A dialogue with Scripture, the Spirit and one another was begun a couple of weeks ago trying to answer the question of what now? What now to do with our everyday life when we have encountered Jesus, believed Jesus and desire to follow him? The apostle Paul, writing to people like you and I asking the very same question, people whose propensity to simplify and condense life was no less creative than ours, gives them three thoughtfully brief phrases to set their origin, aim and resoluteness. Phrases that are brief. “Brevity is an expression which has more meaning than just what is heard.” Phrases that are a concentration of truth, of reality, not a reducing of it. Phrases that are concise enough to stick in the forefront of our minds as we go about our ordinary tasks of living. Phrases that as they soak in the normalcy of experiences expand us our world like those compacted capsules immersed in warm water reveal a massive sponge creature.
The first phrase we looked at was: Christ crucified. The very origin of our faith. All that we demand of God to know he is working and seek from God to preserver in a good life, confronted and answered in Jesus upon the cross. Whatever we think God has done and God is doing starts here. Still, our life of faith does not end with Christ crucified. It begins in death, but death so that there might be life, new life. And what does new life do? It grows! But into what? Into Christ. Our second phrase. The aim of our faith, the purpose of our faith, is together to mature, to be fully human [adults] in relation Christ and one another. All that we expect church “does” for me and what I “do” for the church re-imagined in growing together into Christ. “truthing in love”, living the expansively deep and literally real truth of Christ’s life, like Christ together.
With our origin and our aim set, what else is there to do but to “just do it”, get on with it already! Having “received Christ Jesus the Lord…walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in faith…as we have been taught” (Col. 2:6-7). And, many of us have been at it for a while, to various degrees of success and just as much variety of consistency. But here is the thing, following Jesus is an everyday endeavor. As a member of another faith family once committed, “…the trouble with being a Christian is that ‘it is such a daily sort of thing.’” And so, as good humans, we compartmentalize. Simplify in order to keep surviving.
Our propensity as humans that live in a complex and diverse world is to simplify. The stimuli of life overwhelms us and so we want to make things simple, simply to survive and hopefully to thrive. In some way there is no other way to be human. It is essential to our survival to understand our world: the dirt, the trees, our relation to other humans, God. We need to make sense of our environment if we are to both enjoy life and be productive in our existence.
The same is true regarding our lives of faith. We need to make sense of who God is, what God is doing, and how we get in on his work; so that we might both enjoy him forever and be fruitful and effective in this thing we give so much attention and resources towards. And so, as in every other way, we religious people simplify faith. Condense the complexity and diversity of our humanity by creating simple boxes for faith and stack them alongside the boxes for the rest of our lives’: like work, family, career, friends, goals, play, etc. Some might call this compartmentalizing.
The problem is not our need, but our method. The issue with condensing is that it often comes via subtraction, amputation of the gargantuan excess that doesn’t fit in our simplified boxes. We cut off others, even aspects of ourselves, and most often God; all to keep the world in its proper, accessible, controllable, livable space. We trade a full life or a manageable life. And most commonly, again if we are honest, we simplify God by either suffocating our imaginations or suppressing our intellect.
For the former, we simplify faith into facts about God and the world, to accessing what only we know with accuracy. Faith is real, yet it resides only in those “truths” that corresponded to our reasoning. Our faith comes through books and discussions and definitions and sermons and Sunday School. We may delve into flights of fancy through acceptable epics from Tolkien and Lewis, but we dare not ponder too long the complexities and mysteries of God as anything accessible, albeit above us, less we be knocked off our box.
For the later, we simplify faith into spirituality, to attending to the mysteries perfectly comfortable in ambiguity. Faith is real, yet it resides somewhere else, somewhere other, even otherworldly. Our faith comes through practices of meditation and rhythms of silence and experiences of abnormal encounters and prayer meetings and liturgy that take us somewhere else. We may delve into flights of reason through acceptable practitioners like Willard or Bridges or Nouwen even, but we dare not ponder too long the complexities and worldliness of God as anything more than metaphor less we too be knocked off our box.
Which simplification are you prone towards? Suffocating your imagination with reason? Suppressing your intellect with spirituality? Carrying nothing about either? Reducing faith to reason or to a world beyond our own. Keeping faith distinct from every other aspect of life.
We spent 2017 as a faith family immersed in the story of God in Scripture. Stories that when read together allowed us to discover that the Story of God in Scripture is a vast world of things seen and unseen. Reasonable and imaginative. Of divine and human, temporal and eternal, created and Creator relating, conflicting, reconciling as history unfolds. A world larger but not another world. A world “incalculable” yet not “unknowable”.
Are you not here today because, at some level, you are drawn to a larger world than your 9-5? A world that moves forward with unchanged conviction, through the daily tasks of survival and often overwhelming chaos of choice? A world which the religious in both boxes references as “heaven”, that which is “above”? Isn’t there something in each of us that yearns for this? One box attesting to its future the other hoping to be taken up to it in some experiential way now.
We started off our time together this afternoon imagining ourselves in a long, old story (creation to Christ to now to forever) and broad story (all the saints around our city and world today partaking alongside us); our imagination invigorated through the physical, corporate and confessional (reasoned) act of receiving the most ordinary of symbols (bread made by a baker at Kroger and juice available at every grocer). Symbols to represent the extraordinary fact of Christ crucified. And, because they are symbols, they represent that extraordinary nature that while Christ died, yet he lives. Raised, reconciling, redeeming. A Christ who, according to our traditions, sits now in the place above, enthroned in heaven with the Father of all. And it is the heights of this reality that the apostle Paul’s thoughtful brevity takes us to this afternoon.
To live by faith, or to let our faith be more than another box stacked alongside boxes, requires resolve, resoluteness to keep waking each day into this larger world, this longer story without reduction. Once again, we are not the first to require steadfastness in order for the fruit of faith to be experienced. In fact, there was a relatively small faith family in a town of little significance who were attempting to do what we are doing, live faithfully. Who, like us, had a tendency amongst them to reduce faith to reason or spirituality: to knowable facts or to the fanciful imagination to the future or to someplace else. “To [these] saints and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ at Colossae”, Paul gives us our third and final thoughtfully brief phrase: raised with Christ.
Read with me Colossians 3:1-4 so we can hear Paul’s thoughtful brevity in context.
If then 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 on things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
There is much packed into this little phrase “raised with Christ”. Christ, the one who was crucified, now alive. Alive and ruling, exercising his Kingly goodness on all of creation. Christ the one we are to grow into, now raised to a higher place, another dimension of reality, or higher plane of existence, a world attained only after this one ends—or so our boxes limit us to think. Keep your mind thinking of something more than “things that are on earth”, remembering Christ will “appear” again. Isn’t that what Paul means by “raised with Christ”, a simple encouragement to think about heaven as your motivation for today’s faithfulness? Whether heaven be a stop one day to reach or an experience to partake in between then and now.
If so, what would you expect Paul to say to do in order to keep your mind on heaven? Perhaps worship, prayer, meditations, reading your bible, going to church, contemplation, repenting, tithing, essentially all things we think of when we think about religion or church? Well, let’s read what Paul does say is the means by which we keep our minds on things above and see how it fits with our expectations. Read verses 5-17.
Is it not at least a little unexpected that Paul does not get off the ground of our relationships with others—how we view others, talk about others, treat others, relate to others when describing to us how to keep our mind on things above? There are no definitions here, nor other worldly experiences. Just you, your spouse, your boss, your roommate, your children, your neighbor, your co-worker, the stranger on the street, the Facebook or Instagram follow you are obsessed with, and Jesus. That’s right,
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free, intellectual faith or imaginative faith; but Christ is all and in all. (3:11)
Because Christ is raised, we too are raised with Christ. Given new eyes to see and ears to hear. A new perspective. A “Christ-perspective”. That is what Paul is saying in verses 1-4. Jesus is alive and so are we. Why continue to reduce life, especially the life of faith? Perhaps our issues in following Jesus is that our eyes are fixed on something other than Christ raised, and we raised with Christ?
It is an orientation of heaven and earth together. Not simply future or somewhere else, but right here in the interactions with those next to you today and those whom you will run across tomorrow. In the ordinary actions and attitudes that fill our waking moments. One commentator notes that when we read “Set your minds on things that are above”, Paul is not saying to merely,
…“try to obtain, desire to possess”…[or]…“aspire to the realm above”…[rather]…“keep looking for” that which is of Christ or from heaven in the situations of daily living…What is in view is a complete reorientation of existence. 
Raised with Christ is now your orientation for existence. For seeing and living in heaven on earth. We now have a different perspective by which we engage our daily routines and relationships. A perspective of Christ with us appearing in the most mundane of places, the little conversations with our kids and co-workers, Jesus in enjoying dinner and doing dishes. Jesus in the choices of how to respond to our subordinate at work who has messed up or our boss who won’t let off. Jesus in the offense of a friend in Gospel Community who spoke harshly. Jesus is all and in all. Raised with Christ, Christ-perspective.
Can I illustrate this thoughtfully brief phrase expanding as it soaks in the forefront of our minds? I take this directly from another pastor’s sermon on our text. He says,
“Imagine a young man starting off on a two-mile walk across town to see a girl. Seeing her and spending the evening with her is the purpose and goal of his walk. She is very much alive in his imagination. He can’t keep her out of his mind. Passing a delicatessen, he remembers her favorite candy and buys a box. Passing a flower shop, he is inspired with the thought of how lovely she would look with flowers on her shoulder, so he buys a corsage. Passing old acquaintances, he entirely misses even seeing them. Passing a church, he looks particularly long at it, for he once heard her remark that that was where she would like to be married. Nearing her home, he glances at his reflection in a store window, straightens his tie, and fixes his hair. By the time he arrives at her door, we will have been able to list at least a dozen specific actions in the course of the two-mile walk, all caused by the girl in his imagination. She was in his conduct.
The image put before us is this ruling Christ, that we should ‘aspire to the realm above, where Christ is’ (NEB). If this ruling Christ is alive in our aspirations and dreams, we will do things we never dreamed of doing before. Christ will be in our imaginations, in our purposes, in our goals. [In the ordinary actions and attitudes, relationships and responsibilities that fill our day. Because Christ is here and there!]”
Wilder Penfield, the renowned neurosurgeon, “…pointed out that no one ever learned a skill or remembered an experience unless he had attended to it, focused his brain on it. A mere random sampling of stimuli leaves no mark on the mind.” In other words, you cannot see that which you are not looking for. If we desire to be resolute in our faith, we need to “seek the things above”, attend to being raised with Christ, developing the skill of seeing with a Christ-perspective.
How do we attend to being raised with Christ? It’s rather straight forward, if admittedly uncomfortable, unnatural, at first. We name times when we have observed Christ in the attitudes and actions of each other.
Where have you perceived things above in the ordinary acts and attitudes of your brothers and sisters in Christ recently, this week even?
Let me read this as final encouragement and prayer from one translation (the Message) of Paul’s words in Colossians 2:6-7,
My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.
 Anthony C. Thiselton. The First Epistle to the Corinthians: a commentary on the Greek text, 173.
 Peter T. O’Brien. The letter to the Ephesians, 311.
 Eugene Peterson, As Kingfishers Catch Fire: a conversation on the ways of God formed by the words of God, 306.
 Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, 163.
 Paul will get specific on those ordinary relationships of home, community, workplace in verses 18-24. Similar to Eph. 5:21-6:9.
 James D. G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: a commentary on the Greek text, 205.
 Dunn, 206.
 Peterson, 308-309.
 Virginia Stem Owens, And the Trees Clap Their Hands: faith, perception and the new physics, 41.