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Cosmic Christ:  The Fullness of God

Sermon - 7/18/10
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Colossians 1:15-20

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:

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

 

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 problem!".

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 conceive.

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 existence.

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 spiritual problem.

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 co-exist.

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 God".

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 world.

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 themselves.

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 world.

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 kill.

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 life.

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, differently.

"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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