July 17, 2016

Proper 11, Year C

Colossians 1:15-28

Luke 10:38-42

Keep It Together

            Has anyone ever told you—maybe not in so many words—to “keep it together”? Or maybe, to “pull yourself together.” Or maybe, to “get it together.” Words along the lines of “Keep it together” are just part of our cultural vocabulary. Sometimes, they’re said explicitly by people in our lives—parents, coaches, colleagues, bosses, or friends. Sometimes, no one directly tells us to “keep it together,” but the message is implied by the expectations that shape us, by the demeanors that surround us, and by the routines that structure our lives day-in and day-out. All of these things tell us, with or without words, that we’d better keep it together.

And sometimes, the command to “keep it together” is part of our own self-talk as we go about the tasks of daily living and face the many things that just might throw us off balance, or pull us apart: Whatever you do, whatever happens, just “keep it together.”

            But our second reading this morning, from the letter to the Colossians, has something very different to tell us. Instead of encouraging us to keep it together, the Scripture tells us that holding everything together isn’t our job, but Christ’s. As we just heard, “He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

            These words are just one verse of what is probably an early Christian hymn about Christ. It’s based on passages from other Biblical and apocryphal texts that were written about Wisdom, long before Christ became incarnate in the person of Jesus. The hymn declares Jesus to be the person who contains God’s fullness, and to be one and the same with the wisdom through which all things have been created. Also, everything that seems to have power—whether visible or invisible—was created not to dominate other creatures but to serve Christ and his intentions.

            This hymn is jam-packed with descriptions, titles, and affirmations about Christ. He is “the image of the invisible God”; “the firstborn of all creation”; “the head of the body, the church”; “the firstborn from the dead.” That “firstborn of all creation” one can be a little misleading: it’s not that Christ was the first creature, but rather that he’s the source of all creation. The phrase “firstborn from the dead” shows us that the resurrection of Christ is just the beginning of a new life on the horizon. All of these affirmations remind us that Christ is so far beyond all those constraints of space and time and earthly power that structure and contain us. So, when we just can’t keep it together, there’s something much larger there to hold together all the pieces.

            When the world tells us—or when we tell ourselves—to keep it together, we might be able to pull it off for a while. We might be able to keep on top of our lives and responsibilities with our organizational tool of choice, or with a strong ethic of hard and constant work. We might be able to “keep it together” by mastering our emotions, not allowing grief or anger to derail us.

            But the truth is that things are coming apart all around us and within us, including life plans and self-understandings; families and personal relationships; alliances and treaties. Many of us live with a deep sense felt by many people that the world is falling apart, that we can’t keep it together.

            And that much is true: We can’t keep it together. Keeping it together isn’t something we can do by force or by will. As Christians, we don’t always know how best manage our lives, care for our emotional and mental health, or resolve violence and injustice. We don’t even know how to keep our churches together! But we do know this: in Christ all things hold together. Because there’s nothing else holding this church—Grace church—together but Christ himself.

            I can’t unpack completely the mystery of how all things hold together in Christ. Yes, this mystery means that Christ is the source of wisdom who precedes and runs through all of creation. And yes, it means that Christ is a higher authority than all the thrones or dominions or rulers or powers that try to score victories in this world. And it means that God dwells in Christ in a way that God dwells in no one else. And it means that Christ is actively drawing all things to himself by offering reconciliation, peace, and an end to cycles of bloodshed.

            But the mystery of all things holding together in Christ isn’t just a mystery to be understood, but a mystery to be experienced. In our gospel today, Mary seeks out the experience of allowing Christ to hold all things together. While her sister Martha is distracted by many things, and then resentful that no one will help her with her work of pulling off some hospitality, Mary focuses on just one thing: sitting in the presence of Jesus. Perhaps Mary grasped the very mystery described in Colossians. Perhaps she knew that she could either by pulled in all directions by the world, or focus on Christ and let him hold everything together.

            When I imagine Martha getting all worked up, part of me wants to say, “Keep it together, Martha.” But if I were to say that, I’d just be part of the problem. The point of life in Christ isn’t that we keep it together, pull it together, get it together. The point is that we let all things hold together in Christ. And the best way to do that may simply be to fall at his feet.