Saturday, October 24, 2020

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 - Giving of Ourselves

 

Last week, in chapter one, we learned the faith of the Christians in the Thessalonian Church was a witness to not only others within the city of Thessalonica, but in the entire region around them. The truth of the gospel was lived out in their lives, and the words of Jesus’ truth was heard and accepted by many because of the holy witness these Christians bore with them. Because of this, Paul can speak with assurance when he says the gospel he sowed in Thessalonica did not come up hollow or empty, but was fruitful and made full in them and through them.

Throughout this passage Paul speaks to the people of the Thessalonian Church explaining to them not only is the work of the gospel not void or empty of purpose, he then goes on explaining how he came to them. What he did as he lived his life among them and the way in which we brought the gospel to them. Although it is believed Paul writes these words as a way of defending himself against people, who are lost to us due to the distance of time, but who would have been well known to these those to whom he wrote. The influence of those, whom we believe were working to discredit Paul, were enough of a disturbance that Paul felt he needed to remind the Thessalonian Christians how he brought the gospel to them and the methods and the means he employed or did not employ, which allowed them to hear and receive the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  

As Christians, like Paul, we are all entrusted with the message of the gospel, to bear it with us where ever we go. To further the kingdom and bear witness to the love, grace and forgiveness found in Jesus Christ to those within our influence; our friends, our family, our neighbors, the people with whom we interact on a regular basis. This is the calling of each and every Christian. We are called to share the love given to us, the truth we know and to live lives which speak of Christ’s love, forgiveness and salvation in all we do, as well as sharing the truth of the gospel with our words.

Although it would be easy to set Paul’s words aside, believing they are perhaps only for those who are called specifically to the work of an evangelist, or perhaps they are directed more toward, our missionaries, our denominational leaders, and our preachers, than to the average Christian worshiping a pew or joining us online this morning, this in truth would not be the right thing to do. These words Paul used to bring the truth of the gospel, the salvation of Jesus Christ to the people of Thessalonica about the means and methods he use when he brought the Gospel to Thessalonica can teach us about how we too can be faithful witnesses to the truth of Jesus Christ to those we encounter in our own lives.

Paul begins by explaining he came to them with courage. As much as we can all accept bearing witness to the truth of the love, grace, forgiveness and salvation of Jesus Christ is the calling and the role of every Christian, it does not come easy to any of us. Sharing our faith is scary, especially when it seems so many in our world are loath to hear it. For so many reasons, many around us are often antagonistic to hearing the truth of the Gospel. Perhaps in the past you attempted to share the gospel.  Perhaps it did not go well, your efforts were rejected, you were hurt by that rejection, it stung or the harsh words spoken to you bore down deep into your soul like a parasite sapping you of the boldness you once had.

Paul is no stranger to rejection, violent rejection at that. Paul was chased out of one town, had to be smuggled out of another town in a basket, was imprisoned and would ultimately die, all for sharing the gospel with anyone and everyone who would listen.  Paul is well aware, sharing the gospel takes courage, especially after you have been hurt and rejected for doing so. Yet, Paul reminds us, even after all that he had endured prior to coming to Thessalonica, he declared to them the truth of the gospel with courage and boldness anyway.  

The Courage and the boldness Paul had, did not come from within himself, for if it was his own strength and power with which he bore witness, it would be nothing, but he relied on the courage afforded him by Jesus Christ. Whenever we find ourselves immersed in the fear which can come upon us when we think about sharing our faith, we can rely Jesus Christ to give us the strength, the boldness and the courage we need, just as Paul had to each time he bore witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  

Secondly Paul tells us he did not share the gospel with impure motives. He did not employ any means of trickery. When I was younger trickery was actually a method of drawing people into the Church. I cannot remember exactly how it was used but the phrase I remember was that we were “to bring them to Jesus either by hook or by crook.” The person went on to explain a sort of bait and switch program to bring people to the church and hopefully get them saved. It was a “the ends justify the means” sort of plan, where as long as they come to Jesus it did not matter what methods we employed.

By proclaiming this was not a method he used when he brought the truth of the gospel to them, we can conclude that trickery of any kind is not a proper way to draw people into faith in Jesus Christ. It may seem obvious to say, but I will say it anyway, the manner and the methods we employ when sharing the gospel cannot be themselves be un-Christ-like.

Jesus Christ never attempted to trick or fool people. Those we the methods of those who were seeking to work against Jesus, never the methods of our Savior. If Paul’s words are not enough to discourage us from any kind of “crook” method of bearing witness to the love of Jesus Christ, the ways Jesus himself taught should be the example. Bringing people to Christ using any means which are in themselves dishonest, is not to be used by people who are seeking to follow the model of Jesus Christ.

 Paul did not come to them with trickery, nor did he come with words of flattery. He did not come seeking to sway them with honey speech that was sugar and sweetness and held no substance. He gave them the truth of the gospel plain and simple, nothing more, nothing less and most especially he did not sugar coat it to make it more palatable. It is the difference between a hearty healthy breakfast and a sugary sweet one. When I think of the difference, I think of the “farmer’s breakfast” Mike makes for worship brunch (Oh worship brunch . . .when will it ever be safe for us to do something that like again?), you know the dish, eggs, and bacon, and cheese, and potatoes and peppers. It is so good (it is my mama’s dish btw). That is a good breakfast!

Then you have donuts. We recently went apple picking and bought apple cider donuts, now apple cider with apple cider donuts is an enjoyable breakfast. Who does not love apple cider donuts? But it is not hearty, nor is it in any way shape or form healthy. The way I see it is you can have apple cider donuts for breakfast, or you can Farmer’s Breakfast. One is all sugary sweet and full of calories, the other is full of protiens and nutrients and all sorts of things (now we can argue over the healthiness of the cheese and the bacon, but I think you get my meaning). When we come with the gospel we need to give people the hearty, warm, healthy meal, not the donut.

Whenever Paul preached the gospel there was only One whom he was attempting to please. He preached, he taught, he gave witness and shared the truth of the gospel to gain the praise of God and God alone. He did not bring the gospel to them in hope of earning the praise of others. He was not hoping to please any human being when he shared the gospel, not his parents, not his fellow apostles or others who were teaching and preaching alongside of him. He was definitely not seeking to gain the praise or adoration of the local leaders, in the city or the synagogue, and most especially not the praise of the governing bodies of world around him. They were after all what would eventually put him to death. Giving witness to the love of Jesus Christ cannot be done to gain the approval or praise of others.  

Finally, Paul lets us know that did he come for any selfish reasons such as greed, hoping of gaining support from them so that he may profit. I would hope that none of us would ever resort to sharing the gospel for selfish gain. On the surface of it actually sounds kind of ridiculous. I mean, I know I am not getting rich doing this. And I am sure it has never occurred to any of you that bearing witness to the truth of the gospel would result in any kind of profit for you, but unfortunately the world is full of people we can point to who have used the sharing of the gospel and the truth of Jesus Christ to benefit themselves, either fulfilling their lust for power or lining their pockets with the donations of devote people who trust them.

Now that we know exactly what Paul did not do when he bore witness to the truth of Jesus Christ, he explains to us the manner in which he did come. He came to them with gentleness, like a nursing mother tending to her children, with deep care and concern. As a mother myself, this metaphor, which Paul uses here resonates with me.

I can think of very few moments that the mere memory of invokes more tender care, more gentleness and deep concern as the memory of nursing my own daughters. Nothing is more tender, more honest, more sincere than the love and care felt between a mother and a child in the deeply intimate, vital and inherently life giving act of nursing.

The way we bear witness to the gospel to others should be like that! When a mother feeds a child in this way she is literally giving of herself to that child to nourish them and sustain them. Our giving, our sharing of the gospel should be that kind of self-giving, (self-emptying dare I say) love, done out of tenderness, out of deep care.

Sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ is an act of investment in the life and well-being of the one with whom we are sharing. It is an act of intimacy that is best when done with one with whom we are in relationship. The kindness and the deep concern for the other comes from knowing the other, from being in a mutual relationship of trust, where the act of sharing the gospel comes naturally out of the relationship. Bringing the gospel to one with whom we are in relationship will then, not be done selfishly, or with trickery or even words of flattery, but will be done with sincere concern and love for the other.

Build relationship, real relationship with others, enter into life with them, care about the things they care about. Laugh with them, celebrate with them, sorrow with them, bear their burdens. Walk with them and as you do so, live so that they see Christ in you. As you do so, speak so that they hear the love of Jesus in your words. And show them with your kindness and your gentleness and your love, the love of Christ. Share with others with whom you are in relationship the truth of the gospel. Tell them how Jesus is transforming your life, your attitudes and actions. Let them know your struggles and your victories as you are becoming the Christian God is calling you to be. Be like a mother, giving of herself to her children when you are walking beside them. Tell the truth, give them a good breakfast, but do so with the loving tenderness of a mother feeding her children.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Manna for Today: Psalm 61

 

Psalm 61:1-8

Key Verse: 61:1-4

“God, listen to my cry; pay attention to my prayer! When my heart is weak, I cry out to you from the very ends of the earth. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I am because you have been my refuge, a tower of strength in the face of the enemy. Please let me live in your tent forever! Please let me take refuge in the shelter of your wings! Selah” CEB

Pay attention! Listen to me! See me! These are words we should dare say to God. Come to God with boldness, asking to be seen, asking to be heard. In this world which is blind to each individual. Where all too often we go unseen and our voices are not truly heard. We can dare to scream out to God, demanding to be seen, demanding to be heard; knowing that within God a place of refuge, safety and strength can be found. We do not want to living in shelters we have made with our own hands. The places we make for ourselves are not strong, they are not safe. But instead of dwelling in any place we might find for ourselves or make for ourselves, we find rest in God, we want to live, to dwell to reside in the place God makes for us. We call to God in boldness, in desperation, in our hurt, in our fear, with all the depth our emotion. God sees us, God hears us and the wing of God stretches out over us, and covers us, draws us in and God is our dwelling place and our protection.

 

 

 

Things to Think on

 

What do you dare to say to God today?

In what ways to you feel unseen and unheard in your life, by the world, by those around you?

What would it mean for you to find shelter with God today?

What would it mean for you to dwell in God’s tent not just in this moment, or for a day, but forever?

 

A Prayer for Today

Oh Lord, my God. I know you see me. I know you hear me. I may walk through this day and not really be seen by those who pass me by. As I speak, what I say might fall on deaf ears. I many to be truly heard by anyone with whom I interact. My voice is lost in the crowd, my cries are a part of the din of the streets, my tears are a part of the continually moving backdrop of pain and sorrow in this world. But you see me, you hear me. No place I might turn for shelter an protection can hold me, or give me what I need. Let me find that in you, not just right now when I am raw, not just for today when I need your strength so desperately, but each and every day. Let me rest beneath your wing, knowing your care and comfort in all things at all times. Be my God, be my peace, be my strength. Shelter me. – Amen

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Manna for Today: Psalm 60

 


Psalm 60:1-12

Key Verse: 60:1a,5

“God, you have rejected us—shattered us. Now restore us! Save us by your power and answer us so that the people you love might be rescued.” CEB

     How many of us feel broken right now? Shattered? Even rejected? It the midst of all that is going on all around it is easy to conclude that God has not only abandoned us, but rejected us, turned away from us, will not listen to or heed our cries. We are tired, we are weary, we are over stretched. It is all too much. Too much! We need to find rest. We need God to turn to us, to rescue us. “Come to our aid,” we cry. “Give us your peace!”  “Let us know the gentleness of your love.” “Give us the shelter we need.” “Restore us, strengthen us.” “You are our God. It is you whom we love, turn to us in your love and gather us unto you, let us come into your presence and know that which only you can provide. There is none other who can give us what it is we desire.” In your power, with the strength of your right hand, answer the cries of your people who love you, rescue us!”

 

Things to Think on

 

What overwhelms you today?

In what ways do you feel shattered or broken?

Does it seem to you that God has turned away from you, from those you love, from the circumstances in this world which threaten to tear apart and destroy?

Call out to God. Tell God to come back to you. To hear your voice, to heed your cry. Cry out to God to rescue you. God will hear you, even when it seems God is blind to our pain, and deaf to our cries, God hears, God will turn to you who love God and rescue you.

 

A Prayer for Today

Oh God! See me today. See me in my brokenness. I am shattered, I am torn apart. I am worn thin. I feel as if there is not much left of me. I am weary of all that wars within and all that wars without. The chaos of the world is echoed in my own soul. Be my calm. Be my peace. I am adrift in a stormy me sea. Rescue me. Part the storm, if the storm cannot be parted send me a life raft, if there is not life raft, give me the strength to stay above water and the trust to know you will not let me drown. Rescue me. Without you I will be lost in it all. Without you I am already done. Come to me now, let me see you and know it is your strength which carries me. I put my trust in you, I know you have not forsaken me.– Amen

Monday, October 19, 2020

Manna for Today: Psalm 59

 


Psalm 59:1-17

Key Verse: 59:4b

“Get up when I cry out to you! Look at what’s happening!” CEB

Sometimes our enemies which may not be living people who are lying in wait ready to ambush or destroy. Yet, even so we can understand a cry to God to be rescued, to be relieved from all that which assails, all that is seeking to move against us. Unlike David, we may not face people who are out to destroy, but we often come face to face with the voices of self-doubt and personal insecurities. We face the real enemies within ourselves, which seek to take away our joy. We cry out with the Psalmist, asking God to get up, to pay attention to look and see, and respond; to speak to us in a way we can truly understand, to assure us, comfort us, to come to us when we are most desperate and bring relief to the pain and the hurt. When we are drowning in our own failure, in our own doubts and confusion, it is easy to wonder where God is in the middle of it all.

 

Things to Think on

 

What in your life is assailing you right now? Have you ever felt ambushed?

Does it feel like God does not see? That God is not paying attention?

What would it mean for you to be rescued from all that is coming against you right now?

Call out to God. Ask God to save you, to give you shelter and protection in the middle all that you face today.

 

A Prayer for Today

Lord, God. I feel alone. I feel as if I am surrounded on all sides, as if there is no direction I can go and be safe. I am bombarded by the voices inside and the circumstances of life which surround. I need you today. I need your love. I need your peace. I need your strength. I need you today. I need you everyday. Help me to never feel as if you as “sitting this one out.” Help me to see you at work in my life strengthening me, giving me your peace, your love your security. I want to rely on you for these things each and every day, in all things. You are the Lord, my God I know I can rely on you, to trust you in all things at all times. Be God to me today. – Amen

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Turning Away from Idols: 1 Thessalonains 1:1-10

 

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 (Exodus 32-33; Matthew 22:15-22)

Moses went up on the mountain and did not return for a month, all the while the people are waiting for his return at the foot of the mountain. As they are waiting they grow impatient. In their impatience they gather together all the gold they had, they melt the gold down and form it into a calf. They set the calf up in the center of the camp and declare to one another, “Here is [Yahweh] our God, who brought us up out of Egypt.” Then they build an alter before it, and offering sacrifices to it, giving thanks to it for their salvation, celebrating how it had rescued from slavery, and rejoicing in the way this god had worked out their redemption.

When Moses finally returns from the mountain with the covenant in hand and the tablets of God’s commandments, the first of which explains there shall not be any OTHER Gods and the second instructing the people to not make graven images. Now granted the people don’t know this . . .yet, but there is no small amount of irony or consternation when he finds them worshiping and giving praise to Yahweh, the calf god, for bringing them up out of the land of Egypt. Moses loses it just a little bit, throws down the tablets of the commandments and lets them know, in no uncertain terms, they have committed a terrible sin! And he returns up the mountain to speak to God on their behalf.

Moses is frustrated with the people; even so he speaks on to God, begging God not to abandon them, to not give up on them. He reasons with God, telling God if you abandoned them now, what kind of witness would that be to the Egyptians? They will think you are the kind of god who would lead your own people out of Egypt, only to abandon them and allow them to be destroyed in the wilderness. And so God agrees to remain with the people and also agrees to lead Moses as Moses leads them and then God reveals most of Godself (all but God’s face that is – for no one can see the face of God and live) to Moses, as a sort of assurance of God’s presence with Moses and with the people.

In Matthew, this morning, we read about two groups of people, who usually don’t get along, coming together in an attempt to trap Jesus.  So first are the Pharisees. Real quick recap on who the Pharisees are, they, in an attempt to be the holy people they know God called them to be, adhered to the strictest version of the Law in all things. When it came to understanding how one lived, seeking to live as God called a person to live, the Pharisees believed you could never be too careful. So they thought it was best to look at the law, see what it said, interpret it in the most conservative way possible and then in an effort to make sure to not even come close to breaking that law they would draw a circle around that law and then say, “Ok. I will not do anything within that circle, but then just to be extra safe, let’s draw another circle just a little further out and call everything inside that one, the stuff to avoid doing.

Then we have the Herodians, who are a group of Jews who have aligned with the political power of Herod Antipas. They put their hope for a peaceful Jewish future in Herod, who is sometimes called a “king” or a “governor” but in reality he was simply the governing official in charge of keeping the Jewish client state in line with Roman authority. Herod was a half Jew, but since he was Jew-ish, even though he spoke for and governed on behalf Caesar, he at least, on some level, made space for and allowed for them to practice their faith more fully than some other not-at-all-Jewish governing official might. They felt that aligning themselves with the political power of Herod gave them, as Jews, a voice in the political realm, and afforded them some semblance of stability and peace, which they might not otherwise have as a people living under Roman oppression.

So here in one corner you have the Pharisees the good ole’ fashion holiness people who did not at all support Herod and did not recognize his “false” Jew-ish-ness in anyway. He was only half a Jew at best and then, then he has aligned himself with their Roman oppressors. And in the other corner you have the Herodians, who have thrown their political and religious support behind this politician hoping that he could make life bearable for them. Herod might be a hard pill to swallow but they saw him as better than the alternative. And on most days these two groups would just go at it, come out of their corners punching and fighting, but in walks Jesus and they look at each other, nod their heads, and both turn on Jesus.

So they come to Jesus, hoping to trap him in the space between their two stances, asking him a question about whether not they, as good Jewish people, should pay taxes. And Jesus silences both parties by requesting a coin and then asking them whose image is on the coin. When they answer, that is Ceasar’s head on the coin, he tells them that a thing ultimately belongs to the one whose image it bears. Give to Caesar what is Caesars and Give to God what is God’s.

And with both those passages in mind we come to the beginning of Paul’s first letter to church in Thessalonica. Yeah, I did not forget that this was my sermon passage this morning. Paul founded the church in Thessalonica during his second missionary journey. Thessalonica was the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia. It was located on an inlet which served as a stopping point along a major trade route. It was a bustling city with a large and diverse population. Many different gods were worshipped in that city but the most popular cult was the worship of Roma, which was the deification of Roman culture and the Roman Empire and its values.

Paul tells us the people of the Thessalonian church are known to have turned from worshipping idols to serve the living and true God. In many ways the people of this church stand at the cross roads of Exodus 32-33 and the passage we read in Matthew 22 this morning. Their turning, away from idols, is a mirror reflection of that of the people waiting for Moses at the foot of the Mountain. In their waiting, the people of the Exodus had turned away from the living and true God to worship the idol they had created, going so far as naming the calf they had made “Yahweh-god.” Whereas the people who now make up the Church in Thessalonica turned away from the idols they had worshiped, the gods made with human hands and worshiped as true and real, to worship the living and true God who is revealed to them in Jesus Christ, who rescues them, delivers them and brings redemption to them. Where one set of people turned toward false idols, this other is now turning away.

But not only are these people, people who turned away from idols, but they turned away from the worship of Roma, the worship of the political state. They turned away from putting their trust in a political figure who was not only their hope but their god, who literally was seen as the bringer of peace and security. They learned the lesson which silenced both the Pharisees and the Herodian’s. You cannot put your trust in political and societal structures. They will fail you. When you put your trust in these things, you are holding up a graven image seeing it as the holder of hope, peace and salvation. All the time missing the one who is the very image of God incarnate who is right before you.

It is so easy to look at the people of God in Exodus and say, I would never make an idol for myself. It is so easy to know that we would never take up a collection of goods and bring them together to shape the form of anything and then tell ourselves this image we have made is the face of God (which learned in our passage this morning cannot be seen with human eyes). When we label them and discuss them it is easy to tell ourselves we would never be the Pharisees or the Herodians, trying to trap Jesus with our words, believing we are wiser than our savior.

Yet, any one of us might find that we are putting our hope in a person, who might not embody all we would want as a follower of Christ to be, but we are willing to hold our nose and say, “Close enough,” “Christian enough,” “Better than the alternative.” We might put our faith in a system in a structural body, believing that if this ideology comes out on top things will be set right. And when we do so we are worshipping Roma, we are putting out hope and trust in Herod, in Caesar. We are looking to the wrong thing, believing it will bear the image of the one who can bring us hope and peace.

Jesus is the image of God and it is in Jesus we find hope, and it is to Jesus to whom we are to commit and give all which bears the image of God, which “spoiler” is US! The story of creation tells us we are made in the image of God, making us that which bears Gods’ image, that which belongs to God and should be given over to God.

Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s sure, but more importantly give to God what is God. Give all that you are, all that you could be and all that you ever will be over to God. AND that is what Paul is telling us the people in Thessalonica have done. Paul came to them, they received the word, they turned from all their idols, from the idols made with their own hands, and they turned away from the idols of their country and empire, turned away from the idol of putting their faith in politics and political entities and turned away from looking to governing officials to bring them peace and security. And turned to worship, find faith in and trust in God, through Jesus Christ.

And in doing so their faith immediately was worked out lived out in all they did and all who they were. They labored to be people of love and steadfastly put their hope in Jesus Christ looking to him to bring salvation, hope and peace instead of nation, empire, political structures, or governing officials. There was no salvation to be found there and they knew it.

And as they lived out this transformational life, this holy life, this complete turning away from all they once sought, and in which they once found hope, they became examples to all those around them of what the life of  believer truly looks like. Their faith became real and vibrant. The witness of their words, their actions and their faith went out from them like a tidal wave, flooding into all the regions around them. Where they began by imitating Paul as he imitated Christ, they became those to which others looked as examples of holy transformed people, and others imitated them, seeing in them what it looked like to believe, to trust, to hope in Jesus Christ.

This morning we can be the people of the regions around Macedonia. We can hear the testimony of the people of Thessalonica. We can see them as a holy people, fully transformed in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit and we too can see how the image of Christ is being lived out in their lives as they reflect the image of God. We can see how they have turned from all images of Caesar, away from putting hope in political figures, away from looking to societal structures, or government to bring peace or justice or any of other values of God and instead look to Jesus Christ, hoping in him alone. We too can know that it is only through Christ that any of this can be or will be found. 

Transformational life, holy living, is kingdom life. We cannot put our hope in the idol of Empire that is our country, our world, our society. Our hope, our trust, is in the kingdom of God. The justice we seek is God’s justice, one in which there is no Greek, no Jew, no male or female, no us and no them. God’s justice is a justice where all people can live in peace, in the peace of Jesus Christ. One in which all people live in the same safety and security, in which we can all walk in the light of day or the dark of night without unwarranted fear. And this justice does not come by gaining political power, or by putting our hope in the right governing figure. It does not come by trusting the systems and the structure of the world around us to change themselves and become right and just. It comes when the people of God turn away from the idols of politics and political structure, turn away from the idols we make with our own hands, or create with our own power, or attempting to gain that power, or broker it from those who hold it. It comes when we unite together and simply say, “No.” I will not worship the god of Caesar, or Herodias, the god of any political power, person or party and instead worship the one true God of the universe.

When we turn away from the idols of our land, of our country, of nationalism and political power and hope the God who brings salvation to the captives, who sets the prisoners free; when we turn from any idol we might set up in the place of God or worship, calling it God or “of God” and instead worship the God who LITERALLY heard the cries of an oppressed people and did not turn away from them, but freed them from their oppression, made them a people when they were not a people, who brought them redemption, and salvation.

We cannot worship any substitution of the one living and true God and hope that justice will come. There is no alignment we can make, no pact we can create with anyone who is not God and think that in doing so, we can become people of justice, or find the hope, the peace or the security for which we long. The only answer is the answer the people of Thessalonica found and that is turning away from all our idols to the true and living God and putting our hope in Jesus Christ alone! 

And then, when we as the CHURCH, as the people of God, do that, our testimony will ring out and be sounded forth from us into all the world around us. Our faith will be vibrant and alive and others will see the image of God in us, and the love of Christ lived out in all we are. We will truly be the Holy people God is calling all of us to be.

 

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Philippians 3:4b-14 - Being Chist-ians: Boasting in Christ



For Paul the life we are called to as Christians is a life lived in community, together with people who live the love of God alongside one another; a community of people who live with one heart, one mind, one focus in life. That unity, that oneness is found in Jesus Christ and living out the kind of self-giving love exemplified in his life, at all times to all people.

My guess is that most of us here would agree we are all pretty good people. I mean seriously if I had to pick some pretty good people, I would pick you people. I would not have to look farther than the people here in this room. We gather as the people of God whenever we can and most recently we have gathered however we can, whether that be via live-stream, conference call, Zoom and even the strange way those of us who are here this morning are currently gathering. We are faithful to God, we are faithful to God’s Church and we work to be faithful to those around us. We are kind, we are hard workers, we want what is best for those we love, and we seek to do good whenever we can.

We are good Christians We do all the things we have come to believe a good Christian should do. We read our Bibles regularly. We are seek to live as Christ would have us live, at home, at the grocery store, at work and everywhere else that we “go” these days. We are all pretty good Christians. At least I know I am, and I assume each of you are too.

We have much to be proud about. I mean some of us have accomplished much in our lives. We have worked hard to become the kind of people we are. Being a good Christian is not easy. We have to live our lives by the laws of the land and by the laws of God, choosing the latter whenever the two conflict. We have to be careful about what we say, what we think, what attitudes we hold, what values we adhere to, and about everything we do. We have to treat others with the love of Christ, and do our best to act with the same kind of grace, mercy and compassion with which he would act, toward everyone who crosses our paths, each and every day.

Sometimes being that kind and gracious to those who don’t seem to want, need or deserve to be treated thusly is hard. Living the in a way which exemplifies the heart, life and ministry of Jesus Christ is hard work. Being a Christian is not always easy and some days living as a Christian, at this particular point in time, using words which reflect Jesus’ love instead of reacting to what is going on around us in ways which come more natural to us, can be. . . difficult. But we are not at this alone. The life we are called to as Christians is a communal life, one in which we are called to live together, alongside of one another, helping one another, encouraging one another and supporting one another all along the way.

Paul begins by telling the people of Philippi everything that made him a righteous man of God, by the standards of his day. Paul was not only a good Jew, he was the prime example of what it meant to live life as a Jew, exactly what it meant to be living life the way that a member of the nation of Israel, the children of God, should be living. He was doing exactly what he needed to do in order be a child of God. He was living life exactly how it was supposed to be lived. He was doing everything right. He had worked hard all his life, to make sure that everything was in order, that he had obeyed all of God's commands and had accomplished much, with much effort. He had done it all right. In fact he had been very well respected and most everybody thought highly of him. Everyone knew that Saul of Tarsus was a righteous man of God. He had much to brag about. Not very many Jews could boast of being as righteous as Paul.

As soon as Paul tells us about everything he had done to make him a good Jew and a righteous person, he turns around and says that it is all rubbish. (Using some pretty strong language what we clean up bit in translation to make “church appropriate.”) It may sound, from a Christian perspective that he is describing all the ways which he can be seen to be living as a Christian, but he wants us to know the life he is boasting of is not what it really means to be a true person of God, at all. For all he cares, everything he had done to live the kind of life he had worked so hard at living is fit for the dumpster; it is worthless; and it is not ‘good’ at all. Everything that he had done, all that he had worked so hard to accomplish, to make him a righteous person was useless. He counted it as a loss.

There is an episode of Everybody loves Raymond. . . you all remember Everybody Loves Raymond? I know it is super old and to tell you the truth even when it was on I never really watched it, but there was this one episode, which it remember for some reason, where Raymond finds out the diamond in the engagement ring he had given Debra is a fake. He secretly steals her ring, he threw away the fake diamond and replaced it with a real one. As soon as he gives the ring back to her after replacing the diamond, Debra realizes that it is not her diamond and gets very upset. When Ray had given her the ring, she had realized that it was a fake diamond and did not want to tell Ray that he had been swindled so she had gotten the diamond from her grandmother’s engagement ring and had put it into her engagement ring. When she asked Ray where her grandmother’s diamond was, Ray told her it was just like her grandmother, gone.

There are times when we lose something and we are certain that it is somewhere it can be easily found, but there are other times that we lose something, when we know that it is simply gone. There is nothing we can do about it, it is just gone. We don't even bother to try to find the item. We simply count it as a loss. It does not matter how much the item were worth. It is gone.

This is what Paul is saying here. Everything he has done to be a righteous person is trash. He counts it as a loss. It might as well be gone. It is as if Paul had lost all those things he had done to be a righteous person. It is as if he had laid them on the seat next to him in an airport where he had a layover and had gotten on the next plane, leaving them there. They were gone for good; he wasn't ever going to go back to that airport to see if he could retrieve them.

Once something is gone for good, it is worthless to you. It does not matter how much it was worth when you had it, if you don’t have it anymore it might as well be worthless. My father had a collection of priceless comic books that he had collected as he was growing up; the very first Spiderman, the first X-Men, and a whole bunch of others. They would be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars right now, but they are worthless right now. Why? Because, when he was in Vietnam his sister cleaned out his room and threw the whole collection away. It is gone. It does not matter how much those comic books are worth, none of us will ever see a penny of that money, because they are gone. They are as worthless as an old newspaper lining the bottom of a bird cage.

This is what Paul is saying. All the righteousness he had, everything he had worked so hard to do, everything that made him the wonderful example to all the other Jews, as to what it meant to be a person of God, is as worthless a pile of priceless comic books that had been thrown away, made their way to the city dump never to be found again. It may have the appearance of being the right way to live, but in reality it simply is not.

But why is it worthless? His life seems to have every semblance of the life which should be lived as one who has devoted their life to God. I mean all those things I told you about myself at the beginning of the sermon would seem to be prime examples of what a life lived as Christ would have us live, would be. The things Paul was telling the Philippians about himself really showed what a good and faithful Jew he had been during his lifetime. He was living life according to the commandments of God. I am living my life the way someone would expect a good Christian to live his or her life. But Paul tells us anything we have strived to do through our own efforts be Christians is worthless, when you compare our striving to actually knowing Christ Jesus.

Living the appearance of the Christian life, simply doing and saying all the right things is not what it means to live in such a way which exemplifies the life of Christ. The Christian life is not so much about what you what you know, or even what you actually do; it is about who you know and how that knowing changes everything about you. 

Knowing Christ, actually knowing Christ, challenges long held beliefs. It radically changes our attitudes and values. It reveals to us how to love, how to truly love the people around us. It changes what we do, what we say and how we act toward everyone at in all circumstances.

Life lived as Christian is about knowing Jesus. Knowing he is more important than living life in any way which does not wholly exemplify Christ’s love, kindness, gentleness, patience and compassion at all times. AND it in knowing the ONE who is Christ, we become more and more Christ-like in all we are. In knowing Christ, we realized the relationship we have with Jesus Christ is more important than working hard and struggling to do everything right; more important than striving to be the kind of person everyone would expect us to be as a Christian.

Paul tells us because of Christ it is as if he has lost everything. He has nothing. His efforts are not his own. His goodness is not his own. His righteousness is not his own. His life is not his own. You see not only are all his efforts to be a righteous man a loss, but all the good things that he has ever done, everything which made him an upstanding citizen, everything that made him a nice guy, everything that made him a child of God, everything that he is, is a loss. His entire life is worthless compared to knowing Jesus Christ. He is telling us that there is only one thing in this life that truly matters. The only thing that matters is Jesus Christ.

It does not matter who you are, it does not matter what you have done. It does not matter how good a person you are. It does not matter how often you pray, or read your bible. It does not matter if you are the Pastor of a church or the best saint who walked this earth. Everything that makes up the appearance of who we are is worthless compared to simply knowing Jesus. The only thing that matters in this life is being in relationship with the one who died so that we all might live. Knowing Jesus is what it is all about and knowing Jesus changes everything; how we see the world, how we see each other. It changes what we do and what we say. It changes who we are on a deeper more intimate level than simply “doing the right things” ever could.

Now, Paul is not saying that people who are in relationship with Christ should not live their lives a certain way. Quite the contrary, Paul firmly believes knowing Jesus is the root of all we do as Christians. We are who we are because we live in relationship with Christ. We live with one focus, one heart and one mind because the center of it all is Jesus Christ. We are who we are not only as individuals but as the body of Christ, as the church, as a community of faith because we live communally in relationship with Jesus. Through faith in Jesus Christ we can do all the things that one would expect of children of God, but we do not do it on their own accord, through or in our own efforts. It is not those things that make any of us righteous people. Those things are not even ours. We are only righteous because daily we submit to Christ Jesus, and because daily we renew our faith, because we join together and live relationship with Jesus Christ. The things we do to live the way God would have us live, our character, our goodness are not possessions of ours for which we can be proud or count as belonging to us, they are not the things that make us the people of God. They are not ours. They belong to Jesus Christ.

Based on our actions, we very well might be the most righteous Christian who ever lived on the face of this planet, but as far as we are concerned that is only worth as much as my father’s comic books rotting in the city dump. Our righteousness is not ours, it belongs to Jesus. These lives we live, we do not live so they can be declared by those around us as “good.” For the goodness of our lives is not truly ours at all.

We do not care about righteousness for righteousness sake; we only care about knowing Jesus Christ. Nothing is worth more than that. Paul is telling us there is only one thing that matters in this world; there is only one thing about us that is worth anything at all and that is our relationship with Jesus Christ. Compared to Jesus Christ everything else in this world is worthless, because it is Jesus Christ who gives everything in our lives any worth at all.

It is not that righteousness is not something for which we should strive. Paul tells us we should strive for it until we die, but he also tells us that righteousness is not what matters. What matters is relationship with Jesus Christ and it is through faith in Jesus Christ we are able to be righteous. He is the one who makes us righteous and give us the ability to live righteously. For any righteousness we obtain or gain, is not ours, it is the righteousness of Jesus Christ given to us by the Father through Christ. Righteousness is not something we can have on our own, it is not something that belongs to us. If we begin to think the things we do make us righteous, the way we act makes us righteous, then we are wrong. The things we do not do make us righteous. When we begin to think this way, we often find ourselves boasting in something that is worthless. Any righteousness which may be lived out in our lives is rubbish if it belongs to us. The only thing in our lives that has any value is Jesus Christ and it is when all we are, and everything we believe belongs to ourselves, is given over to Jesus Christ, that anything we do, or say, has any worth at all. For the only person who can give anything any value is Jesus Christ.

One of my favorite choruses in the world sums up this sermon well. It goes like this: – Graham Kendrick


All I once held dear, built my life upon

All this world reveres, and wars to own

All I once thought gain I have counted loss

Spent and worthless now, compared to this Knowing you, Jesus Knowing you, there is no greater thing

You're my all, you're the best

You're my joy, my

righteousness

And I love you, Lord Now my heart's desire is to know you more

To be found in you and known as yours

To possess by faith what I could not earn

All-surpassing gift of righteousness

Oh, to know the power of your risen life

And to know You in Your sufferings

To become like you in your death, my Lord

So with you to live and never die

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Manna for Today: Psalm ## - The Struggle is Real

 


    It has been 15 days since I wrote a Manna. I have sat before the Psalm, asking God to speak to me. Begging God to give me something, anything to say. I have stepped away from it for a few days only to come back and stare once again. In many ways during these last 15 days, I have written my own Psalms to the Lord. 

    I am dry, O Lord. I am tired, O Lord. Give me rest, be my rest. Restore me. Do not hide your face from me. Do not be so far from me. These months I have spent in the Psalms have given me a language with which to pray. I can see myself in need of shelter, in need of a refreshing stream. I can cry with the Psalmist who feels alone and abandoned by the God I love and trust. I know what it means to know God is there but not feel that God is there. 

    The Psalmist is my comrade. I have journeyed with the Psalms up to this point and now the Psalms are journeying with me. I am not alone. The Psalms are with me and the Psalmist assures me God is with me, even when I can not see God, even when I can not hear God, even when I can not feel God. In these days of wandering, searching, crying out to God. I know I am not abandoned. Because over and over again the Psalmist has reminded me God is there, God is on our side, God has not abandoned me.

    If there is anything the Psalms have taught me as I have journeyed with them, is that when I look around and feel I am alone, think that I am abandoned, find I need shelter in the storm, or a guide to find my way out of the wilderness, there is nothing wrong with me. I am not alone in my struggle, the Psalms are with me. They give words to my struggle, give me comfort in my aching and continually remind me that not only are they here with me, but that even now God is with me; in it all through it all. 

     In the dessert I can give praise to God for the oasis. When I am surrounded by enemies on all sides I can rejoice in my rescue. When I feel alone and abandoned by God, I can sing of how God is near. When I am lost in the storm I can thank God for my shelter.  God is my shelter, my closest friend, my savior, my oasis in a dry and deserted place.  

    I will wait upon the Lord. I will not run forward and try to get ahead of God. I will wait. I will sing praises. I will write a new song. I will rest, knowing God is here with me. I am  not alone. I am not abandoned. God is with me. I give thanks to the Psalms which have reminded me of this over and over and over again. I have journeyed with the Psalms, for now I will let the Psalms journey with me. 

Amen.