The Southeast Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church announced this week Bishop-elect Leonard Fairley will step into the position over the Kentucky Annual Conference on September 1st as Bishop Lindsey Davis retires after 20 years of episcopacy service.
Yesterday, the Council of Bishops released a statement upholding the General Conference proposal for a way forward concerning our churches views on marriage and human sexuality. The Commission for a way forward will hold its regularly scheduled meeting this week with a progress report to follow. The Council of Bishops is united in its commitment to maintain unity within our diversity as a global community seeking to follow Jesus Christ. Let us unite our voices.
Hear these words from Rev. Richard Allen, the first person of color to receive ordination as an elder in the Methodist Episcopal Church under the direction of Bishop Francis Asbury (Kinghorn, The Heritage of American Methodism, 97). Let us pray…
We believe, O Lord, that you have not abandoned us to the dim light of our own reason to conduct us to happiness, but that you have revealed in Holy Scriptures whatever is necessary for us to believe and practice. How noble and excellent are the precepts, how sublime and enlightening the truth, how persuasive and strong the motives, how powerful the assistance of your holy religion. Our delight shall be in your statutes, and we will not forget your Word. Amen. (Richard Allen, African Methodist Episcopal Bishop, U.S.A., 19th Cent., alt.)
We continue with our sermon series from Colossians. Paul writes his letter to the church of Colossae from prison with his young companion, Timothy. Paul began his letter with a warm greeting and a great prayer with thanksgiving inviting the believers into a deeper awareness of the rich provisions in Christ Jesus. Then he breaks into song! He has just prayed a beautiful prayer for all the fullness of Christ Jesus to be deposited into the believers, which leads him to sing a hymn.
In Paul’s letter the theology of the Colossae church is under re-construction. They have heard the message of the One True Gospel, and they have believed. Now there are people coming into the church that hold a different philosophy. They want to “add” to Christ Jesus.
We know what it means to have an “add on.” We supersize our meals. Build additions to our homes. We amend the constitution and create new laws. But what Paul is saying is that there is no need for any “add ons” in Christianity.
Paul is demolishing all the “add ons” the contemporary, and corrupt, thinking about Christ Jesus. And, the way he goes about demolishing these new creative ideas about who Christ Jesus is through a song, a baptismal song. Paul uses song to remind the believers of the One True Gospel.
Hymns and creedal statements are not uncommon in Pauline literature (1 Cor. 8.6, 2 Cor. 8.9, Phil. 2.6-11, Col. 15-20). It was most likely a baptismal hymn. It is doubtful that Paul actually composed the hymn here in Colossians, but is referencing a hymn. The hymn provides a guide for the church to understand the character and nature of Jesus Christ, primarily that he was fully human and fully divine. Here is the Christian standard, the litmus test, to discern the foundational truths about Jesus. There are contrasting themes that aid believers in distinguishing the before Christ life and the after Christ life: darkness-light, kingdom-power, and sin-redemption.
Song has always been a viable part of the Methodist tradition. In the early days of Methodism people’s hearts were touched as much through song as they were through listening to the sermons. These hymns were alive with rich theology of God’s majesty, his parental concern for is people, the sovereignty of God who offers full redemption in Christ Jesus. The songs were full of reflections on the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – in a time when the Holy Spirit was absent from the celebrated music of the day.
The hymn helps us to understand that creation was always intended to belong to the Messiah, or Christ. Christ belongs to the world for the purpose of redemption, and the world belongs to Christ, bought and paid for by his blood sacrifice. Tradition holds that the Rabbis taught that the earth, and all that is within it, was formed for the Savior. Christ is the ultimate objective of the created order. Christ came to redeem what we understand as the fallen creation. And, Christ came to redeem creation completely.
This redemption motif implies that Paul was seeking to correct a misunderstanding about the nature and character of God, particularly Christ Jesus. The easiest way to say it might be: we don’t naturally understand who God is. We need to be instructed, and reminded of the nature and character of God. Otherwise, we find ourselves trampling off into heresy, false doctrine, and the like. To be sure these is none greater than Jesus Christ, and there is no thing in all creation that can compare to Jesus Christ.
This is not the only time that Paul uses a hymn to express who Jesus Christ is. We can look at Philippians 2.6-11 where Paul teaches that the Christ pre-existed, existed, and post-exists even now. We can see that same construct in the Colossian 1.15-20 hymn. Paul teaches that Christ Jesus is the image of God the Creator, the Redeemer of Creation, and the Ruler of Creation. To be sure redeemed creation forms its community in the place we call Church of which Christ Jesus is the head. There is nothing in all creation that is beyond reconciliation and redemption in Christ Jesus.
To be sure John the Beloved helps us to understand that Christ was with God in the very beginning, before the foundations of the earth were laid (John 1.1-5, Gen. 1.1-2). The creeds we recite in the church today date back to the beginning of the Christian faith, teaching us the validity of the doctrine of the hypostatic union, the fullness of the humanity and divinity of Christ Jesus. What we take for granted or even dismiss as irrelevant in our belief system, such as the hypostatic union, were critical points of contention for Paul and his churches.
Paul stands on his God-given commission to make the word of God known to all creation. Paul wants believers to understand that our suffering in this present age is part of the overall plan. Paul instructs that this commission is for the benefit of all people. Paul is not preaching to a private group of his associates, but speaks openly to all who would listen to this Good News. Paul calls his church folks to rise to the occasion of vital maturity so that they might resist false teachings in the church.
Paul insists that the church struggle with him to contend for the One True Gospel message. He wants the church to understand the depth and riches of Christ Jesus is beyond any persuasive argument, beguiling speech, and cultural philosophies that so easily entangle us. Paul emphasizes the importance of holding to the core values of the faith. That One message is that Christ Jesus is enough to heal every aspect of creation. Christ Jesus is sovereign over all creation. His reign is supreme. There is no need to make excuses, or to seek another alternative; instead we are to investigate and believe the hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge found only in Christ Jesus.
Ultimately, Paul’s reason for writing is to remind the people that Christ Jesus encourages our hearts and unites us in love. We have every opportunity to behold the full riches of complete understanding and embracing the mystery of God in Jesus Christ. We can know Christ Jesus, and the mystical union of his Spirit within us.
If we were to dig into some scholarly works, we would read hypothesis that suggest that the Colossae church enjoyed a tradition of singing praises to God that were rich in lyrics that reflected his identity and his work. If this passage is indeed a hymn from the early churches, we can rest assured that they church work deeply theological songs about Christ Jesus. Words in songs meant something to the early church. They weren’t meant for a joyful noise, they were sung to teach people about God.
Contemporary music often comes under criticism. Some get frustrated with the repetitiveness of the chorus or a bridge, but when was the last time we were disenchanted with the repetitiveness of the Hallelujah Chorus in Handel’s Messiah. To be sure music offers us an opportunity to reflect on who God is and meeting God in our worship not only on Sunday morning but all through the week.
For the newly converted, Christ Jesus might not seem to be anymore powerful than a human leader. Paul inspires the believers to take a second look at their relationship with Christ Jesus. Through the recital of this song, the believer is invited to rethink their view of who God is. We might ask ourselves: How big/small is my God? If Christ Jesus is not big enough to handle your life stories, then who is God to you? If you are struggling, this is your invitation to come and re-construct how you understand God. Let’s grow in our relationship together!
Almighty God, open our hearts to listen to your still small voice guiding us to believe in who you truly are according to your Word. Amen.