St James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Image the Invisible”
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 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. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all 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.
And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’
I touched on this in our Easter sermon, the miracle of the Incarnation. So often we see it that Jesus is like God. But think about it, that is what we should all aspire to be like. The miracle, and the difference in Christian theology, is that we claim an Incarnation, quite different from a Hindu Avatar, and that in-the-flesh Jesus showed us what God is truly and really like. We too often have it reversed.
In Paul’s wonderful metaphysical poem on the pre-incarnate Christ, or the Cosmic Christ, as I have heard it described, we are given a portrait of a Jesus unbound by time and space and corporeality. And a God who chooses to indwell the flesh. Hear again some of what Paul said:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;
THIS IS WHAT GOD LOOKS LIKE
for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—
HE IS THE ROOT OF ALL THAT IS, SEEN & UNSEEN
all things have been created through him and for him.
LIKE AN ARTIST, HE MADE IT, OWNS IT, FINDS DELIGHT IN IT
He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
PRE-CREATION, AND QUANTUMLY ENTANGLED HOLDING IT ALL TOGETHER
He is the head of the body, the church;
he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.
BECAUSE HE WAS FIRST, HE LEADS THE WAY OF THE FAITHFUL
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
WORTHY TO CONTAIN GODSELF
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.
ABLE TO DO WHAT WAS NEEDED FOR US ALL
Almost creedal in its formulation, this litany of Christ’s attributes inspires awe. The Creator and Keeper and Redeemer of all that there is, and the driver of all that there will be. He is the Crux of the Universe, and in his crux, the Cross, he enabled all of what is to be reconciled with him, and for him, and to him.
My mentor always said, a leader does what has to be done. And if you are able to do it, you are response-able. And only Jesus, God in the Flesh, could do what had to be done. And because of that, we are able to be who we were meant to be. In Matthew’s account of the baptism we hear echoing out of heaven that beautiful name: Beloved. Agapetos. Ho Agapetos, THE Beloved. This is my Son, THE Beloved, in whom I am well pleased. Not only claiming Jesus, God declares the relationship, the status of him, as well as his pleasure. It is this story that kicks off the ministry of Jesus, this Epiphany that he is unlike anyone or anything that has come before.
Ho Agapetos. THE Beloved. And because of who he is, and what he has done, we are given the response-ability to do what we can. Paul calls himself a servant at the end of today’s passage. But the word there, diakonos, is where we get our term Deacon, a servant, a waiter, the person who does what needs to be done and anticipates the needs and makes them come to fruition. And Christ, the Cosmic Christ, began it, modeled it, and follows through with us all the days of our life. Amen.