“Center to Margins”

November 17, 2019 | Isaiah 65:17-25; Colossians 1:11-20  

Every once in a while, in the middle of quite ordinary moments, this question slips into my mind:  we are all hanging out on the earth which is spinning in space at roughly 1,000 miles per hour, why don’t we just fly off into the atmosphere, along with buildings, cars and bicycles; cats, dogs, chickens, and sheep.  I know the answer.  It’s gravity that holds us here.  And I know the definition of gravity:  it is the force by which a planet or other body draws other objects to its center.   But the truth is, I don’t really understand gravity.  I just know that the earth beneath our feet is spinning at a really high speed, and you all are able to sit in these pews and I to stand in this pulpit without any sense at all that we are moving.   Gravity holds things on earth, it centers us, it keeps the pea soup we will eat at Table Fellowship in the pan, and prevents spoons from flying around Bethany Hall, and us with them.

In his letter to the Colossians, the apostle Paul writes, “in Jesus Christ all things in heaven and on earth, things visible and invisible, thrones, rulers, powers, people, plants, planets, pets, paradoxes—in Jesus Christ, all things hold together.   Jesus is the force, the gravity, the reality that centers the universe, and keeps powers, people, plants, planets, and pets—all things from flying apart.

For years, these words about Jesus have been my mantra:  “In him all things hold together.”  In him all things hold together.  It is a statement that I hold and speak in faith.   It is a conscious leap to trust that in Jesus the Christ, all things hold together.   What my experience tells me is that things fall apart.   Congregations come loose at the seams.  Intimate relationships implode.  Marriages end.  Illness overtakes.  We lose our jobs.  We lose our minds.  We lose our loved ones to drug overdoses and gun violence.  We lose a safe, affordable place to live.  We lose the capacity for civil discourse and truthful speech in politics.   All of the things I have just named were part of my experience with others this past week.  Things fall apart.  And my response is to leap, or let myself fall into this knowing we call faith, trusting in what I cannot always see with my eyes—“in Jesus the Christ, all things, visible and invisible, created and uncreated, spirit and matter, divinity and humanity are held together—in the past, in the present, in the future, forever held together.”

So what does that mean?  How does that work?  What is it that makes Jesus the lynchpin, the gravity that draws, the centering force that holds, the binding energy that makes of everything in the created cosmos a single communion, an intimate unbreakable union within itself, and with its Creator, from beginning to end?   Who is Jesus in relation to the God who created the cosmos?

Based on the Biblical story, we are in the habit of thinking about creation in this way:   In faith, we believe that God is the Creator, the Source, the Life Energy behind all that is and ever will be.  Scientists tell us that creation as we know it emerged over something like 13.5 billions of years, with human beings finally coming onto the scene in the last 2.5 million years.   All well and good.  We believe that creation, however it happened is God’s work, from beginning to end, and from the creation story in Genesis, we learn that creation was good, beautiful, superabundant, held and blessed–a harmonious communion within creation, and with the Creator.

Then, the story goes, human beings made choices that caused permanent breaks in relationships between human beings, between human beings and the rest of creation, and between human beings and God.   Things got messed up.  Things fell apart.  Things are also still beautiful and good, but there is this persistent brokenness.   So, the story goes, God tries all kinds of ways to bring human beings and the creation back into harmonious communion, with some limited success.  Then finally, God sends God’s only begotten Son—a child birthed from God’s own self—into the world to become God’s self in the flesh, in a human being, so that he can repair the breaks, reconcile the relationships, and bring the creation back into full, harmonious communion with itself and with God.   God creates.   At the appointed time, as a kind of emergency measure, a rescue operation, Jesus the Son saves human beings through his life, death and resurrection.  That’s how the story has been told and how we still tend to think about it.

But Paul, and other early witnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus began to think the story differently based on their experience of him.  They began to think of Jesus as active in, as an agent of, God’s good creation—in him and through him everything was made.   They began to grasp that from eternity, Jesus was already envisioned to be the first-born human being in God’s original creation.   Jesus existed from forever as the prototype, the perfect model for our species.  Or, as theologian David Toolan says,”in cosmological ecological terms, Jesus has to be understood as an archetype of what the raw material of all created stuff–what all the quarks and molecules were from the beginning pre-destined to become.   What the quarks and molecules were pre-destined to become was one resurrected, one fully alive, fully reconciled, fully re-unioned body of human beings together with creation and with the Creator, in and through the path that Jesus opened up.

Jesus was able to open up that path in the history of the cosmos because he was, in himself, both as the prototype of humanity from eternity, and as a human being in time, the perfect union of spirit and matter, of created and uncreated being, of body and soul, of divine and human.   Jesus is stardust.  Jesus is earth stuff, born of a woman, born from the Hebrew gene pool, alive like the rest of creation from God’s breath, and filled, moved, exuberant, compassionate, passionate in the Spirit.   From eternity, and within time and history, Jesus is fleshing out of God’s great dream for the cosmos.  The vision that Israel’s prophets continued to lift up when the people’s own brokenness and failures caused things to fall apart in devastating ways.  Jesus is the first born of God’s new creation, the fulfillment of Isaiah’s vision of a new heaven and a new earth, re-created for joy and delight, freed from competition between peoples and nations, freed of violence, freed of exile, freed of hunger, suffering, mourning, and the sting of death.

Paul assures the Colossians that in Jesus this new creation has begun, the powers of darkness have been bound, and they have been drawn into the realm where the life, love, and light of God in Christ are the centering forces, the gravitational pull, the emerging order of the cosmos, and the place where, in with and through the Spirit’s human beings grow in consciousness that in Jesus the Christ, all things hold together.  All things are held together, your precious life, the life of our congregation and communities, the life of the cosmos. Feel the peace in this.   All things are being fully healed and reconciled.  Feel the promise in this.  We are in process of becoming a fully alive, fully re-unioned body of human beings together with creation and the Triune God.  Feel the joy in this.   Receive the self you were created to be, in, with and the person and Spirit of Jesus, and be a holder of persons for whom things have fallen apart.

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