Tag Archives: Proper 22a

Challenges.

One of the dangers of my Church is that it has such nice people in it! So easily it can become a club of well-meaning and like minded people. If we were all long sentence prisoners, slaves, or addicts our need would be clearer and less escapable. Paul would understand the danger. He has quite a record of achievement, – lays it out in Philippians 3:5,6. (Today we are reading Philippians 3:4-14). Yet he chooses to rely instead on Christ. There are several challenges here, but also much comfort.

First, a challenge to think about Christian achievement ( and to think about it more than secular achievement). We note people of significance – those with academic distinction, high office, or public achievement. We are not so good at celebrating those who persist faithfully in unpopular, underfunded or badly managed enterprise. The care worker who makes extra effort, and so on . . . Alas, we are less good at honouring those whose faith and Christian service are of lasting significance. I don’t mean we should resurrect the forgotten saints of past times, but that we need to think about our priorities – the more when Paul’s ambitions seem odd. The comfort here is for those who will never wear a medal on earth, but whose reliance on Christ earns them a heavenly record.

Secondly, a challenge about where our confidence should rest. Could we say with Paul we don’t care about our social status?

 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.

Philippians 3:7

The comfort? It’s never too late to start. Disciples change! Part of this (or is it another point?) is the righteousness which comes from faith, rather than law (verse 9). The challenge is to rely on grace, forgiveness, Jesus, not on being “good” or respected. It is a good deal harder than you might think. The comfort? For those who find it hard, they can look to Jesus.

Is it time to stop yet? Perhaps, but a final challenge is keeping going to reach the goal verses 12-14. We haven’t arrived yet; we can’t give up and rely on our past. The comfort – yes, once again, it is never too late.

Paul was a great challenge, even insult, to his contemporaries. His transfer from Pharisee to Christian won him many enemies, much misunderstanding. We need to face up to his challenge – perhaps it is not his but Christ’s – to “conventional” religion. There is comfort, too, but only when we take seriously the call to “regard whatever gains we had as loss because of Christ”

The joy of limited responsibility!

There are (at least) 2 ways of living as a Christian:

  • loaded down with all the concerns – lists of sick people to pray for, world problems, – proper concerns, but “heavy”, and liable to make life hard going.
  • or with a sense of God’s ownership, and thanks for it:
    sometimes (as at Harvest) times are good – there is the reminder of the gifts of creation
    sometimes (as at Christmas, Easter, Pententecost) focus on the gift of Jesus, of his life, his death for us, his sending of the Holy Spirit.

In darker moments, when its easy to focus on what is going wrong or badly, and the pain of it, the best way may be to go on with a sense of God’s ownership. We don’t have to understand, as long as someone makes sense of it.  We are not called to be in control, but only to do our part.  If we don’t understand everything, is that a great surprise – God is much greater than we are, and there is no suggestion we have all the information, let alone the ability to process it properly.

Jesus tells the story of the Vineyard (Matthew 21:33-46), picking up from Isaiah.  God had worked, not just to pop plants in, but to clear a place, build a wall, plant, and get everything set up. All the tenants had to do when they came in later was to carry on with the harvest and maintenance. There is real anger at their attempt to take over ownership – the deceit, theft, pretence.

Of course there’s a warning here for us all: Don’t imagine you own – anything! On earth, we’re all tenants, and we need to know that, and pay due regard to the landlord.  That’s the negative side, but see the positive as well – Like a good tenant, you don’t have to worry when the roof leaks – you do what you can, and tell the owner. That’s your responsibility.

When life is good – Give thanks.  When life is not so easy. Give thanks for the owner, who has to deal with everything. We don’t. And if you can remember that, you could save a lot of nervous energy.  Whether it is as easy to put into practice as to understand – well, you try.