Psalm 130, Philippians 2:12-18
September 16, 2018
Today’s scripture is about the next thing in the “tall order” department. (Though not, I hope, in the “Department of Redundancy Department!”) The “tall order department” is about the “big things” we are called to do and to be, as God’s people, but are things that seem to be very difficult.
Last week, Paul told us that we are to “have the mind of Christ.” That’s a “tall order!” Isn’t it? And I hope you’ll keep thinking about that. Maybe re-read my sermon from last week. It was from Philippians 2:1-11.
Well, this week we’re looking at verses 12-18. Here, Paul is telling us that we are to “shine as lights.” Think about that. Think about a light shining in the darkness. John used those words to describe Jesus as “the word” that had come into the world. In his famous first chapter, the “prologue” to his gospel, we read, “In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never conquered it!”
I want you to think about that image of a light in the darkness. What do you see when you hear those words? “Light in the darkness.” Do you see, maybe a lamp in a dark room. Maybe car headlights on a dark country road. Maybe a flashlight, when the power is off in your house. (Maybe we should have turned all the lights off in here for today!)
I have to tell you that I’m a sucker for those things they have for sale near the cash register, particularly in auto parts stores. Little pocket screwdrivers. Anything magnetic. And of course, flashlights! And boy are the LED flashlights getting brighter and brighter!!! (Personally, I’m hoping they become the forerunners to phasers from Star Trek! Are you with me on that?)
My image for light in the darkness is walking around Kirkwood on a dark night, and turning on a nice flashlight. That’s one of the things I think about when I think of a light in the darkness. That’s my image for this phrase, “Shining as lights!”
Now, I have to wonder, did Paul get this idea from something he had heard before. In his “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus said to the people, “You are the light of the world!” Does this sound like that? (or vice-versa?) As I’ve said a lot lately, I don’t think Saul the Pharisee just popped into the picture in Acts chapter 9, when he had his conversion on the road to Damascus. It makes much more sense to me that he was there throughout Jesus’ ministry. And he may well have been there, on that day, on that mountain, listening to Jesus speak, “keeping an eye on” this new, young rabbi. And I think there’s a good chance he heard these words. “You are the light of the world!” “You are a city set on a hill, that cannot be hidden!”
As we think about those words, as we think about “shining as lights,” I hope we see that this is indeed a “tall order.” But I hope we also see that this is always true for us as Christians. Whether or not we want to admit it, we are “on display” for all the world to see. Whether we like to think about it or not, we are part of the Church, and we need to know that the world is watching the Church. So we need to be considering this question. “When the world looks at us, what will they see?”
Paul was very big on this. And I’m glad he was! And I’m also glad he gave us some practical words. Again, Paul was like that. He told us the principles, then he told us the practical. “So,” he said. And I think “Therefore,” is implied here. “Therefore, do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish.” (Vs. 14-15) Anybody falling short already?
We “do all things without murmuring or arguing, so that we may be “children of God, without blemish.” That’s a “tall order.” But that’s what he’s telling us. We do those things so that we “shine as lights.” In the midst of what he calls a “crooked and perverse generation” we “shine as lights.”
Paul saw the world as a “darkened world.” And I think we can see that there is darkness in our world, too. (If you’re not sure, just turn on the news!) And in that darkness, we shine as lights, the lights of God’s love and grace. And if we’re not, what are we doing about it? Are we trying to do all things “without murmuring or arguing?” Are we practicing that? It’s not easy! And it is too easy just to “sit back” and not try, isn’t it?
There’s an expression people use a lot these days. I never actually heard this until about a decade ago. Now I hear people say it all the time. “It is what it is.” You’ve heard that? What does that mean? Sometimes it seems to me that it’s almost a matter of what I call “comfort by cliché.” In other words, something sounds nice the way it’s said, and people take comfort in it.
Well, I think we need to ask ourselves what some of these popular “sayings” mean. Sometimes, “It is what it is,” is saying “I really can’t do anything about it – whatever it is.” “I must accept it and not worry about it.” And I’m ok with that – As long as we’re not resigning ourselves to do nothing about whatever it is, when maybe we could! Do you see what I mean? And is that saying being used as a “nice sounding excuse” to do nothing?
Well, the reason I say all that is that I think there are people who think that way about the kind of people they are. They are “resigned” to who they are, to how they think, and to what they do, with no desire to do anything else. “I am who I am” might be their version of that. (Sounds like Popeye, doesn’t it?) They’re saying, “I can’t do anything about who I am.” “This is it!” “This is all there is!”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be like that! I truly believe that “God isn’t finished with me yet!” I am a “work in progress!” Are you? I truly believe that we as Christians should be just that! I think we should be a “work in progress.” I think we should always be striving to move forward and to grow in our faith. And those two words are often associated with each other – growth” and “faith.” I don’t think we should ever be resigned to be “just who we are.” I don’t’ think we should ever say about our faith, “This is it!” “This is all there is!” “It is what it is!”
So, are you with me? Here we are at the start of a new “church year.” Actually the “liturgical year” starts with Advent. But this is the time when we are back from the Summer, and we are looking to the fall season. So let each one of us make this a time when we think about how we will work to grow in our faith, to grow as a church – a body of believers, and to shine as lights to the world around us.
Eternal God, we need your help as we strive to be your people – the people you want us to be. Help us to know your strength, your inspiration, your spirit in our lives. We rejoice in our common faith, and in our partnership in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, our Savior, in whose name we pray, Amen.