This sermon was given by Reverend Jason Carle, Pastor of Overland Park Presbyterian Church in Overland Park, Kansas on June 10, 2018.
Scripture Lesson: Philippians 3:2-4:1
Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is not troublesome to me, and for you it is a safeguard. Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! For 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.
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
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. 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. 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.
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.
Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He 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.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
This passage begins with “rejoice in the lord always again i say rejoice,” and then paul takes about the idea of confidence in the flesh. And he begins to list all the things that he felt like he could be confident in the flesh, and he had a long diatribe of them. I have to admit in this i relate to Paul very strongly. When I was a young man–and when I mean young, I mean between the ages of 7 and 11–I looked at myself and thought, ‘I got it made.’ And I got it made because of two things: my dad was a pastor and people came and listened to him all the time, so obviously my dad was important. And I had it made because my mom was the president of the League of Women Voters, she was also on the school board. And so both at church and at school whenever my mom showed up i always felt that people kind of stood to attention, payed attention. I felt that because my mom and my dad were both very important people, so was I.
Let’s be very honest: the only person who thought that was me; my parents never thought that i was special because of who they were. That was not something that was inherited.
Paul is talking about all the reasons that he could be considered to be important within God’s grace, why he could be considered the very special, the very proud people. But of course, we all know what happens when you become prideful about your accomplishments. And there is a difference: In French, there are two words for pride. One is fierté, which is this idea of the self-confidence, this idea that you know who you are and you are comfortable in your own skin. That is what I would say is the good kind of pride. And then there’s the other kind of pride, the pride of orgueil, which is the overweening pride where you look at your accomplishments or your status.
Here’s the thing: we can take overweening pride in the strangest of things. I have met people who have said “I am proud because I am wealthy,” even though their wealth was inherited. I have had people say “I am proud because I do real work and I am better than people who just work in offices.” We can assign pride to ourselves in the strangest things. And it is so counterproductive, and it’s why Paul talks initially to ‘rejoice, rejoice in the lord my brothers and sisters.’
Because when we begin to take pride, when we begin to have that overweening sense of pride about ourselves and in our lives about who we are in comparison to others, when we try to take pride (as Paul talks about) regarding external factors–I i was very zealous, I was born on the right family, my circumcision (the mark of entry in to Judaism) was done on the eighth day–We can get caught up in these petty things, the things that make us feel ‘greater than.’ Greater than others. We like to stand up on these nice pinnacles and look down and say, “Boy i feel good being up here.”
Paul though reminds us where the source of our fierté where the source of who we are called to be actually lies. It lies within the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus christ, who shows us the way, who we are called to imitate. And the key marker of Jesus is this thing that sometimes makes us cringe, and it is humility. Humility. Because when we are humble, that is when we can begin to give thanks.
The key thing that Paul is lifting up here is that if we are called to be imitators of christ, if we are called to live into what it was to be Christ, if we walk around looking and saying “we’re these great and fantastic people,” the focus suddenly becomes on me, me, and me. What Christ does though is this self-emptying toward the world. Christ is the one who comes for us. Christ is the one who becomes incarnate for us he lives for us he dies for us and we are called to respond in joyous gratitude.
I remember one of the times that i was made humble. I remember that this was something my parents taught me. We went to this place, it was a homeless shelter on the day before Thanksgiving and I remember I was given this spot to help people get trays. My dad was working on the turkey line and my mom was working on the noodle line and there were all of these other people and this was my first experience with homelessness, of meeting people face-to-face who were homeless. I was probably about seven or eight at the time. And I remember people coming in and I could not believe the smell. That was the thing that stuck with me. And I remember leaving the tray and I walked back. I literally gave the tray to somebody, I sidled over to my parents, and said, “I don’t think i’m supposed to be here, Dad”.
And my dad being kind looked at me and said, “What do you mean?” and i responded, “Tthese aren’t our kind of people.” I credit my father for not slapping me at that point in time. When i was a young boy, there were times when i could charitably be called ‘a little snot.’
Instead, my dad looked at me and said, “Son. Son. This is Christ who you are meeting right now. Jesus is here.” I argued: “But church smells so good.” My father started to laugh at that and insisted: “Christ is here. We are called to serve others and to be thankful for the opportunity to do so.”
That was a life-changing moment for me because what my dad told me to do, and I admit i didn’t do it that time but i did it at later points in time, is that every time I met someone who I was called to serve I needed to say in my mind, “Hello, Jesus” as i helped someone. And what that kind of practice helps us do is recognize the people who are around us who are in need of help. It’s not just people who have less than us who need help. We saw that this last week – we had two high-profile suicides that have upended certain sections of the internet. But even sadder, there are on average 22 veteran suicides a day. There is so much brokenness and part of our call is to live out how to be a people who give thanks, who rejoice in the lord even when people have a hard time doing it.
I read a Twitter account this past week from a young woman who received a lot of responses about ‘if you need help, ask for it,’ but part of the reality of depression is that sometimes when you need help you don’t know how to ask for it or you can’t even see it. And she told the story about how her brother had died and she had sunk down into this deep, deep depression and one of her friends asked, “How are you?” and she said, “It’s rough but I’m OK.” Just negating, brushing off the sadness that she felt.
And then she told this story: she said her friend took a risk, and it could have backfired; she could have taken this a horrible way but here is what they did: they asked me if i could be over at my house at a certain time and a certain place–she had just moved into her apartment and two months later nothing had been unpacked. She just didn’t have the energy to do that. Ten friends came over to her apartment, they unpacked everything, they put everything away, they cleaned everything, at at the end of the night it was that moment when she had people who were her friends show up unannounced and took care of her in a way she never anticipated. that her depression broke. And then she wrote the depression came back that night–but it was that memory, that expression of care that sustained her.
As people of god we are called to rejoice, are called to go out into the world, are called to bear Christ’s light. As Paul says we have to not only rejoice in ourselves but know that we are called to serve others.
At the end of this passage there’s this phrase where Paul says “there are people who are enemies of the cross” Now, for many of us we think of enemies of the cross are those who hate Jesus but I tell you, no, it is not those who hate Jesus. What most people have is indifference towards Jesus if they are not in a church. What we are to do is to work against those who are against the reconciliation of God and the world. Because that is what the cross is: the bridge. There are those who actively work to break God’s communication of love in the world and we are called to combat that. So that when we see bullying, whether it’s in school or in the workplace, where we see people who are isolated and alone or who seem somewhat withdrawn, we are called to live out in concrete ways those expressions of love.
And when we do that no longer are we the proud people, the high and mighty. We are the people who love and serve and who are thus able to rejoice in the Lord our God. This is the good news. Amen.