Christ: The Fullness of God
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon
We're continuing in our
study of Colossians,
which we began last week.
And what's rather ironic about today's text is that it's
significance and meaning has largely been lost in the Christian
tradition. And as a result, the critique by those philosophers
is absolutely correct: that, at least what has been portrayed
throughout most of Christian tradition of its image of God and
God's place in the world, is incomplete, were it not for this
view that Paul offers in this text.
So, reading then, from 1 Colossians, 15 through 20:
Now, before I get to the basic vision of
God and Christ that this text offers, which contend has been
missing in so much of Christian theology, let me say just a few
things about why it matters and what it is at stake. Too often,
I fear that we view these things as intellectual exercises which
really in the end don't matter.
I mean, we have important things demanding our attention. Like,
what Sarah Palin thinks about Levi and Bristol's new engagement
:). Or whether or not LeBron James is a flake for deserting
Cleveland and going to Miami. Or whether or not the iPhone has
an antennae problem. Important issues. And the answers, of
course, to these things are: it's none of your business, who
cares, and "What do you mean my iPhone has an antennae
So, if I'm going to take another hour or two of your time, you
have a right to know how important this is. You know, maybe
minor in comparison to Bristol Palin, Lebron James, and Steve
Jobs, over here on the one hand, and then we have Paul talking
about salvation of the world on the other. So, what's it going
to be? Who's going to get our attention?
And by salvation of the world, I'm not talking about some
religious pie-in-the-sky concept of glorious life in some other
world. What Brian McClaren, guru of the emergent church, refers
to as the 'Christian evacuation plan' from this world. You know,
that denies any responsibility for this world (and that's
precisely McClaren's point) and is in fact anti-Christian. By
the salvation of the world, I mean just that: I'm talking about
survival of the world for future generations, as far as we can
Now, I don't want to sound grandiose. I'm not one of those
alarmists who proclaims gloom and doom when temperatures begin
to rise and the markets begin to drop. I believe in the human
capacity to do good, that always outweighs that capacity to do
evil. That is the fundamental message of the first chapter of
our Bible -- God created the world, and called it "good". God
created human beings, male and female, and said "it is very
good". Goodness is written into the DNA of creation, and our
But creation is in trouble. Of that there can be little doubt.
Folks in the gulf are breathing a sigh of relief that the
spewing oil well has finally been capped (apparently).
Meanwhile, millions of gallons of crude oil still floats under
the surface, washing up on beaches as far away as Florida, that
will serve as a sobering reminder of years to come that the
spill was not the problem, it was symptom of a much greater
problem, or dependency on fossil fuels.
Bill McKinnon, Christian activist, who is one of the leading
environmental voices today, points out the irony that had the
spill never occurred, and that oil been pumped up, loaded on
ships, and taken the refineries, where it finally makes it's way
into our gas tanks, it likely would have done as much damage
(and maybe even for longer) than what it is doing now.
So whether we're talking about climate
change or global water shortages, or the loss of habitat and
accelerated species extinction, disappearing glaciers and coral
reefs, that plutonium plum from Hanford creeping towards the
Columbia basin like a slowly-ticking time bomb, there's an
ecological crisis around every corner we look.
And I want to suggest to you that the fundamental problem is not
a political problem, it's not an environmental problem, it's not
economic problem, it's not a moral problem, it is essentially a
And the essence of the problem is this: that we view ourselves
as separate from the world. Even above the natural world. That
nature is something we can control, rule, conquer. And like a
drug addict, we say "it's my body, we can do with it what we
want". And we use nature for our immediate gratification with
little regard for long-term consequences.
And the solution is not more responsible drug use, the solution
is to kick the habit of those damaging lifestyles altogether.
And to do that, we need a complete transformation, a shift in
our thinking and our view of our relationship to the world. And
for us, especially as Christians, that begins with our
understanding of Christ's relationship to the world. Change that
understanding along the lines of this text from Colossians, and
you will change the history of human interaction with the world.
Well, it sure is good to come to church where the preacher never
makes you think about big issues :). Too bad it's not this
church. The shift I am talking about, that is so evident in this
text, is the shift from seeing Jesus primary as my personal
savior, whose purpose in dying on the cross is to save me from
my sins (it's all about me), to seeing in Jesus the cosmic
Christ whose purpose is to save not only me, and not even
humanity, but all of creation.
Now, let me just check for a second: how many have ever heard of
the concept of the cosmic Christ? And how many have an idea of
what it means? That's another question.
The former Catholic theologian (who is now Episcopalian, a
little dispute he had with the Vatican over these issues),
Matthew Fox, defines the cosmic Christ as "The image of God
present in all of creation". The image of God present in all of
creation. And Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest (still in good
standing with the Catholic Church), and teaches about these
things, says "The cosmic Christ is wherever the spiritual and
the physical co-exist". Where the spiritual and the physical
Now, I suspect there's some people
confused already. Wait a minute, I thought Christ was just
another name for Jesus. And that's understandable, because we
use the two interchangeably. Jesus Christ, Christ Jesus, you
know, same thing. And we forget that Christ is not a name, it is
a title. Much like President. We can speak of the President in
past terms -- President Bush, present terms -- President Obama,
future terms, President Palin, whatever the case may be.
But the point is, in this case, the office is 'Christ'. Which is
the Greek word for the Hebrew "Messiah", meaning 'the anointed
one'. And so the great confession of Peter, "you are the
Christ", a reality that only became evident after the
resurrection, as Peter says in Acts 2: "Let all know that God
has made Jesus Lord and Christ".
So what, precisely, makes Jesus the Christ? Both Fox and Rohr
refer to Christ as the 'pattern of creation'. What Paul calls
here in this text, the image of the invisible God. The firstborn
of all creation, in whom all else comes into being. In him, Paul
says, all things hold together. Through him, all things are
reconciled to God.
All things, Paul? Yeah, all things. Pulpits, and pews. Tables
and chairs, all things. Earth and sky, all things. Republicans
and Democrats, all things. Jews and Palestinians, all things.
Sonny and Cher, all things :). Reconciled to God. BP and
tree-huggers. All things.
Now, if this weren't in scripture, if I came to you espousing
these ideas of the cosmic Christ, you'd think I had spent too
much time last week at the Country Fair. But it's right here in
scripture. From Genesis 1: "In the image of God, we are created
male and female". Proverbs 8: The wisdom of God, the divine
Sophia, that's been there from the beginning, rejoicing in the
inhabited world, delighting in the human race. John 1: "In the
beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, the Word was God,
and all things were created through him". The birth of Jesus:
"His name shall be called Immanuel, 'God with us'". The baptism
of Jesus, the spirit of God descending upon him like a dove, the
voice from the heavens: "This is my Son, listen to him".
Pentecost: the spirit of God descending upon the believers like
tongues of flame. Romans 8, where Paul writes: "Creation itself
will be set free and will obtain the glory of the children of
Creation will obtain the glory of the children of God. And the
final chapter of our Bible, where the home of God is among
mortal flesh. This co-mingling of the spiritual and the physical
into one reality, which is the cosmic Christ, is lifted up
throughout scripture. It's not just a Christian idea, it's a
Jewish idea, it is a divine idea. It is the presence of God,
God's desire and design for all creation.
And this is what Jesus accomplished. The fully human,
fully divine, in one person, in one reality.
And you see, we have yet to fully realize what that means.
Richard Rohr says that 98% of Christians aren't really Christian
at all, we're theists. We believe in a supreme God -- goody for
us, so do most other people. That isn't what makes us Christian.
We have not fully accepted the meaning of the incarnation, where
the physical and the spiritual come together not only in Jesus,
but that that co-existence is the pattern for all of creation.
And that we, as the body of Christ, are to live in that reality,
to live out that reality, to make that presence real in our
To put it differently, what Jesus revealed, and what should have
been obvious all along is that God is not 'out there', separate
from us, and we're over here in the created world. And because
we're separate, what's 'over hear' is incomplete, it's not good.
The sacred, the holy, the pure, is 'over there'. And so we spend
all our time and energy trying to figure out how to get 'over
there', or how to get what's over there over here.
And traditionally, we talk about the cross as the 'bridge' that
connects the two. Richard Rohr says, "baloney".
Now, I want to hear me carefully about this, because we've all
been taught that, I've taught it too. This idea of the spiritual
and the physical that's combined into 1 reality, that's part of
creation, is actually right there in our scripture and we
haven't seen it. This notion that it's separate, that we have to
find a way to bridge it, is in fact contrary to the gospel
message. It's one of the reasons why we have so many
psychological problems -- "I'm not good, I'm not perfect, I'm a
sinner, what a worm am I", the old Amazing Grace hymn, and
somehow we have to figure out how to reconnect to that.
And so Rohr says he can save you $10,000 in therapy with this
one idea -- that the holy, the sacred, the good, is not
something 'over there' that you have to figure out how to find,
it's right here, in you. That question, he says, was settled
long ago, in the incarnation. It was actually settled in
creation. You are holy and good. You are created in God's image.
You are loved and accepted by God. You do not have to prove
yourself to some demanding father, be it a small 'f' or a
capitol "F". You worthiness is not something you have to prove
-- the cosmic Christ has done it for you, from the moment you
were nothing more than a twinkle in God's eye.
Now, here's the thing, the reason why this has global
significance: when you see that in yourself, when you are aware
of that Christ dwelling in you, you cannot help but see it
dwelling in others, even when they don't see it dwelling in
And that's why, Rohr says, there can be no racism, no sexism, no
homophobia, no class-ism, or any other division that separates
us one from another. Where Christ dwells is known and lived,
then we are united as one. And when you know that, when you are
in love with that Christ in you, then you know that and you love
that in others. And the same is true for all of the created
Because we view so much of the world, and even other human
beings as being devoid of any spiritual content, then we are
free to do as we please, to pillage and plunder and rape and
Rohr tells the story of living in New Mexico and working with
the Native American population there, and some elders of the
local tribe who taught him how to hunt. And the night before the
hunt, they had a big prayer ceremony. And he said, then they
went out on the hunt, the elders taught him that when you have
that animal in your sights, you must then ask the animal for
forgiveness, and that you promise that you will use his body,
his life, for the greater good. And only then can you take that
And Rohr says, the Franciscans came to New Mexico 400 years ago
to convert the 'savages'. Only to come and discover that they
had known the presence of the cosmic Christ all along.
When we come to that spiritual awareness that God isn't 'out
there', separate from us, but rather we are there, within God's
being, along with everyone and everything else, it changes
everything. You see the world, you see God's place in the world,
"Awe", says the great Jewish scholar Abraham Heschel, "is the
beginning of wisdom".
When you come to know the cosmic Christ, in whom all things are
reconciled to God, you cannot divide the world between us and
them. You cannot see the other -- be it nature or people -- as
an end to the means. You cannot take the life of another being
for your own personal pleasure, or the life of another person
for national power. You cannot rape the earth for profit, or
exploit people for private gain. You cannot abuse your body for
momentary thrills, or pollute the earth for short-term
expediency. All are connected.
When we awaken to that reality, of the cosmic Christ, the
mysterious union of the spiritual and the physical that gives
life and meaning to all things, then we will come to know Christ
as Paul did. The one who has been with us, from the beginning of
time, until the end of the age.
May it so be.
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