Christ in All Things
by Rev. Nancy G. Wright; Text: Colossians 1:15-20
by Rev. Nancy G. Wright, preached at St. Paul’s, Mt. Vernon, April 25, 1999.
Text: Colossians 1:15-20
I will never forget the story of a woman who together with her grandson flew in an airplane for the first time. As the plane soared higher and higher, overwhelmed by the splendor of the blueness and white billowing clouds below, the little boy turned to his grandmother and in a hushed voice pointed out to his grandma, “Grandma, now we are with God.”
A wonderful story. And one that brings to mind the question, when are we with God? Or rather, where do we need to be in order to be with God? Indeed, where is God? Christians are not alone in this questioning. Many people around the world continue the quest for the “where” of God.
For us believing Christians, God is in the church. God is in sacred places, such as
Lourdes. God is also in the Eucharist,
the body and blood of Christ. In addition, surprisingly, God is in
Many Christians, however, have shied away from maintaining that God is in nature, in plants and animals. Scholars suggest this reluctance is due to our Hebrew ancestors’ belief in the one transcendent God, Yahweh. Yahweh was infinitely more powerful than the gods of the surrounding peoples, such as the Cannanites. Some of the Israelites’ neighbors connected their gods to natural places. For the Hebrew people, Yahweh was different; creator, yet in important ways separate from creation and so holy that even today Jews do not say the word God.
But with the astounding incarnation of God in Christ, the early Christians intuited this all had changed. Christ was in some sense in creation. And no one understood this more deeply than Paul. In his letter to the Colossians he quoted an early Christian hymn, that was composed only thirty years after Jesus’ death: The hymn goes like this:
Christ is the image of the invisible God,
The first-born 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.
What an astounding and beautiful hymn. It says that the dead and risen Christ is the source and sustainer of all things. This means that the rivers, mountains, salmon, and hemlocks all have their beginning in Christ and live in him.
The church needs to proclaim this message. It needs to surprise us, to shock us, to respond reverentially to the whole creation. For if the world is the body of Christ, it is in some sense holy.
Reverence toward nature, and Christ in all things. How different from the daily world as we know it. We know that air, water, soil are polluted. We read and see on TV stories about the destruction of forests and prairies and rivers, to such an extent that plants and animals and fish are becoming extinct. Many of us spend our lives in areas that were once home to many more of God’s creatures. Here, around you, you are facing problems of salmon extinction, highway expansion, sprawl, deforestation, and problems of quality of life. We know all to well that something is askew. Can faith be of practical use in this crisis?
I think it can. Very much so. The belief that God in Christ is holding the world together teaches us several things. First, there is no competition between the love of God and the love of creatures. Our love is for the whole of creation. And we are most Christian when we do not let our vanity dream up unbridgeable distances between our species and those with more fur and more legs or compound eyes.
Second, central to Christ’s ministry is teaching on the love of God. That God loves all. That God forgives. That God in Christ suffered to bring all back together, reconciled in one spirit. So that as Christ is in creation, then creation itself, the eagles, otters, whales, and ourselves are connected to a spirit of suffering, reconciling love.
Third, creation is astounding, which helps us to appreciate anew how astounding is the God who created it. For instance, take what we now know about objects; they are not solid, as they look and seem, but rather are made up of waves and particles in constant motion. Or consider that the Milky Way galaxy is one of billions of galaxies. In it floats our solar system. All is constant change and stupendous in size and diversity. I quote one scientist, “The Milky Way galaxy is a celebration of diversity, abounding with hundreds of billions of stars, each different from every other. The Milky Way’s brightest stars emit more light in a single day than the sun will generate for the next two thousand years, while the faintest stars glow so feebly that if one of them replaced the sun, noon would be darker than a moonlit night. The Milky Way’s oldest stars date back to the galaxy’s formation, 10 to 15 billion years ago; its youngest are younger than you or I” [cited by Owen Gingrich, “Starstruck,” New York Times Book Review, May 7, 1995, in his review of Ken Croswell, The Alchemy of the Heavens: Searching for Meaning in the Milky Way (New York: 1995].
Creation is astounding. And the discoveries that the love of God the creator and redeemer can lead us to are no less astounding. Christ is present in his hiddenness in all things. And his love and our love for him in return in spires us to care for creation because his spirit is within it in ways far beyond our understanding.
But much is beyond our understanding. Consider that our bodies are 90 percent water. You who live next to the Skagit River are walking around, living and breathing, actually human vessels of Skagit water. In this way, living waters flow through you. Things are not what they seem. Things are much more than they seem. They are more interrelated, more connected, more whole, and more holy. For it is Christ who lives mysteriously all around us, hidden yet present. We need only eyes to see and hearts to feel. Is it not enough for a lifetime of contemplation and care?