Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday Scripture: Colossians

A keen eyed person might notice I'm about 24 hours late on this one. Two weeks ago I started a lectionary reading/preaching series to go through the Bible in three years. No promises how long I'll continue. The text of the first Sunday was Genesis 1. Last week it was John 1. Today, we move to the book of Colossians.

Genesis 1 gives the creation of the world, and John 1 mirrors it in the incarnation. Colossians fits in this sequence because one of its main points is to display Christ as far exalted above all other spiritual powers in the creation. Three points might be:

1. Christ is the firstborn over all creation.
2. Christ has defeated the powers of evil.
3. Live in the name of Jesus.

1. Christ is the firstborn over all creation.
Colossians 1:15-20 is sometimes called the Colossian hymn, although what poetic breakdown it might have is not immediately apparent. We can see clear parallelisms but the second half in particular is very difficult to put into poetic form. Most scholars see Jewish traditions about divine wisdom behind the first part of the hymn, but several (including myself) see the logos in the background here as in John 1.

The "hymn" exalts Christ as higher than anything else in the creation, including all visible and invisible authorities. I wonder if this passage may have played into the part of the Nicene Creed which speaks of God as creator of all things that are "seen and unseen." Colossians is parallel to Hebrews 1 in its clear placement of Christ above the angels. Here, a mystical Judaism is probably a target, which aimed to worship with the angels through mystical experiences and visions (2:18).

The bottom line, though, is that Christ trumps all other powers.

2. Christ has defeated the powers of evil.
Not only is Christ greater and of more authority than all other powers, but he has defeated those opposed to God. He has disarmed the powers and authorities that held sway over us (2:15). Colossians astoundingly seems to line up the power of these forces with various aspects of the Jewish Law like festival celebrations and food laws. Is this a reminder that a slavish, fundamentalist approach to Scripture is just as often likely to take one out of God's will? Is not this the approach that those who favored slavery took in the 1800s and those who oppose women in ministry take yet today?

3. Live in the name of Jesus
My favorite verse in Colossians, indeed, one of my favorite in the whole Bible is Colossians 3:17. It gives us yet another picture of Christian ethics in toto. Do everything in the name of Jesus. Christian action fits with the person and authority of Christ. Just as he is Lord over all creation, both those forces in submission and those that have rebelled in the past, he must be Lord of our lives as individuals and communities of faith, if we are to be worthy of the name Christian.

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