November 20, 2022 Sanctuary Worship, Sermon, "Not There Yet"

Nov 20th  |  The Reverend Wendy VanderZee |  Colossians 1:11-20

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   I was sitting in a very large church in downtown Chicago, having just been received under care of the Chicago Presbytery.   Next on the docket was a candidate for ministry who was graduating from McCormick Theological Seminary and seeking ordination. The question from the floor was about Jesus’s humanity verses his divinity. To clarify the question, in front of well over 400 pastors, elders, and professors of McCormick, the candidate boldly asked, “Are you asking what percentage of Jesus was human and what percentage of him was divine? He was 100% human and 100% divine!”

    This was precisely the question the Gnostics struggled with and to which Paul was responding in this letter to the church of Colossae.   As a mathematical equation, it doesn’t make sense. But from a theological perspective it does. This is part of the mystery of our faith.

   Paul’s letter, is also a prayer of thanksgiving for the church there. It is a hymn about Jesus Christ and tells the whole story of everything: creation, redemption, and final reconciliation. It is the summary of the entire Gospel narrative: God’s creating power and God’s working of salvation. Everything points to Christ. Remember, Paul was writing in a time when the people were under Roman rule and Caesar’s image was everywhere, including on the coinage where he was described as the “Beginning”.

   Yet here, Paul proclaims that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, and not only is he the source of all that is, but everything finds their true purpose and fulfillment in him. Christ is sovereign: not the nation, not the emperor, and not the economy.

“In him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible….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.”

   But it doesn’t stop there. 

For “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.”

   From sinful and estranged to holy and blameless! Wow! It is a spiritual transformation that changes everything. It is a gift for all humanity. Jesus is larger than any of our sins or omission of sins! His death on the cross is an offering of absolution.

   God breathes life into us, creates this amazingly beautiful world and all the life in it, redeems us and the world by defeating sin and death through Christ’s own sacrificial death and resurrection.

   Think for a moment about all that you have seen and experienced in your life: the places you have been, sunrises, sunsets, the mystery and awesomeness of each season’s beauty. Even our amazing bodies that move, see, hear, taste, smell, and touch this world and everything we love: our parents, our children, grandchildren, friends, life partners, loved ones both living and deceased; other living creatures that fill us with awe and wonder. What generous love God gives us!

“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.”

   With full and grateful hearts, how do each of us respond to this generosity? This abundance? How can we respond in any other way than with complete and utter gratitude by joyfully sharing generously in return? This is not only a corporate question but a personal one we each need to prayerfully consider as well. How can we respond with love and grace to these gifts? How do we share our time and talents with the church and with the wider community? How do we share our resources including our earnings - whatever they may be? Today we have the opportunity to prayerfully commit and dedicate our resources as well as our very selves to God and to the ministry of this church.

   The Bible instructs us about the kind of life God expects us to embody by giving us Jesus - the one in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”.  And it is Jesus who encourages us in all truth through his teachings and parables.

   We have all been instructed by Scripture each week. All that we have received are gifts from God, and what we have been given we are to share generously as God has done. We are called to give the first fruits of all that God has given us - not whatever is left over, trusting that God will continue to provide for all our needs. We are to give joyfully, not reluctantly or grudgingly. Jesus said “To those who have been given much, much is expected.”

   We are called to love one another as we have been loved.  There are no strangers, for everyone is our neighbor, and we are to love them lavishly. We are not to worry about the future for it - like we - are in God’s hands. Our mentor, our example, is Jesus Christ who lives in us. Following Jesus isn’t a part time commitment or something we can do just on Sundays or when “it feels right”.

   Like the children’s Hokey Pokey game: we are called to put “our whole selves in.” Today’s Scripture reminds us that Christ is to be first in all aspects of our lives: in the broad plans for your life as well as the details, in your relationships, in your decision-making, in your budgets, in your family life, in your work life, and in your devotional life.

   We all strive to follow the guidelines and the guideposts for living a Christ-like life. We desire to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God. Yet, we all fall short. We are not there yet.

   That is why we corporately say a prayer of confession each week. We confess all the ways we have not responded as God would intend us to. We need to ask for God’s forgiveness and grace which we receive through Christ’s death on the cross. And we are given the ultimate gift of reconciliation through Christ, overcoming the once-estranged relationship between humanity and God. 

   We can continue to walk this life with peace in our hearts because this gift of grace is given to all of creation. We are not there yet; but we continue the journey.  One step at a time, we can move toward what Paul Tillich called the “eternal now” - our present and future brought together in Christ.

   This is the last week of what the liturgical year calls Ordinary Time which culminates in the celebration of the reign of Christ in the world and in our lives.

   Next week, we begin a new church year with the first Sunday of Advent. We move from Christ’s kingship to the reminder that Jesus was also fully human, born like we were from our mother’s womb. This is an exciting time: pregnant with possibilities! This church is beginning a new century of ministry. The new transitional pastor, Anna, will be arriving in just a few weeks! Where will God call this church in 2023? Where is God calling you?

   Before we begin this Advent journey together, first ask yourself the question: How do you need to reorder your life so that Christ will be the head? Amen.