Colossians 3:1-11 : Looking towards Heaven

This Sermon was delivered at St Nicholas North Lopham, and St Remigius’ Roydon on the morning of the 4th August 2019. Readings: Colossians 3:1-11, Luke 12:13-21.

May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our readings today each tie in closely with a key theme, a theme which is perennially relevant for Christians as it forces us to confront a central mystery within our faith. Colossians 3:2 encapsulates it nicely, and has itself been a key verse for me as it was the motto for the London School of Theology, where I studied for my BA.

It reads: “Set your minds on things that are above.”

This is a good motto for a theological college where as a student it could be all to easy to focus on the process of the reading for, and writing of essays in such a way as to gain marks and credits. Each year we would be reminded that if we got good grades in a paper about Christology but didn’t also grow in our personal faith and trust in Jesus then we were wasting our time; an attitude which I completely agree with. 

It’s not that the here and now doesn’t matter. A student should still try to write the best paper they can. Rather it’s that we should not allow the here and now to obscure our gaze of ‘that which is above’.

In Luke’s Gospel we heard a parable which Jesus told which expands our theme beyond theological education to the whole of our lives. The story of the “rich fool” highlights the inevitability of our death. Having gained an abundance of possessions, the rich man was unable to then relax and enjoy them. Life, then, is not just about winning the game which we score by our financial value or net worth. Jesus’ parable comes in the context of a man who is trying to get his brother to share the family inheritance. The use of the parable explicitly condemns the risk of greed and implicitly says that the relationship with his brother is more valuable than the inheritance. 

Ironically, if the man should be able to prioritise the relationship with his brother he may well find in time that his brother would be more inclined to be generous with his inheritance. 

Our theme, our mystery which we have to confront, then, is that while we have to live in the present and indeed can do no other, we also have to live with our eyes focused on heaven.

By heaven, I don’t necessarily mean the new creation and the resurrection to eternal life. Again, that would be to look to the future, to hope for something better that will come along later.

What does it mean to look to heaven today? 

Jesus’ parable convicts us of its importance, but it’s Paul in Colossians who is perhaps more specific in what he says.

He begins prior to our portion of Colossians by saying “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe.” 

Later, “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? … If 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 things that are on earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ.”

This is what it means to look to heaven. It is to keep our eyes fixed on Christ. It means to cling to the cross, to his sacrifice made once for all for the forgiveness of our sins. It means that we cannot stay in that place, wallowing in guilt and despair or the anxious lies of death but rather that we keep watching as Jesus appears in his victorious resurrection; the one who has conquered death and met with his disciples in the locked room, who has grilled fish with them on the beach and who has ascended in the clouds, that ancient sign of the presence of God, to reign forever at the right hand of our heavenly father.

To look towards heaven today is not to wait for a better life beyond death, though that life can be ours and will be awesome. No, to look towards heaven today is to dare to acknowledge that the Jesus we love and worship is not just the Jesus who walked the earth doing miracles and speaking wisdom two thousand years ago, and he is not just the Jesus who will return on the last day to judge the living and the dead. He is the Jesus who knows us by name. He is the Jesus who understands intimately the details of our own particular lives. Paul says that to look to heaven is to strip of our old selves and to be clothed with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 

In that renewal there are two sides of the same coin: there’s the ending of bad habits, of unhelathy and sinful practices of casual sex, malicious desires, and greed – which is idolatry; and there’s the flowering growth of holiness, of being God’s chosen ones who are to clothe themselves in compassion, kindness, humility and patience. 

When we look towards Jesus, we find that we look towards one another as those whom Jesus loves and knows. It is impossible to love Jesus and escape the community of those who have been united in that same love which makes them the Church. We who are here in part because we are local are united with one another in a manner which is greater than how long we have known each other, and we are just as united with those who are gathered this morning in Churches all across the country and in every land across the world.

Believing and trusting in the Jesus who is the king of our lives today, we are clothed in love and to let his peace rule in our hearts.

This is the sign of peace, not that we greet one another; but that we forgive one another as Christ has forgiven us.

 We are to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom so that we might worship God appropriately. 

[In a short while when we come to the peace, we are not to greet one another because we have already gathered. We are not here to shake hands or exchange hugs but rather to put off our old selves and continue in being renewed in patience and kindness; forgiving one another for the harms which affect our relationships with each other. In forgiveness, there is thankfulness and in thankfulness we are prepared to encounter our Lord in the Eucharist.]

Because our lives are not lived purely within the context of our own experience here on earth. Our lives always play out on a greater stage, that which we were created and intended for; to live in harmony with our neighbour and to love the Lord our God and to humbly walk with him all the days of our lives. 

By setting our minds on the things which are above, by turning our gaze heavenward we find ourselves joyfully praying to the King of Glory who cares for us and more than that desires to be with us in our lives. 

In a sense, then, to look at our lives with heaven filled eyes is to live our current lives more truly and meaningfully. Rather than pursuing our own wants and desires we find ourselves doing everything, and I mean everything, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and giving thanks to God the Father through him.