As some of you know, on June 14, I began reducing the calories I take in each day. I’m starting to lose a little weight and, in doing so, learning the truth of what a friend said one day when we went to an ice cream parlor. “I’ll take two scoops of mint chocolate chip,” he said, “one for each thigh.”
Well, ice cream has never been a craving of mine and my food seems to not land on my thighs, but on my waistline. But it is true that what we put into us is going to show up in us.
That’s equally the case when it comes to our spiritual lives.
Over the past several weeks, we’ve been exploring the apostle Paul’s letter to the fledgling Asia Minor church in Colossae. In response to the preaching and teaching of one of Paul’s associates, people had come to repentance for sin and faith in Jesus as their God and Savior. But shortly after that, the Colossian Christians were abandoning Jesus as “the way and the truth and the life” for a kind of “ice cream parlor faith”: one scoop from mysticism, one from Judaism, one from angel worship, all with a small Jesus topping.
Jesus is clear when He says that “no one comes to [God] the Father” except through Him. His forgiving, eternity transforming grace is free. But when we turn to earthly thinking for spiritual nourishment, we turn away from Christ and eternity. We are either, in Paul's terminology in Colossians, "of the flesh," facing eternal separation from the God we meet in Christ, or we are "of the Spirit," filled with God’s life forever.
It was to warn the Colossian Christians of the dangerous ground on which they were building their lives by turning to the world’s faulty wisdom and dead idols, that Paul wrote to them.
In the first two chapters of Colossians, Paul makes an extensive confession of Who Jesus is: God in the flesh come to earth to die and rise and share His victory with believers. All who believe and are baptized are Christ’s resurrection people.
Now, in chapter three though, from which our second lesson is taken, Paul turns to a question that’s central to anyone who confesses Jesus as their Lord and God: Now what? Jesus hasn’t come back yet nor have we died and come face to face with Jesus yet, so how do we live today?
Paul talks about several things we need to do today and every day in order to stay close to God.
Take a look at the beginning of our second lesson, Colossians 3: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ [Remember last Sunday, we pointed out that in Holy Baptism, our old self is drowned and our new selves rise? Since you’ve been raised with Christ, Paul says], set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. [In other words, when Christ returns, you and I who believe in Him will rise again.]”
The first thing we need to do in response to how God has changed His relationship with Him through Christ and our faith in Christ, is set our hearts and set our minds not on what the world says is important, but on the things of God.
How can we do that?
Above all, we need to read God’s Word regularly. Aim for reading the Bible five days a week.
Many studies have been done about the impact that gratuitous violence in media--movies, games, and books--has not only on kids, but also on adults. It makes them less social, less sociable, more impolite, sometimes violent.
Other studies have shown--and experience bears this out, I think--that a steady diet of cable news, whatever the netwoek, will make people pessimistic, cynical, angry, and fearful.
Garbage in, garbage out. The things of this world in, the things of this world out.
Conversely, if we fill up on the Word of God, in bite size chunks on which we prayerfully reflect and seek to apply, Christ and eternity invades the ways we think and live.
Setting our hearts and minds on heavenly things will also mean bringing everything--our sins, our hopes, our fears, our cynicism, our families, our church, the people around us--to God through prayer in Jesus’ name.
A man once told me, “You know how you always talk about praying? Well, I’ve been trying it and it really seems to be helping me to deal with things each day.” He reported that he’d been able to better deal with his grumpy wife and that, since he’d started praying everyday, she seemed a bit less grumpy.
Setting our hearts and minds on Christ also happens when we worship regularly, receive the sacrament regularly, fellowship with other believers regularly, reach out and serve others in Jesus' name regularly.
After setting our hearts and minds on heavenly things, Paul says, there’s something else we need to do in response to Christ’s grace everyday. Colossians 3:5-7: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.”
A big area of our lives most of us must deal with and keep dealing with as Christians, is our sexuality.
Sex is God’s invention, part of His creation. But turn on your computer or your TV, watch Hulu or Netflix, and you’ll immediately notice something: Most of the world can’t handle sex.
We have an inborn human tendency to misuse sex, misappropriate it, overestimate its importance, or underestimate its power.
Theologian Richard Foster compares sex to a river, beautiful and useful when kept within its banks, but deadly when it floods past them.
Paul warns the Colossian Christians that their earthly rather than heavenly orientation leaves them open to the misuse of sex. In fact, he says that we are to put to death--to crucify through repentance--all of our misuses of sex, from pornography to lust, from adultery to exploitation, from unclean talk and sexual intimacy outside of marriage to making sex an idol. He says that one day, God’s wrath will burn hot against these and other sins.
Blessedly, no sin is beyond forgiveness.* And God blesses and helps anyone who wrestles with a sin, bringing it daily to the foot of Jesus Christ to be crucified and overcome. That includes sexual sins.
Then, starting at verse 8, Paul deals with another set of sins to which we’re prone when we orient ourselves to the world, the sins that emanate from our minds and our mouths. “But now,” Paul writes, “you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”
Get rid of--daily crucify--Paul is saying all your anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, and lies. That’s the third thing we need to do every day in response to God’s grace.
When we think about that list of Paul’s and get really honest, it's clear that getting rid of all of these things from our lives might mean that you and I would say a lot fewer words than we do each day. And think a lot less sinful, hurtful, destructive things.
I know that a lot of campaign ads and campaign rhetoric would go away.
This past week, we finished Jon Meacham’s biography of our forty-first president, George H.W. Bush. It's a portrait of a complicated yet essentially decent man.
Meacham recounts that in 1988, Bush won a hard-fought campaign for the presidency. One of the most important figures in that campaign was a guy named Lee Atwater.
Bush unleashed Atwater, man of hard edges, sharp elbows, and few scruples, to throw everything at Bush’s opponent, Michael Dukakis.
Atwater felt no hesitation about creating a false picture of Dukakis: questioning Dukakis’ patriotism, painting him as dangerously out of touch with people, and soft on crime to the point of favoring murderers over ordinary people.
Several years after the election, which Bush won, Atwater learned that he had brain cancer. Near his death, Atwater surveyed his life, repented for his sins, and received Christ. In response to Christ, Atwater apologized for lying about Dukakis and misconstruing his record in the 1988 campaign.
Atwater saw the need for crucifying his sins and doing something else. That “something else” is something you and I need to do each day as followers of Jesus Christ.
And that’s put off the old self--the sinner who tries to live a life independent of God, who wants to misuse God’s gifts for our own short-sighted pleasure, who wants to conquer others rather than love them as fellow children of God. We need to put off the old self and, Paul says, put on the new self, the new person God is making of everyone who repents and entrusts their lives to Jesus.
This new self is, as we set our minds and hearts on heaven and put away the sins of this world, going to look increasingly like Jesus, God in the flesh, Who gave His life in order to give us life. Paul explains it all in this way in 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all...are being transformed into his [Christ’s] image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
Jesus Christ died and rose to make it possible for you and me to have an eternal relationship with God. It’s a relationship we can’t earn or perform our way to; it’s a gift for all who turn from sin and trust in Christ.
And how are we to live until the days we die or the day Christ returns? Paul puts it simply for us today:
- Set your heart and mind on Christ and heaven where He reigns.
- Put off sins, including the earthiest of sins, the misuse of sex and the misuse of our thoughts and words.
- And put on Christ each day. Read God’s Word. Pray. Worship. Receive the Sacrament. Live in accountable community with Christ’s Church.
It’s a simple proposition. Garbage in, garbage out. Christ into our lives and Christ will show out from everything about us. Amen
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This message was prepared this morning during the morning worship services of Living Water.]
*Of course, Jesus does speak of one sin that cannot be forgiven, the sin against the Holy Spirit. Jesus mentions this in Mark 10:28-30. The sin against the Spirit is the refusal to heed it when God's Holy Spirit points out our sins to us. It's not so much a specific sin as it is an unwillingness to accept God's definition of what constitutes a sin or our violation of it.