'Tis the season: Set your mind on things above

August 2nd, 2016

My sermon this Sunday was on Colossians 3, where Paul says “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” At first blush it sounds like we should focus on “spiritual” things, not “earthly” things — like politics. But in the Bible, “spiritual things” are the things pleasing to God, whatever is motivated by and in sync with God’s Spirit. We could say God “above” has a holy agenda for us down here; as we pray constantly, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

In Colossians 3, “earthly things” seem to be primarily about how we think and live; Paul explains: “Put away the earthly — covetousness, evil desire, passion, anger, malice, slander, foul talk… and do not lie to one another.” You might read this and think “Tell Hillary!” or “Tell Trump!” But I say to you, “Tell James, tell yourself.” Politics breeds anger, evil desire, foul talk and falsehood — among politicians, but also in your own soul. You feel it already.

What is the Christian to do? Just turn it off and pay no attention? For me, the best and holiest plan for this and every political season is threefold. First, you just have to pay attention to what’s unfolding, for the stakes could not be higher. God has a rooting interest, because we could wind up with a world at war, or devastating poverty, or an ever more vapid, self-indulgent, rancorous culture, and thus less holiness, less goodness, and the church risks plummeting into more irrelevance. Be very sure: God cares.

Secondly, be very attentive to the state of your soul. When are you veering into a shrill, dark mood — even if you’re sure you’re right? What pushes your buttons, and why? Can you take time to breathe, to read Scripture, to be at peace, to strive for a holy wisdom? We’ll say more about this.

Thirdly, can you sort through all the agendas being pushed on us and figure out which way is God’s way? It’s complicated, because it most assuredly isn’t the case that God loves the whole Republican agenda and loathes the other guys — or vice versa. There are causes and purposes that very clearly are of God. Mind you, we may not get on the same page regarding how to pursue holy ends. But there still are holy ends. We will try to examine some of them…

 …because the grave peril Paul speaks of in Colossians 3 is “idolatry.” Idolatry isn’t physically bowing down to a statue. Idolatry is when we worship, adore, pursue, crave and even vote for something that is not of God. This is hard, because for every one of us God is asking us during this season to realize what is in us that is not of God, and then to repent, to give it up, to get in sync with God’s way. In fact, the political season is God’s best opportunity to help us realize "Oh my gosh, I’ve been attached to this way or thinking, or to this agenda, or to this other passion, and it’s not what’s in God’s heart. I want to love what God loves."

So stay with me! By election day, we might just be a bit holier, a bit more at peace, and God’s church might even hear a new calling to be God’s hands in a broken world.
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