Text: Colossians 1:11-20
Date: November 21, 2010
Place: Trinity United Methodist Church (Durham, NC)
Author: Rev. Taylor Mills
As my mother used to say, “put on your thinking cap” because I’m going to try stretch our brains for a moment to consider a theory in astronomy and cosmology called “dark matter.” Apparently, some very smart astrophysicists and other scientists have calculated the amount of total mass in the universe. Then, they calculated the mass of all the objects we can observe (galaxies, stars, dust, etc.), those within view of our telescopes and those things beyond the view of our telescopes.
Well, the stuff that we can see…the things that we can observe and say “this has mass”…make up only 20% of the total mass of the universe. There’s still 80% of the mass of the universe to be accounted for. They call this missing mass “dark matter.”
We can’t see it with our naked eye. We can’t see it with any of our special instruments. It’s not a specific object in a specific place, like a black hole. It’s all around. It’s not that they’re saying, “We’ve only explored the universe to a certain radius and 80% of it is beyond the reach of our telescopes.” No. They’re saying, “We can see all we need to see. We’ve done calculations to figure out how much is out there. And what we can say is ‘out there’ is only 20% of what is really out there.”
Just consider that! We can’t see, account for, explain, describe, or say anything of certainty about 80% of the known universe. This “dark matter” permeates the known universe, envelopes it, and until recently we have been completely unaware of its existence.
The Bible talks about Jesus in similar terms. Verses like the ones from Colossians today describe him as holding all things together. “…for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (16-17)
Now this is not to say that in discovering dark matter that we’re necessarily discovering Christ. Of course not. But just take the sense of wonder in discovering that 80% of the universe around us right now is unknown and unobservable to us. And then consider the mystery and wonder of those words: “in him all things hold together.”
This “hold[ing] together” of all things is one of the distinctive roles of Jesus in the cosmic universe, in our own individual lives, and everything in-between. John used the Greek term Logos to describe Jesus and wrote, “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being…”.
Preachers and teachers will sometimes speak of the Logos as a “glue” that is holding all creation together. There’s much more to it than that. Yet I’m reminded of an illustration I used last week for a little model house that I built as a child with balsa wood and glue from a hot glue gun. Temporal glue like that decayed and gave way and wouldn’t hold even the little model together over time. But Paul is talking about a Jesus through whom “all things have been created” and “all things hold together.”
That’s why we call him “King Jesus.” That’s why we have a day like today designated on the church calendar called “Christ the King Sunday.” We’re declaring that Jesus Christ is King. And as King, he reigns over all creation: dark matter and light matter, known and unknown, cosmic and personal, the past and the present and the future.
There are lots of kings that would seek to usurp Jesus’ authority. (If the idea of a king is difficult to relate to, you may find it helpful to think of “powers.”) Worship money and the god the ancients called “Mammon” will be wrestling with Jesus for authority over your life. Put base lust and carnal desires before God and Aphrodite will be reigning over you. Arm yourself to the teeth and you will be naming Smith & Wesson as your king instead of Jesus…who met violence with nonviolence in his own example to us. On and on it goes.
Renowned New Testament scholar N. T. Wright has written about it this way: “Paul says, in Colossians, that Jesus Christ came into the world he created to do business with the powers, to live where we live, to confront the powers and to triumph. He faced the powers and tamed them, defeated them, so that he might rule, so that he might have back his whole creation and might give it back to us as he meant it to be. On the cross, Christ has defeated the powers, and stripped them of their ultimate power. Now he seeks to reconcile them, to create a new world by the power of the love of God.”
All the other powers in creation simply pale in comparison to the power of Jesus as King. We just came through the national and local elections when parties and people vie for office. When the elections are about the marketplace of ideas and about public service, this is not a threat to the reign of Christ. But what are we doing when elections become about power and competition? At what point are we seeking to make for ourselves kings and queens?
We mark the beginning of the busiest retail season of the year this week with Black Friday. Gift-giving can be a form of worship to God. Look at the visit of the magi and their three gifts. Look at the church in Acts 2 when they would share their possessions with one another so no one had need. But who is in charge when Sears and Toys R Us are opening on Thanksgiving Day? Whom are we worshipping when – as I recounted in another sermon a few weeks ago – retail employees have literally been trampled to death by Black Friday crowds?
And we wrestle against the Lordship of the Prince of Peace when we make war – people against people, nation against nation. The same Jesus who said:
• “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”
• …the same Jesus who said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”
• …the same Jesus who said, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword”
…we proclaim that same Jesus as King and Lord of our lives.
I’ll speak only for myself in confessing that I haven’t been anywhere close to as mindful as I should be as a Christian about the two ongoing wars we have now. I can too easily go about my life without a thought for the men, women, and children in harm’s way on all sides. Admitting my shortcomings, I nevertheless call on us all, as Christians, to confront the difficult questions: Who is the real king, the one with the biggest guns or the Prince of Peace? What does the fighting – in the name of my country or any country or tribe or creed – say about who we believe is in charge of the universe?
Battle language is actually used in these verses from Colossians. In these verses of thanksgiving (appropriate to this week’s holiday too), Paul writes, “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.” (v. 13) Since all of you studied the passage in the original Greek before church this morning (right?), you already know that the verb for “transferred” was usually used to refer to the spoils of war being transferred from a defeated king and his decimated kingdom to a king victorious in battle.
We believe, with Paul, that the decisive battle has been won. Jesus is victorious. And so we are “transferred” into “the kingdom of his beloved Son.” There is still some mopping up to be done. There are struggles with evil. There are people just now coming over to Jesus’ side. But we know who won the war.
And now, every time we pray “Thy kingdom come,” we gain more ground for Christ. Every time we say grace over a meal, we are saying that all the world has to offer belongs to Christ. Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we witness to the supremacy of Christ above all earthly powers. And when persons are baptized – or live-out their baptism by joining a church, as some will join ours in a moment – they confess Jesus Christ as Savior and promise to serve him as Lord and King.
Those of you who read Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory no doubt recall the descriptions of horrible persecutions against Roman Catholic Christians and priests in Mexico in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The constitution then forbade priests from holding services outside of the church building and didn’t allow them to wear their clerical vestments.
It was in this time that a Jesuit priest named Father Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez, often called Blessed Miguel Pro, ministered. In his state, the persecution was even worse. Churches had been closed. Priests had been forced to renounce their orders and marry. Some bucked these new rules and gave up their lives to the government forces.
Father Pro was wrongly implicated in an assassination attempt against a former Mexican president. The current president saw an opportunity to have Father Pro killed by firing squad. As the priest was led to the execution wall, the police officer who had framed him suddenly appeared, tearfully begging forgiveness. Placing a hand on the policeman’s shoulder, Pro said, “You not only have my forgiveness, but also have my thanks.”
Then, turning to the firing squad he said, “May God forgive you all” whereupon the 36 year old priest fell to his knees before the bullet-riddled wall and prayed, commending his own life to Jesus and asking forgiveness for those about to take his own.
Upon standing, Father Pro was offered a blindfold, which he steadfastly refused. As the firing squad raised their rifles and the photographers their cameras, Pro suddenly stretched out his arms, as if bound to a cross. As the shots rang out to take his life he was shouting “Viva, Cristo Rey!”
“Long live Christ the King.”
Father Pro not only knew who was king, but knew him as well. So he could entrust his life to him in the face of false charges, mock trial, hatred, violence and death.
“Long live Christ the King.” And long may his kingdom reign.