161113 – Autumnology

Yr C ~ Reign of Christ Sunday ~ Colossians 1:11-20

Let me start by saying something that may be very controversial for you but I think it will really help. It’s about how we view and read the bible. I’d like you to try to hold this paradox as you contemplate passages of scripture like today’s. Everything in the bible is important and absolutely true for the writer, but it may not be true to your experience, and therefore not very helpful, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still true.autumnology

Here’s an example. Some might say that the world is a very dangerous place. I might answer, no it isn’t. I’ve never really felt in danger nor has my life or safety ever really been threatened. Therefore, it is false to say the world is a very dangerous place. Meanwhile, someone who lives in Syria, or in certain parts of Africa, or in any number of other very dangerous places in the world would rightly say I was crazy and every day is life-threatening. Both views are absolutely true, even while they speak to totally different perceptions of the world.

If you can hold that paradox of two opposite things being true at the same time, if you can get beyond the idea that it’s black or white, that if you think this way then that other way can’t be true, if you can transcend that dualistic, either/or lens, then you will have a much better chance of understanding the bible in really helpful and meaningful ways.

For some of you, today’s reading was like hearing angels whisper into your ear as glorious music was playing and your heart was bursting with joy as the words resonated to the very depth of your being.

For others of you, today’s reading may have been like hearing fingernails on a chalkboard and made you scrunch up your face and squirm uncomfortably in your chair.

Colossians 1:11-20

1:11 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
1:12 giving thanks to [God], who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.
1:13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son,
1:14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;
1:16 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.
1:17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
1:18 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.
1:19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
1:20 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.

So, are you revelling, or squirming?
How you answer that question may help you to understand if you are a person with a high Christology or a low Christology.
Let me explain.

Christology is theological interpretation of the nature, person, and deeds of Christ. It’s about how you look at Jesus.
What does it mean to say he’s fully human and fully divine?
What does it mean to say that he embodies the fullness of God?
What does it mean when he is described as performing miracles or healings?

You’ve probably experienced or overheard heated arguments about this kind of stuff. They tend to flow out of that black and white dualistic thinking. A couple of weeks ago we did the story of Zacchaeus. At one point Jesus looks up into the tree where Zack is sitting and he calls him by name. How’d he do that?

A person who holds a high Christology would likely argue that because Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” and that “all things were created through him” that he was imbued with supernatural divine knowledge and would’ve just known Zacchaeus’ name.

A person who holds a low Christology would likely argue that since Zacchaeus’ name means pure and innocent that Jesus was just looking into his eyes and perceiving that truth about his heart and the name came forth as a description of what Jesus saw.

That is the interpretation you heard me offer, because I generally hold a low Christology. But be careful here. That does not in any way, shape, or form mean that I think Jesus is “lower” than others think, nor that I hold Jesus in less esteem than others might.

A low Christology simply means that the more human side of the equation resonates more powerfully for me, while for those with a high Christology the more divine side of the equation resonates for them.

I believe Jesus is fully human and fully divine, but I do so out of a theological concept I learned from the Eastern branch of Christianity.
I think we in the West, the dualistic, either/or West, have tended to understand that we are ‘all too human’ and not divine at all, while Jesus is fully divine and somehow fully human too.

But in Eastern Christianity they understand that Jesus was surely both, but we, you and I, are neither!
We are not fully anything, and certainly not fully human!
We are, in fact, partially divine, and our spiritual journey is meant to grow our divinity.
And the awesome part of that is that we aren’t fully human either but as our divinity grows so too does our humanity, and as our humanity grows so too does our divinity.

So Jesus is fully both and we’re fully neither – but we’re on the Way.
Our high or low Christology says nothing about whether Jesus is one or the other because he is fully both – but it does say which aspect of Jesus’ fullness we respond and relate to.

One more example.
I went for a walk with my dog the other day and noticed the autumn leaves.
A person with a high autumnology would look at the leaves on the trees, marvel at the wondrous natural processes at work in the changing colours, revel in vast array of those colours painting the landscape, and delight as the leaves dance on the branches and then gently float through the air.

Meanwhile, a person with a low autumnology would focus on the leaves on the ground, blowing to and fro in the wind, crunching invitingly underfoot, their musty aroma filling the air, delighting in visions of kids making piles and giggling as they jump in and immerse themselves in the leaves.
So, which group is wrong about autumn?

The low autumnology folks certainly don’t deny that the leaves were on the trees and they were beautiful, they just like the grounded aspect more.
The high autumnology folks certainly don’t deny that the leaves must eventually fall and can create fun and delight on the ground, they just like the elevated aspect more.

(And yes, no matter which view you prefer, you’ve still gotta rake ‘em up!)

Here’s the thing.
Just because you like the grounded part more doesn’t mean you can’t value and appreciate the elevated aspect too.
And vice-versa!
So is your autumnology more grounded or more elevated?
How about your Christology?

Why am I making such a big deal about this? Because I don’t want you to either dismiss a scripture passage because it describes Jesus in ways you never would, or embrace a passage and claim it as the one, true, definitive way to say something about Jesus.
If you have a high Christology, go ahead and revel in today’s reading.
If you have a low Christology, try to appreciate the perspective the writer is sharing and see how powerful an expression of faith it is for them.

The letter to the Colossians was written to a congregation that was struggling with being persecuted on one side and being confused by a rival theology on the other side. The rival theology is called Gnosticism, which essentially was a movement that said if you could work the mystical side of things and build up enough experiences you could get to a point where you could learn the secrets of God and attain the fullness of spiritual ecstasy and enlightenment.

So the tone of this letter is meant to remind the Colossians, and us, that Jesus is the fullness of God and there is no need to look into some other new age style system to discover what we already have in Jesus. It makes perfect sense then that here Jesus is described in the highest possible way, presented as a divine fullness far richer and more powerful and utterly beyond anything a gnostic might seek on their own. Here a picture of the kingdom of God is painted, and there is no doubt that Jesus is the king, the ruler, “before all things, holding all things together.”

Today is, in fact, what we call the Reign of Christ Sunday. It’s the end of the church liturgical year, the culmination of all of Jesus’ teaching and being, and we ponder what it means to have Christ as our King.

For a person with a high Christology, like the writer of Colossians, this is a welcome and vibrant concept. Jesus, the cosmic Christ, the Word that was with God in the beginning, is our king.

People with a lower Christology sometimes have difficulty with this Sunday. For them, the idea of a king in a kingdom may feel too hierarchical and patriarchal for comfort. It may seem to put Jesus too high up and far away when they need Jesus to be right here.

So for you who love the language of Colossians embrace your king and enjoy all that that image brings for you and how it strengthens and empowers you.

And for you who are challenged by this language I offer you this. The earliest confession of faith in the fledgling church that began in Jesus’ name was this: Jesus is Lord.

Jesus is Lord, meaning master, the one who directly guides my living, whose presence and authority I trust and yield to rather than relying solely on my own counsel.

Saying Jesus is Lord means I am not.
Saying Jesus is centre means I am not.
And saying Jesus reigns in this kingdom does not mean that I am a helpless, subservient, mindless pawn – it simply means that when it comes to Jesus I don’t lead, I follow.

The kingdom of God is the place where the autumn leaves live, and move, and have their being. We are not in control of the kingdom; we do not dictate the seasons. Those things are beyond us.

And however we may perceive the kingdom – whether we are attracted to the higher, more elevated aspects or resonate with the lower, more grounded aspects – we stand in awe of the sacredness of it all, above, around, and within us, season after season, lifting us to the highest heavens while rooting us deep in the present moment.
And as we take in the wondrous elevated-ness and grounded-ness of God’s kingdom our hearts fill with love.

So whether you’re a “Christ is king” person, a “Jesus is Lord” person, a “God’s kingdom reigns” person, or whatever language speaks to you – hear this as your prayer:

1:11 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
1:12 giving thanks to [God], who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.

Whatever your autumnology may be, know that your leaves are loved!

Amen.