Ninth Sunday After Pentecost/Lectionary 16C, July 17th, 2016
Amos 8:1-12, Psalm 52, Colossians 1:15-28, Luke 10:38-42
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
As I was reading the texts and preparing for this week, one phrase in particular jumped out at me in our reading from Colossians. The author of the letter is speaking about Christ, who Christ is and what his life, death, and resurrection mean. “In him, Jesus Christ, all things hold together.” And I thought, really? Because I have to tell you, these last few weeks it has not felt like there was anything holding together—on the contrary, it kind of feels like the world is falling apart. In Christ all things hold together.
God knows the world surely isn’t holding together on its own. In the last few weeks, white cops have killed black men who were no threat to them—one victim, a peaceful citizen out for a drive with his family, was shot and killed in front of his wife and son. In the last few days, there were bombings in France and an attempted coup in Turkey. In the last few weeks, a black extremist sniper shot and killed good police officers just doing their job. ISIS terrorists bombed peaceful Muslims on pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina as well as various targets in Baghdad, murdering hundreds. A homophobe used his Muslim faith as an excuse to murder fifty people in a gay nightclub in Orlando. In the last year, there has been so much violence, as people of all colors and faiths take out their frustrations and their fears by turning to violence.
In the last several months, American political life has seemed to fracture even more, with party lines between liberals and conservatives hardening. We have a culture that favors the hot-headed response, a culture that favors attacking people personally when we disagree with them. And the election season has only made it worse, further dividing an already split nation. I know I’m not blameless in that regard. People feel betrayed by political leaders, and are desperate for something different, something new; so desperate, they’ll grab hold of anything. And Britain, too, is melting down politically over the Brexit referendum and its consequences; the whole European Union is shaken. Meanwhile, the usual parade of natural disasters marches through, and the 24-hour news cycle brings a constant stream of hatred and horrors before our eyes.
Things seem to be falling apart. And yet, in Christ, all things hold together. The people of Colossae, too, lived in a world full of violence, strife, and dissension. The Roman Empire was the most powerful nation of its day, and Colossae was a Roman city. Rom prided itself on maintaining peace throughout the world, which they called a Pax Romanae. Of course, the Roman Empire maintained that peace through conquest and destruction and brutality. They literally crucified anyone they thought was a threat—that’s what happened to Jesus. And in the middle of that world, in which killing was glorified and brutality was the order of the day, a small group of people gathered in Colossae to worship Jesus, and wonder what it meant that the son of God had become human, died, and rose again from the grave.
What does it mean? In a world where there is hatred and injustice and brutality? What does it mean that Jesus came and died for us? Jesus, who was no ordinary human being, remember; Jesus was truly God and truly human at the same time. And so Jesus was there at creation, the word God breathed over the primordial chaos to call forth order, light, and life. Christ was the firstborn of all creation, and everything that now exists came into being through him. No matter how much death and darkness surrounds us, we worship a God who gives light and life, who creates and creates and creates no matter how much destruction we humans wreak on each other.
And do you remember, from Genesis, what God said every time he created something? “It is good.” And when humanity was created God saw that we were very good. That is what we were created to be. That is the true reality of every human being, everywhere: God created us in God’s own image, and God created us to be good. We are broken by sin and death, and so we hurt others and we hurt ourselves. Instead of the good, just, and merciful society God calls us to, we create societies where injustice flourishes in ignored corners, where factionalism and oppression work to undermine God’s good will. God created us for a good and godly society, and yet we tear ourselves apart. And some of us turn to violence as the solution to our problems, or just as a way to take our frustrations out on other people, or because we’re scared of what they might do to us. And some people get some kind of sick pleasure out of hurting others. And so, because of human sin, things fall apart.
But you know what? God is in the midst of this world, in the midst of all the bad things as well as the good things, working for the redemption of the world. Because God loves this world, and God loves each and every one of us, and there is absolutely nothing in all of creation that can make God give up on us. Not even our own actions. And that’s where the Christ, the Son of God, who danced over the waters of creation, came to earth and became flesh and blood in a woman’s womb. He lived and taught peace and love and a better way of thinking and living. And then he died and rose again, and in the process he destroyed the power of the devil and reconciled all of creation to himself. We know that, no matter what, evil will not win in the end. God has already won; evil will not win in the end. God’s kingdom will come to earth, and everything broken will be healed and recreated better than before. Sin and death will be no more, pain and mourning will be no more, and Christ will be there. This is the promise of the gospel, and it has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.
But the Gospel promise is more than the hope of some far-distant future, because God is presently at work in the world through Jesus Christ. God’s promise is not merely a matter of pie in the sky by and by. God’s promise is for us and all of creation, here, now, today. The first fruits of God’s kingdom are sprouting even now. And that’s the part that the news media won’t show you, because it doesn’t make them money: there is good in the world. Christ is at work in the world. For every act of evil there are so many acts of good. And no matter how dark things get, no matter how much things seem to be falling apart, the world is holding together in Christ Jesus our Lord.
A Muslim man killed 50 people in a gay nightclub, and throughout the world hundreds of thousands of Muslims gathered to pray and support the victims. You probably didn’t see that on the news, but Christ was there. And every day there are so many angry men and women across the globe who think about picking up a gun, but choose not to, and Christ is there. And every year across America, some cities choose to train their police officers and officials in peaceful conflict resolution skills, and in how to be fair to all races. Fewer people die, justice is done in greater measure, and Christ is there. And every day there are people who get riled up about something, but choose to discuss it in good faith instead of lashing out at people who disagree with them, and Christ is there. And every day people teach their children about justice and love, and every day people stop bullies from hurting people, and Christ is there. Refugees flee the tyrannical and terroristic regimes that oppress them, and Christ is there with them, giving them strength and hope. Some people and some countries reach out to support those refugees until they can return home and rebuild, and Christ is there.
Every day, there are a thousand evil things that could happen but do not, because Christ is there, helping to bring justice and love and peace. Even when we work against that—even when we buy into the world’s story that things are going to hell and everything is terrible—Christ is there, giving hope in the midst of hopelessness and helping us to repent of our sins and step into the light of Christ. That’s who we are as Christians—the people who have seen the light, who are sent out into the world to do God’s work of spreading justice and love and the promise that God has made to every living thing.
You know, the ancient Colossians, the ones who first received this letter? They were a lot worse off than we are today. We are uncomfortable because Christianity is losing power in the US—they were uncomfortable because being a Christian could mean their deaths. They lived in constant peril, and in the midst of that this letter told them to trust God, and to work for God’s kingdom, the redemption of all creation. Imagine how much more we can do, here, now, today. Imagine the peace, justice, and love, we can bring to the world as the body of Christ. And you know what? We are doing it. Not always; sometimes we fall short. But even in the midst of our own shortcomings, in the midst of the worst the world can do, Christ is holding all things together—and we are participating in that work through our words, our actions, and our whole lives. Thanks be to God.