Know Joy – Know Jesus!

“Know Joy – Know Jesus!” – August 30, 2020

Phil 3-10 That-I-may-know-Him

Philippians 3:1, 4-11 (3:8)

What is really important to you? Some people value family or friends. Others think material possessions are important. Some consider a marvelous resume to be valued above all else. Each of these can make some people satisfied, and that’s only the start of the list of important things. Many things hold value to many people, and cause them to be satisfied in life.

Is being a rule-follower important? When we dot every “I” and cross every “T” – carefully making absolutely sure that we are obeying every law; is that the thing some people value the most in their lives?

The apostle Paul said that this description described him exactly – a rule-follower who dotted every “I” and crossed every “T.” He gives us his marvelous resume, in some detail. We find out that Paul was born to a well-respected Jewish clan in the tribe of Benjamin. He was properly brought up in the Jewish faith, and even chose to live as a Pharisee, as one of the strictest followers of the Jewish Law that it was possible to be. The old Saul went overboard in his devotion to God, too – so devoted that he even persecuted the early Church.

Do you know anyone like that? Anyone who is so strict at following the rules that they even frown and get angry at their friends and family – regularly? What would the old Paul, the Pharisee Saul, have been like as a friend? Always trying to be super-righteous, always working hard at being perfect – Paul tells us straight out that he used to be a miserable person while he tried as hard as he could to be super-righteous.

I wonder what kinds of bullet points Paul – or as he was in his Pharisee days, Saul – would have on his letters of recommendation? “Pharisee Saul is one of the most righteous people I know.” Or, “The highest praise I can give to Pharisee Saul is he never, ever makes a mistake.” If anybody could possibly save himself through his own super-strict efforts at living according to the Mosaic Laws, I bet it would have been Paul, or as he was before, Pharisee Saul.

But – Paul found his own self-righteous actions and trying to make himself righteous enough for God just did not work. There was no way he could earn enough “brownie points” to be acceptable to God.

In other places in the New Testament, Paul describes what an awful mess he was in when he realized this! The Pharisee Saul had lived his whole life acting self-righteous, putting on a show. But here, in Philippians, Paul cuts straight to the chase. He tells us that he no longer trusts in himself or his qualifications. Instead he trusts in Christ! Absolutely, one hundred percent.

I am not sure whether you get excited about accounting. You know, the language of numbers, statements of profit and loss. But, that is exactly what Paul uses here. He uses accounting terms! “The end of a profit and loss statement shows the net loss or net income, indicating the extent to which a business, craft or household is profitable.” [1]

Paul is saying here that all his trying to be super-righteous, in his own power, got him absolutely nowhere! As far as the profit and loss statement of his life before God, he was absolutely bankrupt! There was no way he could possibly even approach God – except through trusting Jesus Christ as Lord.

And then – and then! Paul uses accounting language again. Paul counts knowing Christ as “gain.” When Paul wrote down the profit and loss statement for his life before God, ALL the gain, ALL the profit was credited to Jesus! As Paul came to understand what a miracle happened when he put his trust and hope in Christ Jesus, he became more and more excited.

Paul willingly, eagerly left behind all of his marvelous religious resume. Marvelous as far as the world is concerned. Paul actually uses a swear word here, in verse 8. “I consider everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” – meaning, putting aside all his training, and superior resume, and everything else – “I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” We might think of a four-letter word to use here, and that is exactly what Paul uses in the original Greek.

“Paul regards ‘everything’ of little value in comparison with the far greater worth, the supreme advantage, of knowing Christ.” [2] To gain Christ – to have Jesus one hundred percent on the profit side of our profit and loss statement before God – is the most marvelous thing in the world to Paul. He is so, so joy-filled about this, he almost bursts with joy!

Paul told the friends in Philippi about his boundless joy at knowing Christ Jesus so closely, and so well, even though he was in prison, chained to a Roman soldier 24/7! He still overflowed with joy! Is that true for us? Are we in the same joyful position as the apostle Paul? Are we overflowing with joy because we know Jesus? Or, is our joy being blocked or diverted?

Life was certainly no walk in the park for Paul, especially now. Yet, we can almost feel his joy right through the printed page. Even though, hardship – yet, there was joy! Even though, trials – yet, Paul felt joy! Even though, sickness – yet, Paul and his friends were joyful!

I realize you and I are probably not in the happiest of places right now, with uncertainty and anxiety all around us. Yet, Paul reminds us, we can have joy! If we place our trust and hope in Jesus Christ, His joy is available to us, any time! What a marvelous promise. Be joyful in Christ Jesus. No matter what.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1592

Commentary, Philippians 3:4b-14 (Lent 5C), Elizabeth Shively, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

[2] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/lent5ce.html

“The Prize,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Live at Peace with Everyone

“Live at Peace with Everyone”

Rom 12-18 if possible, peace - words

Romans 12:9-21 (12:18) – September 17, 2017

One of the most heartwarming books I have read in the past few decades is a book by Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I would like to read a few sentences from this book.

“These are the things I learned (in Kindergarten): 1. Share everything. 2. Play fair. 3. Don’t hit people. 4. Put things back where you found them. 5. CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS. 6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. 7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody. 8. Wash your hands before you eat. 9. Flush. 10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. 11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work every day some. 12. Take a nap every afternoon. 13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.” [1]

As we listen to this list of things Robert Fulghum brings to our attention, what goes through our heads? Are we charmed by the memories of little ones that come to mind? Or, do we think of the significant truths that come from our kindergarten friends?

As I was considering our Scripture reading this week from Romans, I immediately thought of Robert Fulghum’s book, and specifically this quote. If we set these two lists side by side, each list sounds like it is full of important things. Full of important tasks to accomplish on a regular, if not daily basis.

One thing that people who are very interested in bible translation do when they are looking at specific sentences or paragraphs is the look at the kinds of words that are used, and whether the writer had something special he was trying to get across. In the case of Romans 12, the Apostle Paul is using a lot of verbs, and most of these are imperative verbs. These are all commands to his fellow believers in Rome! Not just suggestions, or recommendations.

“Rather, [Paul’s] exhortations speak to any community patterning its life after that of the crucified and risen Christ. The words are a window on what life in Christ looks like in community.” [2]

Yes, in this American culture, the rugged individual pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, living their life all alone, on the edge, is so important to so many. BUT, the Apostle Paul reminds us that life is to be lived in a community. There are no Lone Ranger Christians. “One is tempted to imagine Paul saying with his syntax, “Don’t try this alone.” His advice is addressed to a bunch of people, and much of it concerns their shared life.” [3]

This piece of advice holds true whether for a group of secular people as well as for a church congregation. A short negative summary of these commands is “Do not do any evil to anyone:” If we turn that around (as Robert Fulghum does) and speak positively, we find that it sounds suspiciously like his list from All I Really Wanted to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten.

There is a problem with these lists, no matter whether the Apostle Paul wrote about these commands or whether Robert Fulghum urges us to follow his positive suggestions  A big problem. No matter how much we may be trying to follow Jesus in our daily lives, hypocrisy and insincerity sneak up on all of us and clobber us over the head.

Sadly, we have many, many people with extreme black-and-white thinking, from all areas, from all cultures. These modern-day Pharisees talk about either totally sinning, or totally following God without reservation, and there is nothing at all in between. They bash others over the head with these commands in this list from Romans 12 (and from other lists that Paul writes in other places in the New Testament).

The preacher Kwasi Kena brings us an illustration. “Any bank teller knows that spotting counterfeit money first requires that one knows what is genuine. After repeated exposure to what is genuine, the bank teller can easily spot the counterfeit item. It is the same with genuine Christian love. Constant exposure to genuine Christian love builds a growing desire for more. That yearning for the genuine also produces repulsion toward the counterfeit.” [4]

Yes, we might be able to see blatant insincerity and hypocrisy and counter it, gently, in Christian love. What does Paul tell us, first thing? He says love above all is the way to go. When we are dissatisfied with our own lives or the lives of others, this can be an indication that something is not right. When some Pharisees start judging and self-righteously shaking their fingers at us, and get in our faces with extreme black-and-white thinking, and extreme shaming, what then? Sorrow for them might happen in our hearts. We can point them out immediately.

As Kwasi Kena tells us, the seasoned bank teller—or, the committed Christian who is loving, caring, generous and kind in his or her dealings with others can spot hypocrisy and insincerity from a mile away. The Apostle Paul’s message urges us to embrace genuine love through Jesus Christ, whether individually or in community. And, even embrace these self-righteous, judgmental ones.

“Mutual love and honour or respect is fundamental to good community (12:10). There is no room for exploitation of any kind. Nor is there room for shaming behaviour. We are to be free from having to win (by making others into losers). Paul urges a positive attitude in 12:11. For Paul this is less about rules of behaviour and more about choosing to believe in hope.” [5]

Over the past several decades Robert Fulghum wrote six books, all New York Times bestsellers, and still popular today. He has a master’s degree in theology and has also been a minister in the Unitarian Church for several decades. I consider his words about kindergarteners (and the rest of us human beings) to be so incredibly important for our search for genuine love, caring, kindness and reaching out to others, in the name of God.

From Rev.Fulghum again: “Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all—the whole world—had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.” [6]

I think the Apostle Paul would approve of Rev. Fulghum’s words. What was one of the summary statements of Paul’s words of wisdom from Romans 12? “17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

It does not matter whether we look at Robert Fulghum’s wise words or at the words of wisdom from Romans 12: care about each other. Love one another. No matter what, no matter where, no matter who. Individually, and in a community.

Let us allow Rev. Fulghum to have the last word for today: “And it is still true, no matter how old you are—when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and to stick together.”[7]

Alleluia, amen.

 

[1] Fulghum, Robert, All I Really Wanted to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1986),

[2] Commentary on Romans 12:9-21, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1060   Mary Hinkle Shore

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/book-of-romans-sermon-starters-week-14

Book of Romans, Sermon Starters—Week 14 , Evangelistic Preaching Helps for the Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year A– September 3, 2017 by Kwasi Kena

[5] http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/AEpPentecost12.htm “First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary,” Pentecost 12, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia

[6] Fulghum, Robert, All I Really Wanted to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1986),

[7] Ibid.