Sermon for July 31, 2016

Sermon for Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

July 31, 2016, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Colossians 3:1-11

Sermon Theme:  “Heads Down or Heads Up?”

(Sources:  Brokhoff, Series C, Preaching Workbook; Anderson’s Cycle C Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Commentaries; Emphasis Online Examples; The Parables of Peanuts; Online Peanuts Cartoons; original ideas)

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Back in the days when Charles M. Shulz drew his Peanuts’ cartoon strip from 1950 until 2000, he presented a microcosm of human life to the world, from a Christian perspective.  Although Shulz died in 2000, the sayings and doings of his Peanuts’ characters are still being read and loved today; and we who read them notice that the world hasn’t changed for the better since 2000, — actually, things seem to have gotten worse.

As in real life, Shulz’s characters run the gamut of all levels of good and bad human behavior.  Lucy probably shows the most examples of un-Christ-like behavior, and Snoopy and Charlie Brown are at the other end of the spectrum, with other characters, like Linus and Schroeder, in between.

In one strip, Lucy tells Charlie Brown and Linus, “I think it is possible to be too nice.”  As they look dumbfounded, she continues, “By golly, nobody’s gonna walk all over me!  NO SIR!  If anybody’s gonna do any walking, it’s gonna be me!”

She continues ranting out loud as she stalks off, “There’s only one way to survive these days . . .you have to walk over THEM before they walk over YOU!”

After Lucy is gone, Linus says to Charlie, “It must be nice to have a philosophy that will sustain you in times of need.”

Charlie’s little sister, Sally, tries, but often has a hard time being good and acting Christ-like.  In one cartoon, Sally shouts in exasperation, “What do you mean, I’ve got to be good all the time?!!  Don’t I get weekends off?”

In another strip, Snoopy says, “I don’t have time to hate people who hate me because I’m too busy loving people who love me.”

Too often, most of us are like Lucy and Sally rather than like Snoopy.  Too often, we live according to earthly values.  Usually, we walk with heads down, seeing worldly things, thinking negative thoughts, and saying and doing sinful things.  A Christian lives in two worlds – in this world of materials and vices, and in a higher world of heavenly values where Christ is.  Is it going to be heads down or heads up?!

Since Jesus has ascended into heaven, we on earth must look to Him for our values, goals, and ideals while here on earth.  Our lives are impoverished by preoccupation with worldly values leading us into negative thoughts and wicked actions.  The wagon of life needs to be hitched to the star of Christ.

In our sermon text, Paul reasons that since the believers have been raised to newness of life in Christ, they are to see the things that are above, not the things that are earthly.  The word “earthly” does not refer to the things of this natural world, but rather to the things of the flesh – sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, greed, and so forth.  He urges believers to rip off the dirty rags of  anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk, and the like, and to be clothed with the new nature we have received in Christ.

This new apparel he mentions in the next verse after our text ends, and it will include compassion, kindness, meekness, and patience.  Above everything else, believers are to clothe themselves with love and let the peace of Christ rule in their hearts.

You cannot be a Christian and live like the devil!  You cannot be a citizen of heaven and live like a citizen of earth!  A Christian must have a quality of life that transcends, that goes beyond, earthly values.  When you become a Christian, you take off the world’s way of life and put on Christ’s way of life.  Though you still live in the world, you now live in Christ who is in heaven, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father.

Let a person go to a psychiatrist and what does he become?  An adjusted sinner.  Let a person go to a physician and what does he become?  A healthy sinner.  Let a person achieve wealth and what does he become?  A wealthy sinner.  Let a person join a church and attend regularly, what does he become?  A religious sinner.

But something else can happen when a person goes to church and hears the Word.  Faith comes through hearing the Word, and faith leads to sincere repentance, confession of sins, and salvation by grace through faith.  Thus such a person becomes a new creature in Christ, forgiven, reconciled, and adopted into the family of God, with a new vision, mission, meaning, and purpose to life.  That person puts on the new clothes of the new self.

Have you ever bought a new outfit of clothing, only to hang it in the closet, continuing to wear your old tried and true garments?  The same thing happens with our spiritual dress.  We want to change and put on a new suit of spiritual attire, but for some reason we find our old way of living more comfortable and satisfying.  We need God’s help to take off anger, wrath, malice, slander, sexual immorality, obscene talk, etc., and to put on compassion, kindness, meekness, and patience, and other Godly things.

Paul is writing our epistle from Colossae in Pisidia, which is part of what today is called Turkey.  Like today, that region was a mish-mash of philosophies and religions from all over the world, lots of heresies mixed in with the true Word of God.  So it was not unusual that the Colossian church was affected by such.  Paul was in prison when he heard about the spiritual problems in the Colossian church, so he wrote to the congregation to warn them not to be led astray.

Like today, people are easily led astray by the values and attitudes of the environment they live in.  In the world today, over the past few years, the bar of civility, decency, morality, and law and order has been lowered and lowered.  That’s why vicious anger, malice, slander, and evil desires are common garments.

Evil today is real and potent.  In America alone, in the past few years, how else do we explain the mass shootings on college and high school campuses, the shooting and killing of white policemen in Dallas because they were white policemen, last week’s shooting of two policemen in San Diego, the assault on police in Louisiana, the beating to death of a classmate by a handful of preppy students in California, or the methodical assassination of Hispanic gays in Florida?

That’s just a few examples in the United States.  There’s also the mass murderer in France who intentionally drove a large truck into a crowd of people to kill them, the man in Germany who attacked people on a train with an axe, the ISIS assassins who beheaded Christians on the beaches of Libya, and the list goes on and on.

We see in others how evil controls and mars and destroys and kills and scars.  We condemn it openly and with passion.  We point our finger at evil while at the same time we are toying and flirting with our own evil, and do not even recognize it!  We don’t recognize it, because the bar of human decency has been lowered almost to the ground by today’s value system.

As Paul tried to make clear to the folks in Colossae, What you believe DOES make a difference in how you live.

Let’s back up and look briefly at Paul’s entire letter to the Colossians.  In the first chapter of the letter, Paul renews his affirmation that in Jesus Christ and in Him alone is made known the whole truth of God and of everything eternal.  In the second chapter, he warns the people not to be led astray.  And in our text for today, he urges the people to let their lives be shaped by the truth they find in Christ and in Him alone.

He urges them and us to die to all of the old ways of life that they/we may have known before, and to all of the ways of the world that were tempting them/us.  He urges them and us to seek the things that belong to God and to put away everything that is contrary to it.  He reminds the Colossians and us that for those who have entered the new life in Christ, there are no distinctions of race, nation, or class.

He warns the Colossians and us that it is dangerous to play around with the value system of a world that has grown farther and farther away from the truths found in God’s Word, the Bible.  It seems to me that our world has grown even farther away from those truths than the world of the Colossians!

We must constantly be deciding what we are going to “seek,” that is, what we are going to value and what we are going to build our lives on.  It is important for us to let the things that are most important to God be the things that are most important to us.  We should let those values shape our life priorities – and let those things crowd out the things that don’t belong in our lives.  Heads down, or heads up?  Lift them up, and keep them up!  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.