July 28, 2019
I want you to know how much I have agonized for you and for the church at Laodicea, and for many other believers who have never met me face to face. I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself. In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
I am telling you this so no one will deceive you with well-crafted arguments. For though I am far away from you, my heart is with you. And I rejoice that you are living as you should and that your faith in Christ is strong.
So live in Christ Jesus the Lord in the same way you received him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.
Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.
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I've read and re-read Trip’s gorgeous sermon from last Sunday. If you weren’t here to worship last week, I urge you to go online and read it – you can find it on our granpres.org website under the “Worship” menu[i] or look for the video stream on Facebook. Even if you were here last week, I encourage you to go back and read it again.
It is all about what it means for Christ to live in us.
In the beginning Trip quotes Franciscan friar and mystic Richard Rohr, who says this about the mystery of God’s presence in this world:
“God loves things by becoming them.”
In his sermon, Trip evocatively explores that extraordinary claim – and what it would mean if we lived as if that were true…. That “all of creation bears the image of Christ…” you and me and all creation. The dignity and honor and reverence with which we would live… It is a powerful message.
In the book of Colossians, Paul begins with this extraordinary affirmation that “Christ lives in you.” Then, in today’s reading, he turns the image on its head. Now Paul urges that we “live in Christ Jesus the Lord.”
In his book, “Falling Upward”, Richard Rohr connects those two claims. He says, “The self-same moment that we find God in ourselves, we also find ourselves inside God.” [ii]
So what Paul’s saying is, that if Christ lives in us, then the parallel truth is that we live inside Christ. We bear the image of Christ. We put on Christ. We are one with Christ. We are in union with Christ.
As religious claims go, that is extraordinary.
Even for those of us who have been Christian our whole lives, this mysterious, mystical claim takes your breath away.
It goes against everything the world wants to tell us.
I mean, we know our identity has to do with our class, our wealth, our poverty, our possessions, right?
We know that the quality of our existence has to do with access to resources, our health, our family of origin, our education, doesn’t it?
We know that our worth has to do with our accomplishments, our popularity, our achievements, our assets, right?
We know that our ‘tribe’ has to do with our neighborhood, our ethnicity, our politics, our nationality, even our religion, right?
No, Paul says. No.
All of those things are real, they’re part of life, they’re how we walk through the world. Paul doesn’t pretend those things aren’t things we need to negotiate every day of our lives.
But they’re not your identity. Nowhere close.
You – you are complete through your union with Christ, he says.
And everything – everything – is subsumed in that truth.
It is an amazing claim Paul is making…
That we are alive in Christ Jesus. That our identity is in Christ Jesus. That our ‘Self’ exists in Christ Jesus. We live in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Even in Jesus’ day, that kind of claim was hard to understand, hard to swallow. No other religion made claims like that.
Because it wasn’t about worshiping a particular god instead of others.
And it wasn’t about obeying a particular set of rules.
It wasn’t even about believing a particular set of doctrines.
It was subsuming your whole identity to this God, in whom you now lived. Your whole life existed inside this Christ.
No one else made that kind of claim. No one.
And God knows there were plenty of religions to go around. It was a veritable smorgasbord of choices –
There were the Roman and Greek gods, the pantheon of deities…
There were the emperors who called themselves ‘sons of God’… and were, in fact, worshiped…
There were the philosophical schools, like the Stoics who preached “Keep a stiff upper lip”, or the Epicureans who encouraged, “You do you” …
There were the ‘mystery religions,’ the Gnostic cults, early-day secret societies…
Even if you were Jewish, there were subsets and sects, this way and that way to do things “right”…
But nobody talked about living inside a deity, being united with a deity, or a deity living inside you. It was a radical claim to make, to subsume your whole identity inside this God. To say it was audacious doesn’t begin to touch it.
The ritual of baptism was meant to enact this so you could see it, so you could feel it. The process of preparation was long and thorough, learning about Christ, who he was, what he taught, how he lived, how living in Christ would be. It meant becoming part of a community of believers, with mentors and teachers.
And then, when the time for baptism came, you were brought to the baptismal pool. You took off the robe you were wearing, like you were shedding your old skin. You walked down three steps into the water – three steps, like the three days Christ was in the tomb. Then you were put under the water, like you were drowning – three times, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Then you walked up three steps, and were given a new robe, a white robe, a new skin, a new name, a new identity.
When you emerged, you were in Christ. Your old self had passed away. Your new self was born.
In Christ. Through Christ. With Christ. In the unity of the Holy Spirit. Forever.
It changes everything…
Everything. Nothing in your life could remain untouched. You gave it all to Christ, just as Christ gave everything for you.
As one preacher puts it,
NO part of human existence remains untouched by the loving and liberating rule of Jesus. Our suffering, our temptation to compromise, our moral character, the dynamics in our homes. All of it must be examined and transformed. We’re invited to live in the present as if the new creation really arrived when Jesus rose from the dead.[iii]
So how do we do that?
“So,” Paul says. “Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.”
Now, you know as well as I do, there are a thousand different voices telling us what to believe, or how we should live, or even what’s worth fighting about. “Do this! Think that! Be this way! No, don’t!” It can get so tiresome. That was true then, too.
"Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ,” Paul says. “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.”
“In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” Paul says. Live inside him.
I know this may sound like nonsense. Or it may sound like something you think you’re supposed to do, but you have no idea how. It may even make you feel irritable, as if you’re being told you’ve been doing something wrong your whole life, if somehow you don’t experience some kind of mystic sweet communion; that you’re doing the best you can, that you’re basically a good person, and what more do you want?
But I don’t see this as a commandment, but an invitation. I feel like I want to tell you what Paul told them,
I want you to know how much I have agonized for you and for the church… I want you to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want you to have complete confidence that you understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself.
So maybe I should tell you what that feels like to me.
Sometimes it feels like when I was a little girl, and I got cold, and my father took off his coat and put it on me, and my arms were too short for his long sleeves and the coat went clear down to my ankles and I knew it looked silly, but I felt warm and safe and cared for.
Sometimes I think that’s what living inside of Christ is like.
And sometimes it feels as if I’m putting on a suit of armor, especially when I need every ounce of courage I can muster, and I can’t do it on my own; I need the courage of Christ. I need to remember I belong to him.
Sometimes that’s what it feels like.
And sometimes it feels like I’m putting on a costume; like I am pretending to be better than I am, but that pretending gets me where I need to be. I take on this other persona that is stronger, wiser, braver, kinder, and more compassionate than I will ever be. It’s like I fake it till I make it, as long as I am putting on Christ and don’t think it’s all about me.
And sometimes – this is so hard to describe – sometimes it’s as if I am living inside light. This is the most beautiful and real of all. Like there is a light surrounding me that is full of beauty and holiness. And I get to live inside of it. As if I’m breathing underwater. Or living inside starlight. Or surrounded by flame, but not burned.
Can you imagine that?
If you close your eyes, can you imagine?
I’ve taken to a particular kind of prayer in the mornings. It’s so I can practice remembering that. I imagine Christ’s light surrounding me. I imagine I live inside him. I set my intention for the day while I’m there… with that shimmering sense of his presence. It comes and goes throughout the day, of course. But for a few moments, at least at the beginning, the Light is there. And I know it’s there, whenever I remember.
Remember to live in Christ Jesus.
[i] Trip Porch, “Christ Within” (https://www.granpres.org/sermons/2019/7/21/y5j6wmy647ipw8xmixk5k2nh73kgax),
[ii] Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011), 91.