Christ in you, the hope of glory

Proper 11C
Colossians 1:21-29

Did anyone wait in line all night to get the new Harry Potter book? Anyone that would wait in line at midnight for something like that is crazy…oh and Star Wars doesn’t count. Ha ha.

Last week we started our series on the book of Colossians. We learned that Colossians is a letter written by Paul and Timothy to a church of Gentiles. This was a newly planted church, and the content is for new believers and the newly baptized. It was a church that Paul did not found and it was a church that was destroyed in an earthquake just two short years after Paul and Timothy wrote the letter.

Key to the book is found in the verse: “He [God] 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.”

Paul is admonishing them to live the life of the baptized, transferred from the power or dominion of darkness, to the kingdom of Jesus Christ.

The key question is, how is that done? We talked last week about turning from the darkness and turning to Jesus Christ, who is not only man but God and King. ‘All things were created through him (or by him) and for him.’

When we think of things created for him, we think the world, the universe, the sky and the sun. What has also been created for him? Us. You and me. We are created for him so we live for him and walk in his steps.

Today’s lesson gives us some reflections on how to get there. Once we have turned to Jesus, then what? Paul gives us three examples. Continue on. Embrace suffering. And live in the mystery of Christ dwelling within.

Paul first bit of advice is simple. Continue on. He says, “You who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him– provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard…”

He is telling the Collosian church that they have been united with Christ, reconciled through his death–there’s some baptismal imagery there, dying and rising to life. They have been reconciled to be presented holy before God–provided they continue, without shifting or looking to the left or to the right. They must continue on.

What does it look like to ‘continue on?’ We often see our relationship with Christ as a one time thing. We make a commitment to Jesus and we move on to the next thing. Now we are not saved by works. We in no way bring anything to the table that earns our way to heaven. But our relationship to Jesus is continuous and, like all other relationships, it takes perseverance and steadfastness. There are no shortcuts. What were the early Christians first called in the book of Acts? They were called the ‘Way.’ Jesus called himself, the ‘way.’ That implies a pilgrimage, a journey. I remember a young man who was baptized whose last Sunday in church was his baptism. He was so fired up about everything–or so I thought.

Ugandan theologian Emmanuel Katongole says, “We have settled in too easily. Instead of living out that story of journey toward a new creation, we tend to live out the stories of nationality. And then we forget what it is like to journey.” In other words, the cares of ourselves and the ways of the world dictate us too much.

What makes a good marriage? Saying ‘I do,’ and then putting in cruise control? No, there are layers of communication and work and love and romance and self giving. There are no ‘hurry up’ fixes for marital health. Why would our relationship with Jesus be any different? When is the last time you waited in line?

I read a portion of a book recently, that observed that you know when someone is off kilter spiritually when waiting in any kind of line is extremely painful. We all do this. We scan the lines at the grocery store and say, which line is the shortest. We scan everyone’s items and measure the distance and time that we will be waiting in line based on that. Then, if someone gets the spot we missed out on and gets through the line first, we think to ourselves, ‘that’s where I should be right now.’

A good spiritual discipline is to choose the longest line and reconnect somehow in prayer with God. This goes against our grain because we want results as soon as possible. 5 minutes is unbearably long to wait for anything. I challenge you this week to go against the grain. Choose the longest line and get it in. Then quiet yourself and pray.

But the kingdom is different. God plays by different rules. He could care less about our busyness. His desire is that we continue on the way at his pace. We walk with him, we journey with him. Like the travelers on the road to Emmaus, our hearts burn in his presence.

Next, Paul says some strange things about suffering. He says, “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. “

This sounds ambiguous. It sounds like Paul is saying that he is adding to an inadequate sacrifice of Christ on the cross. But what he is saying is that the church itself is a body that suffers similarly to Christ. There is a pattern of suffering that marks Paul and ought to mark Christ’s followers. This is not just random suffering that Paul is talking about–why bad things happen to good people, but a suffering that is tied directly to suffering in the name of Jesus. The suffering that Paul refers to is a suffering on behalf of the name of Christ and on behalf of his body, the church. If the church does not suffer because of the name of Christ, then there is something missing.

I can tell you something horribly wrong that some American preachers have done to some African Christians. Some tel-evangelists have gone over there to preach to them, and have said that following Jesus means that health and wealth will follow. There is an article in the recent Christianity Today on this. I remember hearing one preacher say that the apostles were business men and that they had houses and wealth.

Paul would disagree with these evangelists. Suffering, he says is part of the discipleship process. As our own scholar NT Wright has said, “Just as the messiah was to be known by the path of suffering he freely chose–and is recognized in his risen body by the marks of the nails…–so his people are to be recognized by the suffering they endure.” For Paul, persecution was the imprint of Christ on his life.

There is also a subtle but important lesson here. Paul says that somehow his suffering benefit other believers. Paul’s suffering was tied into his struggle to bring Gentiles into the church. This is not some weird indulgence thing but Paul is saying that his picture of suffering benefits the church–it increases her witness. In other words, it is when the church is weak and picked on that it most clearly reflects the gospel than when it is big and bad, powerful and monied? What more reflects the gospel, the martyrs of the first three centuries or the Inquisition? The church in Africa, or the church in America? Televangelists or Mother Teresa?

Lastly, Paul’s advice for living for the Kingdom of Jesus and not the kingdom of darkness is to realize, “the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

‘Christ in you, the hope of glory.’ If you remember nothing of the book of Colossians, remember this verse. Paul says it is a mystery. What is a mystery? Something we don’t know. Something that is hidden from our sight. But something that can be revealed if we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

If the presence of Christ was ever hidden to us, it is hidden in our age. We like to understand the way things work and the ‘answers’ to everything. Mystery is for kids and the superstitious.

But the word ‘mystery’ in biblical language is actually where we get the word, ‘sacrament.’ What is a sacrament? An outward sign of an inward grace? A sacrament is when something is set apart for special use. It is kind of like a doorway. A window to heaven. The ancient Celtic Christians used the term for a sacred space, a ‘thin place’ where heaven and earth collide.

Christ in you the hope of glory. We are a thin place. Our hearts can become, as Frederica Mathews-Green says, an ‘oil lamp of his presence.’

I like the story of Martha and Mary. Martha is so much like our world. It’s not so much that she is busy that she is busy with an attitude. Serving the Son of God is great work, but busyness with anger is not.

Mary just listened. The joy of being in the presence of Christ was enough, it was sufficient.

“Christ in you the hope of glory.” If this is true then are we listening? Everything else wants us to listen, there is noise and visuals and calendars and information and so on and so on. Christ in you… Can we hear him?

Richard Foster says, “God spoke to [biblical folks] not because they had special abilities, but because they were willing to listen.”

Well, God doesn’t really do much, prayer, listening, that’s for introverts and monks. I’m a doer. Christ speaks to doers too.

Richard Foster again says, ‘Jesus has not stopped acting and speaking. He is resurrected and at work in our world. He is not idle, nor has he developed laryngitis. He is alive and among us as our Priest to forgive us, our Prophet to teach us, our King to rule us, our Shepherd to guide us.’

I’m going to leave you with a wonderful image I gained from a book called Listening for the Heartbeat of God, by Philip Newell (another one of our own).

In his book he brings out the ability of the ancient Christian Celts to see Jesus present everywhere and within. You remember the Hymn of St. Patrick:

Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort
and restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of
all that love me,
Christ in mouth of
friend and stranger.

In Newell’s book, he points out that the model for these ancient Celts was the apostle John. Besides the cross, where is the most poignant place that you remember John being during holy week? That’s right, leaning against Christ’s breast at the last supper.

Newell says by John’s proximity to Jesus, at his breast, he was ‘listening to the heartbeat of God.’ The ancient Celts used this image as the way they looked at the world. Constantly in the presence of Jesus. Christ in you the hope of glory. Christ among us, Christ with us.

I close with one of Newell’s stories. “There is a story of a woman from the Island of Harris who suffered from a type of skin disease and was exiled from the community to live alone on the seashore. There she collected plants and shellfish and, having boiled them for eating, washed her sores with the remaining liquid. In time she was cured. She saw the grace of healing come to her through [God and] creation and so she prayed:

There is no plant in the ground
But is full of his virtue,
There is no form in the strand
But is full of His blessing.
Jesu! Jesu! Jesu!
Jesus who ought to be praised.
There is no life in the sea,
There is no creature in the river,
There is naught in the firmament,
But proclaims His goodness.
Jesu! Jesu! Jesu!
Jesus who ought to be praised.

There is no bird on the wing,
There is no star in the sky,
There is nothing beneath the sun,
But proclaims His goodness.
Jesu! Jesu! Jesu!
Jesus who ought to be praised.

Christ in you the hope of glory? The question is, do we have eyes to see and ears to hear?
My challenge is for you to simply take that phrase: ‘Christ in you the hope of glory,’ and use it every time you have a moment’s pause. You can even say, ‘Christ in me, the hope of glory.’

Turning from darkness to light. Continue on. Persevere. Rejoice when you suffer for Jesus and for his body. And remember Christ in you, the hope of glory.