Sunday, August 1, 2010

All in All

All in All

Copyright © 2010 Robert J. Elder

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Luke 12: 13-21

Colossians 3:1-11

There is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised,

barbarian, Scythian, slave and free;

but Christ is all and in all!

“One size fits all.” Don’t you hate it when you run across clothing items that make that claim? How can it be so? From an NFL linebacker to the Munchkins of the old Wizard of Oz movie, how can one size possibly fit all the varying shapes and sizes of humanity? Invariably such items are shaped like small backpacking tents. “One size fits all” seems to me really to be destined to fit none.

What other things don’t fit under the rubric of one size for all? Automobiles? Would it be a good thing if the only car everyone could buy was a Hummer? Or how about a Mini or a Volkswagen Beetle? Over the years I’ve heard some people declare from time to time that they think their church is too large when they can’t get acquainted with everyone. Then I turn around and someone is back from a trip where they visited a 5,000 member church in California or Florida and they wonder why their church can’t grow to that size. I remember a restaurant on Interstate 40 in Amarillo, Texas where you could get a 72 oz. steak for free if you could eat it all in one hour. Large sounds good sometimes, but what if super-size was the only choice on the menu?

In his letter to the folks in Colossae, Paul didn’t say one size church or faith or spirit fits all of us. What he said was Christ is all and in all. Each of us fits into the body of Christ, no matter our size or our degree of spiritual maturity or our past lives or our nationality. We can be Greek, Jew, faithful to every ounce of the ritual law of Israel or not, barbarian outsider or citizen, working for wages or president of a major corporation, no matter, we all are created in the right way to fit into the body of Christ.

The word Paul uses for “all” when he writes “Christ is all and in all,” is panta. The Greek prefix pan is all over our English language and most often guides the words it’s attached to in the same direction: toward universality. It is connected to words such as: pan-acea, a word for a universal cure-all; pan-American for things affecting all nations of North and South America; pan-demic for diseases that become very widespread; pan-demonium literally suggesting a release of all demons at one time, a totally chaotic situation; pan-orama suggesting a complete view in all directions; pan-theon, which most of us think of as a former pagan temple in Rome converted into a church, but which literally means a temple for all gods.

Probably we get the word picture: Paul wanted us to see and know that Christ was not only in all the world, but that all the world’s people could be infected with the Christo-pan-virus, the Christ who lives within each and all believers. It’s a big picture, we have to admit. Hard to take it in. But then, as my former theology professor, Jim Loder used to say, we worship a very big God!

There is a story about a man on a spiritual quest who once went to see a religious hermit who lived a simple and holy life high on the mountaintop. After a long journey, the man entered the monk’s simple quarters, and was greeted by the smell of incense, which heightened his expectation that he might soon learn of lofty spiritual matters. Then he noticed a pervading quiet in the room, which made him even more expectant that soon he would hear deep truths of God. Then he saw the aged old saint, and quickly asked him how he might attain the spiritual life. When he emerged from the holy man’s humble quarters, he was in a rage. Someone asked him what had gone wrong. He responded, “I wanted to know how I might attain a spiritual life, I wanted to hear of heavenly things – he asked to see my check stubs!”

“Set your mind on things that are above,” said Saint Paul. It may sound at first as though it is an invitation to heavenly visions, a move away from the world. As though the way to avoid the temptation of riches, against which Jesus warned, is to set aside the world altogether. But then what did Paul give us as preparation for setting our minds on the realm of the spirit? “Get rid of anger, passion, hateful feelings.” A lesson in practical ethics. In the search for spiritual truth, Paul turned our attention directly back to the world of relationships – as though this is what is meant by the spiritual life hid in God.

Many people are all too ready to tell us that spiritual reality denies our earthly existence. How different was the perspective of Jesus, who ate and drank with sinners, mingled with outcastes. Rather than avoiding the seamy, the earthy, the downright common, Jesus seemed to deliberately seek it out.

That is what draws us here on a summer Sunday morning. To be with Jesus; to find Christ living within us, his community. We come, especially, not so much to get something out of our faith in Christ, as to be part of Christ, to experience the promise that we may be in Christ as Christ promises to be in us. Which is, after all, the direction that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper takes us when we come together on Sundays to celebrate it.

I’ve been asked from time to time in the churches I’ve served, “How many members does our church have?” And while we do count members here, as we do in all churches, I often reflect on the fact that while Costco, and the athletic club, and, and the country club have members, people who expect to get something from their membership, what Christ calls is disciples, people who find Christ within them, who offer themselves in his ministry without worrying first about the return benefits.

In Jesus’ time, as in our own, people were concerned with their material well-being. We know what Jesus said on the subject, he said ten times as much about the spiritual dangers of money and possessions as he did about, for instance, prayer. In today’s gospel, he said something that most of us overlook, living in the most prosperous society the world has known: Jesus said, “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

“Well, of course,” we say, “we know that spiritual values are the most important thing, that being in the presence of Christ, who is our “all in all,” as Paul put it, claims our ultimate allegiance.

Even so, churches and those of us who populate them, can often be found spending more time and energy discussing church carpet colors than we do planning and praying to find and bring others to the One who is our “all in all.” We fret more about whether we will have enough resources for retirement than we do over whether our children and the children of our community will have faith. But there is good news just in our being here today.

A friend of mine once wrote that maybe the good news is that some of us have already gotten Jesus’ point. We didn’t come here this morning seeking advice on financial matters, as the man in Luke’s story about Jesus seems to have done. We didn’t come here today hoping to receive a program on how to make ourselves healthy, wealthy and wise. We have come here to be with Christ. We have come here not primarily to get something out of him, but because we love him. Lots of folks might be in their yards or on the golf course or tennis courts this morning, sunning themselves like lizards on a rock, but we are here. We are the sort of people who risk hearing what Jesus has to say even when the words may be tough, because we have been willing to listen to him for words of life, to examine our lives, and bend ourselves from our willfulness to his will.[1]

Paul’s word to us today in the letter to the Colossians brings us back to essentials if we will only hear them, calling us to set aside a laundry list of ills which can stand between us and our Savior, including, as Jesus did in his teaching about money, the idolatry of greed. Once the self-serving lenses are taken from our eyes, and the other-serving nature of our faith emerges, it is then that we can begin to see the world as Christ himself saw it, through a renewal in which “there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!"

Copyright © 2010 Robert J. Elder, all rights reserved

[1]William Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Vol. 32, Number 3, July, August, September 2004, p. 23