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Dear Friends in Christ,
As Christians we all are citizens of two kingdoms. By birth we are citizens of the earth, and whatever country in which we were born. Depending on the country in which you were born, that citizenship may entitle you to more or less freedom. But, no matter how much freedom your earthly citizenship grants to you, one day it will come to an end. When you die, your earthly citizenship ends.
By virtue of our re-birth by water and the spirit we are also citizens of heaven. God has written our name in His book of life, the citizenship role of heaven. He has made us heirs with Jesus of all he has. Our heavenly citizenship never ends. In fact, we don’t get to enjoy it fully until we die, or Jesus returns in glory.
You can see why Paul encourages us to seek, to set our minds on the things that are above, not on earthly things.
This encouragement runs through the whole Bible. The Preacher drove home the point in Ecclesiastes. He says that if you set your mind on earthly things you will soon come to the conclusion that everything is meaningless. You will work hard all your life to accumulate as much stuff as you can. You may enjoy it for a while, but sooner or later you get old and you have to downsize and you don’t have room for all that stuff you worked so hard to get for yourself. You make out your will, and you decide who is going to get all the stuff you worked so hard for once you are gone. You might be happy to bless them with these things, but then, you might also think like the Preacher. Who knows whether he (your heir) will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun.
Jesus warned the man who wanted him to tell his brother to share his inheritance with him that he was setting his mind on earthly things. He said, watch out and be on guard against all greed, because a man’s life is not measured by how many possessions he has. And he illustrated the seriousness of his warning with the parable of the rich fool. He had set his mind on earthly things to the point that he completely ignored the things above. As a result, he was not ready for the day of his death. His barns full of grain didn’t grant him citizenship in heaven. His full barns stayed behind on earth and everything he had was divided among his heirs.
Set your minds on things above, on Jesus and the eternal life he has won for you, on the eternal mansion he is preparing for you. Set your minds on those things, not on earthly things.
Why? Because earthly things don’t last. How many cars have you owned in your life? They wear out. They don’t last. If they did last you would only ever need one. How many times have you had to paint, or put a new roof on your house? Earthly things don’t last, and you can’t take any of them with you when you die.
But, an even better answer to the question “why” is, because earthly things can distract you from what is really important. They can become a god, an idol. Luther defines what your god is as whatever you put your trust in and run to for help in time of need. The rich fool trusted that he could take it easy, eat, drink and be merry for many years because he had so much stored in his barns. Still today, we are tempted to think that if we have lots of money saved in our retirement funds, or the doctor says we are in good health, we don’t really have to think about God yet. We get distracted with the things of this earth. And that’s really dangerous because, as the rich fool found out, we never know how long we have to live on this earth. We need to live each day as if it were our last day on earth. We need to keep our minds focused on the things above, on Jesus who is sitting at the right hand of God; on the forgiveness he has won for us; on the mansion he is preparing for us.
This difficult for us because we can’t see the things that are above. We see all the earthly stuff every day. We see ad after ad, and commercial after commercial telling us how much we need to be focused on earthly things. But we can’t see Jesus, or the mansion he is preparing for us. That’s why we need to be in God’s word every day. It is through the word that we see Jesus and all the blessings he has for us. It is through the word that the Holy Spirit helps us fix our eyes, not on the seen, but on the unseen and realize that what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal. It is through the word that the Holy Spirit strengthens faith which is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we don’t see. When we find ourselves struggling to set our minds on things above we need to put down the ads and turn off the TV and spend some time in God’s word and prayer.
The most important reason to make sure we are setting our minds on things above and not on earthly things is so that we are ready for the day when God will say, tonight your soul is demanded from you. But Paul also points out that setting our minds on things above has a benefit for our lives here on earth as well.
Knowing, and being constantly reminded that in Christ you are a citizen of heaven, so that, when he comes again in glory you will be right there with him, moves you to live like a citizen of heaven already here on earth. It reminds you to put to death whatever is worldly in you: sexual immorality, uncleanness, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. It reminds you to rid yourselves of all of these: wrath, anger, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth. As you set your mind on things above you realize that such things are not fitting for God’s holy people, for citizens of Heaven.
When, because of what God has done for us in Jesus, we set our minds on things above, we learn to ask ourselves different questions than when our minds are focused on earthly things. Instead of asking, “What’s in it for me? What will I get out of this? How will this help me get more earthly stuff?” We ask ourselves, “What’s in this for God? What will God get out of this, will it bring him glory? How will this serve my neighbor? How might it help my neighbor see that Jesus is his savior too?”
As more and more people focus on earthly things; things like color and class, beauty, ability and health, the more divided the world becomes. How wonderful, that when we set our minds on things above we realize that there is no Greek or Jew, circumcision or uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free in Jesus. We are all sons of God through faith in Jesus. In him we are all equally sinners and all equally saved. The Lord doesn’t look at the outward appearance, he looks at the heart. And if we are focused on things above we won’t be bothered by people’s outward appearance, their color, their language, their ability or disability. We aren’t God. We can’t look at the heart, but if they confess that Jesus is their savior from sin and that they are looking forward to living with him in heaven because of what he has done for them, we rejoice and call them brother or sister.
If you followed the Synod convention at all this week you probably noticed an international flavor. A representative from our sister church in Germany was there. And we were blessed to declare fellowship with churches in Ethiopia, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia, all who had representatives in attendance. Later this month I hope to be able to attend the dedication of the church building of Grace Hmong Lutheran in Kansas City. What a wonderful witness it is to the world that in Christ there is no Greek or Jew, no black or white or Asian or Hispanic; that we can all stand together and worship together because we are all citizens of heaven through faith in Jesus.
By birth you are a citizen of earth. But don’t set you mind on earthly things. They don’t last. One day you will leave them all behind for someone else. Through your baptism you were united with Jesus in his death and resurrection. You were reborn as a citizen of heaven. Set your mind on the things above, on Jesus and the mansion he is preparing for you. Your heavenly citizenship is the one that counts. It lasts for all eternity.