Monday, August 05, 2013

Sermon on Colossians 3:1-11, for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, Part 4: "Hidden with Christ"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Colossians 3 & 4, some of which you heard today, are Paul’s instructions to Christians on how to live. Like the book of Galatians, they focus on sanctification—the Christian life. And they build on the Gospel laid out in the preceding chapters. Just to recap the themes of our 3 previous sermons—1) we have been transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, and by virtue of what Christ has done, we have a new citizenship in Him. 2) We’ve received the mystery of the Gospel, that Jesus Christ is in and with His Church to bring it the forgiveness of sins, a clean conscience, and the life that lasts. 3) We have died with Christ in baptism, and are raised together with Him, so that our life is in Him and with Him. As we come to Paul’s instructions for the new life, we must remember these foundational realities, which Paul sums up in 3:1, “If then you have been raised with Christ…” So, because this is who you are, because Christ has raised you, what follows is true. We must remember this foundation, that everything in our new life goes back to and owes back to Jesus Christ, because as Martin Luther observed, “The law says “do this” and it is never done; but grace says “believe in this” and everything is already done” (Heidelberg Disputation, Thesis 26).
If the Christian life boils down to a list of new demands and laws, then it will never be done, and we’ll end up despairing over our failure to live up to it. But if God tells us that our life is hidden with Christ in God, or that we can “put on Christ” or “put on love”—then these realities are already ours by grace! That is to say that the new life of love is not an impossibility that we can never attain, but rather a present reality that God has gifted to us by faith. The good news, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that He has already perfectly lived and obeyed in our place everything the law of God demands. And it is this life of Christ that is gifted and joined to us.
But even so, doubt and uncertainty lurks in our minds. “But Pastor! I don’t see the results, I don’t see the glory, my life still seems weak, beset with sin, and short of the goodness I aim for. My life seems a far cry from Paul’s description of the Christian life. Last week at work my frustration boiled over and I lost my temper with my coworkers, and said some slanderous words I now regret. At home my patience ran out with my family, and I was too harsh with the children. I’m struggling with temptation, and my eyes are wandering to websites I know I shouldn’t be visiting. My friends all laugh when I tell crude jokes, and it feels so good I just can’t help myself. For months I’ve been filled with envy over my friend’s situation—their salary, their car, their house, their clothing—and I’m desperate to have those things too, asking myself why them and not me? Lately I’ve been in some trouble and it all started with some little lies I told, but now they’re getting bigger and bigger, and I know it’s going to come back to bite me.” You can fill in your own story, with your own temptations and sins. And you would be right to recognize that none of these things are the makings of the Christian life. It’s self-evident that these are earthly passions and sins. They’re all the practices of the old self—they’re the sins and temptations of the way in which you once walked.
So what must we do? We must put to death what is earthly in us. Put them away and put off the old self with its practices. Seek forgiveness from those whom we have wronged. Confess that we’ve sinned against God in thought, word, and deed. Crucify the old sinful nature by repentance, and return to our baptism, to put on the new self that is being “renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” And that “knowledge” is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and what He has done. Dying and rising with Christ is the foundation of our new life. He erased the debt of your sins in His cross. They no longer have force against you. The life you now live, you live hidden in Christ.
And so again, the way forward to the Christian life that God calls you to, is not through the demands of the law, which are never done, but by believing the Gospel, in which Jesus Christ delivers to you His ready and finished gifts, won for you. The way forward to the Christian life is putting to death the old self, putting on the new self. Jesus is at work in you, creating this new self, renewing God’s image in you. Our master craftsman, the very Creator who made us in His image, is joyfully at work in Christ Jesus restoring, renewing that image in us. Removing our sins and impurities, chiseling away the defects, restoring us to His likeness. But we don’t see the finished product—yet. Whenever we look in the mirror of the law we still see the work in progress that we are. But we’ll see the finished product one day, and we’re told when: “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”
And until then, don’t suffer doubts and worries that your life doesn’t measure up. Take the old self and its earthly ways, bound by repentance to the cross, and rejoice in the new life promised you in Christ. Why is it often so hard to see this new life in you? Because your life is “hidden with Christ in God.” It’s part of the unseen realities of faith, that Pastor Roschke preached about. The glory of the Christian is still hidden, and waiting for that day when Christ will appear and reveal it.
So until that day, we’re to set our mind on things above, to look to Jesus Christ who’s done all this for us, and who already sits in glory at God’s right hand. Now this requires some careful explanation, because when we start talking about the “spiritual” or “seeking the things that are above”—our mind can quickly translate that to dreaming about heaven. But that’s not what’s meant. Neither are spirituality and holiness for the Christian found in isolating ourselves from the world by entering a monastery—cut off from the outside world. Martin Luther found this out himself, when he realized that with his own sinful heart he brought temptation along with him wherever he went. And neither does “seeking the things that are above” lead us to form utopian Christian communities where we have no contact with unbelievers. St. Paul reminded while we must keep immorality from us in the church, that if we were to try to avoid association with the immoral altogether, we would have to leave the world first (1 Cor. 5:9-10).
As one pastor put it, so that we don’t “over-spiritualize” Paul’s message, his words bring us back down to earth. “Heavenly things are not heavenly because they are somewhere else, but because they are connected to God and right in front of us right now…Paul insists that heavenly things have to do with our relationships, our possessions, our speech, and our physical life. We put to death the worldly things, and live in those relationships and possessions differently.” (Phil Brandt). So to live in this life, this life hidden with Christ in God, is to live differently from the world. A spiritual life is when the Holy Spirit lives in us, in concrete, everyday situations—forgiving one another as Christ forgives us. Living with our fellow family members and neighbors in patience, compassion and love. Controlling our tongue and not using it for lies, slander, or obscene talk, but to speak the truth in love. Using our bodies in a sexually pure and honorable way—keeping sex for the holy estate of marriage between a man and a woman. Committing our bodies, our material possessions, and our daily interactions to God’s purposes and His good designs. This is the way we lead spiritual lives and set our minds on things above. Not by removing ourselves from the world, but to be salt and light in the world, to shine the light in the darkness.
You can see this spirituality lived out in ordinary life if you read further in Colossians 3 & 4, where Paul goes on to say that we should “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” These are all positive descriptions of how we should conduct ourselves in our earthly relationships, with compassion, forgiveness and love. If we have complaints, hurts, or disagreements with one another, that we humbly forgive each other, and approach one another in love. He goes on to give practical instructions to wives, husbands, children, masters and workers. Setting our minds on things above means realizing that God is over everything in this life, and Christ is all in all. Our whole life consists in and owes to Him.
After all, Christ Himself came down to earth and “invested” Himself in His creation—becoming a human being, though without sin. While He had His mind set on things above—always obedient to His Father’s will—His life was fully attentive to our human needs—ministering to the hungry, the sick, and the poor. He lived in this creation free of sinful lusts, greed, malice, or any lies and false speech. He engaged in the ordinary, physical activities of daily life, but obeyed as God directed. And by dying on the cross for our sin, He did not separate Himself from the physical world that He created, but rather He redeemed it and gave us life. He made new what was corrupted and distorted through sin, and is now at work in you, renewing you in knowledge after the image of your creator. And this life of yours remains hidden in Him—hidden till the day of completion, the day of your full renewing the day when Christ who is your life appears, and you appear with Him in glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Why is it vital to remember that Paul’s instructions that follow in Colossians 3, build on the truth in 3:1, that “you have been raised with Christ”? Why can a Christian life built on our keeping of laws never be successful? What instead is the basis for our new life?
  2. Explain Luther’s statement, “The law says “do this” and it is never done; but grace says “believe in this” and everything is already done”. How does grace shape our new life?
  3. What are the signs of the lingering earthly desires and the old self still clinging to you? Cf. Colossians 3:5-9; Galatians 5:19-21. What sins do you wrestle most deeply with? What must we do when our sinful nature rears its ugly head? Colossians 2:5, 8, 10, 12ff; Galatians 5:16, 24.
  4. How is our life “hidden” in Christ with God? Luke 17:21; 2 Corinthians 4. What about our life in Him remains unseen or invisible? When will it be revealed?
  5. How does the forgiveness of Jesus and the reality of the Gospel at work in your life free you from the guilt and accusations of the law? How does it provide a true and deeper motivation to be conformed to Christ? What does it mean to be “renewed in the image” of our creator?
  6. How does the spirituality of the Gospel reorient our perspective on earthly things, rather than float us up out of this world? How does it move us to engage this world for Christ, and to use the good things of this material creation for better purposes and with higher aims? How did Christ Himself invest value in the created world by becoming human and redeeming fallen humanity? 

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