Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"If youíre serious about living"

Message preached March 31, 2002
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Colossians 3:1-4

Order of Worship

            A year ago I had a important wake-up call. My doctor had encouraged me to become more serious about my health, especially my blood pressure. Not long after my yearly physical, my mother underwent surgery and I - along with my sister, a nurse - were with her. As the two of us siblings were waiting in her hospital room for my mother to come out of recovery, I noticed the blood pressure monitoring device above the bed. "Marilyn," I suggested, "since weíve nothing better to do, would you check me out?"

            I was feeling fine at that point, believe me. She slipped the sleeve around my arm, put the stethoscope to her ears, and pumped up the sleeve. After a minute she gave me one of those severe "sisterly" looks. "Itís 150 over 110," she said. Those among you of more seasoned years are well aware of that bottom number. For a man of my age and build, it should be down closer to "80" or below. "110" is danger territory. High blood pressure is often called "the silent killer," for often those with it are unaware. I certainly was. I thus received my wake-up call.

            But, you know, as much as I started to get serious about my blood pressure, it wasnít until a month or so ago that I really started to pay attention. I thought I was watching what I ate ... well, I wasnít really. Nor was I getting the exercise I needed. While in the drug store one night I thought Iíd try out their blood pressure machine. I nearly got sick when it read 140 over 107. That night I ordered a home monitoring kit over the Internet. Ever since I have been paying attention to it - 3 times a day. I have also been trying to push away seconds at mealtime, and I look seriously at those ingredient labels on all food products. Do you realize how much sodium (which contributes to high blood pressure) is in everything we eat? Furthermore, the exercise machine in our house has received more use - though it could stand to be used much more.

            Now, I donít mean to bore you with my health, though I understand that the older one gets the more conversation tends to drift into that area - much to the chagrin of those of younger years who wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, life is a wide open book when youíre young. The older you get the more you realize that the pages ahead are fewer than the pages behind. Furthermore, you become aware that the book could close at any minute. Life, after all, is fragile, something we too often take for granted.

            Today we are again celebrating the mountaintop of our faith as believers in Jesus Christ. Without Easter, without that empty tomb, without resurrection, without hope of anything but a life that is often filled with suffering and pain - even if it be redemptive hardship and grief (that is, pain with a purpose) - without Easter where would we be? Last week I encouraged us to consider the crucifixion and death of Jesus to be the "downbeat" of our song of faith. Yes, it is a depressing story when you think about it. Jesus suffered for us and died. What a "downer." However, as I said, this is the "downbeat" that governs the song. Without this "downbeat" (and think music here) there would be no upbeat, no song even.

            By the same reasoning, though, without the "upbeat," our song of faith would merely be a matter putting your foot down. Jesus died, period. Thatís all there is folks. Nothing more. Just like for us, we have so many years on this earth and thatís it. There is nothing more. It is finished. Now that is a "down" beat, isnít it? - a depressing note. Without Easter, my friends, "thatís all she wrote." However (and this is a BIG "however"), with the empty tomb message of this day we have the promise of a song to beat all songs, a life not limited by death. While the cross is absolutely central to our faith, so is the empty tomb. Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. He is alive!

            The apostle Paul, writing to the believers in Colossae, reminded them of the rest of the song of faith. "If you have been raised with Christ," he encouraged them, then "seek (aspire, set your hearts on, reach out for, focus upon) the things (the rich treasure and joys, the highest gifts) that are above (in heaven, of heaven, Godís realm) where Christ is. Set your minds (your thoughts, your hearts, your will - everything that your are) on things that are above, not on (that which is temporary, limited) things that are earthly." Let heaven fill your thoughts; donít spend your time worrying about things down here.

            Yes, our faith involves the downbeat, dying with Christ. When a person is baptized, we believe, he or she is baptized into Christís death. Entering the water is like a death itself, dying to sin. In our tradition we see baptism as an adult decision, made by those who know the alternatives and who can take seriously the step about to be made. It means letting go of things that only weigh us down, pulling us into a "fake" life, a life that appears to be so much more than it really is, a life that is in reality limited and illusive and temporary and - when the final page is finished - itís over, period / exclamation point. Nothing more.

            Wait a minute. Amend that last thought. Such "fake" life does have an addendum. Call it a "fake" future. Only itís not a future anyone would truly desire if they really knew what it was. Now, you know me, Iím not a "hellfire and damnation" preacher like some of my predecessors in this pulpit (if you go back far enough). I understand brother Roop long ago could describe hell in detail, and could preach emphatically about it - pounding out each point with his fist. I guess Iíd rather let heaven attract than hell repel. But make no mistake, my friends, the "fake" life offered by this world, focused as it is upon things that donít last, leads only to "fake" promises - an eternity that is (to be honest) a hell of a way to end up.

            Yes, our faith involves the downbeat of dying with Christ. But thatís not the whole song, is it? Indeed, we will be raised on the last day when what is hidden about who we really are in Christ, what we canít see now because of the limitations that are a part of being human; all this will be revealed. God will raise us from death, just as surely as he raised Christ Jesus. Thatís the future tense, the "real" life that awaits those who believe. However, there is a present tense to this faith. We donít just await a day when we will be raised with Christ. Those who believe in the power of the resurrection, as Paul wrote, "have been raised with Christ" already. We are Easter people now. As we sometimes sing, "every morning is Easter morning from now on," especially as we seek to live that way - setting our minds and hearts upon what really lasts, what is most important, what is really real ... upon the kingdom of God.

            I like how Eugene Peterson has paraphrased this passage from Paulís letter to the Colossians, for it gets at the heart of what it means for "every morning" to be "Easter morning from now on." Listen:

            "So if youíre serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Donít 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 - thatís where the action is. See things from his perspective.
            "Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life - even though invisible to spectators - is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, youíll show up, too - the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ."            (The Message, ©1993, Navpress.)

            I like that. "If youíre serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it." Pay attention to your spiritual blood pressure, to the vital signs. Be serious about living this new life freely offered in Christ. Now, that doesnít mean "be somber." It doesnít mean "take yourself so seriously that youíre about as attractive as death warmed over." It doesnít mean "look like hell" (sometimes Christians can look that way, canít we?). No, it means look like heaven, or more precisely, look toward the kingdom. Seriously focus upon the risen Christ such that heaven is a part of your walk here and now. Not just one Sunday out a year, but every day - because every morning is Easter morning from now on" for those who believe.

            Now, I need to pass a message on to you from a beloved elder in our congregation. It may be that the last pages of the book of Verlin Tombaughís earthly life are drawing to a close. I need to be careful in saying that, however, because God has had a habit of writing more chapters for our brother just when we thought it was finished. Only God knows, and weíll live every morning with Verlin (together with Christ) as if it is Easter morning, no matter how many more there are. Amen? Amen!

            Last Monday, a difficult day when the cancer in his back was causing him much pain, Verlin had something to say, spoken through tears. "Tell the young people," he said (and for a 90-year-old man this could well be the rest of us); "Tell the young people that we only have a few years on earth to serve the Lord. However, we have a million in hell if we don't." Life is all-too-brief, this man 10 years shy of a century old is saying. Pay attention. Be serious about living this new resurrection life. Before itís too late. I told him I would pass his words on. May they be a wake-up call for us all.


            Perhaps youíve noticed our "church cat." Some churches have mice, ours has a cat at present, a feline that belongs to the folks across the street. Some of you have seen it in the window during worship. This cat just wants to be inside. The other morning when I came to work, Mark Lane was bringing some things in for the youth retreat. Our church cat snuck in as he was exiting. Then it turned and saw me. I guess I havenít been all that welcoming to this animal, "shewing" it away. It was scared at my approach. Frantically it began to look for an escape. The front doors, however, were firmly shut. No way out. Then this cat did a strange thing. It ran straight toward me. My first thought was that it was trying to get past me to the youth who were still asleep in their room. Certainly it wouldnít be on the attack, not the very friendly "church cat." No, instead it raced up to me and nearly jumped into my arms. It was as if it was throwing itself on my mercy. That was one smart cat!

            Isnít that how we are with God? We want to be on the inside, donít we? We wouldnít be here today if we didnít. Sometimes, though, this new life in Christ frightens us - perhaps more than any prospect of hell. Itís not just what we might give up to follow Jesus, itís what God might bring into our lives once weíre focused in the right direction. Itís so awesome it can scare us, and we look for a way out. May we have the wisdom, though, to look toward the Risen Christ who is side-by-side God, and run to him. Today, and every day.

Extend the invitation to come.

For commentaries consulted, see Colossians.

©2002 Peter L. Haynes

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