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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Colossians 2:8–23

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

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. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.  (NRSV)

So, philosophy.

When you walk through the land of the isms, you learn that each one has its own principles, its orthodoxies that form the lens through which the adherents—the residents of the ism, as it were—look at the world. It’s like looking through a telescope to understand the universe—a long tube with a lens at the end.

Sometimes this focus is really useful. When the Hubble Space Telescope was trained on one small area of space for an extended period of time, the results were amazing: what looked like a field of distant stars was revealed to be a field of even more distant galaxies, moving away from us at incredible speed, evidence of a vast and expanding universe.

Focus brings great depth. What it does not bring, however, is breadth. For all its wonders, that picture from the Hubble shows only a small portion of the night sky. For all it shows, it misses an infinite amount. When we find ourselves chained to the orthodoxy of our ism, we often find ourselves chained to a narrowness of vision that makes us miss more truth than we see.

Emerson said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Slaves to orthodoxy become small within the confines of their limited perspective. Shakespeare reminds us that “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” that the universe is more vast than we can imagine. And Plato? He suggests that when we look through that lens, down that tube of orthodoxy and constraint, we are not looking at the true substance of the world but rather at the play of shadows on the wall of a cave.

The passage from Colossians reminds us that we should never mistake shadow for substance and that we shouldn’t let ourselves be chained to orthodoxies imposed by humans. We’re all in a cave, watching shadows, waiting for that moment when we can step into the light.

Lord, remind us that, while we look at shadows, substance belongs to you. One day we’ll step out of our cave and see it. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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