Saturday, August 4, 2007

Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (August 5, 2007)
“A Fresh Start” (Colossians 3:1-11)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Fresh starts. Everybody loves fresh starts. Starting over again. Putting the past behind you. A new job. A new chance to prove that you can really shine. A new school year. A new chance to improve those grades that weren’t so hot last year. A reconciled family relationship. A chance to catch up on all those missed years. A makeover. A new confidence in the way you carry yourself and present yourself to other people because of that stylish hair and that cool outfit. A new resolve to live a more god-pleasing life. A new heartfelt intent to put some of the sinful things in your life behind you and do the right thing.

The world got a fresh start when Jesus rose to life on Easter morning. That day was the first day of a new creation. The price for our sins was paid in full at the cross on Good Friday. Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, took the punishment that we deserved for our sins and gives us eternal life as a gift of His immeasurable love, as God’s Word says, For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Jesus paid what we owe. He gives us what He earned.

Now, the past is behind us. Our sins are forgiven. The resurrection of Jesus proved His power over sin and death. It proves that all He said in the Bible is true. It proves that we can all have a fresh start in Christ.

I remember a catchy little ditty we used to sing at Arrowhead Lutheran Camp in California. It also speaks of the fresh start that we have in Christ. It went like this: “Every morning is Easter morning from now on. Every day is resurrection day. The past is over and gone…I am one of the Easter people. My new life has begun.”

In our text today from St. Paul’s letter to the church at Colosse, we learn that because of Christ, we are Easter people...not just on Easter Sunday, but every day because we are baptized into Christ. We have new life now, and there is a new life promised to us in the future.

Chapter 3 of St. Pauls letter to the Colossians begins, “If then you have been raised with Christ.” He’s not saying there’s a possibility that you aren’t. He’s saying that since you are raised with Christ, now here’s what your life will be like. Just as Jesus was raised from the dead, so too are you. Your new life has begun. A fresh start.

But our circumstances often speak otherwise. Raised with Christ? New life? A fresh start? It sure doesn’t feel like it. Our fresh starts sometimes go stale. Things don’t seem to go as we had planned. Our lives don’t feel like they are raised up. More often than not, we’re sunk down in the pits. Just when things start to seem like they’re going good again, things take a turn for the worse. You were doing better in school, and then things got tough again. Your cancer treatments were going well, you were feeling pretty good, and then the doctor says the tumor has grown and spread. You were enjoying that renewed family relationship, when all of a sudden somebody took something you said the wrong way, and feelings were hurt again. You were ready to leave on vacation to get refreshed and revitalized, but your car suddenly needed an expensive repair and you had to cancel your trip.

Or how about this one? You were doing better with that particular sin that was really bothering you, and you really felt the Lord helping you in your struggle against temptation, but then, all of sudden, you found yourself slipping back into old habits. You recognize yourself in Paul’s description of things that are earthly: “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness”...not to mention “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk.”

Whether you feel like it or not, dear friends, believe God’s sure word. “You have been raised with Christ.” It is a reality no matter what your circumstances are. You have died and you have been raised with Christ.

Earlier in the letter, Paul explains how this is the case. In last week’s reading from Colossians chapter 2, he writes that you were “buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh [meaning that spiritually dead sinful nature with which we are all born], God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Through Baptism and by faith in Jesus Christ, we are truly alive. We have been raised to have new spiritual life.

St. Paul also says in today’s reading, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Now, of course, you haven’t literally died. But in Christ, you have figuratively died to certain things.

You have died to the things of this world. Paul might have said, “you were entombed.” A person who is entombed is dead and cares nothing for earthly things. The things of this world no longer have the number one priority in our lives now that we are God’s new creation.

You have died to any threats or claims made upon us because of our sin. You are forgiven and set free from the guilt and the shame that our sin brings upon us, because Jesus suffered and died with your guilt and shame upon him at the cross.

You have died to the devil’s power or ability to reach you. Your life is hidden with Christ. You are “tucked away” among God’s chosen ones. Were you afraid of monsters at night as a child? I was. There was a time when I was convinced that there were monsters in my closet and under my bed. But as long as I was “tucked away” safely under the blankets…as long as the blankets were over me…I were safe. I was invisible! The monsters couldn’t even see that big lump in the bed. Likewise, you are “tucked away” in Christ, hidden from the devil’s view and beyond his reach to harm you. Nothing can take away your joy in Christ, in spite of your circumstances.

Now that we are raised with Christ in Baptism and by faith…now that we have a fresh start in Christ’s resurrection power…you can now “seek the things that are above.” You can “set your minds on things that are above.” Our desires and our thoughts are also made new in Christ. We can look heavenward and think about things far above, far removed from the sins and sorrows of our world. We can reflect on and rest in the forgiveness that comes from heaven. We can draw strength and comfort for daily living that comes from heaven. We can rejoice in the fact that we are God’s baptized children. Luther, in the Small Catechism, said to do this daily. Remember your baptism. He encourages us first thing in the morning to make the sign of the holy cross and say, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”…the same words and the same sign of the cross that was made over us when we were baptized. We remember that “the Old Adam in us [our old sinful nature] should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” Like an old, torn up, ragged shirt, we have taken off “the old self with its practices.” In its place, we now wear some snazzy new clothes...or as Paul calls them, “the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Our new wardrobe is the righteousness of Christ, and with it the knowledge that we are a new creation in him. A fresh start. A daily resurrection of sorts as we wake from sleep and start each new day remembering who we are in Christ Jesus.

Paul also urges us to set our minds on things above “where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” This means that Jesus Christ rules and reigns for the good of His Church with all power and authority. He is not far away. He is present with us. We are in the company of our King. Our God has power over our depression, our despair, our death. He gives us new hearts that now are concerned about our neighbor’s well-being. Lives that were previously incapable of doing anything pleasing to God now are willing to do what pleases Him.

The resurrection informs and shapes our life now, the new life we have today in him. It also informs and shapes the new life that is promised to us in the future. Paul writes in verse 3, “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” We are raised now, but we also look forward to a future resurrection…our real bodily resurrection.

In one of his lighter moments, Benjamin Franklin penned his own epitaph. He didn't profess to be a Christian, but it seems he must have been influenced by Paul's teaching on the resurrection of the body. Here's what Franklin wrote: “The Body of B. Franklin, Printer, Like the Cover of an old Book Its contents torn out, And stript of its Lettering and Guilding, Lies here, Food for Worms, But the Work shall not be wholly lost: For it will, as he believ'd, Appear once more In a new & more perfect Edition, Corrected and amended by the Author.

Yes, our glorious body will be like Christ’s glorious body on the Last Day, immortal, never to die again. Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee of our future resurrection, as Romans 6 teaches, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” An eternal fresh start! A body free from aches and breaks and cancers and comas and sagging and SIN!

Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee of the resurrection of all who have been baptized into Christ Jesus and who trust in Him as the one who died and rose to take away their sins. It’s the guarantee of a fresh start now and the promise of eternal life in heaven.

Every morning is Easter morning from now on. Every day is resurrection day. The past is over and gone. You are one of the Easter people. Your new life has begun.


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