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Sermon – “Your Mind on Things Above” April 20, 2014

Sermon for Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014 First Baptist Church of Lewisburg

Your Mind on Things Above

Acts 10: 34-43; Colossians 3: 1-4; John 20: 1-18

Hebrews chapter 10, verse 35 declares, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Poet D. H. Lawrence began his poem “The Hands of God” with that verse. Here is the poem:

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

But it is a much more fearful thing to fall out of them.

 

Did Lucifer fall through knowledge?

oh, then, pity him, pity him that plunge!

 

Save me, O God, from falling into the ungodly knowledge

of myself as I am without God.

 

Let me never know, O God

let me never know what I am or should be

when I have fallen out of your hands, the hands of the living God.

 

That awful and sickening endless sinking, sinking

through the slow, corruptive levels of disintegrative knowledge

when the self has fallen from the hands of God,

and sinks, seething and sinking, corrupt

and sinking still, in depth after depth of disintegrative consciousness

 

sinking in the endless undoing, the awful katabolism into the abyss!

even of the soul, fallen from the hands of God!

 

Save me from that, O God!

Let me never know myself apart from the living God!

 

When the Book of Hebrews was written the reality and power of God were stated as self-evidently true. The book rested on a deep familiarity with the scriptures in a world which trusted them as uniquely authoritative, and was addressed to a culture which believed in marvels and apprehended invisible realities. The author is warning his hearers not to spurn or disparage what God has achieved for them through Christ, and concludes “It is an awful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Lawrence came of age in a society being transformed by industrialization. The world

was more and more under the sway of reason, encouraged by the success of technology and the triumph of evidence-based research. This expansion of knowledge, and an accompanying tendency to regard former ways of understanding as immature and unreliable, seemed to Lawrence to undermine the artistic and spiritual foundations of human life. Lawrence identifies gaining knowledge– alluding to Adam and Eve but also to Mendel and Darwin, Pasteur and Curie–as the likely source of Luciferʼs fall from grace. He fears following Lucifer down the plummet from being close to God to being alone and on oneʼs own. Speaking of Godʼs hands he says “It is a more fearful thing to fall out of [them].” He sensed that the age in which he lived had robbed him of the certainties and solace of old- fashioned faith.

It has been almost a century since Lawrenceʼs time. The assumption that growing knowledge has eclipsed simple faith is normal now, unreflective, and for growing numbers of people, no longer uncomfortable. To borrow Lawrenceʼs image of Lucifer as the first dropout, we can update the language of the book of Acts regarding those for whom Christ has come: “all who were oppressed by the devil” can mean simply this: everyone who has been tempted by the phases and fashions of the last couple of centuries in Western culture to regard a relationship with God as impossible.

It is a temptation not to believe in God, not to believe in a human capacity to achieve a right relationship with something ultimately important. It is tempting to imagine that each of us is a particularly creative and clever animal, answering only to appetites and the imperative of the survival of a species. It can be seductive to tell oneself that art and beauty, humor and love only exist because they somehow keep the generations coming. It is tempting to suppose the spirit we experience within ourselves is an artifact of brain physiology or chemistry, that there is in the natural sciences alone some explanation for the intuited richness of being human.

We know it is tempting because millions of people already think that way. We know it is tempting because when Madison Avenue wants to persuade us of something they put someone in a lab coat to quote statistics. They refer to studies. The narrow band of reality susceptible to predictable recurrence, and the power over the material world that has given us, dominates debates about everything.

Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but the resurrection is about much more than an empty tomb. Easter morning forced a band of unexceptional disciples to take more seriously the calling they first heard along the shore, or sitting at the tax collectorʼs table. They had no more believed the miracle related by the women whoʼd gone to the tomb than you would expect to believe it. They were artless, uncomprehending, proud, reckless, and competitive, and until they had further goading from their resurrected Lord, didnʼt seem to be able to respond to the resurrection any better than by going back home, and acting as if the whole thing hadnʼt happened. Thatʼs how hard it was for them to believe in the power of God, even in an age we regard as naive. Thatʼs how strongly they were tempted to be reasonable, practical, constrained by common sense.

If it werenʼt for what God did achieve through Christ, who would have heard of it? The disciples were galvanized by the spirit of God and became fearless, persuasive, determined, and ready to die. They defied selfishness, they repudiated violence, they offered help, safe harbor, healing to their world. They founded Christianity, which through millennia has been seeking to work Godʼs purpose out, not always without error or shame, but establishing hospitals, schools, elevating the status of the humble, checking the presumption of the proud, speaking up for forgiveness, for peace, for sharing goods with the needy.

Easter is about the triumph of a good spiritual realm over the disbelief and cynicism of a wicked world. All who are oppressed by the temptation to give up on God are offered hope through Jesusʼ resurrection. Godʼs delivering Jesus from the tomb reveals that the secret hopes of the human heart, that there can be love, that there can be peace, that life can be based on kindness, that wrecked relationships can be mended, that there is not only a purpose to life but that it has to do with serving a good, loving, rescuing God– thatʼs what Easter proclaims. Thatʼs what every echo of Easter– every first day of the week, all year long, when disciples gather to celebrate this first day of the week–what every echo of Easter tells the world.

The first disciples formed a family of self-sacrifice, service, and support out of people of all races and languages and nationalities. They proclaimed, and we still proclaim, what Peter says in Acts– that God shows no partiality, but everyone is welcome. We need to hear that because, when we are tempted not to believe in God, one of the things we are tempted to believe in is the tribe, the superiority of people like us, the right to oppose and oppress people who donʼt fit in. Christianity, which sees Christ in the stranger, knows that is wrong, because God is at work in the world on the basis of the worth of every person, everyone. Whoever you are, Christ has risen to encourage you, to invite you, to tell you “Hereʼs the life which is heaped-up and full and overflowing, hereʼs the yoke to wear in this world which is light.”

Thatʼs what God has achieved. Thatʼs what God continues to make happen, in lives all around us. People believe in Easter and it gives them power–they turn themselves over to Christ, and what God can do in Christ gives them the resurrection life, the new life here and now. Jesus tells Mary not to hold him because he needs to ascend. He has to become universally and always available. Everyone can be rescued by the Risen Christ from peering into darkness and grasping at temporary comforts. Christ has been raised. We are set free to be Easter people. That means we set our minds on things that are above, lofty things, good things. We hold our own head up, take the longer view, trust in the power and care of the God Who has made us, and love one another. Happy Easter!


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