2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,
They are unusual words for a religious tradition profoundly tied to the earthly fabric of life. Genesis 1 declares that the world around us is not infused with divine powers and spirits, but is the good creation of God. The lights in the sky are but lights – the author choosing to call them simply the greater light and the lesser light because the words for sun and moon were the names of deities. The heavenly host of the night sky are but lamps, not divine beings or powers.
The blessing upon the first humans is to be fruitful and multiply. Eden was a garden of delights. The loss of Eden meant the sorrows of labor in the fields and labor in childbirth, not the dangers of hell. The promise to Abraham is not heaven, but a son and descendants and land. Salvation meant every man under his own fig tree – the ancient equivalent of a chicken in every pot. Deliverance from slavery, manna from heaven, water from the rock, promised land, care of the poor, love of neighbor: the focus of scripture is on this life. Life is to be lived. God is a God who cherishes creation.
And the crown of it all is the incarnation – God ennobles all flesh by taking flesh upon himself.
So what does Paul mean when he calls us to “set your minds on things that are above”?
We have all heard the joke in the phrase that someone is so heavenly minded they are of no earthly good – and understand the truth of it. Some are so focused on the life to come they miss the life that has been given.
But the scripture can’t talk about the life to come except in terms of this life – this life redeemed to be sure, but this life: lions lying down with lambs and a great banquet full of rich foods. Even the New Jerusalem is a city fed from the tree of life that bears fruit every month. The risen Jesus eats bread and fish with the disciples, cooking breakfast on an open fire. We confess the resurrection of the body not the eternal bliss of a disembodied soul.
The scriptures live in this world and for this world. They foresee the healing, the redemption of this world – bringing all things under Christ – and they live that healing now. We live now in the forgiveness that awaits us. We live now in the Spirit that will govern every heart. We break now the bread of the eternal feast.
So we forgive as we have been forgiven, and we share our bread with the hungry. We live the love that reigns even now in heaven and shall reign on earth. We live the grace and life that reigns already above and has dawned among us in Christ.
To “set your mind on things above” means to live in this world now governed by the Spirit – not driven by selfish desires. It is to live the generosity, compassion, reconciliation, joy, and peace born of God, not the bitterness and division born of our conflicting wants and resentments.
To set our minds on the things above is to dance the dance of light and life and sing the song that has no end even now.
… And thus it means not to imagine that life consists in the abundance of possessions.