“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed [which is idolatry]. On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. But now you must get rid of all such things – anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!”
“In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!”
Paul’s letter to the Colossians is traditionally held to have been written sometime in the late 50’s AD. Paul is met, yet again, with a church having a Christological dispute. This particular church has been met with false teachers urging them towards asceticism and observance of specific Holy Times. Paul specifically addresses these issues by announcing, again, that Christ is in you, thereby denying the false teachings.
In two of my sermons this summer we have seen Paul, in his letters to the Romans and the Galatians, responding to similar problems with the same resounding answer. “Christ is in you!”
We then find ourselves wrestling with verses 2 and 3…
“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”
At first glance it appears that Paul is telling us that we need to keep our minds focused on heaven and not on earth. That God is up in the clouds and we are here stuck on the ground. That we are falling short of his expectations and need to put to death that which is earthly. Though we often succumb to the evil powers of fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, as Paul tells us… I think his words describing the separation of Heaven and Earth have been met with confusion and harmful interpretation over the centuries.
You see; taking Paul’s words literally, places God in the sky above. Yet, we all know that no spaceship could ever fly far enough to glimpse God. The ancient biblical writers of the Old Testament did not suppose that if they could have traveled into space that they would somehow come closer to the place where God lived; He is not an object within our perceived physical universe.
I often wrestle with this question of “where does God exist?” And as I began preparing this sermon I realized that many of my personal theological answers to this question confuse even me. In preparation for Duke Divinity this fall, all incoming M.Div students are required to read Bishop Tom Wright’s Simply Christian, which we read as a congregation a few years ago. Bishop Wright’s book gives the best answer I have found.
There are three ways in which we can imagine God’s space and ours relating to one another:
Number 1: We slide both worlds together. God is everywhere and everywhere is God. God is everything and everything is God. Modern theologians refer to this belief system as Pantheism. [Pan meaning “everything” and Theos meaning “God”] Categorizing yourself in this belief set is quite demanding because it is often hard to literally imagine divinity in everything; wasps, cancer cells, hurricanes, earthquakes, the Dallas cowboys. This belief system makes it difficult to cope with evil; when everything lives in divinity there is no court of appeal when something bad happens. Nothing, nobody, can come rescue you.
Number 2: We completely separate both worlds as far apart as possible. God has no active part here on earth and watches us from far away. This belief system is known as Deism. Thomas Jefferson himself was a noted Deist. [Jeffersonian Bible- no miracles] If you have a relatively stable life this option makes sense, you can shrug your shoulders at God and hope to still remain okay. But for those who are underprivileged, you have no hope for attaining anything better; your only option is to ditch this world.
It makes sense to me why this option is so popular, and why many people believe that this is the way Paul is describing the world in his letter to the Colossians. If I believe that God is distant and far away, having no bearing on my life, I wouldn’t worry about living like Christ, I wouldn’t pray, and I certainly wouldn’t get out of bed on a Sunday morning to attend church.
Number 3: The worlds overlap and interlock in different ways. This may at first seem confusing, but with proper explanation I think it might prove to be the absolute truth. The Old Testament insists that God belongs in heaven and we on earth, yet there are plenty of stories where the two spheres overlap. When Moses discovers the burning bush he is told that he is on holy ground, literally in God’s presence; heaven and earth are intersecting. When the Israelites finally make it to Mt. Sinai God appears to Moses giving him the Ten Commandments. David builds the Temple in Jerusalem, the place where Israel’s God would make his home forever. In the Old Testament, the Temple was where Heaven and Earth met.
The New Testament itself offers us glimpses of when these two worlds combine as well.
Jesus is God incarnate. He is both fully human and fully divine simultaneously. He is the best interlocking example of God’s sphere and our sphere. Last week Dennis used the scripture from 1 John 4:
“Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”
If we love one another, God lives in us. This is to say that by loving one another we can literally bridge our world with God’s world. We can experience the divine by simply loving. Additionally when we partake in the Lord’s Supper we are experiencing the divine in the meal.
Truly I tell you, God’s sphere and our sphere overlap and interlock in amazing ways.
Two weeks ago I left National airport with Jason Micheli and five of my peers to begin our week in Guatemala. This was my third trip and I knew what to expect from the beginning, yet this trip was unlike any other.
After spending 2 days with the adult group, we left them in the valley near Quetzaltenango and we made our way up to Chiquisis at 13,000 ft. Arriving in the village was like being in a dream. The visibility was next to nothing because we were literally in the middle of a cloud. After spending a night in sleeping bags we awoke to a completely different sight. For the moment the clouds were gone and we could all the mountain chains and valleys around us. Lush greenery was everywhere and we could now see the clouds below us. It was at this moment that I began to realize that this trip would be different.
Typically when one goes to Guatemala to work for HSP they stay at a place called El Refugio, they are bussed from their lodging to their worksites, and rest comfortably at night in the hotel. We were staying feet away from our families, in the same conditions, and eating meals prepared on a stove built just like the ones we were to construct. The relationships that we formed with the families were stronger than in the past. The children would follow us everywhere we walked in the village and would be waiting for us to wake up every morning. Because there is no running water on top of the mountain we each took a turn in a sweat lodge, bathing ourselves in the exact same way as the families around us. We completely immersed ourselves within the community and experienced a week of their lives. And we loved them: the children and their joyful smiles and the women who were so eager to welcome us into their homes.
And I know that they loved us back. Not for building stoves or playing with their children, but by simply showing them that we are equals, that by being made in the image of God we are all unique yet, connected.
I saw Heaven and Earth combined, God’s world interlocked with ours, in the love expressed between that village and us. If we love one another, God lives in us.
After we finished our stoves and made our way down the mountain, back to the valley with the adults we joined together for a worship service where Jason blessed the bread and the wine for communion. We congregated in a small class room, read scripture, performed hymns, and shared stories from our week. I have always enjoyed communion but some of Jason’s words that night made me appreciate in a new way.
“It was on the road to Emmaus that Jesus appeared to two of his disciples. They did not recognize him, but later that evening when he broke bread with them there eyes were opened.”
I will admit that I often limit my perception of the Eucharist to the Last Supper, the night before he found himself on the cross. Yet Jesus made himself known to his disciples, in the breaking of the bread on Easter, after the walk to Emmaus. Celebrating this meal should not be a sorrow filled venture. We should not limit its majesty to the forgiveness of our sins. This meal is joy. This meal is Easter. This meal bridges God’s world and our world.
In a few minutes each of us will be invited to partake in the Eucharist. Jesus will make himself known to you, again, in the breaking of the bread. He is the host of this meal.
You have a New Life in Christ, one where He lives and abides within you. So I ask you to look for where God’s world and our world interlock. Love one another so that God may live in us. And remember that you are all one in Jesus Christ.