Philippians 3: 4-13
October 2,2005 – 9:00 Service
Paul gave us his résumé. He told us he credentials, his list of accomplishments, and the offices he has held. He told us all the things that would make him a “cut above the rest.”
Paul was one who could boast. This list of credentials is impressive for that time. And I’d like us to see this in the proper perspective. Sometimes I think we see the religious leaders of Jesus’ time as corrupt and evil. After all, they opposed him. They had him put to death!
That’s an unfortunate picture of these men. I think the reality was that they were highly respected men in a society in which the people were “steeped” in their “religious lives” far more than we are today. Those people looked up to their priests and religious leaders. And yes, some leaders were taking advantage of the people by virtue of their office. But I think most were not. I think most were truly concerned about the people in their “spiritual care.”
But then this Jesus, this new rabbi with “new ideas,” had come along. And they weren’t sure what to make of him. They were concerned for the purity of the faith and the soundness of the teaching – just like we would be. It’s tragic that those things “got in the way” of their seeing the very messiah they were looking for when he came. But that could happen to anybody.
Remember the quote of John Eldredge I gave you early on. “Too often we have substituted ‘knowing the right things’ for ‘knowing God.’” That’s a very subtle thing. We don’t start out saying, “You know, I’m not all that comfortable with that ‘closeness to God’ stuff. I think I’ll just forget that and concentrate only on the doctrine and theology.” We don’t say that, do we? But we do stray to it if we’re not careful. And many people have!
In fact, we stray to a lot of things. Like those religious leaders, we mean well, but we get distracted. We want to be faithful, but fail. We want to move forward in our faith, but we get in our own way!
So here we have this great leader, Paul. He was a great leader in the Jewish tradition, and he would become the greatest in the Christian tradition. He wrote most of the books in the New Testament. And what does he say to us people who fail, get distracted, and who get in our own way? He says, “I have every reason to boast… But whatever gain I had I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” He had the right perspective on his own sense of importance.
The theme today is about living a worthy life – in spite of ourselves. It is about serving in God’s kingdom, and how we do that, even in our own weakness. Many people would rather just give up. They say they can’t live a worthy life, so why bother trying? But that’s not what God would want us to do, is it?
The perfect example of this business of serving God in spite of ourselves is found when we think of this sacrament. When we come to this table, we often think about the injunction wrote Paul about being careful not to take this sacrament in an “unworthy manner.” And we think about our own “unworthiness.” He wrote “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink [in an unworthy manner], eat and drink judgment against themselves. (I Corinthians 11:27)
That sounds scary, doesn’t it? Sometimes when we think about that, we confuse “being worthy” with “being perfect.” Sometimes we think our unworthiness, our shortcomings, prevent us from coming to this table. On the contrary! Our shortcomings are the very reason we should come to this table!
Let me remind you of the words of the old liturgy for communion. During the Invitation to Communion we used to hear this about who was invited to partake. We said, “…all who are truly sorry for their sins and would be delivered from the burden of them, are invited to come to this table.” Notice, it wasn’t, “all who are worthy by virtue of their soundness of heart and purity of soul…” It is in this sacrament that we commune with God himself – in spite of ourselves!
The fact is that we are not worthy! That’s why Grace is the centerpiece of our life of faith. But God has made us worthy. That’s the difference between us and all other religions. We don’t spend our time trying to make ourselves worthy to be in God’s presence. We recognize that we cannot be, and that God has made us so anyway!! Then, what we do and how we live is a response to what has already been done for us! We don’t have a problem with being unworthy! Because God has made us worthy – in spite of ourselves.
Let us know that as we come to this sacrament. Let us prepare our hearts and minds for this communion, not by trying to make ourselves worthy, but by recognizing that God has made us worthy, and by realizing the price he paid to get us to know that. Then let us prepare our hearts by being thankful, and by praising God for all of his goodness and Grace!
Eternal God, you have redeemed us. You have made us part of your kingdom – in spite of ourselves. Help us to know your presence in this sacrament, and throughout our lives. Make us people who truly know your peace and joy. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.