"What might the world be like if we looked upon all people and ourselves as people for whom Jesus died? How might we care for the earth if we remembered and understood that all things came into existence through the Word of God? In a way, there is a sacredness to everything that is."
Jeremiah 23.1-6; Colossians 1.11-20; Luke 23.33-43
Grace to you and peace from the One in whom all things came into being and are held together. Amen.
I recently heard a story on National Public Radio about a woman who was unable to recognize faces. She could see fine, but her brain was wired in such a way that she could not recognize or remember anyone’s face, not even the faces of people in her family. As you can imagine, this was quite challenging throughout her growing up, but as she got older she learned to compensate and manage a little better. She found other ways of recognizing people apart from their faces. For instance, she would hear someone speak and recognize them by their voice. She would also identify people from the way they walked. Finally, she got to a point in life in which the first thing she would ask someone is, “Please, tell me who you are.”
I can only imagine this woman’s frustration in looking right at someone’s face and not being able to come up with a name, of seeing, yet not seeing at the same time. It is enough to boggle one’s mind. Speaking of boggling one’s mind, how are you all doing with the reading from Colossians? Since it was read a while ago, let’s pull it out together and take a look at verse 15-16: “He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation; for in him all things on heaven and earth were created…all things have been created through him and for him.”
Okay, I’m going to take you on a wild theological ride, but I think you can all handle it, and if not, at least it will be kind of fun and will help us all think in new ways. Ready, here we go…
There is no better place to start to help us understand what is going on in our reading from Colossians than at the beginning with Gen. 1.1: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light (Gen. 1:1-3).” Here in Genesis we hear that creation was and is spoken into existence. God speaks and creation comes forth.
This concept of God speaking and creation coming into existence is articulated more fully in John 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people (John 1:1-4).”
Isn’t that lovely and powerful? Here we have again in Scripture, creation coming into being by God through the spoken Word. Now here’s the crazy part that takes faith to believe or at least curiosity to continue to explore: “The Word became flesh and lived among us…(John 1:14)” in the human being, Jesus of Nazareth. This is what Colossians is saying: The invisible God who speaks creation into being becomes visible in the Word made flesh, Jesus. Jesus is the image of the invisible God, and if we know Jesus, we know God. And what we know about Jesus from our Gospel reading is that he was crucified on a cross and died for the sake of you, me, and all of creation.
So if what we read in Genesis, John, and Colossians has any truth to it, the essentially nothing is outside of or apart from God since nothing can exist without God creating or sustaining it.
Okay, so big deal, what does all of this mean for us today umpteen million years after creation came into being, and 2000 years after Jesus died and rose from the dead? Well, I think it could have a lot of meaning in our lives, or it could have no meaning at all. It has to do with the way see and how we understand what we are seeing.
I recently read the book, Traveling Mercies, by Ann Lamott. It’s a book about Ann’s journey through life, particularly in relation to how she experiences and thinks about God. She spent the majority of her life addicted to drugs and alcohol, as well as battling an eating disorder. She reluctantly started attending worship and put herself into rehab, and her life changed forever for the better. She is hilarious and honest. She also writes about the ugliness of life, still finding beauty in the most troublesome circumstances.
Towards the end of the book, Ann describes a story in which she and her seven-year-old son witness the abuse of a dog. Her and her son were on the beach in California when a man and his golden retriever appeared. The man picked up a stick and hit his dog with it. Ann’s son yelled out and said, “Mom, do something!” Ann, scared of the man, sheepishly called out, “Stop.” The man proceeded to abuse the dog. “Stop!” she cried out a little louder. “Stop or I’ll call the police!” The man looked back at her and laughed and disappeared up some stairs with his dog and they were gone.
This is what went through Ann’s head after it happened:
Inside I felt as helpless as an emaciated old person with stick-figure arms, shaking her cane in the air. I knew on the beach that Jesus would have stepped in to save the dog, and he would have been loving the dog beater as he did so. He would have been seeing the dog beater’s need and fear. Well, I am certainly not there yet. But the mystery of God’s love as I understand it is that God loves the man who was being mean to his dog just as much as God loves babies; God loves Susan Smith, who drowned her two sons, as much as God loves Desmond Tutu (a peace-maker in South Africa). So of course God loves old ordinary me, even or especially at my most scared and petty and mean and obsessive. God Loves me; chooses me (pp. 249-255).
Ann’s reflection of the man and Jesus’ radical grace in her own life is what I’m talking about when I talk about the way we see and they way we understand what we see. We could see the man only as a horrible, evil, dog beater that we wish would get run over by a truck; or, we could see the brokenness of the man and understand that Jesus loves him and gave his life for him. The same is true when we look upon ourselves. Do we see ourselves as not good enough, or too horrible to be so loved by God? It is the radical grace of God that God in Christ Jesus loves and dies for everyone.
What might the world be like if we looked upon all people and ourselves as people for whom Jesus died? How might we care for the earth if we remembered and understood that all things came into existence through the Word of God? In a way, there is a sacredness to everything that is.
Today we celebrate Jesus as king of both heaven and earth. From any common sense perspective, a king who dies as a criminal is no king worth following. But like the woman on NPR who could see faces but not recognize them, we too must dig deeper to understand what we are seeing. We see the crucifixion and understand a love that is stronger than death. We see bread and wine in Holy Communion and understand that it is Jesus. We see rotten things in the world and understand that God is still fully committed to its redemption and care.
As our reading from Colossians so beautifully ends: “Through Jesus God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross (Col. 1.20).” May God open our eyes to see all things and all people as precious to God, and may God help us to understand the depth of God’s love for us and for all of creation. Amen.