Rev. Sarah Buteux
Reign of Christ, Year C
What if you knew it was going to be ok? All of it. Whatever it is that’s troubling you right now. What if you knew it was all going to be ok?
Your parents. Your kids. Our country. The planet. Thanksgiving dinner and that weird mole on your back.
What if you knew it was all going to be ok?
It would make a difference, wouldn’t it?
If you knew your parent’s retirement funds were sufficient, you’d worry about them a little less.
If you knew your child was going to make it into a good college, it would be a a lot easier to stay up late helping them with calculus or allowing them to take that mental health day they keep begging for.
If you knew which of your favorite candidates was going to win, you’d know where to throw in your energy and hard earned cash.
If you knew that things really were going to turn out for the best – that carrying that water bottle everywhere, signing that petition, or seeing your doctor would tip the scales for the good, it would make a difference.
It would give you the strength and the patience and the energy to keep hoping, trying, working, and living toward the best outcomes you can envision.
All your hard work, your effort, your sacrifice would be easier to bear because you would know deep down in the end that it would all be worth it. Right?
The trouble is, we don’t. We don’t know.
At least not about college or retirement, our health or the planet. And we’ve all lived long enough to know that no matter how much we save or how hard we work or how well we prepare, life doesn’t always hand out A’s for effort.
I don’t care if you brine. Your turkey might still be dry.
Sometimes things don’t work out for the best – if at all – which, understandably, makes us anxious. And when people get anxious, we look for something bigger than ourselves to help us regain some sense of control.
We join Crossfit or obsess about Space X. We look to things like politics, our favorite news source, or religion: because there is something in us that believes that if we could just get in shape, develop the necessary tech, elect the right leader, or get everyone on the same page… if we could just make everyone understand and do the right things – ourselves included – then we’d all be ok.
But we never seem to get there, do we? Life is still way too hard for too many people. We have access to more information than ever, and it only seems to be dividing us more. You can flatten your abs and still feel like crap.
No matter how much we do, it’s never enough, and so our collective anxiety becomes compounded by cynicism and despair, anger and malice, blame and violence.
Or we double down on our politics, our information, our religion. We hone our facts and figures, anecdotes and talking points in order to convince everyone that we are right. We ramp up our commitment to the party or the church or the new diet and become the person no one wants to sit next to at Thanksgiving. You all know who I’m talking about now, don’t ya? Yeah.
And it might be you.
When people get anxious, we look for something bigger than ourselves to help us regain some sense of control. And I chose to preach on this passage for today because Paul gets it. He even applauds it. He knows we have to reach out for something bigger. What he’s trying to communicate in this letter to the Colossians is that if we’re anxious – and I know many of us are – it may well be because we are not reaching high enough.
Paul is writing to a relatively new Christian community in Colossae. Actually, all of the epistles were written to new communities. When we read these letters we are reading about the struggles of the very first Christians as they earnestly try to figure out how to live into the reality of the gospel. And in this case, it turns out that the Colossians are trying so hard they’re losing the plot.
From what I can gather, there are people teaching these new believers that there are particular things they need to believe and do in order to get right with God. Some of these teachers are telling the Gentiles they will need to be circumcised in order to be saved.
Some are instructing people to refrain from eating certain foods or touching certain things. Others are claiming that they need to attend certain religious festivals, observe certain rites, commune with spirits, or suffer through intense spiritual practices in order to stay on God’s good side.
And the Colossians are going along with it all – no matter how whack doodle it seems – because they are anxious. They want God to love them and bless them. They want everything to be ok and they are willing to do whatever it takes – even if it means hurting themselves or others – to get God to be ok with them.
They are doubling down on religion as their means of salvation, trusting that if they just do the right things, say the right things, believe the right things, then God will love them. Then it will all be ok.
And this breaks Paul’s heart, because the world changing, life altering, liberating truth at the heart of the gospel is that God loves you …already. God loves you already. God loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it. God loves you and there is nothing in all of creation that can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38). That’s from a different letter – that’s from Romans – but it still applies.
Here in this letter, a little later on in chapter 2, Paul writes to remind the Colossians that God loved them even before they believed in this new faith. God loved them even before they started to practice this new faith. God forgave them before they even knew how to ask. (2:13).
And Paul begins this letter – that’s the part you heard today, by reminding them that when all is said and done, no matter how broken or lost or messed up a person is, no matter how broken or lost or messed up any part of creation is, God is going to “reconcile all things on heaven and earth” to God’s self, through Jesus and his peace making work on the cross (1:19).
Meaning that ultimately, God is going to bring it all back together. Ultimately, God is going to heal it all, from the ice caps to the amazon, from the broken relationships in your life to our fragmented discourse as a nation.
And that God isn’t going to let anything get in the way. Not sin. Not death. Not the evils of the empire or the evil in your own little heart. Indeed not even the cross (and I hope you knew I’d come back to that) – not even the cross – a symbol of the very worst we can do to each other, the instrument of torture upon which we killed God’s only son – not even our violent rejection of the best God had to offer, can stop what God is doing through Jesus Christ.
Not even the cross can turn back the tide of God’s grace, dissuade God from reconciling the whole world to God’s self. Because ultimately the God who is in all and through all is going to bring it all back together. Ultimately it really is all going to be ok.
That’s some good news. “So people of Colossae and First Churches,” says Paul, (and yes, I am paraphrasing there a bit) as you go about your day or off to Thanksgiving dinner, stay strong and be patient. Don’t let people bully you into thinking you need to believe certain things or do certain things to get God on your side.
God is already on your side. Trying to charm a God who already loves you, impress a God who has already forgiven you, control a future that is already prepared for you, is an adventure in missing the point. Being right won’t save you. Being good won’t save you. Your religion, your politics, your workout, not even tomorrow night’s episode of Rachel Maddow, will save you.
Because you, my friends, are saved already.
Your job is to live like it.
Your job is not to despair, but to walk out into the world with faith and hope and love, with compassion, kindness, and humility, with patience, mercy, and grace, trusting that God’s got this and God’s got you. Your job is to believe that the good you do in the name of Christ matters. It makes a difference. It is not in vain. In the words of N.T. Wright:
You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up …You are – strange as it might seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself – accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world.
Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness, every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of creation; every minute spent teaching…every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support for one’s fellow human beings and …fellow nonhuman creatures; … every prayer, …
every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world – all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting (reconciling, and redeeming) power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make ”
Every good thing you do makes a difference.
Every good thing you do claims a little more ground for the Kingdom of God.
I hope those words give you courage.
I hope those words give you strength.
I hope that as you move out into the world to work for peace and advocate for justice, that those words will reassure you that your work matters, that no act of love or goodness is ever wasted.
And I hope those words will give you a sense of peace and calm as you sit down around tables in these coming weeks – some full of food, some full of acrimony. I hope that as you spar with relatives and friends about the impeachment and the environment, faith and politics, Warren or Biden, Booker or Buttigieg, that you’ll take a breath and remember that saving the world isn’t all on you.
The good you do matters.
It’s not all up to you.
The good news of the gospel means that both of those things can be true at teh very same time.
Whether you are right or wrong, whether you can come up with the words in the moment that will finally convince your uncle or grandma or second cousin once removed to recycle, vote, read that editorial or just try the rutabaga…or not… all you have to do is your best.
Do your best and then rest in the knowledge that ultimately the truth will out. Justice will prevail. God will get the last word. And love will win.
Ultimately, it is all going to be ok.
Let us pray…
Gracious God, we give you thanks because you first loved us. You love us unconditionally, you forgive us without reservation, you stand by us no matter what, and that is the greatest gift we could ever hope for or know.
We give you thanks for our families, those we were born into and those we have claimed along the way. We give you thanks for communities like our church, thanks for all the places that nourish, and challenge and support us as we move through this life. We give you thanks for the vision of a better world you have instilled in us, a world where all God’s children recognize each other as such, and we thank you that we have one another to live and work beside as we strive to bring that vision to reality.
O God, as we sit down at tables together or alone over the coming weeks, may we remember that we can be bread for each other and bread for the world. May we remember that our actions matter, that our words have power, that kindness, patience, humility and self-control are a choice – not always an easy choice, but a choice – and that the truth spoken in love can make all the difference in the world.
May we always know – no matter where life has leads us – that we will always have a home in your heart and that through your love we are all made family. Amen.