Start again with the claim to an author, Paul, and a sidekick, Timothy, writing to an obscure community in Midwest Turkey. It may be a claim to be ‘the’ Paul, with ‘the’ Timothy of the Pastoral Epistles. It is a pseudonymous claim to share Paul’s movement. For anybody familiar with the Paul voice of Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, or 1 Thessalonians, this text will sound a bit odd.
Colossae is as obscure as a settlement along the Lycus River as is any town along our Grand, Saugeen, or Maitland rivers in ‘Western Ontario Waterways’ region of the UCC. The town is long gone, but the reputation is still praised, and Epaphras its founder recognized today, and several of its members and friends to come on Saturday’s reading, remind us of folks we know.
If we’re not eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life and death, or waiting for Jesus to come next Tuesday, how do we tell our story? In ‘second wave’ or ‘second generation’ church, we remember having been included, celebrate what we already share, and claim against all evidence of our current minority status that we belong to something bigger and better than the majoritarian winners around us.
Although I can’t make the right Greek accent fit the tunes I imagine them singing, I know I am reading a hymn here in Colossians 1:15-20 – just as we know we read a hymn in Philippians 2. It’s making claims about Jesus with which Paul might have quibbled, claiming a cosmic ‘headship’ over the other claims of power and authority around us.
The claim to a ‘realized eschatology’, a community already enjoying first fruits of having overcome death and joined in the promised life beyond death, is a big turn from the apocalyptic ‘next Tuesday’ stuff. This Paul claims to be not only the president of this ‘hair club for men’, but also a member himself! That may not be my Paul of other letters, but might be a pretty inspiring leader for a sectarian holiness movement congregation – if we wanted to be one.
Whatever the suffering, slavery, and imprisonment claimed by this Paul, which may be literal or metaphorical and figurative, we are invited to share it.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2 To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
3 In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
4for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints,
5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel
6that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.
7This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow-servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf,
8and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
9 For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
10so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.
11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully
12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.
13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son,
14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
15 He 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.
21 And 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.
24 I 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.
29For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.