Sunday, November 27, 2016

All the Fullness of God

Colossians 1:11-20
November 20, 2016
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Today is the last Sunday of the liturgical year,Christ the King Sunday, or Reign of Christ Sunday, and the last Sunday of our annual stewardship season,AND most of us are looking forward to Thanksgiving this Thursday. It’s fitting that all these events converge in this way, because two of the central ideas of Christian stewardship in the Presbyterian and reformed tradition are gratitude for everything in our lives and the lordship of Jesus Christ over all of our lives.

Our scripture is from the epistle to the Colossians, from the Apostle Paul to a church founded by his student Epaphras.The reading begins with loving encouragement to these new Christians,words that ground them firmly in faith and hope,and call them to endurance, commitment, and love of Christ. There follows one of the most beautiful and joyful Christ hymns in all of scripture, a song that expresses not only a high Christology but also a transcendent beauty and glory.
Let’s listen for the glory of God as it is expressed in Colossians 1:11-20.

May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.
He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.
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. 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.

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Sometimes crafting a sermon feels like I’ve been given three completely disparate objects,say, a thimble, a piece of chicken liver, and a postcard of a sloth, and told that I’m to make something coherent of them.But days like today are just the opposite of that.The convergence of events liturgical, political, local and global along with the scriptures for today, invite us into some beautiful and faithful insights.Today we worship both in spirit and in action as we consider how to be thankful, to acknowledge Christ as our King, and to commit our pledges to God.

Just as the scripture reading for today begins with Thanksgiving, so will we.We Americans know how to be grateful, even if we don’t always show it. We know the importance of gratitude, in our relationships, and in our business exchanges whether with professionals or waitresses or clerks in retail stores.We know how important it is to say “thank you” and it is equally important in our faith. The Apostle Paul models that gratitude in many ways in his letters. He opens this letter to the Colossians by saying,

“In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints”

In the scripture you’ve heard this morning, Paul offers prayers for the church.He prays that they may “be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.” Gratitude is foundational to our faith and our commitment. Thanksgiving is part of who we are, as well as a holiday.

On Thursday, most of America will gather for a Thanksgiving feast. In our gatherings at the table, we recall the year 1621, when the Wampanoag Indians dined with pilgrims. Those Pilgrims were thankful to have survived the winter in the new world. It’s the stuff of all those adorable kindergarten dramas, with kids in cardboard pilgrim hats or brown paper bag Indian costumes.Long before President Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving to be celebrated each November, American Thanksgiving observances were held.

After the Revolutionary War, this newly independent country observed a day of thanksgiving in celebration of the nation’s hard-won independence from the British King. That’s the last time anyone in this country had a king. We’re suspicious of kings, we Americans. Unlike the Israelites who kept asking God for a king, we’d just as soon not have one. 

We don’t care much for those who seem to have gotten money and power on the backs of others, through exploitation or coercion.We like visiting royal homes and castles in faraway places. but we aren’t comfortable with contemporary kings and their 24 karat gilded palaces.

We like seeing the British royal family on the cover of People magazine, but we don’t want any of them reigning over us. Kings have power; kings have wealth; kings lord it over others.  Kings use force and will say or do anything to get their way. We don’t care much for that sort of leader.

We just don’t like kings.
Except our king.

He teaches us that the quest for wealth and power is empty and futile, and instead tells us to store up treasure in heaven. He guides us away from the urge to wield power for our own gain and into servant leadership for the purpose of helping others. He never lived in a palace – in fact he never had a house at all. His birth was not heralded by anyone but the lowly and few wise foreigners. His power is the power of love; his wealth is an abundance of grace; his desire is not his own will, but the will of God.

Our king was unjustly tried for blasphemy and sedition, and was hung on a cross between two thieves, one on his right and one on his left, at a place that is called The Skull.Our king did not swear out revenge against those who tormented him.He said “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Those watching scoffed at him, and mocked him.

They said, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”
They hung an inscription over him that said “This is the King of the Jews.”

When one of those two criminals asked him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” he did not answer with anger or hatred or judgment or revenge, but he replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." He died on that cross, but the grave could not hold him. Death had no power over him, because he is the firstborn of the dead, and sovereign over all of life and death.

He is not some stone God demanding sacrifice or burnt offerings;
he is God-with-us, God for us.

He is not a tiny Jesus dwelling in the confines of your heart,
he is the transcendent God who invites us into his heart.

He is not an earthly king who comes to visit his subjects
expecting us to provide him with food and lodging and entertainment.

He is the host who invites us to his table,
and feeds us on his very body and blood, giving us life.

He held nothing back but gave his all, for all the world, and for you, and for me.
In Christ is creation and its redemption.

In Christ is the reconciliation of all things –
conflicts, politics, principalities and problems.

Christ is the beginning, middle and the end of all,
so that he might come to have first place in everything.

Our stewardship pledges are a grateful response to this reality. When we make our pledges in support of the mission and ministry of this church, we do well to ask ourselves, “Does this allow Christ to have first place?”  If there is some other purpose or project that takes first place, we do well to ask that God reorder our lives to suit God’s holy purpose. When we pledge our commitment to God with our financial support we do well to remember that we serve the ruler of the universe.

We do well to consider that in him, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. He was before all and in all and in him all things hold together. He is the image of God, firstborn of creation, who walked in the garden in the cool of the day. His power is over all things, and he is the head of the body, the church.Neither thrones nor dominions nor rulers nor powers have any authority over him. As we bring our pledge commitments to God,as we gather this week in Thanksgiving as a free people,
we acknowledge that we have but one sovereign.

This Jesus is our king, to whom we owe everything.
This is our king, the one to whom we swear our fealty,
the one to whom we commit our lives, ourselves and all that we have.
Thanks be to God that Christ is our king!


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