Set your affection on things above

April 1, 2018

A Homily for Easter Sunday

April 1st, 2018

All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ

 

Text: Colossians 3:1-4

 

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

            He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

            In St. Luke’s gospel account we are confronted by two men on the first Easter morning. The women have gone to care for the tomb, to bring spices to help fight the odor of the Lord’s body, which by now would have been decomposing, but were perplexed, and probably deeply distressed that the stone was rolled away and the body of Christ was gone. At the sepulcher they meet two men, and these men say “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”

            This is the truthful promise - the Lord is risen! What a great a mysterious proclamation that must have been on that first Easter day. How confused in the destress of the moment must they have been, yet, from the dark distress of Good Friday – Hope certainly must of crept back in, even crashing in with a great force. Could it be true? Is he really among the living?

            Friends, He is risen, He is Alive, risen from the dead. I want to explore for a moment why Christians are so bold to make this claim. As we read the gospels in preparation for this great day, we see that the religious leaders of the day were terribly concerned that the disciples might try to fake a resurrection. In fact last night at the vigil we talked about how the Pharisees caught on to Christ’s promise that he would be raised from the dead, and went about politicking in order that the disciples couldn’t fake his resurrection. Meanwhile, his followers were despondent and afraid.

            Yet, as we look at secular histories, some go so far as to claim that he rose, though it might be okay to assume this was added later by Christians, however, we must note that there are no denials of his resurrection. Even in the same extant copies of documents such as Josephus’s secular history, the Jewish, and Arabic copies do not deny his resurrection, while the Christian copies claim He did. Certainly, the Pharisees, and the other religious leaders would have been hasty to point out that the resurrection of Christ was a fraud but we have no evidence that they did this. Instead, we only have the bold claim that he was risen from the dead.  

            Additionally, we know of what became of his disciples. They were made alive for Christ, they burned with a  bright passion for His truth and they went throughout the known world preaching the gospel of Christ. Preaching the goodness in Christ’s death and resurrection that sets people free from their sins. Most of these men would go on to lose their lives for the gospel sake and not only them but others boldly put their lives on the line, gave up so many worldly possessions to give their lives to the glory to God.

            Now, I suspect all of us have told at least a lie in their life and I suspect none of us would give up our lives for that lie. I am a sinner, and I have, at times lied, there is no lie that I have told that I would give up my life for. No, if Christ’s resurrection were a lie, the disciples would have known this and quietly gone back to their lives as fishermen and tax collectors, eventually forgetting their few years of wandering the country with this vibrant teacher, but they did not do this. They laid their lives down and most of them lost them in martyrdom, and those who did not were still persecuted severely, never recanting of their claim that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again! The lives of the disciples are not the lives of those who are living for a lie. They are the lives of those who are living for truth.

            One last point – the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles do not sugar coat the story – these books show St. Peter as a goof, who regularly misses the point, they show women being wiser than men, a scandal it that culture, and they show the Apostles in all their brokenness. No, I firmly believe that the Gospels can be trusted for this very reason. They could have easily made the apostles look better, but they did not and if they were merely a fairy tale, this act of glorifying man would be what we would expect to see. Instead, they showed them as men whose lives were changed by experiencing Christ, and in that experience were lit on fire to His glory.

            So we can have confidence that when we proclaim: Alleluia! Christ is Risen! That He is indeed risen. Let us spend the rest of the morning exploring our epistle lesson which says:

IF ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. 

As followers of Christ we are risen with Christ. This is what it means to have given our lives over to Him. Our hope, our trust, rests solely in the Easter message of His resurrection. Our hope is the eternal hope that on the last day we will have the great joy of appearing with him in glory. Let us therefore boldly rest in this hope.

            It is not merely that we would hope but that we would seek those things that are above. This is an action and a mindset. How, then, do we seek those things? What exactly does this calling mean and look like?

            First and foremost, be reading the Word of God daily and praying to the Lord constantly, in all things. We are also called to worship with your brothers and sisters in Christ regularly, not forsaking the congregation of the faithful, we are to partake in Holy Communion, and spend time in fellowship.

            But, there is more to this commandment, it is for every faithful Christ – those who have been given much and those who have been given little, those who are old and tired, and those who are young and vibrant, those who are married, and those who are single, the call is the same regardless of race, social status, or position in society or the church. We are all to seek the things of heaven, to set our affections on the things that are above not of the earth. So how do we do this?

            If you have been given much, give much back, open your home your Christian family, share with those who have been given little. Let your love flow abundantly, be hospitable to all, always – for you never know when you may be entertaining angels. But, take this warning to heart: don’t put your hope in the much that has been given to you, do not trust your riches, but recognize that all of this comes from God and just as the Lord has given, the Lord may very well take away, and here is the hard part: if he does take away, rejoice still and give thanks.

            If you have been given little, rejoice friend, for although being poor in America is a very hard thing – remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ – that it is far easier for you to get into the gates of heaven than those who had been given much. So, rejoice, and given thanks.

            This past week I received a note from an old friend. I found myself struggling with some of it, and lost in thought, perhaps, simply because this Lent seemed to be a particularly difficult one. But, the morning after I received the little letter my mind went to St. Paul’s lists, in particular that found in 2 Corinthians 11:

But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that.  Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea;  on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.  And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

As I thought on these things, I realized – for too long I had counted the trials I have faced in my life and ministry as curses – but if we take the words of the apostle seriously – the trials and hardships we face are blessings, they are what make us stronger in our faith, what make us cling more dearly to the Lord, they are what helps us to set our eyes on the things of above! No, I think it is better thing to say with the saint the thought he concludes with: For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

            All of this is to say – if you feel poor, or oppressed – perhaps you are more blessed than you could ever know for it is in your weakness that the Lord works His greatest mercies. The Lord works profoundly through the underdog. The Lord has a habit of using those we perceive as the least of us to do great things. So remember, it is in your weakness that God’s glory shines forth and in your trials that he draws you close.

            If you are given much – or given little – give thanks with heartiness to the Lord.

            If you are old and tired, and feel that you have nothing left to offer the church to Glorify the Lord with. Rejoice! For you have so much to give. You have the time to be given to prayer and the reading of scripture. Even if your eyes have grown weary with wear and old age, you can still listen to the word of God recorded for you. There are some here who have been overcome with the busy-ness of life and would delight to have more than fifteen-minutes, or thirty-minutes or an hour for prayer and devotion. Pray for them! You have the gift of time, that so many of us long for. Pray without ceasing and be so bold as to tell those that you are praying for that you have done this for it is a great kindness for them. It will make their heart-glad, and it will be a blessing to them.

            If you are young and vibrant in the midst of your life. Do all that you do to the glory of God. In the mundane pray, in the intense don’t seek to glorify yourself, but glorify the Lord. When you wash dishes or plant a garden or sweep the floor, give that to the Lord in prayer or sing a hymn of praise. If you are doing work that is commonly called secular, remember there is no such thing as secular work, but the Christ is called to do all their work with compassion, kindness, goodness, doing it for the Lord’s glory, not for your own.

            If you are married, love your spouse well. Show them the Love that Christ showed you on the cross and lay down your life for the other. Be given to the care that their heart and soul is coming alive in Christ. To love as Christ loved is to lay down your life. So lay it down graciously for the one you have been called to love well.

            If you are single, rejoice! For though your heart may long for a spouse or long for the spouse that you have lost – you have time to love the others in our community who need a friend, who also long for someone to eat a meal with, who may also feel the loneliness that you feel. Rejoice! Because you have time to do the things that those who are busy with married life, busy with their family don’t have time for. So be given to those tasks of good works, and building loving, genuine friendships, and joyfully serving those who need your help. Your soul will never regret that time and your heart will be glad.

            Every Christian regardless of who you are or where you are in your walk and life is called to setting their eyes intently on heaven. So, let our eyes be cast firmly on the heavenly vision of the Lord, and given to the task of being the church.

             For our lives are buried in Christ, and just as they have been buried and covered with the death of Christ – we are risen in Him, risen in the present to be his earthly representatives in this time and look forward with the deepest joy for his second coming when we will be set free finally from this sinful affliction.

            This past week, a friend and I were lamenting how difficult Lent can be. Whether you take a stringent Lenten fast or a more lenient one, or perhaps forsake this tradition all together the Lord so often uses this time of sacrifice to take out his surgeon’s tools and ply from our hearts those idols we too often hold on to and refuse to toss into the waste bin as we should. The pain of their removal can sometimes be deep and trying, but then we get to Easter day and the light of Christ shines on our heart we can then say “ah-ha! What glory we have been allowed to experience and how free are we now from those cursed idols!”

            So, now freed from these idols, these curses, and we can rejoice in our life in Christ! We can rejoice that when he appears again we will also appear in His glory and enjoy Him for eternity.

            My friends, I assume if you are here today that most of you have at least cursory belief in the resurrected Christ. That you at least think that he probably maybe rose from the dead and that this is probably important. I also know that some of you burn with a passion for Him. That your hearts are on fire for him, and long to continue to grow in His goodness and mercy.

            Today, if you are in the cursory category, I want to tell you that Christ wants each of us to burn for Him, wants us to be His light in this world, to shine with a brightness that leaves others longing to know Him as we know Him. So if you are not on fire for Christ, if you do not burn with the love of Christ and for our Holy Father and for our brothers and sisters in the Lord, I pray that you would. I pray that you would consider the words which you have heard today and that you would be given to Him, and filled with the Holy Spirit.

            It is my prayer and my hope that we would be a community that is so deeply in love with our Lord that the world would see it and they would want what we have. That our love for each other and for our neighbor would be so deep that all who we experience this would see it and would desire to come into this love as well.

            My friends regardless of where you are today. Cast all your cares on Christ who died for our sins on the cross, who was laid in the grave, and who is risen from the dead, that we might share in that resurrection. Friends, you are beloved children of the living Lord, you are called to serve and glorify Him, so use the gifts you have been given to do this, whether they seem great or small, whether you feel week or strong. Remembering, that the weakest among us, is the strongest. And with all this in mind let us with one joyful voice proclaim:

            Alleluia! Christ is risen!

                        He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

 

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