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The Right Mind Set

Thomas J Parlette

“The Right Mind Set”

Colossians 3: 1-11

7/31/16

 

For the last 4 months, I’ve been going through withdrawal. It’s been tough. Sunday nights at 8:00, that is the toughest time of all. For you might remember that 4 months ago, back in March, Downton Abbey came to an end. My Sunday nights just aren’t the same anymore. I really enjoyed the upstairs/downstairs, Edwardian England atmosphere and the dry English humor. One of the best things about Downton Abbey was it’s attention to detail. The customs and the mannerisms, the etiquette and the costumes – everything was reproduced right down to the smallest detail. It was fascinating to see how much different life was in the early 20th Century.

Jim Carter, the actor who played the very proper butler on the show, Mr. Carson, once did an interview where he talked about how he felt wearing his Edwardian-era butler’s costume. He said:

“The costumes, whilst they’re uncomfortable to wear, do dictate how you should stand, how you behave. You can’t slouch; you can’t be relaxed in those costumes. And we have to remember at all times it was a very formal era; chair backs were not for your back to rest on, they were for servants to pull out. You never slumped; you are always at attention.”(1)

Clothes can dictate behavior, costumes can help you get into a character’s state of mind. I’ve had that experience as an actor myself. Years ago I was in a production of Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” – I played the part of Joe Gargery, the kind hearted blacksmith who takes Pip in when he was a small boy. During the rehearsal time, we spent a great deal of time mastering different English accents, so we could portray characters from the upper class and the lower class, the country and the city. My character, Joe, was a big, lumbering guy from the country, not very sophisticated, who worked with his hands for a living. So the director was always working on me to portray that in how I spoke, how I walked and how I carried myself.

One day, the director took me back to the prop and costume department and he gave me a pair of big work boots and a heavy blacksmith apron. He put a small sledge hammer in my hands and said, “This is how you would have walked around all day – with this heavy apron, carrying hammers and horseshoes and bits of hot metal. Let me see this weight every time you come out on stage.”

And it worked! That costume really helped me get in the right state of mind to play that character. Clothes can influence behavior.

That seems to be one of the points that Paul is making this morning to the Colossians. Living as a disciple of Christ is like changing into a new set of clothes. You get rid of the wardrobe of greed, impurity and evil desire, and change into a new set of clothes – “clothe yourselves with the new self, being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the Creator.” Clothes can influence behavior.

In our first scripture lesson for today, Jesus told a parable about a man who gets a bit greedy and tries to store up his grain, only to find that his life will be taken from him. The lesson? – our life does not consist in the abundance of possessions, instead, strive to be rich toward God.

Then, in our second lesson, Paul elaborates on this theme and applies Jesus’ parable to real life in Colossae. His advice is to set your mind on things that are above, not the things that are on earth. Or, as Eugene Peterson translates in The Message, “if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, be alert to what is going on around Christ – that’s where the action is. Get in the right mind set – see things from Christ’s perspective.

There was once a young minister, just a few years out of seminary, who went to a retired pastor in his congregation for a little advice.

“Last week I had someone come to my office and ask how he could have a closer walk with Christ. I suggested more time in prayer, read your bible more, come to church more often – but besides that, I didn’t know what else to say. What did you used to tell people?”

And the retired pastor got a twinkle in his eye and said, “Well, I used to tell them, “God forgave you already! Act like it!”(2)

That’s what Paul is saying here. Your old life is dead. Your new life, your real life is with Christ in God. So you have to get rid of all the things that don’t fit with your new life – sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, greed, doing whatever you feel like, whenever you feel like it and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God. You can’t do that anymore. There are rules. There are expectations. If you are serious about living this new resurrection life – then act like it.

There is an old story about Queen Elizabeth when she was still a princess. When she was a young girl she announced to her uncle, George the 5th, “I am a princess and I will do anything I like.”

And her uncle answered back, “Oh no my dear, it is precisely because you are who you are that you can never do anything you like.”(3)

When you are a princess, you have to act a certain way. There are rules.

So it is with Christians as well. We are called to live with our minds set on the things that are above. Just because we have been forgiven doesn’t mean we can just do whatever we want. We live life with a certain mind set. And Paul reminds us what that means.

It means get rid of the bad temper, the irritability, the meanness, the profanity and the dirty talk and the lies. That belongs to the old self. You’re done with that. Get rid of those old clothes and put on new clothes of honesty, compassion, kindness, humility and love. Let your new wardrobe put you in the right mind set.

Easy to say – but hard to do. Almost impossible to do on your own. That’s why we have the church. That’s why we have a Spirit led community that gathers in Jesus name. We really have a simple goal – try to live like Jesus taught us. On our own, we would give up – but together we find the support we need to get in the right mind set and stay there when the road gets tough.

The great misconception about church is that we come here because we feel great about ourselves and our lives are just wonderful and problem-free. Well, to be honest, I don’t know any Christians like that. We don’t come to church because we’re holy. We come to church because we’re not – and we’re trying to be better. We don’t come to church because we’re better than everybody else. We come to church because we’re not – and we’re trying to make ourselves, our community and our world just a little bit better.

There’s a deep truth to the saying, “We are known by the company we keep.” That is true. But it’s also true that we are shaped by the company that we keep.” We become like the people in our immediate communities. So if you are serious about living life in the right mind set, the Christ-like mind set- spent your time with a group of people that’s trying to do the same thing. And that is the Church.

Years ago, in a cartoon strip called Tumbleweeds, the captain of a fort in the old west sent his trusted scout to find out what was up with the Native-American tribe on the other side of the hill. After many days, the scout returned to give his report. “Captain, I have lived with the tribe, eaten their food, taken part in their ceremonies, and listened to what they say.”

“And… what do you have to say.”

“Get off our land.”(4)

We are shaped by the company that we keep. If we are serious about living with a Christ-like mind set – then we need to spend time with those trying to do the same thing. That is what church is for. Spirit-led communities who live with their minds set on the things that are above are really our best hope of changing our society for the better.

There is an old tale told of a time long ago and far away, when the elders of the land came to see the King with bad news. “Your Highness, we need your advice, we have a terrible problem. Except for a small portion, our food supply has gone bad – bad to the point that anyone eats it, they will go insane. We can all eat the contaminated food supply and all live, but go insane – or we can eat the small amount of good food, but we shall soon starve. Tell us, O King, what shall we do?”

Being a wise King, he thought for a moment and then replied. “We shall eat the contaminated food supply and live. But we shall reserve a few to eat only the uncontaminated food. They will be a special diet. They shall exist to remind the rest of us that we are insane.”(5)

So that is why the church exists. We put ourselves on a special diet of God’s word, setting our minds on things that are above, so that we can remind others that they are tipping towards insanity.

Follow Paul’s advice. Live your life in the right mind set, seeking the things that are above like humility, compassion, forgiveness and love. Live in the right mind set – a Christ-like mind set, and we just might make this world a better place.

May God be praised. Amen.

 

1.    Homiletics, Vol. 28, No. 4, pg. 45.

2.    Gary L. Carver, “Search For Serendipity” CSS Publishing Inc., 2003, pg. 311.

3.    Ibid… pg. 312.

4.    Ibid… pg. 317.

5.    Ibid… pg. 317.