Christ the King Sunday
November 21, 2010
Colossians 1: 11-20
Early Christian communities were tiny gatherings in towns and cities that were rich and powerful. The facades of the restored gymnasium at Sardis and the huge synagogue which adjoined the portico of the main thoroughfare are astonishing even to our modern eyes. Pergamum had the second largest library in the ancient world, and the recreated façade of the library at Ephesus – the next largest – can still take your breath away.
Christians met in houses, over dinner on Sunday evenings, a work day for them. Their leaders were often taught personally by Paul or another Apostle who had learned from Jesus himself. But still there were misunderstandings and struggles to understand exactly how the community should be different from the culture around it.
Often Christians had to keep their allegiance to Christ secret, because it interfered with the expected allegiance to the Emperor and the power of Rome. At various times Emperors sought out Christians for persecution, sometimes the persecution was more personal, as in the case of Demitrius, the patron saint of Thessaloniki,who died at the hands of his own battalion because he confessed Jesus as Lord, rather than the Emperor.
Little communities clinging to each other in a world of commerce, occupation, shifting winds of security, and isolation from the larger culture could be overwhelmed.
The comfort they drew from each other was important, but Paul’s letters all make it clear that they draw from a much larger source of comfort and power. They were God’s people, and in all things they drew from the power and protection of God through Jesus the Christ, God’s own Son, who also was a man who was known by people that they knew.
The reading we have before us this morning is most likely drawn from a hymn which celebrates that person, Jesus, God’s only and unique Son, who was the Christ – the Messiah who had been promised from earliest time in the Scripture.He is lifted up as more than powerful: the image of the invisible God, all things have been created through him and for him. All things hold together in him. In him is the fullness of God, and through him all things are reconciled to God. It is in his suffering and death that our peace with God is made complete. It is through him that his saints have redemption from death and forgiveness of sins.
This reading begins with a prayer: that those who are so at odds with the world because of their allegiance to God in Christ will be strong, will be patient in the face of peer pressure and persecution and isolation, will be joyful and thankful to God who has given them the inheritance of new life. They have been rescued from the power of the darkness of the world around them and delivered into another kingdom, where they are beloved as Jesus was beloved of God the Father.
What does your world look like? When you open the paper or listen to the news do you hear anything good or promising? Not me. Let’s see, there’s the missing woman from Bend whose husband is under arrest for her murder and her friends are holding a memorial to remember her. The Haitians are rioting because they are certain that the cholera epidemic in which they are suffering was brought by UN helpers, and clean water and shelter are still not available to most who have been displaced since the earthquake in January. Ireland is going to need a financial bailout to prevent the European monetary system from tanking, the US is printing more money, and the war in Afghanistan continues to eat up money and soldiers, while the political situation there looks as hopeless as ever. Unemployment and underemployment continue to dog our county, and the intractable causes seem endless.
I think what attracted me to this reading for today is that it puts all the disaster of this world in its proper context. It wasn’t just the small Christian communities of the ancient world which were beleaguered and isolated and needed to hear good news. It’s us too. We need the strength which comes from God’s glorious power to do God’s work in a world which seems so hopelessly lost. We need the patience to endure when everything we do seems too small to matter. We need to joyfully give thanks to God for the inheritance of faith which comes to us from the Scripture, from our teachers and examples of the faith. We need to remember that we have already been transferred out of the kingdom of darkness which surrounds us into the kingdom of God’s own Son, our savior Jesus. He is the One who invites us to share in this meal, to join him around this table where his body and his blood join us to all believers of all time. That is where our power comes from, where our hope lies, and where we are reconciled to God in this life and the next.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord and King. Amen.