Sunday, November 20, 2016

In Christ, the Fullness of God - Sermon for Reign of Christ Sunday, Year C

Colossians 1:11-20

There are different kinds of calendars that we use to keep track of life. There’s the secular calendar that begins in January and ends on December 31. Along the way there are lots of different holidays and observances. In many ways, that’s the calendar that guides daily life. In the old days we turned to paper, now many use their phones to keep track of life. If you’re in business, you might make use of the fiscal calendar, which runs from July to June. There are also many different religious calendars. 

For us, as followers of Jesus, the liturgical calendar or the Christian year reminds us that we are citizens of the realm of God. It begins on the First Sunday of Advent, when we receive the good news that the kingdom of God is at hand. This liturgical calendar comes to a close this morning as we celebrate Reign of Christ Sunday. Today we celebrate the enthronement of the one in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Yes, we celebrate the full revelation of the one who is “the image of the invisible God, the one who is first over all creation.”  It is through the one we call the Christ that God has reconciled all things and brought peace through the blood of the cross. This is the promise that will sustain us. It is the promise that sustains me. 


According to the secular calendar, this is the week of Thanksgiving. We will have at least two opportunities to gather with members of the community to give thanks to God for the bounty that has been poured out upon us. Tonight is the Troy-area Interfaith Group service, and on Tuesday we’ll gather for the Troy Clergy Group service. It is good for people to “gather together to ask for God’s blessing” and give thanks to God our creator who is the source of every good and perfect gift. So, “come, ye thank people come, raise the song of harvest home!”   

In the reading from Colossians, we’re invited to give “thanks with joy to the Father. He made it so you could take part in the inheritance, in light granted to God’s holy people.” We are heirs of God, through Christ. It’s not a small inheritance! While we were once captive to darkness, now we have been set free and brought into the kingdom of God’s Son. This leads to some hymn singing. I know that we like to sing. 

It is said that we learn much of our theology from our hymns.  That means we need to pay attention to the words. We may not agree with every word, but the hymns, old and new, can stir within us a sense of praise and thanksgiving to God. They can call us to repentance and stir us to action. Ultimately, when we blend our voices we are blended together as one body in Christ. 

As I chose hymns for this service, I had a number of options. One of the options I didn’t choose was Isaac Watt’s hymn “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun.” This hymn declares: “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun does its successive journeys run; his love shall spread from shore to shore, till moons shall wax and wane no more.” This hymn reminds us that God isn’t a territorial deity. God is concerned about all things, for God is the creator of all things. And, according to the author of the Colossian letter, God has created all things through Christ, “both in the heavens and on earth, the things that are visible and the things that are invisible.”  

It’s been a little more than a week since we had an election. Everyone is watching to see what will happen. To say that there is a bit of anxiety and tension in the air would be an understatement. While we might be citizens of this nation and rightfully concerned about the welfare of our neighbors, we also have a different sort of citizenship. That citizenship is in God’s realm, over which Jesus has been appointed. In him, the Colossian hymn declares, “all the fullness of God was pleased to live in him.”  In him, God reconciles all things to Godself, “whether things on earth or in the heavens.” It is in this promise that I find hope. It is in loyalty to this cause that I find meaning in life. Yes, it is because of this promise that my hope is not mere optimism. The hope engendered in us because we are part of the body of Christ, isn’t a passive one. There is much work to be done, but we don’t do it alone. We don’t do it in our own power.  

Yesterday some of us attended the Rippling Hope Open House. This ministry exists because Central Woodward caught hold of a vision that emerged from a conversation between Eugene James me about working together to develop a ministry in Detroit. This ministry is a sign of God’s presence, and it is helping to transform neighborhoods. This morning you will have noticed that the back pews are filled with Christmas boxes that will go to young children in Detroit. These boxes transform lives, because they’re signs of hope. There are many other opportunities out there for us to be involved with, opportunities to experience God’s peace, and to share God’s peace with our neighbors. We do this work, because we are servants of the one in whom all things hold together, the first born of all creation, the head of the body, which is the church.     

As recipients of a great inheritance in Christ, we have everything we need to live boldly, making known the shalom of God. Richard Beck wrote a piece on his blog the other day that stands out as a good reminder of what it means to live in God’s realm. He wrote: 
“The political imagination of the kingdom is ‘think globally, act locally’ within the sphere of human relationships. All the social, political and economic problems at work in the world are addressed and rehabilitated within the church where the kingdom of God rules ‘in our midst.’” 
There is a lot to unpack in this statement, but I think the key point is about the relational nature of God’s realm. Where do we see it revealed? It’ won’t be found in armies or navies or even national political structures. It will be found in relationships that begin in the church. They begin as we open up to each other and allow God to reconcile us to God and to each other. When we build relationships that cross old barriers – ethnic, religious, gender, sexual orientation, and the like – we see God at work bringing peace through the cross. 

The hymn closes with the words “He brought peace through the blood of the cross.” If we turn to the Gospel reading for today from Luke, we will find Jesus on the cross. People are mocking him, questioning his calling as Christ and King. But, as he hangs on the cross, he reminds us that the realm of God is different from human realms. It is not the power of dominion, but the power of service. There is one person in the crowd who recognizes the truth of this realm. That person asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his realm. That person hangs on a cross next to Jesus. Jesus promises that he would be with him that day in Paradise (Luke 23:33-43).  Yes, there is peace through the cross. 

What the cross does is shine a light into the darkness, revealing the world’s desire to deify itself. The cross reveals the violence, oppression, and injustice that marks the world when it tries to deify itself. The cross points us toward a different kind of world, where peace and reconciliation are revealed in the person of Jesus, “the image of the invisible God, the one who is first over all creation.”

As we confess before God our desire to be reconciled through Christ, we can sing this ancient hymn from the seventh century: 

Christ is made the sure foundation, Christ the head and cornerstone,
chosen of the Lord and precious, binding all the church in one;
holy Zion’s help forever, and our confidence alone.  
(Chalice Hymnal, 275)

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan 
Reign of Christ Sunday
November 20, 2016

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