A sermon preached by the Reverend Dr Trevor Jamison at
Saint Columba’s United Reformed Church on Sunday 17th July 2022
Last Wednesday evening we had our July monthly Elders Meeting. Usually, in the first part of our meetings we ponder a passage from the Bible, often working our way through a biblical book from meeting to meeting. In our last three meetings, though, instead, we have discussed three booklets published by the United Reformed Church, as part of a series called, “What do we believe about …?”
“What do we believe about creation?”
“What do we believe about being human?”
And last Wednesday night, “What do we believe about the future?”
Well, let me tell you, this booklet and our discussion about what we believe about the future made our heads hurt. The more we thought about it, and the more we discussed it, the bigger the future became. Each one of us has a future, of life located in time going forward, and with an understanding that there’s a destination for our lives, but we don’t know how much time we have left. Also, none of us can speak with certainty about that ultimate destination, though we have hope about that because of what we believe about the loving nature of God.
Then, however, we began to think about the future of the earth, and how God related to that. God’s the one who created the planet and loves it. So God’s concern for the future is probably not just for the future of individual human beings, like me and you, but for the future of all the other species on the planet, and for fabric of the planet itself – sea and sky, land and air; the whole ecological system. It’s astonishing to think that God could keep all of that in mind. It’s awe inspiring to contemplate what that says about the capacity of the mind of God.
And then we acknowledged that this great planet, in all its complexity and beauty, is smaller than a dot on one page in the great book of the universe; one planet among several, orbiting one star among myriad stars in this galaxy, which is one galaxy among myriad, myriad galaxies, with all their myriad stars and myriad, myriad planets. Did God, we Elders asked ourselves, calculate the past, present and future of every detail of all of that? Alternatively, did God get things underway, leaving things to take their course, unless God somehow knows that an intervention is required to ensure the correct future comes into being? Whichever the case, how can we begin to get our minds around the immensity of God?
So, that was our July meeting. We do not intend to hold an Elders Meeting in August, unless absolutely necessary.
All the same, it was good to have the conversation. Living as we do in twenty first century Western European society it’s very hard for us to escape an individualistic outlook. Each one of us sees ourselves as being at the centre of the world; believing that it is our plight as individuals that led to God’s great act of reconciliation; the death of Jesus Christ on a cross at Calvary. And I’m sure that Christ has died for each one of us. As the hymn, My Song is Love Unknown puts it, ‘O who am I / that for my sake / my Lord should take / frail flesh and die?’
As our Elders conversation last Wednesday night suggests, however, and as this morning’s Bible reading from Paul’s Letter to the Colossians declares, the reconciliation of each individual with God is part of a bigger, cosmic story. The future – God’s future – is about each one of us, but also about the whole of our species, the whole of our planet, the whole of our universe.
The Apostle Paul would never have denied the reality of each and every individual being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. After all, he was the one who had his personal encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. That meeting transformed his understanding of himself, and changed the direction of his life; from persecutor of the Church to evangelist for Christ. It also changed Paul’s understanding of humanity, his understanding of God’s plans for the peoples of the world, and his understanding of creation.
Here, in the letter which bears his name, we hear about God work in the past, in the present, and for the future. And that divine work – God’s love – is at work for the benefit of individuals, peoples, and the whole of reality. Speaking of Jesus Christ as God’s ‘beloved son’ (1:13), Paul goes on to write, ‘For in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross’ (1:19-20): reconcile all things.
The death of Christ upon the cross, the death of God’s beloved son, the death of God’s own self, upon the cross is the act through which reconciliation takes place between the creator and creation. Its effects and its implications are embedded throughout the whole of reality – past, its present and future.
God’s love begins with creation. Christ, we are told was there at the beginning: ‘he is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.’ (1:15) He is God’s image. Paul must have had in mind the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, where it says that our purpose as human beings is to be in the image of God (Gen. 1:26, 27). So when Paul writes that Christ is the ‘image of the invisible God’ he’s saying that Jesus Christ is the supreme of example of what we human beings are meant to be. We are meant to be like Jesus, who shows us what the otherwise invisible God is like.
So Christ is there at the beginning of creation. And the effect of his death is with us in the here and now. Paul writes, ‘you who were once estranged [from God] and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death.’ (1:21) What has happened at creation and the cross affects us in the here and now. Previously we were estranged from God and each other, and now we are reconciled.
I said, ‘from God and each other,’ because it follows that if we are reconciled with God then we must also be reconciled with each other. If we said that we love God, but did not love those that God loved, then how real would be our love for God? Not very. Likewise, when Paul said that God has worked through Jesus Christ to bring about reconciliation with us, then we must seek to be reconciled with the others that God reconciles to God’s self. And those others include not just the other individual human beings, but also the rest of creation.
And that brings us back to a question about the future. At work through Christ from the beginning of creation (the past), God has now reconciled us (in the present), but we know that this reconciliation process is not complete. We know that our own lives remain imperfect. We are not the finished item. We know that our relationships with others are not yet what they should be.
For example, at URC General Assembly last week, we discussed this nation’s historical involvement in transatlantic slavery (our past). We pondered its continuing impact in the present – how as a nation we continue to benefit from the money that entered our economy then, whilst other nations were deprived of it; and how continuing racist attitudes permeate our society today. We wondered what it would take to deal with the past and the present so that we might enter into a better future. How will we be reconciled with God and with each other. We’ll have the opportunity to explore these questions further at our Church Meeting next Tuesday evening.
And Paul talks of God’s purpose for the future; that we have been reconciled in the here and now, through the person and work of Jesus Christ at creation and the cross in the past. All this so as in the future, ‘to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before’ God. (1:22) In fact, not just you and me, Paul says, but ‘every creature under heaven.’ (1:23)
The future is a big topic to ponder and discuss, especially when it’s the future of the universe that we are discussing. But the future of the universe is our future too. As finite beings, living within in a boundless reality, we will never understand it all, whether we find it fun to try to do so or not. Yet we can understand enough to have hope for the future. We can hear and respond to the story, the life, and the action of Jesus Christ – the firstborn of all creation, through whom God brought reconciliation for all through the cross. We hear that our destination is to be in the company of the God who loves us, and loves the whole of the rest of creation. And for that, thanks be to God. Amen.