February 25, 2013

“Do As I Say”
Philippians 3:17-4:1

There were problems in the church in Philippi. You can never be sure what the root of the problem is in any community. What we do know is that there were some people there who the pastor there identifies as ‘enemies of the cross of Christ.’ I suppose that no Christian leader should engage in name calling, but there you have it. It appears as though these rascals have aligned themselves with a way of behaving that is in opposition to the self-giving, obedience, and sufferings connected with the life and death of Jesus.

We are getting all of this second-hand of course, just like we always do. Once group disagrees with another group and characterizes the first group in a particular way. It would be helpful if Paul would give us more information, if what he wants us to do is side with him and oppose these so-called enemies. But, the charge is too vague and the assessment to broad to narrow it down.

It is hard to tell what is going on here! If someone’s “god is the belly,” does that mean that they are saying ‘eat whatever you want?’ It may be that. Some people might be saying that despite all of the centuries of the teaching of the Torah, go ahead, order a cheeseburger. Have a shrimp cocktail. Even though you would like to count yourself among those people who understand themselves as God’s people and who circumscribe a boundary around themselves and the rest of the world by saying no to some things and yes to others, go ahead, enjoy that pork chop…because it tastes good. If it tastes good, it must be ok, right?

It may be the opposite situation, I don’t know. It may be that these ‘enemies of the cross’ are so concerned about keeping the boundaries clear that they have missed the point of the boundaries in the first place.

It is a little unsettling, really, that there was this disagreement. I know that just because some people decide to say yes when they are asked if this Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ does not mean that they are all going to agree on the issues around the Keystone pipeline or if we should allow powdered donuts at the fellowship hour. But the argument here is about matters that define them, over and against other people who do not make this claim.

I have heard it said that (Richard Swanson) “Herod (in any century) has always found allies among people of faith” (Provoking the Gospel of Luke). We remember, for example, that “good” Christians used the Bible to justify slavery not so long ago, and today make decisions for the sake of things like “national security” (remember the fear of insecurity in Herod?) that would make Jesus weep over us in anguished lament. We should remember, then, that “Lent is a time to take seriously the ways we livethat are signs of death rather than of life, the ways we steal from the earth and from others rather than sprout from it,” a beautiful image in a church season named after “spring.”

There is an old adage: “she is so heavenly minded that she is no earthly good.” Paul’s point, however, is that we must be heavenly minded if we are to be any earthly good. To enact our heavenly citizenship is to follow the example of Christ as modeled in Paul, acting in humility and self-sacrificial service to others. As citizens of heaven, we live in a foreign land where self-aggrandizement and self-satisfaction are prized.

I was thinking about being a welcoming church. And I was imagining that there would be people come who don’t have any experience of church, and maybe there would be others who come whose experience was from so long ago that they just don’t remember. They might ask, how often should I go to church, or what kind of sevice they should get involved with. Maybe they will even ask how much they should give, or, must I really eat fish on Friday in Lent. They are asking you to just tell them what to do. I get these same questions from time to time.

The Famous preacher Fred Craddock has quoted this poem, “der ikker” in Yiddish, which means the main thing in English. And it is worth repeating today.

If your outlook
on things has changed –
this is not the main thing.

If you feel like laughing
at old dreams –
this is not the main thing.

If you recall errors
of which you are ashamed –
this is not the main thing.

Even if you know
that, what you are doing now,
you’ll regret some other time –
this is not the main thing either.

But beware lightheartedly
to conclude from this
that there is no such thing
as a main thing –
this is the main thing.

-Hirsch Oscherovitch

And some will ask, what is the main thing? I think you know. You can tell them many things. Theology. Liturgical practices. How much to give to the church I suppose. In a way, I hope that you don’t tell them anything. Let them figure it out by how you live.

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