July 31, 2016 – Above, with Christ
Forty-seven years ago this month, it was the biggest news on earth. But this summer, I bet it slipped by without most of us even noticing. As important as it was, and still is, really, it’s easy to forget. On July 24, 1969, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins returned safely to earth after walking man’s first steps on another heavenly body, the moon… and they were the toast of the planet! For a brief time, the entire human race was on the same page, together looking beyond the wars and distrust, beyond the economic worries and such down here to gaze up and dream about something way up above.
As Christians, though living in this fallen world, we have things above to which we can always look—and we’re not just talking about heaven. Unlike the world’s focus on the first moon-walk 47 years ago, our focus as Christians isn’t primarily on a place. Our looking ‘to things above’ is looking to a person, Jesus Christ. That means we can always be looking above, every day, with hope and joy. With hope for the future… and joy for the now.
The problem is, when we forget that, we forfeit so much of the daily joy God has for us. In our text this morning, St. Paul encourages us: set your hearts on things above, where Christ is. Doing that keeps the things below, here on earth, in proper focus for us.
Christ, by His death – lifted up on the cross – and by His rising from the grave, He has given, and guaranteed heaven for us. Therefore, we can enjoy God’s blessings here on earth. But, and this is important, in light of today’s scripture readings, if we set our minds on the things of earth, then not only is heaven is lost to us, but so also is the joy of Lord here and now. Only by keeping our mind set on Jesus, Who is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, will we be able to daily enjoy the blessings from God here on earth.
In the Old Testament reading today it says, A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness,
And in Christ that is what we’ve been given.
We get to enjoy life here, because Christ has fully prepared for our life there. So we can live now, free of fear for our future. Our future is secure and locked away for ever with Christ in heaven, where He is seated above all earthly things.
We’re now free to enjoy the earthly things that God brings our way. I’m not talking here about boats, cars, or the newest computer or gizmo for our homes. Jesus said in the gospel lesson today, A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.
Rather it’s richness toward God in Christ that our life consists of. That primary relationship is what frees us to daily enjoy the relationships that God brings our way. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes said we’re to enjoy the work of our hands and the food and drink that we earn. Is there a better way to enjoy such things than to share them? And especially to share them with those in need. We’re built for such relationships and not for isolation.
We’re made to, first, have a relationship with God. That’s why He created us. When we remember that, that we’re created first and foremost for a passionate and loving relationship with God – then all the earthly cravings that surround us are seen for they are, a hollow imitation of that which truly satisfies – a relationship with God. That relationship is what brings us true joy. And then we’re free to build our earthly relationships, not with things, but with family, friends, neighbors and strangers to reflect our primary relationship with God.
The people and circumstances that He directs our attention to are what we’re free to delve into with gusto. That’s what we’re doing here in Hearing, Sharing and Living the Gospel. Paul tells us to seek things that start from where Christ is, at the right hand of God. Christ has been seated at God’s right hand after His ‘giant leap for mankind’.
First came His leap from heaven to live among us down here on planet earth. And then all those small steps He took as a man that included His perfect keeping of the Law, to the tiniest degree, and finished with those painful and stumbling steps to the cross. And finally His huge leap from the grave to His resurrection and ascension back to heaven. He is the one Man who has gone where now every man and woman and child can go – through death to heaven. We go by grace through faith alone. His destiny is now our destiny too – to be with God. By our Baptism, we died to this world and our old nature has been drowned, and we have now been raised to a new nature, and a heavenly life.
Baptism teaches us that a new heavenly man or woman has risen from those waters. Baptism grants faith in Christ, and all who believe have a place in heaven without taking the smallest step on their own behalf. Now it’s for us to remain focused on Christ above.
Living daily the life of ‘things above’ is something we do now, here. It’s like an unborn baby: It’s not a “potential life” or a “life-to-be.” He or she is a life in the fullest sense, but just isn’t seen yet. Like that unborn baby, we are living the life of things above right now, ever since our Baptism. We just can’t yet see those heavenly things.
So we’re called to make that life, that heavenly life that is ours – we participate in making that life as visible as possible, to others here with us below. And to that end we live life different from lives that are lived only for the things below. We gladly spend our lives in daily praise and worship to God and in giving away to others the hope that is ours with Christ above.
You know before Matthew left for the Navy, he and I went to Oakland and walked the deck of the aircraft carrier Hornet. On that deck are painted the footsteps that Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins first took after arriving back here on earth from the moon. To follow those steps is to touch a bit of our history.
But – to walk following the steps of Christ is to touch eternity, now. Our baptism puts us on that path, and by faith we walk this earth where Jesus leads us here and now, knowing that in Him, the things above are already ours. In His name, amen.
Sermon #838 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
First Reading Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-26
2“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”
12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind…
18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun.
21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23 All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless. 24 A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? 26 To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
Epistle Colossians 3:1-11
3 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Holy Gospel Luke 12:13-21
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”
21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”