Keeping It Together
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May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the dominion of the beloved Son of God, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in Christ 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. Christ himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Christ is the head of the body, the church; Christ is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Christ to reconcile to God’s own self all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Probably, this week, the rising water in my sewer system should have been what finally broke me. It should have been the sewer—the plunging marathon that did nothing for the roots that had woven their way into our line. But, I have to tell you, it wasn’t that. It was the flyer saying I had less than 36 hours to prepare a costume for the Picture Book Parade. And it had to be a picture book character.
Really, there was just so much more to this week—personally and professionally. I’m sure I disappointed folks this week, forgot things. It was just that so much happened that was beyond my control, that I couldn’t plan for or foresee. I try so hard to hold it all together…you get this, right? There are these times where we seem to be walking a tight-rope; carefully hanging on to all the stuff and baggage of our days, and we are so sure that we won’t slip, won’t drop anything. We live such carefully orchestrated and managed lives. We are tempted to believe that we are capable of keeping everything in line, under control. And if we can just get everything scheduled just so, get all the apps, calendars, set the reminders, make all the preventive health care visits, schedule the contractors. If we can just get out the vote, have the tough conversations, tell the truth. If we can just…and just…and… We are sorely tempted to believe that we can hold it all together and that will be a sign of God’s favor; but the true sign of God’s favor is a life lived for others.
In Colossae, new teachers arrived bringing with them ascetic practices that promise mystical experiences. These teacher promised secret knowledge to their followers and demanded precise control over what people ate and drank. They manipulated the community, shaming those who challenged them. The spirituality they promised separated body from mind, from spirit, the opposite of the holistic promises of Christianity. In chapter two of the letter, Paul—or his disciple—writes, “Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews grows with a growth that is from God.”
All this emphasis on control, management, manipulation divides us from ourselves and us from each other. Believing we can hold it all together—being in control—is to seek to be first. Being in control fails to take into account the feelings and needs of others Being in control only sees others in the way their needs and feelings derail our careful schedules, interrupt our own feelings of holiness, and prohibit the perfection we think we are able to achieve. And then they keep us from holding it all together. Don’t they see how hard we are trying, how much we are juggling? But Paul writes, “Christ is the image of the invisible God. Christ is the firstborn of all creation. In Christ all things in heaven and on earth were created…Christ is before all things, and in Christ all things hold together.”
In Colossae, they controlled their bodies in order to have mystical experiences which were, to them, a sign of God’s favor. Here, today, we tightly control our schedules, our families, our friends and acquaintances. We pass laws and call the cops on anyone whose behavior might put into jeopardy the tight control we think we have over our lives—we’d hate for our property values to decline, for our kids to “see that” (whatever “that” is), for anyone to get the wrong idea about our community. We feed ourselves a steady diet of rage and fear and hate, constantly setting off the warning bells in our heads about the next thing that will risk our careful life-management systems. And we do all this because we believe that a perfect life is a sign of God’s favor and love and presence, and a life that has just too much of the ebb and flow of fate and luck is evidence of God’s curse, the cooling of God’s love, and the turning of God’s face from us.
And so we labor day after day under the idea that we can hold all this together—the picture book parades, the sewer back ups, the bad news from the doctor, the hate and vitriol from 24 hours news. We think we are saving our lives, but really, we are harming ourselves. This level of control is deadly. Our children starve themselves, zone out in front of glowing rectangles. Fear of crime makes us suspicious of our neighbor, and especially the ones who don’t look like us or talk like us. We teach our girls to be afraid to walk alone, especially at night, because we never know who will be out of control out there. We teach our boys that true masculinity looks like always “handling your business.” It goes on and on and on. Our insistence on keeping everything together by ourselves is killing us, beginning with the most vulnerable among us.
But, in Christ all things are held together.
Christ, whose life was completely out of control, dying on a cross.
In Christ all things are held together.
It is not easy thing to give up on being in control. I’m not very good with details. But, generally speaking, I have at least five plans for how things will work out. Once, I worked in a job where I had to make cold calls to potential clients. The idea of not being in control of the conversation unnerved me so much, I created a flowchart for all the possible turns the conversation could take. So, basically, I’m preaching to myself: it isn’t easy to give up on being in control.
It isn’t easy to give up on believing we can hold all things together. We have to admit that most of life is beyond our control—beyond anyone’s control. We have to admit that we are all tossed about on a sea, with no control over when the next wave hits.
And so, if we give up on the idea that good luck is a sign of God’s favor and bad luck is a sign of God’s condemnation, but instead trust that Christ holds it all together—good and bad—and for our sake, then maybe we give up on controlling our lives and just live them.
Today we celebrate the never ending Reign of Christ—a day which challenges us to see the cross as a throne, to challenge our ideas of what power is and looks like, to break down the ideas that what we need most to do is be in control, to restore us to wholeness within ourselves. If the cross is the true seat of power, then we are not called to hold it all together, but to give it all away. Then we are not called to be in control, but to lives of greater and greater compassion. Instead of controlling our lives, our children, our neighbors, our communities, we act in their best interests. Instead of managing all the fearful possibilities, some of which might never come to pass anyway, we find ways to help all people to live in safety. The sign of God’s favor isn’t then be our perfect lives, perfectly managed, but our real lives, lived for the sake of others.