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What If You Are Raised
Easter, April 4, 1999


As I studied the Colossians passage in preparation for this sermon, I was struck by Paul's phrase, "So if you have been raised with Christ..." Intrigued, I fantasized: What if we are already raised, lifted up? What difference would it make, how would you live differently, if you are raised with Christ?

"Seek the things that are above," wrote Paul. "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." Eugene Peterson in his translation, The Message, makes it even clearer, Colossians 3:1-4,

"So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ--that's where the action is. See things from his perspective."

There is more to your life than day to day problems, more than your work, more than dirty dishes and high gasoline prices, more than frustrations and heartaches, more than disappointments and failures. Lift up your eyes, set your minds on things that are above. There is an old spiritual, "Over my head, I see trouble in the air." Look even higher, get above the trouble. Who is that cartoon character who travels with a black cloud over his head? Look even higher, above the black cloud.

Do you find it hard to believe there is something up there, that there is more to your life than what you can touch, taste, and smell? Consider what's in this room with us right now. If we turned on a radio, we would discover there are waves here which the radio can pick up and translate into sounds. If we turned on a TV and plugged in an antenna, we would find there are moving pictures all around us. If you have a cordless phone, you could make or receive a call. If you are carrying a pager, someone on the outside could send a signal right through the air and activate your pager. Imagine all that's going on in this room all around us.

Imagine also how this room is filled with the spirit of the risen Christ, with the things that are above. "Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up!" Can you for a day, for an hour, for a minute, "think on things that are above?" Even during this sermon, can you put aside thinking about what you've got to do yet today, or worrying about the things you forgot to do? Can you put aside thinking about where you are going to eat this noon, or if you bought all the ingredients you need to prepare your Easter dinner? Can you get outside yourself and "set your minds on things that are above?"

Philippians 4:8, "Fill your minds with what is good, authentic, honorable, lovely, gracious." Set your minds on beauty, glory, wonder. Wonder is all around us. Open your eyes and your minds to see. We dig up the earth for a garden, and plant a seed; but can we understand or visualize how a seed germinates and grows? Martin Luther wrote, "If you could understand a single grain of wheat you would die of wonder."

To experience wonder, to get outside yourself, to be raised up so you can see, you must first have died! Not literally, of course, for we have not physically died, but to be a Christian is to die, and be born all over again. Back up a few verses in Colossians to 2:20, "If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe..." In Romans 6:5-8, Paul wrote,

"For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him."

Colossians 3:5, Paul wrote, "Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly." Jesus died on Friday, and was raised from the dead on Sunday. When we die to what is earthly, God will raise us with Christ, not someday, but now. Paul said, "You have been raised with Christ." Put to death what is earthly. Paul gives us a list in Colossians and in other letters of earthly stuff that we need to die to. The lists of earthly things may be summarized: die to whatever is holding you down, die to whatever is claiming your priorities, die to whatever is controlling you. Let go of what is controlling you, and let Jesus be first in your life.

Of course, you have to work, and give your work a high priority; but don't let it master you. You need to be in charge of your work, and not let your work be in charge of you. Of course, your family has priority, but don't center your life in your family. A mother who centers her life in her children does neither herself nor her children a favor. You must not live your life through someone else; you lose your own identity, and the children find it very difficult to assert their independence and discover their own identity. Let Jesus be Lord, not anyone or anything else.

When you die to yourself, God will raise you with Christ. Then, set your minds on things that are above, set your mind on Christ. Then, look at the promise, Colossians 3:4. "When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory." Glory! Glory is one of those words we can't really define to do it justice. Glory is what takes you out of yourself--ecstasy we call it--and into something wondrous, transcendent, glorious!

Reminiscing this Easter morning, I recall the Easter I turned 50. Yes, my 50th birthday was on Easter Sunday. At Palo Alto Church that morning, there were 1,000 worshiping in two services, and, led by a forty piece orchestra, 1,000 people sang "Happy Birthday" to me! Was that a birthday or what! It was a surprise, a glorious surprise.

But, you don't have to turn 50 on Easter to experience glory. In her book, Amazing Grace, Kathleen Norris describes how the capacity for holiness exists in us all, p. 285

A first-time mother or father, for example, engaged in giving their baby a bath, will suddenly realize that this is about more than getting an infant clean. Time may feel suspended; the light in the room, the splashing water, the infant's cooing with delight, the skin-on-skin feel of loving touch--all of it might come together so powerfully that the parent inhabits in a more complete way this new and scary identity as "parent." And, at this moment, it is pure joy...a sense of the wonder and mystery of the human body, and of all human life.

When I was in high school, our church youth group conducted worship services at neighboring churches, and at a nursing home once a month. I would do the preaching, and as we were a musical group, there was lots of singing: solos, duets, trios. I remember Minnie. She so enjoyed our nursing home services. She was a saint--a positive person, filled with love, joy and peace. She had a hard life, as most rural Minnesotans did. She lived through the Great Depression and World War II, but she looked beyond her poverty, beyond her nursing home environment, beyond the "troubles in the air." She looked beyond the sunset. Every month she would ask me to sing her favorite hymn. (I'm quite a hit on the nursing home circuit!) She would ask, "Doug, please sing 'Beyond the Sunset.'"

Beyond the sunset no clouds will gather,

No storms will threaten, no fears annoy;

O day of gladness, O day unending,

Beyond the sunset, eternal joy!

We share in the glory, the glory beyond the sunset, and the glory that is right here today. Imagine! From the word of God, hear the promises:

2 Peter 1:3-4, "His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature."

2 Corinthians 3:18, "And all of us...seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit."

1 John 3:2, "Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him."

Colossians 3:4. "When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory."

Those biblical promises are available to you this Easter, if you die and are raised. Make this the best Easter you have ever experienced. Pray to God something like this, "Dear God, I've been living my life my own way. Now I want to live it your way. Come, Lord Jesus, I trust in you. Take me as I am and let me live in you , and let me live for you."

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© 1999 Douglas I. Norris