Sermon for March 21, 2010

Philippians 3:4b-14 (Fifth Sunday in Lent—Series C)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

March 21, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is the Epistle Lesson recorded in Philippians 3:

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 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. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count 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 that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But 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 upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Interference—how annoying!  You’re trying to watch your favorite TV program and suddenly theirs interference in the signal.  Streaks are going through the screen; the sound is flipping in and out.  Then come those famous words, “Please stand by, we are experiencing technical difficulties.”  You dial your friend’s number.  You get a connection but there is interference on the line.  Have you ever tried to have a conversation talking over static? 

Some interference is just an annoyance, but other interference can be hurtful, even harmful.  Insomnia is a situation that interferes with your sleep.  Not getting the proper amount of sleep hurts your body.  It weakens your immune system, hampers your thinking, runs you down.  Colds interfere with your life.  Your nose gets all stuffed up, your face hurts from sinus pressure, you’re coughing and sputtering.  It’s hard to function in your daily routine when you are feeling so lousy.  The most harmful interference we face, however, are the things that interfere with knowing God.  These interferences are not annoyances, but actually harm our relationship with our heavenly Father. 

St. Paul realized that confidence in his heritage and his works actually interfered with knowing God.  Paul certainly had good reason to be confident in himself.  In fact, he had more reasons than anyone else.  He was circumcised on the eighth day, according to the Law of God, and made a member of God’s covenant people of Israel.  He belonged to the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews—even his ancestry was “pure.”  Paul was a well-trained, accomplished Pharisee, completely knowledgeable in the Law.  In fact, Paul claimed blamelessness under the Law.  And no one should question his zeal or passion for the Law and the things of God as he was a persecutor of the Church, showing his utter devotion to the first covenant. 

Paul knew the Law, but he really didn’t know the God who gave the Law.  He was very adept at God’s justice and judgment, but he didn’t know God’s mercy and compassion.  Paul was fully knowledgeable of his own personal righteousness, yet didn’t know God’s righteousness and how far short Paul was from God’s own righteousness.  Paul’s genealogy and his own so-called blameless works as a Pharisee ran interference in his life, getting in the way of his knowing God as God desires to be known. 

What interferes with you and I knowing God?  Is it not our own works, our personal righteousness, how good we think we are?  “I’ve never done ____, so I’m not that bad.”  “I go to church every Sunday.  I even put a couple dollars in the offering plate.  That makes God happy.”  “I’m nice to other people.  I give to charity.  I help my neighbor with some things around the house.”  Like Paul, our attitudes can interfere with our relationship with God.  So can our actions.  Consider—what movies and programs do you watch, what websites do you visit, what books do you read?  Do your actions in front of others convey to them that you are a Christian or that you are just like everyone else?  Do you work hard to fit in with the establishment to get ahead in the world at any cost?  Are you so worried about your reputation and what your friends think about you that you compromise yourself and your morals and your faith? 

Life’s pressures interfere with knowing God.  Our own sinfulness interferes with our knowing God.  Possessions can interfere with our knowing God.  Other people, fears, worries, problems can all interfere with our relationship to the Lord.  There just seems to be more things around us that get in the way of us and God than would bring us together.  So, like Paul, we face a hard struggle—within ourselves, with our world, with our situations and stations in life.  We give ourselves a lot of reasons to have confidence in the flesh, but not one of those reasons helps us in our relationship with God. 

What does help?  Only one thing—Jesus Christ.  Simply knowing Jesus Christ exceeds all else.  Clinging only to Christ is how we enjoy all the benefits of Christ and truly know God as our heavenly Father who is gracious and merciful to us poor, sinful beings.  Paul said, “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.”  Compared to Jesus Christ, nothing else mattered—not his heritage, not his works, not anything!  Christ is all in all.  In fact, Paul called those things that interfere with our relationship with the Lord rubbish, literally filth!  Paul suffered the loss of all things and counted them as filth so that he might cling to Christ alone by faith, having the righteousness that comes from Christ through the forgiveness of sins and the reconciliation of peace with God the Father. 

What makes this faith possible?  When enables us to suffer the loss of all things as rubbish in order to gain the surpassing worth of Jesus Christ?  Like Paul, we gain Christ when by God’s grace, the Lord Himself connects us with Him.  This connection is made by faith, “without any merit or worthiness of our own.”  This faith is centered in and on the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ for us and for our salvation.  Jesus Christ went to the cross to destroy death and to give you and me the gift of eternal life.  Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, our sins are forgiven and we are covered in the righteousness of Christ, declared holy and just before the throne of God.  Because Jesus rose from the dead, we can be certain that we, too, will rise.  And on that day of resurrection, we will experience never-ending joy and peace as we stand face-to-face with our Lord and Savior. 

With this faith and hope Paul had been captured by Christ.  He had been set on the road toward the blessed resurrection form the dead to travel along the path of fellowship with Christ’s sufferings.  In Holy Baptism, Christ has captured our hearts and souls also and brought us saving faith.  In this washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit our hearts have been cleansed from sin and given the new life of faith and trust in Jesus Christ, who gave up His life into death on the cross for our forgiveness and was raised from the dead for our justification.  Our lives have now been set on the road toward our resurrection from the dead as we journey along the path of life in fellowship with Christ and His sufferings.  Nothing else counts—it is all considered loss and trash—compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ by faith in which we have complete forgiveness and life everlasting in body and soul with our heavenly Father. 

God draws you and me through His Word toward the way of life He intends for us.  It is a life with purpose and meaning, not because of the things of this world, not because of our works, but because of Jesus Christ and the eternal life we now have by faith in Him.  By faith in Christ, along with St. Paul, we forget what lies behind, the stuff that interferes and we strain forward to what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  This again is God’s gift to us in Jesus.  We didn’t set up the prize; we did not even call ourselves to run for it.  All this is of God and of Christ.  Nor does our running create the prize or even earn it.  The prize is pure grace, even our call is nothing but pure grace like the new life by which we are able to run and the running itself to which grace moves us. 

So let us run the race.  Christ Jesus has made us His own through His death and resurrection so that we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  Because He is raised from the dead, we too we be raised in the resurrection at the Last Day.  Trust that the Lord will not let life’s interference destroy His relationship that He has with you by faith.  Look forward, then, to completing the race, winning the prize, and seeing your Lord Jesus Christ face-to-face.  By God’s grace, you have gained Christ.  So shall you live eternally with Him!  Amen.