|Primary scripture: Colossians 1: 15-23||A special liturgy was written for the day.|
|Additional scripture: Colossians 1: 3-14, Luke 10: 38-42; Psalm 15|
In the eastern church – that is, the church in Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, Russia, and a half mile north on Redwood Drive – an icon is a stylized painting of a saint, an apostle, a prophet, an angel, or Jesus. The icons are often very beautiful, but the icon's value is not found in the beauty of the artistry. For the orthodox believer, the icon is "a window into heaven", through which one can see beyond the paint and panel. By looking at the icon, the faithful can see, spiritually, the holy person who is depicted there. In honoring the icon with a kiss, the Orthodox Christian honors the holy person in heaven.
In this congregation we do not have icons. I even tend a little bit toward iconoclasm. But we do have the Hoyler window. If you are not familiar with the eastern idea of icons, perhaps you can get some sense of it by looking at this figure of Christ ascending.
God is invisible and unknowable. Jesus was seen and known. That a painted wooden panel can serve as a window into heaven is a remarkable belief. We make a far more remarkable claim: We claim that a human being serves as a window that lets us see the nature of God. More than just a window into heaven, through whom we catch a glimpse of the reality beyond, Jesus is himself a full participant in that reality.
God is invisible, unknowable. Jesus was seen and known. In the life of Jesus – past, present, future – God is not only visible and knowable; in the life of Jesus, God is seen and known.
Christ is the beginning of all things, the unity of all things, the image of God, and the means by whom the whole cosmos is set at peace with God. Christ is both the origin of all good and the culmination of the glorious future.
In the beginning, the Breath of the Creator said, "Let there be light," and the Spirit of Christ said, "It is good." In the beginning, the Breath of the Creator said, "Let there be living beings," and the Spirit of Christ said, "It is good."
When we look outside at the sun and the clouds, when we feel the breeze in our face or go swimming in Lake Michigan, or when we listen to the birds singing in the trees, we can see the marks of their Creator. Christ was in God when none of these things existed and all the marks of creation that we see are marks of Christ himself.
Jesus' role in creation applies whether you consider the parts of creation we can see and touch, or the galaxies which are visible only remotely. His creative priority applies to genes and viruses, which we can see only indirectly and which we know mostly from their effects. It applies to dark matter and quarks which we think exist but which we cannot see at all. Gravity and the nuclear forces, magnetism – all the fundamental physical forces, are expressions of the creative power brought into the cosmos through Christ. We claim that the creative power which originates the universe is active in Christ and living in the person of Jesus.
Christ is the original source, not only of created objects and physical forces, but also of all human relationships. Governments and economic systems are human developments which we have raised in Christ's garden. Our talents, abilities, our "inalienable rights" all derive ultimately from Christ.
The beauty of the world around us is the reflection of Christ through whom all was created.
All created things exist as the objects of Christ's love. Love is the essence of unity; reconciliation is the expression of love. Christ – who is the icon of creative power – is also the living expression of unity.
We claim that the meaning and purpose of an apparently random universe becomes visible when the universe is united with Christ. We claim, too, that the meaning and purpose of humanity becomes apparent when we are joined with Christ.
Jesus is able to make a family by his blood – that is, Jesus is able to make us God's blood relatives. Jesus brings you and me into the family of God. More than that, Jesus opens membership in the family to every person who can be enticed to join us. More than that, Jesus is himself the unity of everything in the universe: person, angel, squirrel, bacterium, quark, photon, gravity, church, school, government. All come together in Jesus. All make sense in Jesus.
The renewed Moravian Unity titles Jesus as the "Chief Elder". But the unifying power of Jesus goes beyond the administrative function implied by that title. More than the chairman of the board of Christianity, Jesus is the inspiration of the Church. More than the head giving instruction to his members, Christ is the mind where the pain and the elation of life are felt and recognized.
The Church in its full beauty is the living expression of the unity which the entire universe has in Christ.
By being the unity of all things, Jesus is the means of achieving God's peace.
If there are 100 sheep, and one wanders off, does the shepherd hurry away with the other 99 so that the lost one can never rejoin the flock? No, indeed, the shepherd hurries after the lost sheep in order to bring them all together again.
If a woman loses some money in her house, does she go outside and burn the house to the ground, so that the lost money will never be found again? Certainly not; she goes inside and cleans the house from top to bottom so that all her money will be safe together again.
These are the stories that Jesus told about himself. Jesus is the icon of peace, the window through which we can see peace, the door through which we can come to peace, the leader whose steps guide us to peace, the redeemer who pays for us the price of peace – who has already paid the price of peace.
Christ's peace is already in us. Christ's peace is already around us. In friendship with Jesus, everyone is made holy. Friends of Jesus cannot be enemies of each other. In Jesus Christ we have no enemies.
When, at the end of time, we who are the Church achieve perfection in all good and the full unity of all the cosmos – when all this is achieved, what will we have achieved? Christ. There is no other picture of the goal God sets before us than Jesus. There is no better picture of God's love worked out in the universe than the one life which lived God's love on earth.
And when we leave this life on earth, Jesus Christ is the first-born out of death. The first, the one who goes ahead of many. Jesus has promised that wherever he is, we will come. Christ is our aim and our goal, now and forever.
Christ is our past. Christ is our unity. Christ is our peace. Christ is our future.
This is the good news: You are already a part of the ongoing history of Christ. You are a part of the living body of which Jesus is the head. In your unity with Jesus, your life right now participates in the reconciliation which God is bringing to everyone in the cosmos.
Jesus is the source of creation; he is our past. Jesus is the unity of the cosmos; in his life our lives make sense. Jesus is the means to peace; when we are united with him we have no enemy. Jesus is the culmination of the future; he is our only goal and aim.
If Christ is the source of creation, then we also must be creative. None of us can create worlds, but each one can create good. My father always claimed that he was not creative, but he created beautiful crafts of wood and he helped to create organizations for ministry. Our different talents let us create beauty, or insight, or organization, or enduring friendship, or loving family.
If Christ is the unity of the cosmos, then we must strive for unity. No one here can pull together the expanding universe, but each one can look for common ground among our colleagues in the workplace, among the members of our families, among our neighbors and governments. Different people have different roles; some pull one way and some pull another. We are like the muscles of your body: In order to walk, you have different parts which sometimes pull against each other — but which are united in moving the whole body forward. All our different directions can be unified when they are each working for Christ's purposes. In Jesus, all our differences make sense together.
If Christ is the means to peace, then we must become the guides to peace. Who else but you and I should be the signs of peace in a world of division? We who are the Church of Christ accept the gift of peace. We who are the Body of Christ share this gift of peace:
If Christ is the culmination of the future, then he is our future. To arrive where you want to be, you must set your mind on the goal. Our future is to be at peace in the unity of all creation. We have no other future than this; this is all we should think about.
Christ is the promise and hope of the glorious future. Christ is the image of all goodness. Christ contains all right and all reason. And when, if only for a moment, we are at one with Jesus, then we are at home.
This is the good news: You are already part of the triumph of Jesus Christ. Let us follow him.
Index to sermons