggested that we needed to link arms with God on the ice rink and go for whatever kind of ride He wanted to lead us on, they were almost always rejected. John Wesley, an Anglican Priest from the 18th century wrote and taught about an intimate God that was in painfully close relationship with each of us. He was expelled from Anglican church after Anglican church for preaching his dangerous thoughts about our need to form an intimate relationship with the creator. Wesley’s followers ended up as the Methodist Church for many reasons but perhaps because Anglicanism could not contain their personal, intimate and interactive God.

So, we here sit and wait for the coming of Christ to bring all things to completeness, but Paul says back – No! All things are already brought to completeness, and God is in you, and you are saved. Do not sit and wonder when the kingdom will come, but live into that kingdom today.

What are we left with now, but Paul’s glorious image of a God that is everywhere, in everything and most frightening of all, in us. A God that is intimately personal and wants our personal involvement right back. A God so close that all we need to do to pray is to think, and our prayer is made.

In our world today, people seek spirituality everywhere but in the Christian church. This is true for many Christians as well. We really have no one to blame but ourselves, for we have specialized in teaching about the God who is watching us, but from a distance. A God we can pray to, but not really expecting any answers . . . in fact perhaps praying that we do not get an answer.

This spirituality is the Gnosticism of our modern age, and you can see it everywhere. My Hallmark store sells different angel pins, each with their own special task to help my life. There are whole sections in book stores devoted to literature about angels, we even have a television show called, not ‘Touched by the Burning Hand of God’ but ‘Touched by an Angel’. In media, our portrayals of angels are always people we would really like to have over for dinner.

Most recently the fictional novel, The Da Vinci Code, has been creating a great stir as people read this made-up story and believe what is happening as truth. The author of this best seller has only repackaged some 1st Century Gnostic teachings in a 21st Century binding. Although a novel, many are taking these fictional claims about the story of the ‘true’ Jesus being suppressed by the church. That hunger for spirituality runs deep in our race and people will grasp anything that allows that need to be met, but without any risk, commitment or conviction to follow up.

All of this is intended to allow us access to some of the power of the Creator, without actually getting too close to Him. The God of Gnosticism and many other false teachings is a distant God that does not intervene, is not personal, and only dispenses the occasional favour to those who have guessed the secret word. This God demands nothing and does nothing and is just so, so safe.

Listen to C.S. Lewis’ thoughts on this safe god (paraphrased): “This God is there if you wish for Him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you. We have felt this shock before, when the line pulls taut in your hand, when something breathes beside you in the darkness. It is always shocking to meet life when we thought we were alone. “Look out!” we cry, “it’s alive.” And this is the point where so many of us draw back in fear.

An “impersonal God” – well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness inside our own heads – better still. A formless life force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap – best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching us at an infinite speed, the hunter, the king, the husband, the fire, the whirlwind, the earthquake – that is quite another matter.

There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He has found us?

The first creation was a single point from which all heaven and earth were made from chaos. The Hebrew story is told as it unfolds through the Law, the Prophets and the Wisdom writings. Then, suddenly, all heaven and earth stop and again collapse to a single point – the incarnation. The birth of God as person. For 33 or so years the stew cooked until the Atonement: God sacrificed to render all of the creation right. From that single point now explodes a new creation, where all is made new, where each of us can have God dwelling within us, loving, guiding, comforting, directing. We are in that new creation. Ahead of us, another singular point – the final judgement. At that singular point all creation will move into the same city as God and will dwell in the eternal light of His presence.

Where does this leave us, after this walk though Paul’s vision of the Cosmic Christ? It leaves me with only one message to leave with you, and only one request.

The one message in the words of Paul, that most outrageous statement in this epistle passage: “The secret is this: Christ in you, the hope of a glory to come”. Christ in each of us as a result of our baptism and our faith. Christ in you, and you, and you, and you.

My one request. Take the chance to pray with this personal God. Don’t use any prayer book or anything you remember from Sunday School . . . just talk. Our God you can pray to like you were speaking to your best friend in the whole world, to your spouse, to your dear sister. A God that is always there sitting at the table, leaning over a cup of tea, nodding and smiling back.

Once you start that relationship over tea, the real fun of our faith begins. That intimate God will answer you, things will happen, and wonderful things will unfold in your life. Just keep the conversations going.

I know this is challenging to begin with for we are a people of the prayer book. Start as if you were meeting a new person that you wanted to get to know. Talk a bit about yourself, and then be silent to let God answer. Enjoy your tea and get to know this personal God who wants to be an intimate friend of all of us.

In the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Written by sameo416

March 3, 2012 at 4:18 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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