Before All Things

Preacher: Nathan Hosler

Scripture: Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1:15-28

Our passages in Amos and Psalms challenge pride and power. Common, perhaps worn out, themes in this town. With the prophet Amos we could say,

Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land,

Surely [the Lord] will never forget any of [your] deeds.

At the Ministerial on International Religious Freedom last week, stories were told the detention camps in China where anywhere from 1-3 million Uighur Muslims languish while our own detention facilities cause great suffering much closer to home. We heard from a man whose wife was killed at the mosque shooting in Christ Church New Zealand and the Rabbi of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

At some point demonstrating yet again that the Bible is opposed to trampling begins to feel tedious or unproductive. Truth telling about great trampling of those in need and lie telling begins to feel not particularly interesting or instructive. So what, another lie, another fabrication, injustice, a blatant twisting of the facts to make whatever point is convenient or conducive to maintaining power and control. When urged to read Psalm 52

Why do you boast, O mighty one, of mischief done against the godly? All day long you are plotting destruction. Your tongue is like a sharp razor, you worker of treachery. You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth

A colleague said, well sometimes it is just too obvious. One hardly even needs to preach a sermon. This passage [in light of our world] interprets itself. Even a cursory reading of Politico or our local hometown paper alongside such a passage invites an “oh snap!” Is the Psalmist writing to us now or is this local and contemporary practitioner of theopoetics—a socially conscious theologian poet giving a reading?

Certainly, without the present situation one could not write such a thing—we are told by political observers that this is unprecedented. But perhaps this is all to normal. The haughty have always been present and acted thusly. Even these, however, are all under the jurisdiction, the ruling of Christ. Though it seems that evil is victorious, Christ, sometimes in ways not always visible or apparent, is over all creation. The way this is

described is by a earth-reordering hymn. To attempt expression of the profound and earth-shaking nature of Jesus, the Christ, Paul includes a hymn. It begins,

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;

Image of the invisible—what has been called the incarnation. The showing up and embodying action of the Divine. What the Message Bible as termed the “moving into” the neighborhood in John 1. “The firstborn of all creation” signaling preeminence and supremeness. For us, being firstborn is of little import but in that time a firstborn was a thing of note and honor.

16 for 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.

Though born of Mary—the “Mother of God,” Theotokos in Eastern Christianity—in Palestine under Roman rule at a particular time and place, this one, Christ also is the one through whom all we see and don’t see was created. Not only created “through” him but “for” him. While we are clearly beneficiaries of the created world—with its numerous flowers and peoples and rivers and pebbles and artworks and spices—while we are beneficiaries and are rightly thankful for these good gifts, they are in some way also, for the creator.

17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Not only before and creating but woven through or into all things or around binding together—is this a gravity, a friction, and cosmic adhesive or coherence with which there is harmony or wellbeing—a shalom? Like an undisturbed ecology which has both a delicate but resilient balance. In Christ all is held together.

18 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.

He is directing the Body. In other scriptures it is described how we each play a different role in the Body—if all were hands how would we smell? If all noses how would we grasp and lift and strum? All these actions are in relation to the head—“the firstborn of the dead,” the resurrected one through whom death was overcome.

19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,

Not simply one with good ideas about loving enemies and forgiveness and prayer but in some mysterious way fully human—fully divine. Language and mind strain to make sense of the great mystery that simultaneously inspires aw while tempting incredulity. All fullness? Of God? In his day it was said, “but he is from Galilee—we know his family and in our day—this is very far off and hard to verify (even if one could verify such a thing). What are even the mechanics of such a set up? All fullness may seem a bit much.

20 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.

Through broken relationship and violence, we were put at odds with the Creator just after “in the Beginning.” The arc of scripture the telling of this brokenness and move towards reconciliation, justice, and healing. Through the suffering of Jesus there is a peace in which we are invited to participate. We, those who intend to participate clearly do not always or perhaps even typically participate fully in this reconciliation, do not always get it right. In some way, however, even those who don’t intend to participate in this reconciliation also fall within this reconciling work. All things, “whether on earth or in heaven,” are part of this reconciling drama.

21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— 23 provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.

Reconciled “so as to present” as holy. But here is our part of the action—“provided that you continue…in faith.” “Not shifting from hope.” Even when times seem hopeless or with insufficient hope—not shifting in hope. Continuing in hope and the act of living in the reconciliation which we are already swallowed up in.

In this hymn we are put in our place and Christ in his. All of us. Some of us brought up and some brought down. Whether we acknowledge it or embody it, this is the nature of reality. Young Mary, the soon-to-be mother of Jesus sings,

“His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

Brought down or lifted up—the cosmic Christ, the first-born creator of all who is reconciling all things. We are brought down or lifted up. In him and through him, for the glory of God.

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