THE HOLY IN YOU

Colossians 1:15-28

Jeff Davidson

Yet another week, yet another massacre of one kind or another. France suffers their third mass-casualty incident in the last year and a half, with more than 80 people killed. Hundreds are killed and thousands arrested in a coup in Turkey that has religious undertones, although it was conducted by the military. All of this was just ten days after the Dallas police shootings.

One of my favorite study resources for preaching is a website called “The Text This Week.” There have been so many deaths that the site has added a special section of worship and prayer responses to acts of violence. There are dozens of litanies, sermons, hymn texts, and more lamenting the violence that has occurred and asking where God is in all of this and how God’s people are called to respond.

That’s a good question. “Where is God?” people ask. “How can this happen? Why does God allow this? Why does God not end this madness?”

Those questions have been asked for thousands of years. I did a funeral service a couple of weeks ago for a woman whose son died. So many people who came to the funeral home or to the service, so many people in messages to her on Facebook, so many people said to her that parents aren’t supposed to bury their children. There’s a sense, of course, in which that is true. The natural course of life is for a child to be born, for the parents to care for the child, for the child to grow up, and as the parents age and eventually die for the child to care for and then bury the parents.

In the midst of preparing that service I thought back to the book of Genesis and the very first parents, Adam and Eve. Do you know what the very first parents, Adam and Eve, had to do? They had to bury their son Abel, killed by another of their sons Cain. Since they were the first parents, they didn’t have any expectation that this was not how it was supposed to be. There was no one that offered those words, intended as comfort whether they actually comfort or not.

I don’t know if they wondered where God was or not. I kind of doubt it. Eve and Adam already had direct experience with God, and with what happens when they disobey God. Death did not exist until Adam and Eve turned away from God, and nothing they could ever do would cause death to pass out of existance. In their disobedience they had unleashed consequences of which they could not have dreamed, and which they would never be able to control.

Death is still here. The consequences of sin last a long time, and show up in ways that cannot be predicted. It’s not just death that is still here, but it’s sudden death. Violent death. Death driven by anger and rage and fear and hatred. Such death was present in the very first family created, and such death is present here today.

God is also present, although we don’t always know it. Sometimes our horror or our grief overwhelm us and we are numb to God’s presence. Sometimes our anger or our pain is so great that we deny God’s presence.

But God is present, whether we can feel it or believe it at any particular moment or not. God is present because we are present.

Our scripture reading from Colossians really isn’t about death or fear or any of those things. Colossians was written, in part, as a response to a heresy that had taken root in the Colossian church, the Gnostic heresy. Very very simply, the Gnostics argued that our physical bodies were not particularly important and that what we did with our physical bodies wasn’t very important either. What was more important was a secret spiritual enlightenment, a secret knowledge, a secret mystery that you could get by working your way through a variety of mystical experiences.

So in this part of the letter Paul is saying that all knowledge is revealed in and through Jesus. Paul is saying that everything comes together in Jesus Christ, that there is nothing higher, no greater wisdom, no greater knowledge. There is no greater mystery for in Jesus 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. “He (Jesus)  himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He 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. For in him 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.”

The mystery, Paul says, has been revealed. It’s been revealed to the saints, that is, to us. Those who believe in Jesus, those who seek to do Jesus’ work are the saints. And Paul says in verses 26 and 27 that “the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them (the saints) God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

The ultimate mystery is Christ in you, Christ in me, Christ in us, the hope of glory. The Holy is in each of us.

No, our reading from Colossians isn’t about death or fear or any of those kinds of things, but it is about how God, how the Holy, is within each of us. What does that mean for how we approach events like Nice, or Dallas, or Orlando? What does that mean for how we approach smaller, less publicized events in our own communities or families?

Let me share two readings that suggest an answer to me; one from a couple of thousand years ago, and one from just last November. The first is from John Chrysostom, the Bishop of Constantinople and one of the best preachers who ever lived. He died in the year 407. In Homily III Chrysostom writes, “(God’s) way always is to be present even with (the poor and the afflicted) for the sake of the many. Consider, that you may know this, with Cain God spoke Abel’s sake, with the devil for Job’s sake, with Pharaoh for Joseph’s sake, with Nebuchadnezzar for Daniel’s sake, and with Belshazzar as well for Daniel’s sake. And Magi received a revelation, and Caiaphas prophesied, though a slayer of Christ and an unworthy man, because of the worthiness of the priesthood.”

To me, that passage says that God is present with everyone, everywhere, at all times and in all ways. It says that God intervenes on behalf of the poor, the meek, the mourning. If God does that, if Christ does that, and Christ is in us, then what is it we are to do?

And not just now; not just in light of things like Nice or Orlando. Here’s a poem written in November 2015 by Jan Richardson. I found it on her website, paintedprayerbook.com. She says it’s a poem for Beirut, for Kenya, for Paris, for Syria, for every place broken by violence and hatred, for every person in pain and grief, for you, from her, in sorrow and hope.

Blessing in a Time of Violence

Which is to say
this blessing
is always.

Which is to say
there is no place
this blessing
does not long
to cry out
in lament,
to weep its words
in sorrow,
to scream its lines
in sacred rage.

Which is to say
there is no day
this blessing ceases
to whisper
into the ear
of the dying,
the despairing,
the terrified.

Which is to say
there is no moment
this blessing refuses
to sing itself
into the heart
of the hated
and the hateful,
the victim
and the victimizer,
with every last
ounce of hope
it has.

Which is to say
there is none
that can stop it,
none that can
halt its course,
none that will
still its cadence,
none that will
delay its rising,
none that can keep it
from springing forth
from the mouths of us
who hope,
from the hands of us
who act,
from the hearts of us
who love,
from the feet of us
who will not cease
our stubborn, aching
marching, marching

until this blessing
has spoken
its final word,
until this blessing
has breathed
its benediction
in every place,
in every tongue:

Peace.
Peace.
Peace.

The Holy is in us. The Holy is wherever we are, doing whatever we do, speaking the benediction in every place and in every tongue: peace, peace, peace. Amen.

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