Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “Keep Your Head Up!” based on Colossians 3:1-4 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Ascension Thursday, May 30, 2019
The first time preaching a sermon in Homiletics class is one of the most nerve wracking moments in a Seminary student’s experience. It’s not simply because preaching is hard and at that point in your life you’ve never done it before. It’s not simply because your professor is there getting ready to grade you and your classmates are there getting ready to critique you…sometimes quite mercilessly! What makes that first time preaching experience such a nerve wracking one is the fact that you are working completely without a safety net.
The first rule of preaching in class at the Seminary is that you are not allowed to have any sort of printed sermon manuscript with you in the pulpit. And so if there’s any distraction, if you lose your train of thought and forget what comes next, there’s no looking down to regain your place. And as you might imagine….things can go off the rails pretty quickly!
There’s a reason they do it that way, of course. They want to teach fellas not to read their sermons or to be looking down after every sentence to figure out where to go next. They want to teach the importance of maintaining eye contact.
We could’ve used any number of real life examples to illustrate the importance of keeping your head up. Developing basketball players are encouraged to not look at the ball when they are dribbling. By keeping their head up, they can see a double team of defenders approaching or spot teammate who is suddenly left wide open. Drivers, in the age of cell phone rings and text message dings, you know the importance of keeping your head up. Distracted driving is dangerous driving. Not keeping your head up could result in serious harm to yourself or others. If your head is down you might miss something really important.
Keeping your head up is all more important when it comes to spiritual matters. That’s what Paul says in our sermon text on this Ascension Day. In fact, he says it twice in these four short verses in a couple of different ways. Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Keep your head up…where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. This gets to the heart of what we’re celebrating tonight. Why have a special Ascension service? Because tonight we get to see Jesus as he really is. And where he really belongs. We all love the picture of Jesus welcoming the children because it shows a relatable Savior. But anyone with empathy and quick wit and love for people can be relatable. Ascension reminds us that we also have a royal Savior, who does things that no one else can do, namely ascending back to his position of power—sitting at the right hand of God. It’s good to have him on your side! Because every day stuff happens in this sick and sad and sinful world that just makes us hang our heads.
But there’s nothing that happens that makes Jesus go “Whoa. I’m stumped! I gotta be honest with you, I never saw this coming and I really don’t know what to do or how to answer.” Your parents might say that, your doctor might say that, your financial manager might say that, your preacher might say that. Jesus will never say that. Nothing leaves him at a loss for what to do. If you come here tonight feeling more like the nail than the hammer, feeling more like the bug than the windshield…if you come here tonight, wondering what God is doing in your life, keep your head up. Jesus has ascended and is seated at the right hand of God. Trust him.
Keep your head up….setting your mind on things above, not earthly things. This is something we can only do through the Holy Spirit’s powerful working in our hearts, changing our earthly mindset to a heavenly one. Because powerful forces draw our minds to earthly things—the requests in our ears, the responsibilities on our shoulders, the worries in our hearts, the temptations before our eyes. It’s pretty easy to lose sight of the big picture, why we’re here and where we’re headed. It’s pretty easy to think our entire existence is wrapped up in the now, because earthly things demand attention over heavenly things.
What does that look like in our lives? Maybe we lash out at people we love and say things we know are wrong, because our heads are in the anger of the moment and not on things above. We neglect God’s Word in our daily lives because our heads are preoccupied with the schedule of the moment and not on things above. We spend money on foolish things, because we think they will fill a void in our lives. We make poor choices with regard to sex, to eating and drinking, with regard to how hard we work or how much we don’t work. We scrutinize, we criticize, we despise and we tell lies about others because we think it will make us look good and feel good by comparison. God’s Word says “set your minds on things above—look at life from a child of God perspective. Don’t set your minds on earthly things.” But we do just the opposite.
Keep your head up, dear friends. I mean, literally, at least in some sense. For when you do, you will see the place where the hard drive that contained your sins got fired, and all its data was lost beyond recovery. Keep your head up and remember that the One who ascended far above the clouds did so with wounds in his hands and feet, trophies from the battle he fought against Satan on your behalf. Keep your head up each day and remember Jesus, who wears the champion’s crown.
That makes you a champion, too. Paul writes, “For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Do you remember when you died? Probably not. You might have been pretty small when you were baptized. But when you become a member of God’s family, the old you dies. From God’s perspective, your identity has become inexorably intertwined with Jesus’ identity. You are perfect. You are righteous. You are all the things that God wants you to be, because we he looks at you, he sees Jesus. Tragedies strike out of the blue and make us feel helpless. Family frustrations and worries about work make us want to hang our heads.
But keep your head up. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. You see, part of the reason I chose the words of our theme for today is because “keep your head up” is an idiom for “persevere, stick with it, don’t give up.” And you have reason to persevere, because your story with Jesus isn’t over. That’s what the angels said to the disciples on the mountaintop. “This Jesus will come back in the same way you’ve seen him go.” That head that looks up today will one day wear the crown of life in heaven.
Until that day, you may not wear a crown, but you can wear a smile. You may not always be happy, but you can always be joyful. For you have a Savior who has ascended to the right hand of the Father AND a Savior who promises “I am with you always to the very end of the age.” He can do both. He’s God after all. He gives you reason to hope, a reason to be joyful in all things. He gives you a reason to keep your head up. Amen.