Sermon 17th July 2022. The Cosmic Christ


I’m sure most of you will have realised the image on the wall is one of the first images released recently from the James Webb telescope. And those images are incredible. As are the facts about the telescope.

It is  a million miles from earth, in orbit around the sun, (not the earth), always facing away from the sun with a massive sunshield the size of a tennis court to stop any stray light from the sun affecting the images. The 6.5metre mirror is made up of 18 hexagonal gold panels and it is able to detect light from the visible, near and mid infrared, a much wider range than the Hubble telescope. This is because the images it is seeking are so far away that the expanding universe stretches visible light into the realms of infrared.

Eventually it will map the whole of what we can see on the universe around us, but it does it a tiny fraction at a time and it can only see the parts pointing away from the sun at any one time in its orbit.

The image you see represents a portion of the sky that you would see if you could see  and magnify something the size of a grain of sand held at arms length, and took 12 ½ hours to collect from thousands of images. It shows a cluster of galaxies 4. 6 billion light years away, ie the light you see left those galaxies 4.6 billion years ago- we’re looking into the far past. That galaxy cluster acts like a magnifying glass, its gravity bending the light so that through it, in the far distance even more distant galaxies can be seen.   Ultimately this telescope will see to the edges of the known Universe, over 13 billion light years away, getting close to the Big bang, what might be considered the beginning of time itself. The science, the images, the distances, the concepts of time are mind boggling, difficult to take in.

The psalmist once wrote in psalm 8

“Lord, our Lord,    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory    in the heavens.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?”

We are incredibly lucky on our Dark Sky Island to see the stars with the clarity the psalmist would have experienced, before the invention of modern lighting. But the psalmist could not have even imagined what we are now discovering about what we can see, and even more so what we cannot see with the naked eye. How much more we should marvel and be in awe of the works of God’s fingers, the moon and stars when we see images like those from the James Webb  telescope. As our knowledge advances, so our wonder and awe increase.

Our reading from Colossians, like the psalmist, tries to describe the awesomeness of God, is a wonderful poetic description of Christ that tries to put into words the awesomeness of he who was present at the creation of the universe and yet came to earth as a man for the sake of humankind, to show the world how much God loves his creation and how much God yearns his creation to be in harmony and love.

So often in the church we tend to compartmentalise Christ. We reduce him to human terms, to fit in with our limited understanding, our simple ideas. At Christmas, for instance, when we see more people in our churches than almost any other time, we  somehow romanticise Christ to the tiny baby in the stable and yet fail to communicate the awesomeness of the Colossians Christ hymn, or the psalmist, to the gathered people and rather than leaving with a sense of awe, they leave with a fuzzy warm seasonal glow. Even in our regular services, as we recite our creeds, even as we come to the communion rail, do we really, truly, appreciate the enormity of the God we worship, the Christ we come to in remembrance, who has reconciled all things to himself, and the Spirit which strives to live  through us, yet we limit by our human desires and wills.

So often too, we are so busy running around doing this and that like Martha in our Luke reading, that we fail to stop, to metaphorically sit at the feet of Christ as Mary did, perhaps to stare into the awesomeness of the night sky like the psalmist did and listen for God’s prompting in our hearts, in our lives.

Just listen to those words from Colossians again;

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 

19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Is this your faith, is this your belief, as you look and understand, in part, that incredible image of a tiny portion of the universe in front of you, yet also wonder at the beauty or the smallest flower, is your faith in the Son, the image of the invisible God in whom all things were created, is your faith that awesome?

Paul wrote these words, whilst in prison, to encourage the Colossians in their early faith- “if you continue in your faith, established and firm”, Paul says, “and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel, you are reconciled to Christ”- that Christ, the incredible, indescribable Christ Paul has attempted to describe. How much more might we be encouraged, with how much more we now know of the wonders of creation?

How much more, like Paul might we become servants of Christ, servants of the church which is his body, to which these mysteries have been revealed.

“He is the one we proclaim”, Paul says in the closing verse of this passage, “admonishing and teaching everyone with wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ”. Like Paul, may we, as he says, “strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in us.”    Amen.