Summary: Out of grace and mercy and great kindness, God gathers our burning, blazing life; he glorifies it for the sake of Jesus Christ; he builds it up new and good in that hidden world where the line of death that separates us from God has been taken away.
(Read Colossians 3:1-4.)
Dear congregation, it is as if our whole life were carried, raised up, and protected in these words. Say what you will against this “Seek the things that are above.” You may suspect that those who are constantly seeking things above may lose contact with the ground under their feet. “If he reaches up and raises his head to touch the stars, then his unsure feet will have no foothold, and he will be the plaything of clouds and wind.” No matter how the individual feels about it, human society suspects with good reason that people with their heads in the clouds like that might be useless extra mouths to feed, instead of using burning hearts and a strong arm to create order and progress here on earth; that they would dream of a better afterlife and would be unfit for the great revolutionary action that each generation must take, smashing old tablets and setting up new and better ones. Because of sentences like this, “Set your mind on things that are above and not on things that are on the earth,” Christians are being stood up against the wall and shot. Because of sentences like this, Christianity is accused of betraying the earth. “Stay true to the earth”; set your mind on things that are on earth. For countless people that is a holy cause—and we understand their zeal. We understand the jealousy with which they want to bind the planning and work and efforts of human beings to this earth. For we are bound to this earth. It is the place where we stand and fall. An accounting is demanded for what happens on earth. And woe to us Christians if we should fail there; if at the end of all things, it should have to be said of unbelievers: Well done, good and trustworthy slave, you have been trustworthy in a few things; I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master; because they were faithful in an earthly way in the earthly tasks that were given them, because they had invested the talents that were entrusted to them, while it would have to be said of us Christians: As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, because we had buried our talent in the ground—for all our setting our minds on things that are above. [See Matthew 25:14–30.]
The Russian film The Road to Life probably made a shocking impression on many people. There you saw how whole bands of neglected, criminal boys and young men were gathered by a superior leader and through voluntary and orderly work were changed from vagabonds into human beings. And the shocking part of it was this: the building where this working group was living was a cloister church. The clergy had been driven out; worship services and prayer had come to an end. But now a new era and a great earthly goal flooded through these rooms: to lead people out of earthly night and into earthly light. Set your mind on things that are on earth!
Today, immensely important things will be decided by whether we Christians have strength enough to show the world that we are not dreamers and are not those who walk with their heads in the clouds, that we don’t just let things come and go as they are, that our faith is really not the opium that lets us stay content in the midst of an unjust world, but that we, especially because we set our minds on things that are above, only protest all the more tenaciously and resolutely on this earth. Protest with words and action, in order to lead the way forward at any price. Must it be that Christianity, which began in such a tremendously revolutionary way long ago, is now conservative for all time? That each new movement must forge a path for itself without the church, that time after time the church does not see what has actually happened until twenty years after the fact?
If that really is the way it must be, we should not be surprised if for our church, too, times will come again when the blood of martyrs will be required. But this blood, if we really still have the courage and honor and faithfulness to shed it, will not be as innocent and untarnished as that of the first witnesses. On our blood would lie great guilt of our own: the guilt of the worthless slave, who is thrown into the outer darkness.
And yet, however grave the danger that lies in these words—“Seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God”—the danger that we could misunderstand it, the danger that we might become useless servants, the danger that people accuse us of betraying the earth, we feel nevertheless that in these words our life is carried, raised up, and protected, that only in these words our life acquires a meaning that it would not have at all, however much we were faithful to the earth, however eager for action we were, and with however holy an urge to improve the world we would storm ahead. There may be innumerable things that are urgent and necessary, but there is only one thing that is needed: just this, that our whole life be protected by God. And just that, for which we human beings did not even dare to ask from afar, is simply assured to us: You have been raised with Christ, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.