Be so heavenly minded you are of earthy use
A sermon on Hosea 11:1-11, Luke as:13-21, Col 3:1-11 by Jill Friebel 5 August 2007
 
Message
Put your deepest longings and desires in the risen transcendent Christ, in whom everything got started and through whom all things on earth and in heaven are reconciled to God.  Allow your longings and desires to set the sails and direction of your daily life.  
 
Sermon
 
What do you really want?   What was it like for you to let yourself listen to your hearts deepest longings and desires?  Were you surprised by the things that you wrote down or thought about and if so why did they surprise you?  Did you find yourself being self-conscious or judging your desires?  Is this something you think about much?   This could be the first time you have consciously focussed on these questions in prayer and maybe it is too strange to contemplate and then allow yourself to respond freely.
 
If we don’t do this often we will find ourselves constantly caught up from one day to the next wishing it were better and just managing to get through.  Much of the time we will find ourselves reacting to life situations and circumstances, it is like life runs me rather than me living my life.  I never quite get on top, and my choices are limited by the events and circumstances.  My deep longings go unattended except perhaps for an unexplained ache deep within which surfaces from time to time.   Which can send me off into more action or addiction to ignore the pain because it isn’t comfortable.  
 
 
We all have deep desires and hopes and dreams, and they change during our lifetime.  I read a children’s book once which just had one line on each page that went through a person’s life span from birth to death with about 8 pages.  Each page the child grew wishing to be bigger, then to have more, then to leave school, then to get a career, then find a partner, then get a house, the have a child, then want the child to grow up, then be retired and then……it’s all over.  
 
Jesus told the parable in our reading tonight about the man who had his sights on getting more wealth and being comfortable.  He was looking forward to retiring and never having to work again but settling back to live the good life.   And God said to him, ‘You mindless twit! Your number’s up. Tonight you’ll kick the bucket, and what will you be remembered for? Nothing but a stockpile of goodies heading for the tax office!’
 
But I would imagine it was unlikely that you were drawn to these sorts of things in the silence.  The fact that you are here says something about your what you want and what you might long for.  God invites us to share our yearnings, longings and desires.  Not because God needs to be told, but so we become aware of what we live unknowingly. It is one of the most helpful and growth-enhancing things we can do.  It can also be disconcerting to discover that we don’t know what we want or find that we don’t want something badly enough to make the choices it would require.  As each thing we think we want emerges, it takes some time to test out whether we really do want it or not.  This interior sorting through requires listening to ourselves at deeper levels than many of us are accustomed.  It takes places only in and through our concrete interaction with God.  We often need the help of someone to guide us through these desires, to sort out the illusions and whether we really want what we say we do.  
 
We have also got good reasons for refusing to entertain our desires.  It excuses us from moving toward them.  We can unknowingly set up strong complex resistances to the things we long for which blocks us from conversion and growth towards God.  I found a parable that describes this rather well.  
 
There was a woman who wanted peace in the world and peace in her heart and all sorts of good things, but she was very frustrated.  The world seemed to be falling apart.  She would read the papers and get depressed.  One day she decided to go shopping, and she went into a mall and picked a store at random. She walked in and was surprised to see Jesus behind the counter.  She knew it was Jesus, because he looked just like the pictures she’d seen on holy cards and devotional pictures.  She looked again and again at him, and finally she got up her nerve and asked,  “Excuse me, are you Jesus?”  “I am.”  “Do you work here?” “No,” Jesus said, “I own the store.”  “Oh, what do you sell in here?”  “Oh, just about anything!”  “Anything?”  “Yeah, anything you want.  What do you want?”  She said,  “I don’t know.”  “Well,” Jesus said, “feel free, walk up and down the aisles, make a list, see what it is that you want, and then come back and we’ll see what we can do for you.”
 
She did just that, walked up and down the aisles.  There was peace on earth, no more war, no hunger or poverty, peace in families, no more drugs, harmony, clean air, careful use of resources.  She wrote furiously.  By the time she got back to the counter, she had a long list.  Jesus took the list, skimmed through it, looked up at her and smiled.  “No problem.” And then he bent down behind the counter and picked out all sorts of things, stood up, and laid out the packets.  She asked, “What are these?”  Jesus replied, “Seed packets.  This is a catalog store.”  She said, “You mean I don’t get the finished product?”  “No, this is a place of dreams.  You come and see what it looks like, and I give you the seeds.  You plant the seeds.  You go home and nurture them and help then grow and someone else reaps the benefits.” “Oh,” she said.  And she left the store without buying anything.1
 
The Colossians reading tonight from the NRSV version says “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth..”   We heard Nathan’s paraphrase which goes like this,
........If you are fair dinkum when you say you have been raised to new life with Christ, then commit yourself to the things that belong to such a life. Look to Christ — God’s right hand man — and take your cues from him. Concentrate on the things that matter to Christ, and don’t let yourselves get hooked into the agendas that preoccupy the world around you.”
 
Setting your mind and heart and soul – that is your desires and longings - on things that are above does not mean a personal individualistic faith that opts out of life here and now while waiting to get to heaven.  Heavenly mindedness is not to be understood as a form of absentmindedness about ordinary life or social and economic conditions.  Having a heavenly reference point is, instead, the very thing that compels believers towards action within our social situation to pursue justice and fairness for others and ourselves.  
 
In attempting to do justice to living in the here and now our prayers for ourselves and each other can remain at the level of immediate physical needs or specific direction in life or problems of relationships.  Sometimes this may be because we wait to pray for others until they have a problem that requires attention or because we have a view of God in which God’s primary role is to “fix” things for us.  It reveals our unconscious preoccupation with measurable reality and masks doubts about the reality of such dimensions to life as growth in the knowledge of God, spiritual wisdom, or divine empowering for patient and joyful endurance.  
 
Our Hosea reading depicts God’s anguish in the face of people’s inclination to idolatry.  In the end, the divine anger and wrath, though deserved by humans, will not be executed.  They are real, but they do not have the last word, because God’s kindness and love prevails.  
 
Israel, O Israel; I can’t give up hope;
........I can’t walk away and abandon you to your fate.
I can’t bring myself to treat you as you deserve;
........to wipe you out like Sodom and Gomorrah.
My gut knots up just thinking about it;
........my heart melts and warm tears flow.
 
So I will not let my anger explode;
........I will not destroy you, Israel.
If I were just a human being, I would have snapped,
........but I am God, the one and only;
................I am among you, but not in rage.
 
There is a serious warning to us in Colossians also, “Look at what you used to be like, the things you have done in your self centeredness, the havoc you have wreaked  – the long list goes on and on.”   But it comes clear that the God of judgment is also a gracious giver.  Jesus has brought us back from separation and alienation and reconciled us to God.   And given us new resources of life and power through Christ’s resurrection.  We don’t have to save ourselves nor can we save others, we can only long to know this Christ more and live deeply into his love and great kindness and grace.  
 
The imagery in Hosea is potently beautiful.  A God longing so much for us that his/her gut knots up just thinking about giving us up and abandoning us, and treating us as we deserve.  God’s heart melts and warm tears flow.  Jesus’ tears flowed in the garden, fully knowing that this was the only way – the way of suffering and obedience.  God’s abandonment and humiliation invites us to abandon our stinginess of love and reservations and control to look like we are OK or cool.  We are paralysed by our fears of looking foolish to others of being misunderstood and not pleasing them, we are paralysed from abandoning ourselves into loving and being loved just the way Christ loves us.  
 
Are these where your longings and desires are?  Are they strong enough to change the way you think, and act?  Is your gut tied up in knots longing for something better, so much that you act on it?  Soon we will be celebrating a feast that you are invited to, not because you deserve it, nobody does, but because you are invited by God.  There is not one person born who is excluded and you don’t have to change first, you just have to come.  Jesus has become the broken bread of life.  Come, eat, receive life and love into your being and let it transform you.  You are already reconciled, made free to be the person that God created you to be.  You are loved and set free.  You just have to live into it.
 
 
 
 
 
 
1 Megan McKenna Parables: The Arrows of God  (Maryknowll, N.Y. Orbis Press, 1994), 28-29