Sermon, October 8, 2017

Sermon.10.08.17

St. Paul’s – Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

Exodus 20.1-4, 7-9, 12-20; Psalm 19; Philippians 3.4b-14; Matthew 21.33-46

 

In our study of Philippians, we have noted Paul’s exhortation to the Christians of Philippi to live their lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, to stand firm in one spirit and one mind. Paul encouraged them to live in unity with one another. To do that, they were not to act out of selfish ambition or conceit; to the contrary, they were to regard others as better than themselves and were to subordinate their own interests to the interests of others. Noting that Christ emptied himself, and took on human flesh, he encouraged them to “Let the same mind be in [them] that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2.5; NRSV). We closed last week by noting that as we act, or strive to live more deeply into Christ, we are acted upon. Paul captured this in his exhortation: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure” (Philippians 2.12-13; NRSV).

We have also noted that a key theme in Paul’s letter to the Philippians is joy and rejoicing. In 1.18, Paul speaks of rejoicing over the proclamation of Christ. In 1.25, Paul speaks of the Philippians joy in their faith. In 2.2, Paul asks that they make his joy complete by being united in one love and one mind. And in 3.1, Paul says, “Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord” (NRSV). He next cautions them to “beware of the dogs . . . the evil workers . . . of those who mutilate the flesh,” i.e., beware of those who would lead them astray, of those who insist on circumcision as a rite of entrance to the Christian faith. Paul says, “It is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh, even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3.3-4a; NRSV). Paul now directs their attention to what is truly important, to what is truly valuable – the internal affairs of the heart and soul as opposed to external signs of the flesh.

In our reading for today, Paul draws upon his own life and uses it as a negative example: “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more” (Philippians 3.4b; NRSV). As Elizabeth Shively notes, Paul then lists seven advantages he can claim: four of which are inherited, three of which are achievements:

1)   He is a full member of God’s covenant people (“circumcised on the eighth day”),

2)   He is an Israelite by birth with all the rights and privileges that adhere (“a member of the people of Israel”),

3)   He hails from one of the two tribes (Benjamin and Joseph) considered to be faithful to the covenant (“of the tribe of Benjamin”),

4)   He is the son of Hebrew parents with no Gentile contamination, that is, he is not a “mud-blood” (“a Hebrew born of Hebrews”).

5)   He practices strict observance of the law (“a Pharisee of Pharisees”)

6)   He exhibits avid devotion to God (“as to zeal, a persecutor of the church”)

7)   He is above reproach according to a Pharisaic interpretation of the law (“as to righteousness under the law, blameless”). (http://www.workingpreacher.org/profile/default.aspx?uid=2-shively)

Many years ago, I worked in human resources. If a resume like Paul’s had crossed my desk, I would have been on the phone. Get that man in here! I want to see if he is a good in person as he is on paper!      To put Paul’s life in modern day terms, think of the televangelist with a multimillion home, a private jet, and the best of everything. From the world’s point of view, this is the pinnacle of success. And this televangelist would convince you that God also wants you to experience this success. But as Paul warned, beware of the evil workers who would lead you astray. We are to pay attention to what is truly important, truly valuable?

What does Paul say about this list of credentials? “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3.7-8a; NRSV). Something powerful happened to Saul on the Road to Damascus – his life was forever changed. All he had inherited and all he had achieved, wonderful things from the standpoint of the world, he now counted as loss. Paul even went so far as to state, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith” (Philippians 3.8b-9; NRSV). “I regard them as rubbish” – literally translated, as “dung,” when viewed sub specie aeternitatis (“under the aspect of eternity”). Paul is like the merchant in Jesus’ Parable of the Pearl of Great Price: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13.45-46; NRSV).           What does Paul want? Paul says, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3.10-11; NRSV).

I want to know Christ.

I want to know the power of Christ’s resurrection.

I want to know the sharing of Christ’s sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Paul is selling everything that he might gain the pearl of great price. Paul’s eyes are no longer fixed on the things of this world; he no longer perceives things from the perspective of this world’s values; he now looks at things under the aspect of eternity; he sees things from the standpoint of eternal values.

Paul admits that he is still in the process of selling everything, for he continues, “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3.12-14; NRSV).

As Paul moves to the end of this chapter, he encourages the Christians of Philippi to “hold fast to what [they] have already attained,” he reminds then their citizenship is not of this world but is rather in heaven, and assures them Christ will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself” (Philippians 3.16, 20-21; NRSV).

What do we value? Do we treasure the things of this world? As Paul tells the Christians of Philippi, we need to hold fast to the spiritual maturity that we have attained. We need to view our life and our world from the standpoint of eternity. With Paul, we will hopefully come to that place where we can say,

I want to know Christ.

I want to know the power of Christ’s resurrection.

I want to know the sharing of Christ’s sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Amen.

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