Easter Day A

April 14, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Matthew 28:1-10

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Acts 10:34-43

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • The Lectionary Psalms +

    Psalm 114

    Author: Doug Bratt

  • Lectionary Epistle

    Colossians 3:1-4

    Author: Stan Mast

    Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider

    My Easter sermon on this text would be entitled something like “Living It Up,” or simply “Up!”  I would focus people’s attention on Paul’s command to “set your minds on things above” by telling them the delightful, improbable, uplifting story entitled “Up!”  That was the title of a computer animated movie a few years ago.  It told the story of a Carl, a crabby old man, and Russell, a little boy who makes the old man his project so that he can earn his Boy Scout-esque merit badge in “Assisting the Elderly.”  Carl is crabby because he has never gotten over the death of his beloved wife.  And he has never forgotten their dream of traveling to South America to find a famous explorer and the fabled bird he had allegedly discovered.  Carl attaches thousands of helium-filled balloons to his old house and it goes up, up and away, with Russell as a stowaway.  They float all the way to Paradise Falls, Venezuela, where they find the explorer and the bird and a new love for each.  After a series of adventures filled with danger and humor, Carl and Russell float up and back home where they live happily ever after.

    My summary doesn’t begin to do justice to “Up!”  But I wouldn’t go into more detail in my sermon because that’s not really the story we should focus on today.  The Bible offers us a better story, a story even more delightful, improbable, and uplifting.  It’s about a little boy who was born in a barn, raised as an obscure carpenter, became a famous preacher and healer, and got himself killed on a cross.  “Lo, in the grave he lay… but then up from the grave he arose….”  Our congregations know that story well, of course, but our text this morning says a surprising thing about it.  “Since you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above….”  This Easter morning we can encourage the church to “live up” by digging down into this uplifting text.

    Colossians was written to people who were busy tying balloons to their houses in an effort to get up for life.  Some of them were trying to get up with new ways of thinking, what Paul in Col. 2:8 calls “empty and deceitful philosophy.”  Popular gurus and media personalities and even preachers were telling them that if they just thought about their lives differently, their fortunes and their health and their relationships would soar.  Others were trying to elevate their lives with a list of rules, what Paul in Col. 2:20 calls “the basic principles of the world.”   These people believed that their lives would go up and up if they took a highly disciplined approach to diet and exercise and special religious ceremonies.  And still others were getting high with new forms of spirituality, new ways of getting in touch with the spiritual dimension of life.  In Col. 2:18 Paul mentions the worship of angels, spiritual beings who are not God.  Even back then there were people who were spiritual, but not religious in the Christian sense.  If we can just attach the right kind of balloons to our lives, we can live it up.

    Paul wrote Colossians to tell them that all of those balloons wouldn’t work.  Oh, you might get a little lift, a temporary high, but to be able to live up, to be able to soar above the sorrow and boredom and frustration and death of this world, little helium filled balloons won’t do the job.  What we need, says Paul, is a whole new reality and a new response to that reality.  That’s how you get up—not with some man-made balloons, but with a new response to the new reality created by God in Jesus Christ.

    Two words sum up that new reality—“with Christ.”  What Christ did and does and will do changes your life because of your union with him.   Note the exact parallels between the life of Christ and the lives of those who are with him by virtue of their faith.  Christ died, and you died with him (2:12).  Christ rose, and you rose with him (3:1).  Christ is seated at the right hand of God, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God (3:3).  Christ will appear in glory, and you will appear with him (3:4).  Your life was once focused on yourself; now, because of your union with Christ, he is your life (3:4).  Because of your union with Christ, you now live in a whole new reality created by the death, resurrection, session, and return of Christ.  He has made all things new for you, and the secret of living up is to set your mind on that new reality, not on the old reality that once dominated your life.

    Of course, Paul begins here with the historical high point, the clearest revelation, the most convincing proof of that new reality, namely, the resurrection of Jesus.  “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ….”  But we have not been raised with Christ if Christ did not rise.  Indeed, says Paul in I Corinthians 15, everything hinges on that reality.  If Christ has not been raised, then the whole Christian faith is a lie.  We are still in our sins, and we might just as well start blowing up any balloon we can find.  But, in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruit of those of those who have fallen asleep (I Cor. 15:20).

    Those last words from I Corinthians 15 point to another dimension of the new reality created by Christ’s resurrection.  Because of his resurrection, we can look forward to our own resurrection if we believe in him.  Here’s how Paul puts it verse 4.  “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”  On the last day of human history, Jesus will return and raise us up in glory and honor.  (Cf. I John 3:2, Phil. 3:20, and Romans 8:29 for other promises about the glory Christ will give us at the end.)  That’s the new reality!  “Up from the grave we will rise.”

    Nearly every Sunday millions of Christians profess their faith in that new reality when they recite the Apostles’ Creed.  But here in Colossians 3 Paul says something about this new reality that we rarely confess and don’t believe or live very much.  He puts it, not in the future tense, but in the past.  “Since then you have been raised with Christ….”  What on earth can that mean?  We understand that Jesus was raised 2,000 years ago.  And we believe that we will be raised 2,000 years from now, or whenever that happens.   But we can’t wrap our heads around the fact that we have already been raised with Christ.

    What can that possibly mean?  Well, in Col. 2:12 Paul gives us a hint when he says we have been “buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God who raised him from the dead.”  Somehow our baptism and our faith have so united us with Christ, that his resurrection raised us to new life.

    Paul uses two wonderful phrases to describe that new life.  In verse 3 he says this mysterious thing, “your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”   It’s hard to penetrate the meaning of those words.  Maybe it’s best to think analogically. We are like a hidden treasure.  Our lives are kept in the safest safe in the world.  The world cannot see our life with Christ; indeed, much of the time we can’t either.  But it is as real as Jesus’ resurrection.  And though we often feel exposed and vulnerable to the dangers of the world, the higher reality is that our lives are safe and secure because we are hidden with Christ in God.  I love those two prepositions—“with” and “in.”  They are like a double lock.  I heard a commercial for a Liberty safe the other day.  The pitchman said it was the best safe on the planet.  Paul claims that we live in the best safe in the universe, hidden with Christ in God. So even when we get sick, or suffer loss, or die, we are kept safe and secure with Christ in the very heart of God.

    Not only is your life hidden with Christ, says Paul in verse 4, but also “Christ… is our life….”   We understand this dimension of the new reality better than the previous one, because we say this kind of thing all the time.  “My grandchildren are my life.”  “My boyfriend is my life.”  “My job is my life.”  When I was growing up in Denver, basketball was my life.  Everything revolved around that sport.  I practiced all the time, even when ice covered the court.  I prepared religiously for every game, and I relived every game for days.  I wouldn’t try skiing because I couldn’t bear the thought missing the season with a broken leg.  I wouldn’t go out carousing with the guys, because if I got caught I’d get cut from the team, and that would have been death.  I didn’t stay out late at night before a game, because that would weaken my endurance.  Basketball was my life.  Because we have been raised with Christ, Christ is our life, the source of our joy, our strength, our peace, our direction, our salvation, our place in God’s heart.  That’s the new resurrection reality.

    The problem is that we so often don’t live in that reality.  We live in what the world says is real, not what God says is real.  And the world is deceptive.  You have probably seen the blockbuster movie The Hunger Games.  It is set in a future America now called Panem, in which the government forces young people to battle to the death in a computer controlled ecosystem.  Some Christians are turned off by that vision of violent youth.  But what really struck me was the way the rulers of Panem used the TV broadcasts of the carefully crafted false reality of the “hunger games” to control the lives of the masses.  That’s a picture of our culture.

    In our Easter text Paul calls us to live by another reality, the reality of our resurrection with Christ.  To live in that new reality, says Paul, here’s what you have to do.  “Set your mind on things above where Christ is seated on the right hand of God.”

    “Set your minds….”  That’s the new response that will enable you to live up. It’s not enough to believe that the uplifting story of Easter is reality.  You can believe that and be “down” all the time.  What you have to do, says Paul, is set your minds on what you believe.  That’s hard to do.  As the old desert fathers used to say, our minds are like a tree full of monkeys.  We mentally jump from one thing to another in nano-seconds.  To live in the reality of the resurrection, to experience the fact that we have been raised with Christ and our life is hid with Christ in God, to enjoy Christ as the center of life, we must set out minds on things above.

    By “things above,” Paul doesn’t mean you have to constantly think about heaven with its angels and harps.  And he doesn’t mean that we have to occupy ourselves with all sorts of uplifting ideas and practices; he has just deflated those balloons in Col. 2.  To understand what Paul means by “things above” just look at his very next words: “where Christ seated at the right hand of God.”  He is not calling us to live with our heads in the clouds.  He is calling us to keep our minds on Christ who, according to Ephesians 1:23, is at God’s right hand ruling everything on earth for the blessing of those who say, “Christ is my life.”

    In other words, set your mind on this.  At the center of the universe, and this world, and your life is a Father.  He’s invisible.  He’s silent.  He seems far away.  He even seems hostile sometimes.  But at his right hand is our crucified and risen Savior ruling all things for our good.  Because he is, we can know for sure that our Father loves us.  And that’s the most uplifting thing in the world.

    I just finished reading a fascinating, depressing, uplifting memoir by Ian Cron, entitled Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me.  On the cover is a picture of the author as a tow-headed child sitting in a row boat waving at the person taking the picture.  Cron wanted that picture on the cover of his memoir because it is a visual record of his lifelong search for his CIA employed father, a mean, abusive alcoholic who made Ian’s life a living hell.

    Cron compares himself to young Telemachus, the hero of Homer’s 2,500-year-old epic poem Odyssey.   Telemachus leaves home on a perilous journey over the “wine dark sea” in search of his father, Odysseus.  Here’s the parallel.  “Twenty three years after my father’s death, I am still the boy in the boat, scanning the horizon for him.  Many of my achievements have been a way of calling out to him over the roar of the ocean….  I am embarrassed to admit that the question I call over the waves never changes:  ‘Did you love me?’”

    The details of our stories may differ from Ian’s, but that is the central question of human existence.  “Father, God, do you love me?”  That’s why Paul says, “Set your minds on things above,” on a new reality, on the risen and ruling Christ.  Focus on the delightful, improbable, uplifting story of Jesus death and resurrection, and you’ll know that God loves you completely.

    So, on this Easter Sunday, let’s say to our listeners and to ourselves, “Think up!  Look up!  Set your mind on the risen Christ ruling all things for you, and live up.  God loves you to death, and to life.  Up!”

    Illustration Idea

    On the cover of the February 3, 2014 issue of Time magazine is a picture of a lovely blond woman.  Her eyes are closed in relaxed concentration, her lips curved in a blissful smile, her face a study in contentment.  Beneath this picture of peace are these words: “The Mindfulness Revolution: The science of finding focus in a stressed-out, multitasking culture.”  Inside this issue of Time is a fascinating article about the “mindfulness revolution” that is sweeping the nation.  Born of Eastern mysticism, especially Buddhism, this practice of mindfulness promises its devotees a whole new life.  “If distraction is the pre-eminent condition of our age, then mindfulness, in the eyes of its enthusiasts, is the most logical response…. The ultimate goal is simply to give your attention fully to what you are doing.”

    Apart from its Eastern roots, the call to mindfulness sounds a bit like Paul’s words in our text.  But according to Paul, what we must set our minds on is not what we are doing, but on what God in Christ has done, is doing, and will do.  The center of reality is not our own life, but the life, death, resurrection, session, and return of Christ.  If we set our mind on that, we will live it up with Christ.