Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, July 31, 2016
Focus Heavenward - July 31, 2016 - Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13) - Text: Colossians 3:1-11
I have a habit of reading billboards, church signs and especially bumper stickers. I would suggest that you can learn a lot about a person from the bumper sticker that is on their car or truck. One interesting bumper stickers relates well to our text for this morning. It is the sticker that announces: “The One Who Dies With The Most Wins.” I would suspect that this sticker in particular is not speaking about the most faith, but about the most as in the most possessions in this world. The teacher in Ecclesiastes this morning reminds us of the vanity, or meaninglessness of toiling for material possessions. Also this morning, Jesus, in the Gospel lesson, reminds us of the foolishness in storing up wealth for this world. And God, through Paul, reminds us not to put so much effort into this world but to “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.” This morning we want to spend a little time looking at some of the things that are vying for our attention; looking at how our attention reflects where our own focus is; and prayerfully, with the Lord’s help, we will be strengthened in our struggle to focus our attention where it should be focused.
In order to follow our text and maybe to give us a peek at where we are going with this text, we begin where Paul beings, by looking at where we would do best to focus our attention. Paul reminds us to focus our attention heavenward. He says, “1If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (v. 1-4). We do this, focus our attention on things that are above, by first and foremost remembering our Baptism. At our Baptism God’s name was put on us, faith was put in our hearts, we were given forgiveness of sins and the gift of life and eternal life. Through Baptism Christ’s life has become our life. His suffering has become our suffering. His death and resurrection have become our death and resurrection. Our Baptism has brought us into oneness with Christ who is seated at the right hand of God where He is watching over us, ruling over us, interceding for us. And this is indeed a heavenward focus.
Yet, when we consider all the important details of our Baptism we must also remind ourselves that although our new life in Holy Baptism will be revealed fully in heaven, it is often hidden from this world. In other words, people cannot just look at you and see that you are Baptized and a Christian. It is only through your words and actions that are witnessed by others that will demonstrate your Baptism and faith. Thus, the question we might first ask ourselves is, “does our life, our words and our actions demonstrate the fact that we are Baptized and that we are a Christian, or do they demonstrate something else?” If we were really honest with ourselves, taking a sober look at ourselves, we would have to admit that more often than not our words and actions do not truly demonstrate what it means to be a Christian, especially as we criticize and nit-pick at one another, speak unpleasantly about others, failing to always put the best construction on everything, and as we fail in our own faith walk.
The teacher in Ecclesiastes, in our Old Testament Lesson for this morning, reminds us of the meaninglessness of toiling for the things of this world, as he says, because we will die and leave what we have amassed to someone else who may simply waste what we have worked hard to amass. And in our Gospel Lesson for this morning, Jesus reminds us of the rich fool who worked to amass a fortune thinking that this would help him enjoy life and that he would worry about his spiritual life later. Unfortunately, for him, that very night he was condemned to hell because he forgot to focus his attention heavenward, on the things that are important. How often do we find ourselves living like the person the teacher is describing or like the rich man Jesus is describing?
Is our attention focused heavenward or on something else? In our text Paul makes a list of the something else’s to which we are often called on to focus our attention and which demonstrate that our focus is not on things heavenward. He reminds us to keep from the sins of this materialistic world. Paul says, “5Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices ” (v. 5-9). Maybe Paul read our Old Testament and Gospel lessons for today? He lists the sins and temptation from which we are to flee: “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” What Paul is asking is not an easy thing. We are now living in what is being called a post-modern world, some have suggested even in a post-Christian world. We live in a world where, according to many in the world, there are no longer any absolutes. There is no absolute god, no absolute right or wrong, no absolute truth (and we can prove it). Everything is relative. Everything is permissible and we are told to be tolerant of everyone. We are even threatened that if we do not rejoice in the deviancy of others we may lose all we have. With that as the case it is very difficult, if not impossible to talk about anything as sin and then to ask people not to be a part of these sins because these sins bring temporal and eternal consequences.
How often do we find ourselves, as Christian people, reflecting the beliefs of our society when we say such things as, “well, it is no one’s business but their own, what people do in private.” Have we forgotten, “I am my brother’s keeper?” Or we say, “As long as they are not hurting anyone, it is okay.” Have we forgotten that we do not live in a vacuum and that what we do does affect other people? Or (one of my favorites) “after all, we are living in the 21st century,” as if that gives us permission to throw out the Word of God in order to do what we want to do. Have we forgotten, “You are not your own, you were bought with a price” and that price is the blood of Jesus as He gave His life for ours on the cross? Listen close to the response you make when talking about sin and see if what you are saying does or does not reflect the attitudes of our society and not the attitude of Christ.
Yes, I will stick out my neck in this post-modern, post-Christian world and still preach and proclaim that there is such a thing as sin. There are absolutes. There are rights and wrongs. There is an absolute truth. And yes, the sins and temptations of this world do bring God’s wrath and punishment. Thanks be to God that by His grace, the punishment which should have been ours, the wrath which God has against sin, was all taken out on Jesus, for my sake and for yours.
Very often we talk about the fruits of the spirit. In our text Paul reminds us that we are also to put aside the fruits of unrighteousness which he tells us are: “anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” Much like the fruits of the spirit reflect Christ in our hearts, the fruits of unrighteousness reflect a lack of Christ in our hearts. What do our words and actions demonstrate?
How can we refocus our life and attention? We can refocus as we remember that Christ came to save us all, as Paul says, “10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (v. 10-11). God’s Word reminds us that we belong to Christ and that we are Christ’s who created us and redeemed us. We are reminded that we are all alike, that is we are all sinful human beings deserving death. “The wages of sin is death.” What we have done, what we do, and what we continue to do, according to our inborn human nature, earns for us death. Yet, before we despair, we are reminded that we are also all alike in that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. The death which our lives has earn was died by Jesus on the cross. His death became our death. His life has become our life.
Again, “how can we refocus our life and attention?” We cannot refocus our life and attention by ourselves. Might I remind you of our confession that, “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. In the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.” We refocus our life and attention only as the Lord helps us refocus and He does just that, as we confess He does, namely, through the Gospel, through our Baptism, through His Supper and through the forgiveness of sins. Thus, when we absent ourselves from these means, we limit His helping us refocus our life and attention, but when we make regular and diligent use of these means He can and He does do amazing things for us.
So, what is God saying to us this morning? He is reminding us of the importance of the focus of our life and attention. We are to focus our attention and our lives heavenward, especially thinking about what He helps us to do to extend God’s kingdom in this place. With His help we are to keep away from the sins and temptations of this world, especially the temptation of falling for the lies of this world which speak in contradiction to what God’s Word says. With His help we are to continue to remind ourselves of God’s grace which is what brings our salvation.
I want to summarize our text for this morning with an illustration of sorts. How often do we find ourselves reading the Bible and thinking, “I did not remember that it said that in the Bible?” Too often I hear people quote what they think is something from the Bible and it is nothing but what our society has come to believe is in the Bible. I call this Television, Radio, and Newspaper theology. Too often we get into discussions with others about the Bible and we forget to check the Bible, instead we rely on our own memory of the Bible which has been “written over” by other things we have read, seen and heard. As our society continues its slide into relativism, that all things are relative and that there are no absolutes, it is important that we anchor our faith and hope in what we know is the only one true absolute and truth, Jesus Christ and His Holy Word. Otherwise, we may be tempted and we may fall for the temptation to think that “The One Who Dies With The Most Wins” and what we will win will certainly not be what we had expected to win, instead we may be left as the words of a corollary bumper sticker states, “The One Who Dies with the Most Still Dies!” My prayer for you continues to be that the Holy Spirit will stir in your heart a strong desire to be in His Word, to read His Word on your own and to be in Divine Service and Bible class every Sunday and as often as offered, so that He might work through that Word in order to help us focus our life and attention on heavenly things and not on the transient things of this world. And my prayer continues to be that you may continue to rejoice in the gifts of God, faith, forgiveness, life and salvation. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.