Take in the Big Picture

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Peder Stenslie
2nd Sunday after Christmas
Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1: [1-9] 10-18

Christ is stamped all over you; whether you know it or not, whether you feel it or not, whether you like it or not. You were created through him and you are claimed by him. That is a claim no one is in a position to challenge. You belong to your creator. Nothing you’ve done, nothing you’ve been is more powerful than the love of God or the work of Christ.

My family and I did a lot of cross-country skiing over Christmas vacation. We skied in many beautiful locations… Cross Ranch State Park, the Missouri River Trailhead, Riverwood Golf Course and the area around my parents’ cabin at New Town.

As wonderful as it is to go skiing in these places, on long trips the activity can become a little monotonous… sliding one foot in front of the other for miles. I will frequently find myself staring down at the ground right in front of my skis and just get lost in the repetition of the movement.

There is a practical reason for staring at the ground. One sees what one is skiing over. So if there’s debris in the way… or some other irregularity on the ground, a person doesn’t stumble over it. However… one misses a lot of when they stare at the ground.

Sometimes, when I’d look up, the beauty would just take my breath away: Deer watching us from a clearing in the trees, sun sparkling on the river, snow-topped tree trunks and branches everywhere, gently falling snow.

Then I’d remember, “Yeah. This is why I’m out here. This is so beautiful! “

Life can be like that. We plod along in our own little routine, focused on what’s right in front of us, doing the same things over and over. And to an extent, that’s okay, because a lot of life is routine. A lot of good stuff comes from routine.

But sometimes we get lost in our routine and in our same ways of doing things and thinking about things.

It is then we need to lift our eyes and take in the big picture, remember why we are here and what we are a part of. Otherwise our routine is meaningless. Otherwise we miss incredible truth and beauty that can lend great meaning and joy to our lives. Otherwise, our routine and same ways of doing things and thinking about things can suffocate us… drain us of life.

Today’s lessons help us with that. They lift our eyes and give us a glimpse of the big picture.

This being the beginning of the New Year it’s probably an appropriate time to lift our eyes and consider big picture.

The Gospel reading from John lets us see all the way back to the beginning.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. (John 1:1-4)

The passage from Ephesians lets us see all the way to the end.

With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:8b-10)

These passages frame for us the first and final purposes of Christ. They paint for us a picture of the vastness of his power and the full depth of his love and will. “Seeing” these things… knowing these things… has the power to transform our routines and ways of living our day to day lives into something far more beautiful and meaningful that we ever before imagined.

I have known people who have been stuck in feelings of being unlovable and unworthy of love. They have been told they are unlovable. They have been treated like they were unlovable. Therefore they have come to believe that it must be true.

They become convinced that things they have done and things that have been done to them are so bad that no one could love them and that God could never love them; could never forgive them. They imagine that the wall of sin and ugliness that has enclosed their lives is just too great to overcome and that they are a lost cause. After all, isn’t that the message they’re getting from those around them?

Today’s passages and many others like them in scripture completely demolish such small ideas. They allow us to get things in perspective and see how tiny our personal walls of sin and ugliness really are and how completely we belong to God.

In the New Testament book of Colossians we hear an echo of the Gospel lesson for today:

In Christ all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible,… — all things have been created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16)

The “big picture” of scripture declares to you that through Christ all things, including you, were created. Through Christ, you came into being, you drew breath. You are the beloved child of the one who formed the greatest spaces of the universe and the tiniest organisms of our little planet.

The “big picture” of scripture also proclaims to you that through Christ’s mysterious work on the cross, you have been gathered up like scattered sheep, together with all the other bits of creation, and drawn into God’s heart in love.

The message of today’s Ephesians lesson is repeated elsewhere in scripture. In Colossians we hear:

For in Christ, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and 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. (Colossians 1:19)

And Paul writes, in his 1st letter to the Corinthians: “… all will be made alive in Christ.” (1st Corinthians 15:22)

Christ is stamped all over you; whether you know it or not, whether you feel it or not, whether you like it or not. You were created through him and you are claimed by him. That is a claim no one is in a position to challenge. You belong to your creator. Nothing you’ve done, nothing you’ve been is more powerful than the love of God or the work of Christ.

Sin and wrongdoing are real enough, just as the hurt and pain they cause are real; but they are not more powerful than the love of the creator, or his will to bring us to him.

Through the work of Christ on the cross, the wall of sin you and I have built up is leveled like a small child scatters a wall of play blocks. Nobody is beyond God’s reach. Nothing can stand between you and God, not even the walls built in our imagination. That is the Good News proclaimed by Christ.

That is why Paul, who lifted his eyes and took in the big picture, boldly promises us:

I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:38-39)

You need only claim the wonderful inheritance of love and grace your heavenly father has given you. Nothing so valuable has ever been given so freely. It is easy to lose sight of this in the mundane routines of our daily lives; but the big picture of scripture is clear.

There is no one and nothing in creation that God does not love. If God created it; God loves it. If God loves it; he wills it to be saved. God will not permit anyone or anything to be left behind or to slip through his fingers. According to God’s purpose and God’s will, Christ has gathered up all things in heaven and earth; gathered them up for God’s blessing, for his gift of life and grace.

What is left for you to do is open yourself to God’s gift. Let yourself become a part of God’s work in Christ now. Permit yourself to be gathered in by Christ, sooner rather than later. Let Christ into your heart; let him work in you, healing your hurts and creating in you new life, new hope, new strength and new love.