If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4 ESV)
Do you think you can spot a Christian? See them walking down the street? Go into a crowded room and go “Aha! There’s one!”? At first glance we might quickly say ‘yes’ and think of people going to church or wearing particular clothes such as a nun’s habit but then in another moment the answer ‘no’ dawns on us. Someone doing a good deed might be an atheist and someone doing something wrong might be a Christian.
Our second reading today is a pivotal point in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. In chapters 1 and 2, Paul has presented key Christian teachings and reacted to the errors plaguing the Christians at Colossae. Here in chapter 3 he begins the section on what living under Jesus as Lord means in practical day to day matters. For what it’s worth, I think those who selected our readings haven’t made the best choice because they end the reading too early. If you look at chapter 3 there are clear sections – v.1-4 – gives overall perspective concerning our Christian identity – v5-11 deals with the “putting off” of our old nature – a daily struggle with sin in all its sad manifestations – v,12-17 – looks at what we are to ‘put on’ as God’s chosen ones and so practically live under the lordship of Christ – these verses are well known and often cited as a summary of Christian living – the goal towards which we strive each day – and then v.18 – 4:1 – looks at the Christian’s behaviour in specific relationships – marriage, family, the workforce.
It is an eminently practical chapter this chapter 3 – one we could not exhaust each day – one in which we could become so involved that we might even end up thinking ‘hmm, this effort – all this work I’m doing has got to count for something’ or we could look at this chapter and find it a hard task master – the things we have to ‘put off’ are too tantalising and we struggle with pet sins or patterns of behaviour that are harmful but we don’t really really want to battle them or behave in the way we are supposed to do. We know how God wants us to behave will enrich the lives of those around us, yet we know we never get right and hence we can become discouraged because secretly we don’t really want to struggle or because we think ‘what’s the point?’ knowing we never get it perfect anyway. So Paul puts the practical into perspective by reminding the Colossians (and us) of our orientation in this world.
Implicit here is that Christians look like other people – they laugh and cry and bleed – they have good days and bad days – they eat and sleep – they fall in love – they grow old – and eventually they die – that is the lot of human beings. But the Christian’s starting point each day is the established fact – since you have been raised with Christ … – and this immediately takes Christians to baptism when and where we were drowned and raised again with Christ because he died and rose again for us. Jesus and his gifts of salvation, eternal life, forgiveness of sins, even faith are linked in time and place to the country of Israel nearly 2000 years ago culminating in a cross and empty tomb and also are linked to every time and every place where people are brought into God’s kingdom in baptism – where the baptised – you, if you’ve been baptised – have been given salvation, eternal life, forgiveness of sins, faith – you have been raised with Christ to live with him here and now. Paul uses the picture of looking up – this doesn’t mean not being involved in this world – of being no earthly good – but rather that our perspective on life, our orientation about life – takes first and foremost into account Jesus and the eternal perspective of things rather than just the here and now – kill or be killed – eat, drink, and be merry attitudes that are common place.
So Paul describes this truth – this reality of the Christian faith – as life now hidden with Christ in God. Hidden from our senses and our experiences – hinted perhaps – believed and trusted most definitely –
but Christians look like any other people around except they keep talking – hopefully – about Jesus whom the world can’t see – and even the Christians can’t see – but Christians go on and on about him – how he loves us – how he is with us – how he forgives, guides, and strengthens – how he will come again in glory – and when the world scratches its head and wonders what these crazy Christians are on about, Christians then go ‘look – here’ and they point to water and bread and wine and words in the bible – ‘look – there’s Jesus here for us’. Of course what we all see remains water, bread and wine, and words but hidden there – received through faith – is Jesus Christ – living among his people. God has revealed himself totally and clearly and profoundly in Jesus and Jesus reveals himself through Word and Sacraments. The world wants to see – and to see the spectacular – God here and now – but all God gives is this hidden mystery – the cross – but it is more than enough!!
So Christians now live with Jesus – even though we can’t see him – and three things happen:
1. We know that we are sinners and each day we seek to die to sin, repent, and seek forgiveness from God – even if we don’t feel particularly sinful or especially if we do – God’s word tells us that Jesus died for us and hence we live repentant lives – even if the world says ‘don’t be silly, you are a good person, a law abiding person, a nice person’ – which you may well be – but hidden is the truth – as we confess at each Divine Service – ‘I, a poor miserable sinner …’;
2. Christians try to live as God’s children by loving people as Jesus loved people and knowing that each day they don’t get it right but that doesn’t stop the day’s effort. Loving can be easy when we are loved but Jesus made it clear that his love was unconditional and that becomes the parameter of ours as well – ‘Oh no, Lord, you don’t mean I have to love even my … enemies too?!’.
3. We face the day – each day – and this can be hard, very hard – with hope – which is faith directed towards the future – and there in the future we see glory – Jesus in all his glory – and wonder of wonders, Jesus’ arms are outstretched around his people who also share in his glory – as they rejoice, praise, give thanks, laugh all to the glory of God – for we share in God’s glory. There’s almost a divine insanity – an irrepressible component to Christian living that cannot be defeated or dominated. I suppose Jesus’ rising from the dead and defeating death does gives us the last laugh – even if our days are full of tears. And so we hope as no one on this planet can hope – for Jesus is with his people and nothing can separate us from his love.
And now we go back into our worlds – with whatever reputation the world has of us – back to our homes, neighbourhoods, work places – just the same as before – yet the hidden truth remains real – Jesus is with us – Jesus loves us – and through us Jesus continues to bring his blessings to the world.
- Colossians 3:1 - 4