Hold Together (begins at 29:22)

July 21, 2019

Series: July 2019

Category: Faith

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Colossians 1:15-28

15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for 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. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He 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. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and 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.

21And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him-23provided 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.

24I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. 25I became its servant according to God's commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. 27To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD.

  Hold Together

At family camp, someone had this prayer book, which as you can see, I have since ordered.  It’s entitled Every Moment Holy, and the prayers and liturgies it contains aim to remind us of just that.  In addition to liturgies for morning, midday, and evening, there are prayers for doing the laundry, for preparing a meal, for keeping bees (these essential propagators of life), for students and scholars, medical providers, for fiction writers, for the changing of diapers 1 and the changing of diapers 2 – 1 and 2 are just the numbers of the prayers not the…never mind.  There are prayers for arriving at the ocean, for those who sleep in tents, for sunsets and first snow, for planting flowers, before beginning a book, a lament upon finishing a beloved book, for moving into a new home, for welcoming a new pet, for birthdays, prayers for the morning of a medical procedure, for battling a destructive desire, for nights and days of doubt, for those who feel awkward at social gatherings, for those who covet the latest technology, for bill-paying, for homesickness, for those who weep without knowing why, for times when we hear birds, for times when we hear sirens, for being frustrated at a child, for waiting in line.  Nearly everything is covered.  It doesn’t always use the language I use, so sometimes I change it; other times I let being invited into words I wouldn’t use be a gift.

Here’s one lovely prayer for a ritual many of us treasure:

Meet me, O Christ, in this stillness of morning.

Move me, O Spirit, to quiet my heart.

Mend me, O Father (it’s almost always Father) from yesterday’s harms.

 From the discords of yesterday, resurrect my peace.

From the discouragements of yesterday, resurrect my hope.

From the weariness of yesterday, resurrect my strength.

From the doubts of yesterday, resurrect my faith.

From the wounds of yesterday, resurrect my love.

 Let me enter this new day, aware of my need and awake

to your grace, O Lord.  Amen.

That’s from a liturgy for…morning coffee.  Why shouldn’t we soak such occasions with prayer?  Our spiritual ancestors and friends the Jews are better at this, as are other wings of our tradition and other religions, with prayers for virtually any occasion.  This is not the first prayer book I’ve come across in recent years that tries to lift up many occasions as occasions for prayer, particularly those we might not naturally categorize that way.  More than once, the church has given the outgoing elders a book by the Celtic writer John O’Donohue called To Bless the Space Between Us.  It too offers prayers for occasions and circumstances we might not expect.

The comprehensiveness of these prayer books tells me something, that we are looking for something or someone to hold all of life together.  Am I wrong or does it sometimes feel as though it’s all coming apart?  Do you ever feel that way?  There is a longing within us and among us for it to be knit back together, to be held together.  My guess is if you reflected upon times in your life when things felt good, felt right, where you felt in peace, when you felt as though you were in a good place, it was in a setting where things felt connected, held together.  Am I right?  When we lack that, the longing we feel is a tension that’s trying to pull us toward it.

 As I’ve said before, the root of the word “religion” means, “to knit together.”  For all religion has become, and for all the criticism it has garnered, at its core, it is about knitting together—knitting together a set of beliefs, practices, and relationship which help us make sense of, navigate, and share this life.  Religion is an attempt to help us be in right relationship with things.  It’s a beautiful notion especially in light of the human experience of having things come apart or be torn apart.

Both of our readings from Sacred Scripture deal with this aspect of reality, albeit from different angles.  The prophet Amos offers a harsh, even frightening, warning of a looming judgment, or sentence really, the judgment having been rendered.  God says God will no longer come by the people, the last harvest has been had, songs in the temple shall cease, dead bodies shall be many, famine, even baldness, is forecast!  I resemble the last part of that prophecy.  Sadly, such writings contribute to the misconception of an angry “Old Testament God.”  This is not at all the purpose of the prophets, to depict a scary God.  The prophets were deeply in touch with the places in their community where things were coming apart.  The judgment they forewarn is as much a prediction of natural consequences as the manipulations of an angry God.  In fact, recently I read a description of God’s wrath as simply the natural consequences of people hurting one another, of injustice.  It’s a little like equating God’s wrath with the “natural” disasters that are coming as a result of the destruction and pollution of the environment.  If you read Amos, you’ll see it contains a litany of communal transgressions and injustice.  What is injustice, but a cutting off of some from what all need and deserve.  Amos is lifting up what happens when a community or society comes apart at the seams.

Colossians does not deny the tearing apart we do or that we inherit—and we inherit a lot.  Colossians simply reminds us that something stands in the fissure holding us, holding all of it together.  Something…someone if you will.  Through this One, this manifestation of divine love, “God was pleased to reconcile…all things.”  This One, Christ, isn’t simply the title we give to Jesus of Nazareth; Christ is the one in whom all things hold together.  Christ contains all things, manifests God’s presence in all things, and invites us into a recognition of this reality that shapes our behavior.  Christ reminds us that all forms of separateness in the sense of enmity is at its base level illusion.  “You were once estranged and hostile in mind” (Col 1:21) writes the author, inviting the hearer to awaken that we are meant to be knit together.  It’s why “us” vs. “them” thinking enjoys momentary success but ultimately does not stand because it betrays the fundamental truth of existence. 

Part of what I did to prepare for today was to read from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.  I didn’t read it all in one sitting.  I took a break after finishing the title.  It says, of course, what we already know, that life depends on the flourishing of diverse life forms.  Think of the bees we mentioned praying for at the outset.  Thomas Berry who was a Catholic priest, cultural historian and ecotheologian reminds us that we are faced with the challenge of discovering what it is to be human in a way that transcends all the boundaries we put upon ourselves from nationalities to species.  He’s asking us to recognize, in so many words, that we all hold together, or it will all fall apart.

Today, we have a great joy of commissioning some young people for a mission trip, which used to mean (so we thought) sending off people to deliver the goods to some other people—to bring Jesus in some traditions, to bring home repair in others.  While we hope we are always ambassadors of Christ and Jesus’ way of love, and while we hope we can do a little good wherever we go, we now recognize that our first task is to look and recognize the threads of divine grace that weave us together.  Then we look for places where there is fraying, to ask what’s going on and how, humbly, we can help.  Our vocation is simply to participate in the divine interweaving.  That’s all there really is.  So, it’s not about building a house, or working in a soup kitchen; it’s helping to honor and strengthen the fibers that weave us together as a beloved community. 

With that, I return to this our prayer book, Every Moment Holy, and offer this prayer, fittingly titled…

 A Liturgy for the Labors of Community

Our lives are so small, O Lord,

Our vision so limited,

Our courage so frail,

Our hours so fleeting.

Therefore give us grace and guidance for the journey ahead.

 We are gathered here because we believe that we are called into a work we cannot yet know the fullness of.

Still, we trust the voice of the One who has called us.

 And so we offer to you, O God, these things:

Our dreams, our plans, our vision.

Shape them as You will.
Our moments and our gifts.

May they be invested toward bright, eternal ends.

 Richly bless the work before us, Father (or Mother, or Creator, or God).

Shepherd us well lest we grow enamored of our own accomplishment or entrenched in old habit.  Instead let us listen for Your voice, our hearts ever open to the quiet beckonings of Your Spirit in this endeavor.

Let us in true humility and poverty of spirit remain ever ready to move at the impulse of your love in paths of your design.

 You alone, O God, by your gracious and life-giving Spirit have power to knit our imperfect hearts, our weaknesses, our strengths, our stories, and our gifts, one to another (do you hear the language of knitting together?).

Unite Your people and multiply our meager offerings, O Lord, that all might resound to Your glory. 

May our acts of service and creation, frail and wanting as they are, be met and multiplied by the mysterious workings of Your Spirit who weaves all things together toward a redemption more good and glorious than we yet have eyes to see, or courage to hope for.

May our love and our labors now echo your love and your labors, O Lord.

 Let all that we do here, in these our brief lives, in this our brief moment to love, in this the work you have ordained for this community, flower in winsome and beautiful foretaste of greater glories yet to come.

 O Spirit of God, now shape our hearts.

O Spirit of God, now guide our hands.

O Spirit of God, now build your kingdom among us. 


 And Amen.