Sunday, November 23, 2014

Visible and Invisible (Colossians 1 and Luke 23)

Visible and Invisible
from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Colossians 1:11-20
11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for 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. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He 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. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and 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.

This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God

Luke 23:33-43
33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus* there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah* of God, his chosen one!’ 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ 38There was also an inscription over him,* ‘This is the King of the Jews.’

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding* him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah?* Save yourself and us!’ 40But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ 42Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ 43He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God


The last sunday of the church year, the last sunday before advent, is always dedicated to proclaiming the Reign of Christ. Our resurrected Lord rules all of creation from where he is seated on the right hand of the Father, from thence he shall come again to judge the quick and the dead.

So I set out at the beginning of the week excited for a sermon comparing the reign of Christ to all the things that his rule would replace. It was going to be full of hope for a brighter future, when we left our unjust systems behind. I was ready for a scripture passage all about how The Earth is the Lord’s, and all that is within it. It was going to be very Calvinist in its emphasis on the loving and unyielding sovereignty of God.

There was going to be a parade celebrating the reign of Christ, people were going to cast ticker-tape from the windows of buildings, marching bands would play the great hymns of the faith, and people would wave banners all proclaiming the good news of God!

Then I turned to our Gospel passage this morning.

Instead of banners we have a sign that said “This is the king of the Jews.” Instead of Marching Bands we have jeering crowds. Instead of ticker tape we watch as they cast lots for his clothing.

It looks as if the Roman Empire has found another brigand. They’re going to make a visible example of him so that others will know not to claim the title of “King.” For only Caesar is a son of gods, and only Caesar rules in this empire.

Or so it seems.

Up to this point, everyone who has looked for the coming of the kingdom of God was watching for the same model of visible conquest as earthly rulers had used. But God is not the same kind of generic ruler we have come to expect. The reign of Christ is not defined by champions or armies. The reign of Christ is defined by the cross. “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and 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.”

I think it is certainly within God’s power to sweep any empire right off the map. But I believe God is much more interested in redemptive, creative, reign than a coercive, destructive, rule. Christ’s redemption over all creation comes through the cross so that the world might be forever changed.

Even the parts of the world that had opposed God at every turn.

The reign of Christ is not visible in armies marching forth with religious symbols painted on their shields, it’s shown when at his death, the heir to all authority on heaven and earth intercedes in prayer, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

We really don’t. We don’t know what we’re doing when we step out into this world and proclaim that the powers and principalities that we can see are not the final word, and yet work so hard to serve them. We don’t know what we’re doing when we buy into the stories that our culture tells us about what being blessed looks like. We don’t know what we’re doing when we say we believe, but live in a way that sows doubt. We don’t know what we’re doing, and so out of our own limited understanding of how the world works, we end up opposing God.

The reign of Christ claims even us. Even in our stubbornness, our limitedness, our ignorance, our sin, Christ still claims us. No matter how deeply we are stuck in our wrongness, God measures us according to Christ’s rightness. The reign of Christ doesn’t just upend our unjust systems because even those injustices we would rather stay invisible are subject to the redemptive reign of our Lord who “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

That, friends, is something worthy of gratitude on this Sunday before Thanksgiving. The reign of Christ, in his strange, cross-shaped way of showing it, extends to all of creation, even to the unworthy bits.

Lucky for us. Because I’ve never met anyone who is worthy of the gifts God gives us. And it’s easy, I think, to get caught up in obsessing over all those components in our lives that we wish we could just make invisible and never have to deal with again.

As we approach the holidays and the gathering of families, it is all to easy to see the places where we have been wounded. I know it sure is tempting to compartmentalize the parts of myself that I’m not proud of, especially in a family where there is an unspoken expectation that, let’s be honest, I don’t always meet.

I’ve felt surrounded by my families’s love my whole life, and I certainly hope to make them as proud of me as I am of them. There’s a lot to celebrate in the rich history of Tabers, Potters, Shrewsburys, Barnettes, Barnards, and Boshells. The love shared in those groups, the talents, the triumphs, the traditions, are all part of what defines my family for me. Those parts are easy to identify as belonging to, and extending from, the reign of Christ.

But there are also parts of my history that I would rather sweep under the rug, history of families broken up through divorce, or abuse, or of being ruled by addiction.

The reign of Christ extends to all of that as well. Even the parts of me that I don’t like belong to God. The reign of Christ preserves my whole self, even the parts of me that I would rather not let anybody see, and claims all of me as beloved by God, and wrapped in the righteousness of Christ until even the darkest parts of my soul are set free from the stain of sin. I am convinced, moreover, that this is also true for every person gathered in this community of faith.

All of this is possible through the reign of the Son who, at the place called The Skull, prayed for the forgiveness of those who mocked him, killed him, and dared him to try and save himself.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible”

Christ claims both joy and grief as defining characteristics of his reign. The joy comes in the hymn of praise in our Colossians text, for all people can sing praises to their God, and to Christ who reigns on high. But in claiming the greatness of the hymn, Christ also chooses to define his reign by the whimpering grief of a dying criminal, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Both the visible joy and the grief we would rather make invisible belong to the reign of Christ.

We are approaching Thanksgiving, a time when we celebrate the things we are grateful for, lifting them up and choosing them as our organizing narrative throughout the darker months of the year. As our days grow steadily darker, and less of the day is visible, we celebrate the Reign of Christ at the end of the Christian Calendar. Advent begins next week. It’s a season of waiting, of longing, of preparing. Advent is a time when we look for the invisible, preparing for the easily overlooked birth of a peasant child whom we celebrate at Christmas. The invisible God made flesh, visible at last for those who know to look. Advent is a time of waiting for the invisible to become visible. The Christian calendar begins in Advent because we need to know that we start with waiting.

This week shows us what we are waiting for. The reign of Christ, who is heir among all creation, who’s reign is defined not by a visible sign that reads “This is the King of the Jews,” but by the invisible redemption that is already begun.

All the things we celebrate, and all the things we hide are subject to the lordship of Christ. We can hide them from each other, because some of them cause friction within the community of faith. We cannot, however, hide them from God. The parts of ourselves we would show to the whole world belong to God, the parts of our society we would make visible to all who look also belong to God. But in those moments when we are ashamed, either of part of ourselves or on behalf of our whole community, God claims those as well. God not only claims those parts, but invites them to the table, and declares that every part of us is welcome, because every part of us is redeemed, even the parts that don’t clearly show their redemption. So we come to the Lord’s table, where in visible signs we experience an invisible grace, and a wholeness we can only find in Christ who reigns.

The Reign of Christ is not about discarding the bad and uplifting the good, it’s about the reality that all of creation, both in the heavens and on the earth,
the things that are visible and invisible, Whether they are thrones or dominions, or rulers or powers, all things were created through Christ and for Christ.

And Christ who reigns loves us.


  1. Thanks, I needed that. Made me tear up a little, though...

    1. Thanks for the comment (and the share)! I think we sometimes over-focus on the grandeur of the Kingdom and not enough on the redemptive nature of Christ's kingship. We don't get to keep our bad bits, they belong to God too.