Sermon: The View From Above
Scripture: Colossians 3: 1-5, 12
Date: October 21, 2018
One of the great contradictions of my life is that I am very respectful of heights (ok I am a little fearful of heights) but yet I love to view things from high above. That’s why I love the mountains. I love to climb as high as I can and then view the valleys below. But it always seems that no matter how high I go, there is always a higher vantage point from which the view will be even more spectacular. I guess that’s the attraction of climbing the tall mountains. In Colorado the tallest peaks are 14,000 feet, which are 5000 feet higher then I would normally go. I can only imagine what it must be like to climb one of those. But even those are dwarfed by Mt. Everest which is 29,029. What must you be able to see from that altitude of the earth below. They call it the top of the world. But as tall as Mt. Everest is, the truth is that most of us have been even higher. I read that commercial jets often fly at an altitude between 40,000 to 45,000 feet. I love to sit by the window when I fly because I think it is so neat to look down on the earth below. It gives a whole new perspective on our beautiful planet. And, of course, those who have gone into space go much higher than that. The International Space Station orbits the earth at an altitude of One million 400,000 feet. Here’s a picture of earth from that height. (show picture 1) Neil Armstrong was the first human to set foot on the moon and this is what he saw when he looked back towards the earth. (show picture 2) On February 14, 1990 the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which was launched in 1977 took this picture of earth (show picture 3) from 3.7 billion miles away which shows the earth as just a speck in the midst of the solar system – the famous blue dot about which the late astronomer Carl Sagan said this: That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there.
You see, there is, I think, the desire in the heart of most of us to reach higher and higher in our life.
I know that in my life this quest for viewing things from a higher perspective has played out in many ways, in addition to loving the mountains and seeking the highest possible vantage point to view the earth.
One writer in commenting on Paul’s words says this: There’s something inside of us that needs to climb to the top and get the view from above. When we were children, we’d climb trees and build tree houses for ourselves up in the branches and spy down on the world below. When we were older we’d climb to the top of a sky scraper and gaze upon a vast city below. What’s inside of us that makes us want a view from above? Psychologists say there’s a sense of power that comes when we stand above the world. But there’s another reason we like the view from above. It’s a sense of perspective. When you look out the window of an airplane you see how things fit together, how the hills and valleys interlock, how the fields form a mosaic, the towns look like they have it altogether. These questions are all about the perspective from which we view our life. And for the Christian there is this awareness of no matter how high we might climb, that God is calling us ever higher. To ascend with Him into Heaven and view our life, indeed live our life, not from the perspective of earth, but rather in the image of Heaven. When we choose to follow Christ, it changes our whole perspective as we are called to ascend with Him into the Heavenly realms. Humans were made to soar with Christ. The prophet Isaiah caught the desire of humanities heart to soar ever higher when he wrote: Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength and will soar on wings like eagles. You see, you and I were created to soar to the Heavens, but so much in this life, keeps us grounded. That’s what Paul has in mind, when he is writing to the Colossians. He says, when you became followers of Christ you took on a new vantage point by which to view the world. You ascended to the heights of Heaven but yet you continue to view your lives from a worldly perspective. Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.
Last week, we started this Wesley challenge by examining the first seven questions which we said, at their core, speak to whether Jesus is real to you and me and if so, what makes Him real to us. And the answer we said, is in what we can see happening. The lame walk, the blind see, the sick are healed, the unloved are loved. In other words, if we are to see the Messiah in Jesus, we must see Him from a different perspective. We must view Him from above. A Heavenly perspective rather than an earthly one. Where He will lead us to cast off the chains that bind us to earth, rather than the chains that bind us on earth. You see, in a sense, I think this second set of Wesley’s questions, are focusing on the chains that bind us to this earth and keep us from defying gravity and soaring to a heavenly perspective. Whereas, the first questions, ask us to consider whether Jesus is real to us, this second set of questions is asking: Are we real? Are we real when viewed from above? Are we real to Jesus, or are we seeking authenticity in the things and ways of the world? Wesley’s questions encourage us I think to step away from life as defined by the world and embrace life that can only be viewed from above, which is often just the opposite of what the world values.
Paul says to the Colossians that they should set their minds on a heavenly perspective rather than live in a worldly one. And so rather than live a life of immorality, impurity, lust, evil and greed – all of which amount to idol worship, this week’s questions challenge us to rise above the worldly perspective from which most of us view our lives and look at life with a view from above, to view our lives as God does.
So first Wesley asks:
Am I proud? Pride comes when we are viewing our life from an earthly perspective and so we take pride in our accomplishments in the world. In commenting on the picture taken by Voyager of earth (show picture 3 again) as just a blue dot in the vastness of the solar system in a universe which is made up of many solar systems, Carl Sagan went on to say: There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. The point is that our accomplishments which often serve as the source of our pride when viewed from above are miniscule in comparison with the vastness of God’s creation. When we take pride in our earthly accomplishments, we are settling for so much less than what God created us for. When viewed from above, our prideful selves are transformed into humility. The view from above makes us humble. Chris Folmsbee writes that: Pride is a symptom that your perspective is too close to the earth. And in addition to pride being too focused on the things of the world, rather than being viewed from above, it is too focused on self rather than others. In fact scripture makes a clear distinction between pride that focuses on others and pride that is focused on self. Several times in his writings, the apostle Paul writes that he is proud of those to whom he is writing. It is often his way of commending persons for their faithfulness and encouraging them on in the faith. But scripture is also quick to condemn self pride. The Psalmist famously writes that pride goes before a fall. In contrast to what Paul says about pride in others, he writes to the Galatians: If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. If we are proud of ourselves, I would suggest that we may need to look at our life from a different perspective. Because the actions that we take pride in, while they may seem like a big deal on earth, when placed in the context of all creation and viewed from above are just a small blip on a tiny blue dot. Peter writes this: All of you, clothe yourselves with humility, toward one another, because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” In his writings John Wesley often equated pride with other worldly obsessions. In his journal he wrote: The wicked will gnaw their tongues for anguish and pain; they will curse God . . . the dogs of hell, pride, malice, revenge, rage, horror, despair, continually devour them.
And in one of his prayers he wrote this: Purge me from every sinful blot; My idols all be cast aside: Cleanse me from every evil thought, From all the filth of self and pride.
This first question is really am I proud of my life when viewed from a worldly perspective or is God proud of the way I’m living my life when viewed from above?Paul says that for that to happen then we must live lives of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and grace. So the question becomes: Is that what our lives look like when viewed from above?
And then Wesley asked: Am I defeated in any part of life? I think the way that Wesley phrases some of these questions really point to what he thinks the ultimate answer ought to be. Here he does not ask if we are feeling defeated by life, but rather if we are feeling defeated in some part of our life. So why is that distinction important? I think it is because too often we let defeats in one part of our life make us think that we are overall losers. We fall into the trap of believing that if we fail in one thing, we are a failure in all things. And so we often let our defeats and failures, which come to us all in this world from time to time, impose upon us the sense that God has abandoned us. But the truth is that what the world judges as defeat and failure, when viewed from above can become a great victory. Consider the image of Christ on the Cross. When the crucifixion is viewed from an earthly perspective, what we see is death and failure. But when it is viewed from above it becomes a victory of life over death. Love over hate. Forgiveness over sin. Grace over condemnation. When viewed from above our defeats become victories. I love the story of Nicodemus. Remember Nicodemus was a member of the Pharisees who were leaders in the opposition to Jesus among the Jews. But Nicodemus was drawn to Jesus and so he came to Jesus unseen- seeking confirmation that Jesus was indeed of God. And Jesus tells Nicodemus that if he truly wants to understand, he must change his perspective. He must be born again. But born again is more of the Christian interpretation of Jesus’s words here. Because the words that we translate as “born again” also mean in the Greek: “born from above.” You see, Nicodemus was too concerned about what his life would look like from an earthly perspective so he came to Jesus in the dark. But I think Jesus was saying to truly understand and follow me, you must be concerned with how you are viewed from above. Change your perspective, Nicodemus. Be born from above. Because what the world sees in us, our defeats as well as our triumphs, don’t look the same when we are viewed from above.
And then Wesley asked: Do I go to bed on time and get up on time? What an oddly random question this one is. After all, what do my sleep habits have to do with my faith. Well in scripture, our sleep habits often mirror our spiritual disciplines. The Psalmist finds assurance in the fact “that the one who watches over Israel will not fall asleep.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asks the Disciples to pray with Him, but instead they fall asleep and Jesus makes an impassioned plea: “can no one stay awake with me.” So for Wesley, this question has all to do with discipline and spiritual habits. Wesley led a very disciplined, methodical life and believed that was necessary for salvation. And so this question is really about living a disciplined life in which our Spiritual practices are viewed from above. Wesley believed that the disciplined life was essential to a Godly life. Remember the writer of Ecclesiastes spoke of this when he said: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity on earth when viewed from heaven above. This is a question about the Spiritual Discipline by which we live our lives. I think he could have asked other questions like: When do you fast? When do you read the scripture? When do you visit the sick? When do you celebrate the Lord’s Supper? When do you engage in worship? For Wesley, a lack of discipline in life, led to idleness, and idleness led to sin. But when we fill up our lives with spiritual disciplines we are living life with a view from above rather than the often idle perspective of life on earth. I think that question twelve: Am I A Slave to Dress Friends, Work or Habits? and question 13: How do I spend my spare time? are really very similar to this one? I think at their core these questions are asking, am I living my life in order to look good and productive from the perspective of the world or am I viewing my life from above? Look again what Paul says to the Colossians: Set your hearts and minds on the things above since you have taken off your old self with it’s worldly practices and have put on the new self which is being renewed in the image of the Creator. Have you taken off your old self and been born from above?
And then finally, Wesley asks two questions about the danger of becoming self absorbed when we view our lives from the perspective of the world rather than viewing our life from above. They are: Do I grumble or complain constantly? and Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying? When we view our lives from a worldly perspective, there will inevitably be times when things don’t go our way. All of us grumble at times don’t we. About our jobs. Or school. Or church. Or our family. Or our spouse. Because when viewed from an earthly perspective, things and people will inevitably disappoint us. Because they are not to our liking. They don’t go as we think they should. It seems to me that Wesley was getting at two basic truths with these questions. First was that when we view our lives from a worldly perspective we are likely to sometimes be discontent, even disappointed with our lives in this world. Because there is much that goes wrong with our circumstances in this worldly life. We have troubled job situations. Troubled relationships. Health problems. And on and on. Let’s face it – there are many things that happen in this world that cause us to grumble and complain. And indulge in self pity. But the second truth is that when we view our life from above, all of those reasons for grumbling are viewed from a new perspective and we like Paul count them all as Joy. And to the Philippians Paul writes: I rejoice greatly because I have learned to be content whatever the worldly circumstances because I know that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. So rid yourself of the concerns of the world and embrace whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praise worthy. View your life from the perspective of God and His peace will be with you always.
Just as the earth looks very different when viewed from above, so do our work places, and homes, and church, and friends and family look altogether different when they are viewed from above. Think about the things that you have been grumbling about recently. Have you been looking at those things through earthly eyes or through God’s eyes? Do you need to be born from above?
You see, in the end, these questions challenge us to examine our own lives and decide – are we going to live our life from the perspective of the world or are we going to embrace the view from above? Do you know the highest vantage point from which to view life. It’s not from a mountainside, even Mt. Everest, or an airplane or from billions of miles in space. It is here at his altar as we exchange our earthly perspective for a heavenly one. As we take on the eyes of Christ.