Things Above – April 25, 2010
Isaiah 35:1-10, Colossians 3:1-17
April 25, 2010
Some people have been described as being “so heavenly minded they are no earthly good.” Have you ever heard that expression? I first heard it in college. It was said about some people in our fellowship group who were so excited about their faith, they thought of little else. And they would have nothing to do with anyone else, unless they were believers or unless they were “evangelizing” them. They were like those cloistered communities we talked about last week that lived their lives separated from the world. They were “so heavenly minded that they were no earthly good.”
Well, I thought about that expression this past week as I thought read this passage from Colossians. In verse two, Paul writes “Set your minds on the things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” And I think we need to ask ourselves where we are with that. Where are our minds set. As we used to ask in the ‘70’s, “Where’s your head?” “Are we ‘heavenly minded’ or ‘earthly minded’?” As I think about that old expression, it is my suspicion that many of God’s people are in danger of the exact opposite. Instead of being so “heavenly minded they’re no earthly good,” it’s more often the case that they’re “so earthly minded that they’re no heavenly good.” So I ask you today, “Where is your mind?” Paul says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
Jesus said something similar in his famous “Sermon on the Mount.” He said, “Do not store up for your selves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” That’s a matter of your mind, too. Because the word translated “store up” means “to treasure.” It means to think about and to love. He might have said, “Do not set your mind on your treasures on earth.” And then he tells us why. “For where your treasure is there will your heart be also.”
I wonder if Paul knew those words? I even wonder if Paul was there that day when Jesus spoke them! We tend to think of Jesus speaking to crowds of adoring admirers, don’t we? But that wouldn’t have been the case. There were at least two groups of people who got “nervous” whenever big crowds gathered. They were the Romans, and the religious leaders. They were often present at such times, “keeping an eye on things.” But when the Gospel writers tell of Jesus’ encounters with the Pharisees, they don’t give us any names, do they? Not until the very end do we meet Caiaphas and Annas. So, when the scripture says, “and the Pharisees were there also” I wonder if one of them was this young Pharisee named (?) Saul. (Did I catch you?)
So now this man – Paul – is telling the people something similar to either what he heard Jesus said, or was told he said. “Set your mind on things above.” he said. “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” And folks, keep in the back of your mind as we consider those two similar statements, that much of what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount were things the people would already have known! Much of it was built on phrases from the people’s own teaching. He started several lessons in that sermon with the words, “You have heard it said before… But I say to you.” And I wouldn’t be surprised if these words about setting one’s mind and treasuring things of heaven came from their teaching, too.
So I’m asking you to think of something today I’m sure you’ve heard before in your teaching. Where is your mind set? Are you earthly minded or heavenly minded? Where is your treasure? If someone were describing you in one of those two ways we started with today, which would be most true? Are you so heavenly minded you’re no earthly good? Or are you so earthly minded you’re no heavenly good? Or do you have a healthy balance between the two? That’s what Paul is asking us to consider here today.
Frankly, I think his call for us to be “heavenly minded” is harder for us today. Yes, the people “back then” certainly had their “earthly concerns.” They were probably more mindful of what we might call their “basic survival.” They didn’t have food sources like we have today. They didn’t have health care, or utilities, or freedom. We have those kinds of things to the point where we take them for granted. (Though the past couple of years have made us wonder!)
What we have in our world is consumerism. We are inundated by advertizing that demands our attention and threatens to dominate our minds. It’s said that 80% of the information taken in by our brains comes through our eyes. And I wonder what percentage of that is advertising! How much of what goes into our heads everyday is someone’s sales pitch, telling us of things we don’t have but should. To this day, I will never forget the very first time my little baby girl pointed at something on the television screen and said, “Can I have that?” I thought, “Oh no! They’ve got her! She’s starting to be a ‘consumer’!” “It’s all downhill from here!”
Someone once described the political debate as “a battle to win the hearts of the American people.” And you know how intense that battle can be! Well, I think there are many things battling for our hearts. And sometimes I think the Church has given up that battle. Sometimes I think the church has been so defeated by the world that, it’s just thrown up its hands and said “forget it.” And I wonder what it would be like if the Church took up that battle again, and attempted to win people’s hearts!
“Look to the things above!” Paul said. I wonder how often during the day we do that. And I wonder how often we think about what he said next. “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. So when Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” When we have our Prayer of Confession, I often say as part of “The Assurance of our Forgiveness” that “Jesus died and rose again, so that we can be dead to sin, and alive to all that is good.” Paul talked about that “death” often. He said “we have been co-crucified with Christ,” meaning that “Our old nature is put to death in us and our new nature lives on.”
How often do we think about that? Not very often I suspect. I know I don’t. And it’s hard for us to think about our faith in terms of being “dead to this world.” In fact, we don’t like to talk about death at all. That’s not a very nice subject. And avoiding death is one of the biggest messages the world is giving us. “Stay young.” “Have no medical problems.” “And we have the products to help you with those things.” The worldly messages and influences are very powerful. And we are flooded with them every day, everywhere we look. And if we aren’t very diligent they very easily dominate our lives and our hearts!
So in a world with so many of such influences, Paul tells us to be “heavenly minded.” And in typical Pauline fashion, he then turns to the “practical” side of the spiritual issue. He gives us ways we can “live out” what he has been telling us. He says, “Put to death what is earthly in you.” But then he lists for us what I think we would consider to be some rather graphic things – “fornication, impurity, evil desire, covetousness, idolatry…” I suspect most of us don’t fall into those categories. And we think that because “we don’t do those things, we must be spiritual.” But I don’t think it can end there. We need to ask ourselves, what do we need to “put to death?” What are the “earthly minded” things in us? And what does that mean to “put them to death?” I think what Paul is getting at here has to do with the “hold” certain things have on us. It’s about the “influence” they have on our lives. What things influence you? And are they good influences?
Next, Paul tells us what kinds of things we should do. And I love this part. He says “…as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved…” Don’t you love that? You are “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.” You should put that on your refrigerator! And because you are chosen, the metaphor is that you should “put on” – like the clothes you wear – “compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, forbearing one another… and forgiving one another as the Lord has forgiven you.” Do those things describe you? Are they part of your “outward appearance” like the clothes you wear? And have you put them on because you are looking to things above? “And then,” he said “above all, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts?” Is that the case for you? Does the peace of Christ “rule” in your hearts? Or are your hearts in turmoil, worrying and anxious over the “things on earth.”
Now, I’m not saying we can always be successful in doing all these things Paul is talking about. But I am asking today if we ever even try? Our lives are full. We are busy. And whether we realize it or not we are inundated with the things of this world. And we can’t turn that off. If it’s not television, it’s billboards, and junk mail, and pop-up ads. But what we can do is we can be aware of the worldly influences around us, and consciously think about things above. We can be intentional about seeking God’s kingdom.
You know, the irony of this is that we see more of God’s influence in our world than any advertiser could ever hope. The beauty of his creation is all around us! Oh, it’s not flashy and media oriented like many of the worldly influences, but it’s much more powerful – if we’ll just recognize it! That’s one important way we can keep looking to things above. Take notice of the powerful creating hand of God on the earth!
So, this is a message we’ve heard before, isn’t it? We say these things often. “Look to things above.” “Set your mind on treasures in heaven.” We say those things, but how often do we do them? We need to be reminded constantly, don’t we? So I ask you. Are you so earthly minded that you’re no heavenly good? Or do you set your mind on things above? Where’s your head?”
Lord, help us to see the difference between things above and things on earth. Help us to be “heavenly minded.” Help us not to miss the beauty and wonder of your powerful hand in our world. And help us to be intentional in looking to your kingdom, both in our world and in our midst. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.