Reign of Christ Sunday ~ “Making Visible…the Invisible God”
Colossians 1: 11-20 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United Church ~ November 24, 2019
Do you have any invisible friends? I did. When I was younger, I had, not one…not two…but three invisible friends. I should explain before my mental stability is questioned. I was much, much younger…during the days when I still had the ability to dream dreams and see with the imaginative vision that only children can. My three invisible friends were birds. Of course, these beautiful birds had names…Macky, Wacky and (you may have guessed it) Tacky. Yes, a trinity of bird-friends, how fortuitous for someone who would be ordained a few decades later, I know. And in my childhood days, only I had the ability to see these three invisible bird-friends. My invisible friends went everywhere I went. They joined us at the dinner table, they watched over me as I slept, they even went with us when we left the home. Sometimes, when Mom or Dad were in a hurry, closing the car door too quickly, my birds didn’t make it in. I loudly insisted that they open the window so that they could join us. And they did ~ Wacky, Macky and Tacky, my invisible bird-friends, accompanied me everywhere.
Paul, the writer of this letter to the faith community in Colossae, modern day Turkey, had this same ability to see the invisible. What is even more remarkable is that this skill for seeing the invisible did not leave as an adult. What Paul saw for us was the invisible God made visible in Christ. Oh…don’t get me wrong, everyone can see a god, in one form or another. The ‘gods’ are that which we worship. The ‘gods’ are that which we bow down to. They may be the ‘gods of beauty’ or ‘money’ or ‘power’ or ‘addiction’. Good or bad, we all have ‘gods’ in our life. As Bob Dylan sang: “You gotta serve somebody”. What the people in Paul’s time saw as being the ‘god’ of their day was power; god was dominance; god was control. The Roman Emperor was not just given the title of ‘Lord’ casually. The Emperor was worshipped as Lord and his centurions were his legion of angels. The people clearly saw god ruling in full force in Rome. Yet, Paul had the vision to see a more beautiful God…an invisible God that had been revealed in the resurrected Christ and was being lived through the church. As the text puts it “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all Creation” (v.15).
This Sunday is called ‘The Reign of Christ Sunday’ or alternatively, ‘Christ the King Sunday’. It always falls at the end of the church year as we take time to review the place of Jesus Christ in our lives, of Jesus Christ in our community, of Jesus Christ in our ministry expressions. For those who find mission statements helpful, and I am one of them, this is an opportunity for us to refine our focus and be clear that nothing would have a higher priority in our personal lives and in our collective ministry than Christ. As the text puts it: “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” (v.18). I so appreciated first reading Northwood’s mission statement, going back to our inception as a faith community. Do you remember that vision? ‘Embracing the community with the love of Christ’ What else could be a higher priority for our living, our loving, and our serving than to embrace the community with the love of Christ?
Following Christ is not about conveniently fitting Jesus into our present way of thinking; it is about fitting our way of thinking into the new Kingdom that God has birthed! To follow Christ is to orient our life in this new way that Jesus shows. It is about proclaiming Christ as King and acknowledging his lordship over our lives, and over all of creation. The Kings of Jesus’ world wore crowns of gold, yet Jesus wore a crown of thorns. The Kings of Jesus’ world ruled by power, yet Jesus ruled by forgiveness and mercy. The Kings of Jesus’ world ruled by dominance, yet Jesus ruled by sacrificial love ~ revealing the power of God triumphing over the powers of death and evil.
The invisible God made visible in Jesus forever opens our eyes. It makes visible a way that transformed the old way of military domination and acquisition into a new system of grace, mercy and compassion. And this was very real for the original Christians. At the time, it was customary for a conquering country to transfer the citizenship of their conquered peoples into their own. In a parallel way, Paul uses that same image of how Jesus, in His conquering the ways of death, has transferred us into the new ways of the Kingdom of God. The text puts it this way “he has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his beloved Son” (v.13). How powerful is that for your living to know that those ways of darkness, suffering and pain have been defeated as we live into the Way of Christ.
And simply put, allowing the invisible God made known in Christ to guide your life changes things. It changes everything! It changes your life; it changes your community; it changes the world. It allows us to walk through the valley moments of our lives…our trials, our tribulations, our struggles…with the powerful assurance that we are not alone. Part of my ministry involves supporting people through health challenges. If I ever have one prayer for those who are in critical times in their lives, it is that the peace of Christ will somehow hold the life of this person and their loved ones together. Not physically together, as if no one in the family can afford to die, but together…spiritually. That this incomprehensible peace of Christ might settle its way into our hearts reminding us that we are not alone. When chaos strikes, faith-filled people look for ways to quit idolizing their fears. They seek strategies for pulling their life back together. The challenge for most of us is to make the priority of Christ more than mere words. Who needs more talk of making Christ first in our lives? The world is full of talk ~ religious and otherwise. We need instead to act, to live as if Christ is, truly, the head of the body, and not some extra equipment we strap on when the going is uncertain. Does Christ reign in your life? Is Christ the King of your life? We need to allow this invisible God be made visible in Christ to us.
This Sunday provides some considerations in our lives for the challenging moments we may be facing right now and will inevitably face in our tomorrows…What keeps you going when you struggle? What keeps you going when you aren’t sure about tomorrow? I’ve been receiving lots of friendly ribbing over my moustache that I’ve grown in support of the ‘Movember movement’. And while I’m ready to get rid of it in 168 hours, the reason I view the movement to be important, and I choose to grow a moustache, is to lift up the struggles of men’s health ~ to lift up the struggles that men have, and so often sweep under the rug: depression, suicide, prostate and testicular health. To raise awareness, is to remind others that we do not have to be alone in our struggles. It is the same reason that many wear a pink ribbon in October, or a daffodil in the Spring. And while those are all things that happen at different points through the year, it is this very same reason that we are called to hold onto the cross of Christ each and every day of our lives. It is a reminder that we are not alone. It is a reminder that Christ will carry us through those challenging times, for he has already defeated them. The image of the invisible God, visible in Christ for you through your life’s struggles. You are truly not alone!
As we continue to walk challenging days, we consider how we will walk them? What happens when those days are so difficult that you actually lose faith? When Christ is so invisible that you aren’t able to let Him guide your path? There is wonderful story that is told of a Monk who lost his faith. Of all people we are shocked at the loss of faith by a monk. In dealing with this faith crisis, the young Monk went to the Abbot of the monastery and confessed: “Father what am I to do? I cannot believe”. The Abbot’s instructed the young monk as follows: “Say the creed, my son”…“but how can I say what I do not believe?” ...“Say the creed, my son. Even when you do not believe, say the creed”. As I think about this story, I think this wisdom story is more than just an aphorism from positive psychology of ‘faking it till you make it’. This story is about allowing the power of the invisible God that has been made known in Christ to come alive in us, even in those challenging moments, even in those loss of faith moments. Even then to become visible in us. Scholars suspect that, due to the strophe of the later half of this passage, its original form was either a poem or lyrics from hymn. These words were ones which kept the community going through the struggles of their existence. In pain and suffering, even when they had lost faith, they sang them; in times when faith was weak, they sang them. I wonder if the Abbot’s instruction to “Say the creed. Even when you don’t believe…say the creed” is what this is really all about. Our faith development is never a static entity that one day ‘we get’. One’s faith journey is about growth in Christ. And we have to keep checking in to make sure we are singing that great hymn. At some phases of our life, our song of faith is so easy to sing. But at others…and…you and I have been there, we don’t feel like singing. The thing with a song is that it works in you; it takes root in you. It gestates in your soul and grows. Sing the song…
American theologian, Will Willimon is considered by some to be one of the great theologians of our time. I was reading a journal article written by one of his students recalling how Will often lifted up the songs of Bob Dylan as poetic expressions of antiwar conviction which helped him articulate his Christian conviction to nonviolence. The author, Willimon’s student, being from a younger generation writes about similar sentiments in the 90’s grunge band ‘Rage Against the Machine’ whose poetic rejection of corruption and injustice informed her understanding of a noncoercive and noninstitutional Christian love. And today, the Millennial generation hear this expression in some of their powerful music. The songs of life continue to work on our soul, inspiring us and allowing the invisible God to be made know in Christ. I find some of the Christmas hymns flowing through the airways to be doing the same thing right now to me.
Making the invisible God visible in Christ is that prayer which Paul offers to the community that seeks to follow Jesus. He prays for this invisible God to be firmly implanted in each of us that it might feed us in our hungers, guide us in our times of danger, and shepherd us towards living wisely in the threatening days of our living.
And so, may the invisible God be made visible to you as you follow Christ, as you serve Christ, as you live in Christ’s Ways. And, as well, may that invisible God be made further visible through your life that you offer in His name.