Last Sunday of the Church Year

November 20, 2016

Summary

Jesus is King

[God the Father] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:13-20 ESV)

The milestones of birthdays might be given significance at times – those birthdays that end in zero perhaps – but the experience of that day is pretty much the same as the day before! ‘What’s it like to be 30 or 50 or whatever?’ is often heard, just as are the replies, ‘No different to yesterday!’. You might give a different answer if you were talking about 40 years difference!

New year’s eve can be similar as you head into new year’s day. It’s just another day – an arbitrary marking of time – to give us pause to look back and to look forward. The same applies for any calendar – arbitrary counting mechanisms – we notice change more over years and decades than over days and weeks. Today is the Last Sunday of the Church Year where Christians following the traditional way of counting of roughly 6 months focusing on Jesus (Advent to Pentecost) and 6 months focusing on discipleship (all the Sundays after Pentecost) start the process all over again. We pause and look around at life – at our world – at our church – and ourselves – and maybe wonder what God is doing!

If we were in Syria, I think we’d be wondering how long can the war continue. If we were in the United States we might be wondering about the political landscape to come. Here in the UK, we are still waiting on finding out what Brexit means in any detail. We are not immune to the social and political currents of our countries.

Or it is our personal lives and relationships that are our focus – births and deaths – the discussion with the doctor after all those tests and the ‘all clear’ or the ‘I’m afraid I have not good news …’ – knowing your company is restructuring and you receive a brown envelope announcing a meeting with your line manager – having new neighbours move in and they’re wonderful or they’re from hell – a pause in the routine – a looking back especially brings to mind the significant highs and lows of our days.

So at the end of this church year and as we head into the next, as you look back and peer forward, how’s your year been? How’s your faith been? How has God been?

We don’t know much about the situation of the Christians at Colossae (in what is south western Turkey) in a region in which Ephesus was the capital. We don’t know when exactly the letter was written – generally regarded in the 50sAD so it might have been in the reign of Emperor Claudius (generally regarded as relatively stable as far as emperors went) or Emperor Nero (not so well regarded) but if nothing else it seems that the Christian congregation was being influenced or swayed or coerced or attacked by false teachings called a philosophy which claimed that power was manifest in the ‘elemental spirits of the universe’ (Col 2:8,20) and which were regarded as ‘angelic powers’ (Col 2:18) and described as ‘thrones’, ‘dominions’, ‘principalities’, and ‘authorities’ (Col 1:16; 2:10,15) which stood between God and the people and exercised control over people’s lives. Through worshipping and obeying these powers could people achieve ‘fullness’ which was unity with God. We don’t know many of the specific details of what this meant in the day-to-day lives of people but consider for a moment that most aspects of life back then was ‘dipped’ in God in someway. The emperor was to be worshipped; one’s food was offered to the gods; professions and trades sought the benevolence of gods or demi-gods – the way of life then was always trying to get the right divine support, make the right spiritual contacts so to speak – to help you daily and in time of need. This was a world laced with fear and uncertainty!

And along comes disciples of Jesus and proclaim this entire world and all the other gods rubbish! Talk about turning the world upside down! And from the emperor ‘downwards’ – no aspect of life was unaffected as the disciples of Jesus thought through, worked out, lived, made mistakes in to be sure, what they wanted to do – to ‘lead a life worthy of the Lord, full pleasing to him’ (Col 1:10). Our text on this Last Sunday of the Church Year was Paul’s declaration to Christians that no matter what society we live in, no matter the power structures – the politics or the economy, no matter the supermarket of religions or the philosophies of life promoted – this world is darkness but [God the Father] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col 1:13,14).

Of course we don’t see this reality – it is a matter of faith – and it can even be hard to believe if the world around us gives us grief for this faith – rejects our God – rejects Jesus and what Paul does is to emphasise for the Colossians that God the Father wasn’t abandoning us in Jesus because with Jesus one encounters God! For Jews that was blasphemy and for Gentiles that was stupidity – especially when one looks at the cross. Yet Paul maybe is drawing on a hymn already in existence or turns poetic for all the next verses –from 15-20 – are descriptors of the truth that Jesus is God – and yes, God is invisible but Jesus isn’t – and yes, that means God bled for you – remember that blood is the detergent for sin in the ancient world (and still pretty taboo today).

The biggest hurdle for many people was the term ‘firstborn’ which isn’t meant as one word – God’s firstborn – and so Arianism is correct that Jesus isn’t equal with God but is a lesser being – but rather as a hyphenated word ‘first-born’ and to mean that Jesus is first (like alpha – and God is alpha and omega) so is Jesus first or alpha and he is the one through all things were created or born. In fact Paul is targeting the false teaching, the false gods, the false spiritualities, the false authorities, the Arianism to come when he says: For by him [ie. Jesus] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Col 1:16,17)

It is Jesus who holds everything together. It is Jesus who is the head of his disciples – head of the Church – and it is Jesus who has defeated humanity’s ultimate enemy – death. While hard to believe, Paul again emphasises – and plays on the word ‘fullness’ that only in Jesus can one have fullness of life which is not fear but forgiveness, which is not political alliances and scheming but faith and trust – For in [Jesus] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col 1:19,20)

I have been known to diss the lectionary compilers at times – but today I’m not for no matter when Christians live, no matter in what society, political system, culture, economy one finds oneself – whether one is basking in prosperity or tinkering on the edge of an abyss – whatever the powers or principalities – Christians are reminded that Jesus is pre-eminent and that in him and through him there is a life – that for all its striving and hoping the world never achieves – and light and love to get us through each day – because we still bring darkness and don’t love as we should – and to make this real for us God gives us the best ingredient of all in this world – the forgiveness of sins! So whenever one pauses and looks around from the busyness of one’s life – whenever one has the deep and meaningful moments about meaning and ‘why am I here?’ – no matter whether the sun is shining or we’re in the midst of a storm – the cross of Jesus and the person of Jesus never changes and his forgiveness gives us new starts each day. We see this truth by the light of an empty tomb! We receive this gift through words spoken and water, bread and wine given as Jesus wanted.

And thus we can go forward – one day at a time – with hope and confidence that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord – and then we stop looking around or meditating and instead focus on who is next to us and roll up our sleeves and get to work!

Jesus is Lord! Jesus is with his people!

 

Bible References

  • Colossians 1:13 - 20

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