Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Sermon: Thursday of Trinity 11 (Pentecost 12)

24 August 2004 at Chapel of Lutheran High School, Metairie, LA

Text: Phil 3:1-11

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

In last week’s text, St. Paul waged war against teachers in Galatia who incorrectly turned the Christian faith into a series of rules and regulations. In today’s text, he writes to Christians at Philippi, warning them of these same false teachers – whom Paul calls “dogs,” “evildoers,” and those who “mutilate the flesh.” These are the people who trust in their own flesh as a source of righteousness. These are the people who believe they are actually capable of overcoming sin on their own, by their own will power, or due to their own high station in life.

St. Paul tells the Philippians: “Look, if anyone could be saved by doing good works, by associating with all the right people, by keeping all the rules, that would be me!” Paul lists all of the things he has going for himself – and it is an awesome list. Most people would be impressed by St. Paul’s accomplishments. But what does Paul call all of these things? Compared to his confession of Jesus Christ as the Lord, Paul considers all of them to be “rubbish.” This is actually a cleaned-up version of what the Greek text really says.

Paul gets right to the point, the central point of the Gospel. Paul cuts to the heart of who Jesus is and why he’s still important today. Paul sums it up like this: my righteousness, or my “right-ness” before God does not come from myself. It does not come from my obedience to the law. It does not come from my ancestry or obedience to certain rituals. It does not come from my accomplishments. Rather, my righteousness, my being right with God, comes from God himself. It’s not about me at all. Paul calls it the “righteousness from God that depends on faith.” In other words, God is so merciful to me, that as miserable, as guilty, as undeserving as I am, God gives me a gift. And that gift is his own goodness. So when God the Father looks at me, he doesn’t see the poor, miserable sinner that I am, but rather he sees his own Son, his perfect Son, his obedient Son. God credits my account with the righteousness and perfection of Jesus, and he also removes all traces of my sin, my guilt, my punishment.

This goes for St. Paul, it goes for you, and it goes for me. This is the gift that comes wrapped in baptismal water and given to you on the day of your second birth, on the day you were, in the words of our Lord, “born again of water and the Spirit.” This gift comes tied up in a cross-shaped bow, and presented to you with a card engraved with your name on it. The extreme obedience of Jesus in going to the cross becomes your own. This is why we make the sign of the cross when we recall our baptisms.

And Paul points out that this amazing act of mercy comes with yet another gift attached to it – the gift of eternal life. As we say in the Creed, the “resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” And we remember this gift when we make the sign of the cross at the end of the creed. For this gift is bundled together with the first.

These gifts make all other worldly things seem like trash. The gift of the righteousness of Jesus Christ makes anything we can do, anything we can earn, any high position we have, seem like garbage. There is no amount of money, no position of power, no status symbol that can even look like anything other than rotten banana peels and used milk containers when placed next to the glorious treasure freely given to us at baptism. And that priceless gift is this: Your sins have been forgiven, not by your actions, but rather by the death and resurrection of God’s Son for you. You have been freed to be a blessing to others instead of worrying about your own soul. We Christians are free to do good works for others out of sheer gratitude – not out of a “what’s in it for me” attitude.

This is why Paul tells the Philippians to rejoice! They have gotten a great gift. They have cheated the hangman. They have received more than all the combined wealth of the world as a present from Almighty God himself. Well they should rejoice. And so should we. Amen.

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

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