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Focused on Christ

Sermon 1837 Colossians 2.6-15 January 15, 2023

I am having trouble getting out of the house in the morning. It is taking longer and longer. There’s breakfast to be made, the dishwasher to be emptied. Sometimes the garbage needs to be taken out, recycling, too. Ever since we moved to Green Valley I’ve been brewing a cup of morning coffee (or tea) for my wife. There’s lunch to be made and packed. Maybe remember to get something out of the freezer for supper. And then shower, shave, get dressed. Where’s the shirt I wanted? Why did I put my shoes in the guest bedroom? Let’s take a look at the sports page to see what the Running Rebels did last night. You get the picture.

Trouble is, I try to do all these things at once (or am thinking about them all at once). Old man disease, I am tempted to call it, but I remember as a child, it was fiendishly difficult to get out of the house to get to school on time. There was always a distraction, always something I forgot. When I look at how people are glued to their phones, I know it is not old man’s disease. We are a distracted bunch.

It is not for me to judge or give advice on how much attention you give the daily affairs of your life. It is my job—you called me to do it—to warn you of distractions when it comes to our spiritual life. Here’s how the Apostle Paul says we can be

Focused on Christ

1. Through his baptism our sinful nature is put off.

2. Through his baptism we are made alive.

I can hear the howls of protest going up already. I’ve wounded a sacred cow—our inalienable right to use our cell phones no matter what! What a dinosaur Pieper is. Doesn’t he know we can multi-task?

Let’s see what God says about being spiritually focused.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught and overflowing with thankfulness (6-8).”

Received, continue, rooted, built up, strengthened, as you were taught. I’d say all those words command us to focus. We are to be focused on Christ. Let’s just look at one of those pictures, “rooted.” Midwesterners who move to southern Nevada often try to plant a garden. The sunshine is just too good! We can shade the garden and make sure it gets plenty of water. We’ll grow broccoli as big as trees! Tomatoes as big as pumpkins! And everyone who has had little children help with the gardening finally abandons the project because the little ones keep pulling up the carrots to see how they are growing. You don’t do that. You can’t replant a growing carrot. They are not migratory birds. They are stationary plants. They stay where they are planted. Flittering from this feed to that when it comes to our faith? Doesn’t seem like the Lord is encouraging it.

It seems even less likely when Paul adds the warning, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ (8).”

Hollow and deceptive. I can almost feel the ground swaying under me! You have the constant Christ on one hand and human tradition on the other. Traditions change. Philosophies change. Let me just list the change in dietary philosophies. The Atkins Diet, the South Beach Diet, the Keto Diet, the Paleo Diet. And don’t get me started on child rearing philosophies. My point is, they change. You flit from one to the other, you get confused kids and gastro-intestinal distress! When it comes to our faith, focus is the way to go.

How do we keep focused on Christ?

Focus on the effect Jesus’ baptism has on us. Through his baptism our sinful nature is put off.

“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead (9-13).”

Jesus Christ does something no human being and no earthly ceremony could do. Christ can do this because he is God Almighty, fully God, even as he is truly a human being, born of the Virgin Mary. Christ can do this because he is over every power and authority. He has all the power there is. Every authority on earth must bow to his will. When Jesus instituted Baptism, when Jesus gave us the command to baptize and every time we, in obedience to Christ’s command, baptize, that’s where our sinful human nature is put off by the power of Christ.

The Jews and those who were trying to get Christians to live according to Old Testament Jewish laws, made a big deal about circumcision. It was God’s command to Abraham, a sign of the Gospel promise that he would send a Savior. The Old Testament circumcision didn’t forgive sins, but it did show in a very personal way you were a part of God’s family. Once Jesus died and rose again, circumcision, like all the other Old Testament ceremonial laws, like what you were to eat, what you were to wear, what days you were to worship, those fell by the wayside. Christ had come. The journey these signposts pointed to was over.

Instead, what those Old Testament ceremonies pictured became a reality. It wasn’t a bit of flesh that was cut off and thrown away. In Christ’s baptism our sinful human nature was put off. Imagine a dad so engaged in fixing up that classic jalopy in the garage that he tries to come into the house on a late Saturday afternoon covered with grease and oil, dirt and muck. Mom heads him off at the pass. “Close the garage door, strip down in the garage, throw everything in the garbage can and I’ll get the shower in the guest bathroom going for you.”

When Jesus was buried, so our sinful human nature has been buried, gone from controlling our life. Old habits, sinful patterns, godless mindsets, those are no longer what we live for, work into our schedules or make excuses for. Baptism in our life is a bulldozer, tearing up and plowing under all the works and deeds of the sinful human nature. It gets the monkey off our back. Focused on Christ, through his baptism our sinful human nature is put off.

When we are focused on Christ, through his baptism we are made alive.

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross (13-15).”

How can the dead come to life? It’s easy to go the other way. We see accounts of that in the papers every day. Obituaries, murders, teens tragically dying of cardiac arrest. Life to death, run of the mill. But death to life? That’s the power of Christ. In Christ God made us spiritually alive. Before Jesus entered our hearts, we were dead in sin. We were dead to God. We did not love him. We did not understand him. He was the last one we wanted calling the shots in our lives. Notice how Paul links that to his prior words about circumcision. We were uncircumcised. Our sinful human nature ran riot in our lives. God made us, dead as we were, God made us alive in Christ. He did it by forgiving our sins, doing away with the laws, the “written code” that condemned us.

We are not talking about eating kosher or keeping the Sabbath here. We are talking God’s moral law, the Ten Commandments. Those are gone, too, through the baptism of Christ. Baptism connects us to the benefits of Christ’s death on the cross. Sin, like crime, incurs punishment. Jail time. Fines. Anybody who has gotten a parking ticket knows how that works. You have to pay the fine. Until that fine is paid, you are on the hook, you are guilty. The penalty is hanging over you. Think of a convicted tax cheat who has to go back to court for sentencing. He has that guilt hanging over him. While he may want to postpone the day he goes to prison, while he is still out it must be a horrible way to live, knowing that the axe is going to fall.

When Christ died on the cross, he did the time for us. He paid the punishment for our sins. Because the sentence, suffering the pangs of eternal hell, has already been met, there is no guilt hanging over our heads. We are as free. The axe will never fall.

It means life. We have a new attitude towards God. We do not fear him like a slave fears his master or a criminal on the run fears the police. We love God. We want to be near him. We tell him everything that’s going on in our lives in our prayers. If we have a need, without hesitation we lay our problem before him, expecting him to do something about it. Just this past week I got word from one of our 1st graders that he thought we had been praying for rain long enough and maybe Pastor Pieper should start praying that summer vacation gets here! See what I mean? I’m not going to stop praying for reasonable precipitation until after Easter, we need the snow out West so much.

It means life. We have a new attitude towards people. We look for ways we can help. We look for ways we can connect. Studies over the years have shown people of faith tend to live longer. Other studies have shown we are happier when we make connections with others and do it, not as a sporadic reward, but as a normal course of our daily lives. Can you think of an easier way to mingle with a lot of people on a regular basis than church? And then other studies have shown you can live up to four and a half years longer if you are an optimistic person. Green Valley Evangelical Lutheran Church means Green Valley Gospel Lutheran Church. We only use the Gospel to create, build up and nurture faith. The whole service is designed to leave you dancing, not trudging out a bunch of sad sacks. We want to connect with people and we are convinced church is one of the best places to do it.

Does Jesus have the power to change, not only the wind and the waves, does Jesus have power not only over the fish of the sea and the beasts of the field, does Jesus also have the power to change me? Getting human beings to have a change of heart is the hardest thing in the world to accomplish. To remind us that Jesus does have that power, Paul closes our text with the greatest display of Jesus’ raw power possible. When Jesus came back to life, the first thing he did was descend into hell, showing himself alive to the powers and authorities of darkness. Jesus held his own victory parade, in Jesus’ day it was called a triumph, Jesus triumphed over the devil and all the powers of darkness in hell itself, the capital city of the devil. Jesus showed there was forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. All humanity would not end up under the devil’s thumb.

If Jesus can defeat the forces of hell and triumph over them, he can give us the victory over our own demons. He can change us. Through baptism, we are connected to Christ. As he died to sin on the cross and rose to a new life on Easter Sunday, so in the baptism Christ commanded, our sinful human nature dies and a new us, a New Man, rises from the water to live before God in righteousness, innocence and blessedness both now and forever.

Focused on Christ

1. Through his baptism our sinful nature is put off.

2. Through his baptism we are made alive.

Whether we are single-minded when we get up in the morning or so scattered in our thoughts that we’ve started five different tasks before the coffee gets made, we all can live lives focused on Jesus with big accomplishments here on earth which have eternal consequences in heaven.

Stay focused!

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