Sermon Colossians 1;15 etc July 21st 2013 Luke 10:38-end.
The Life of Brian scandalised a lot of Christians. For religious offence try this for size.
It is about Christ.
‘ humbly he came,
Veiling his horrible Godhead in the shape
Of man, scorned by the world, his name unheard,
Save by the rabble of his native town,
Even as a parish demagogue. He led
The crowd; he taught them justice, truth and peace,
In semblance; but he lit within their souls
The quenchless flames of zeal, and blest the sword
He brought on earth to satiate with the blood
Of truth and freedom his malignant soul.
Anyone recognise that? First major poem published by Shelley.
Didn’t have to get it all to notice it was hostile.
To very briefly explain Shelley was a fan of revolution.
By the time he wrote the poem in 1813 the French Revolution had given birth to the Terror and led to the rise of Napoleon, so Shelley had become wary of violent change, but he still held to one of the most cherished ideas of radical thinkers of that time- that God was on the wrong side.
In this poem he portrays God as a brutal tyrant who wants to find a way to terrorise humanity. To this end he hatches a plan to divide and rule the human race by creating a religion which will set living people one against another, and condemn most, after death, to eternal punishment. So Christ becomes his stooge, to set the plan in motion. Hence in the poem references to Christ , veiling the horrible Godhead and to Christ’s malignant soul.
No wonder Shelley published it privately for a small circle of friends.
In today’s New Testament reading we came across another poem about Christ, but one saying something rather different. Because it was embedded in the text of 1 Colossians, I will read it aloud again,.
He is the image of the invisible God,
The firstborn of all creation.
For in him all things were created,
In the heavens and here on earth.
Things we can see and things we cannot,
-thrones and lordships and rulers and powers-
All were created both 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 though him God was pleased to reconcile himself to all things,
Whether on earth or in heaven,
By making peace through the blood of his cross.
A far cry from Shelley’s trickster, this is an amazingly full and positive picture of Christ.
You will have noticed echoes of the famous opening to St John’s Gospel, where Christ too is the agent of creation.
You might have spotted too one of Paul’s favourite ideas, that Christ is the head of the church- a lesson which if it had been always followed would have meant that Shelley’s satire about the wickedness of Christianity would never have had any bite.
There are a number of similarly vital ideas in that passage from Colossians which could inform the way we approach our faith today, and the way we confront those who , like Shelley, in his, are content with parodies of what we believe and stand for.
The most obvious point of the poem is that Christ is involved in creation, but you might not have noticed that it emphasises that this was not a once and for all act long ago.
It refers to Christ continuing to hold all things together. Which has long been the church’s considered position on the subject, which is why science, when it concerns itself with understanding the wonder of how the universe is configured, has usually been welcomed and why creationism will always be a minority hobby.
Being critical of particular applications of science or of the materialism that often accompanies it is another matter.
And many popular modern misconceptions about the Christian understanding of God seem to be direct descendents of Shelley’s view- God as tyrant, with Christ as his agent provocateur.
Colossians has Christ as having the fullness of God within him. Christ is the place to look and to encounter God- and the one who we meet there is about compassion, forgiveness, self-giving and sacrifice, not the abuse of power!
There is even some wise guidance about politics. When it says that even thrones, dominions, rulers and powers have been created by him, it is easy to see how those with a self-interest might interpret that as saying that God authorises their power and the way they exercise it, but no.
The poet borrows the phrase from the Jewish tradition, and there it means all manifestations of power, political and spiritual, but he also includes those categories within the all things which need reconciliation with God through Christ. God and Christ don’t rubber stamp them, but have ultimate authority over them.
Which means that when we ask questions about how our society should be run we should always refer back to the insights of the gospel. People have tried in the past to argue that their favoured political system or ethical viewpoint can be read off, quite simply, from biblical texts .But that does not really work !
What is probably more productive is to set the Biblical vision , particularly as illuminated by Christ, beside our own. What would that say to our contemporary cynicisms and obsessions with instrumentality and productiveness?
When Colossians says that everything, absolutely everything in the universe, was made through Christ and for him?
Or Jesus himself tells Martha not to judge Mary’s spiritual focus against her obsessive business?