Fourth in the Philippians: finding joy in a broken world series
Preached Sunday, October 29, 2017 at Euless First United Methodist Church
One of my favorite things to do at the beach is simply to stand there, at the edge of the surf, and feel my feet gradually, slowly, sink into the sand.
As much as I like that feeling at the beach, I want my faith stance to be on a rock, not in sand.
Do you ever feel like your faith-feet are sinking? Do you worry that other people’s faith-feet are sinking all around you?
This morning, we conclude our series on Philippians with “Stand firm.”
How do you, how do we, “stand firm in the Lord”?
What does it mean to stand firm in the Lord?
Does it mean what it meant for Martin Luther, 500 years ago next Tuesday, to post 95 theses against the Catholic Church on the doors of the Wittenberg Church?
I need to clarify that: to say he was against the Catholic Church is misleading, because at the time there wasn’t really a Catholic Church. There was the Church.
And Martin Luther took it on.
He stood pretty firmly: as he is oft quoted the following April at the Diet of Worms, in defense of his rebellion:
Since your majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason–I do not accept the authority of popes and councils for they have contradicted each other–my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me. Amen.
As you might have noticed, we have placed copies of these theses on the doors to the church in memory of that momentous act.
It seems fitting to conclude our series on Philippians with “Standing Firm” on the Sunday nearest Reformation Day – especially as we approach the 500th anniversary!
Martin Luther stood firm! But I think it is fair to say that his actions have had some unintended consequences.
For instance, for war strangled most of Europe for the next 37 years. If one priest, in one region could challenge Rome, why shouldn’t others?
Until in 1555 the Peace of Augsburg settled the wars with this fine sounding latin phrase, “Cuius regio, eius religio,” or “Whose realm, his religion.”
In other words, whoever is in charge gets to pick the religion.
Which sounds great as long as you are in charge!
Which actually makes it really challenging to stand firm in the Lord. Because when kings or other government officials say jump, it’s kinda hard to say “not unless Jesus tells me to jump” instead of just saying “how high?”
Which makes it really fun to consider right now that some of us are thinking, “Yeah, they caved to whatever Obama said.” And some of us are thinking, “Yeah, they cave to whatever Trump says.”
And the point I want to make this morning is that we are followers of Jesus – not of Obama or of Trump or of any other Caesar.
Sure, we render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But we should be checking with Jesus for that list, not Caesar.
But, anyway, Thank you, Martin Luther for Standing Firm. You read the scriptures – which were, at the time, only available in Latin, and were not widely available at that. The printing press was only 60-70 years old at this time.
So there wasn’t really much to read at Starbucks yet. Which was fine, because coffee wouldn’t find it’s way to Europe for another hundred years.
Honestly, part of the reason I introduced standing firm in the context of Martin Luther, besides the 500th anniversary and all, was that it is SO MUCH easier to talk about issues and challenges in other people’s lives.
The presenting problem, legend has it, for Martin Luther, was that Rome was selling indulgences to raise money for building St. Peter’s Basilica. Indulgences were time off purgatory.
To make it perfectly clear: there was a belief in purgatory as a holding place, or a cleansing place, for people after death and before paradise.
The indulgence theory was that living relatives could contribute money and “pay off” the deceased’s time in purgatory. Or, I suppose their own, I don’t know.
It is pretty easy for you and I to comment on indulgences, or any variety of other issues that were important and significant for others.
But when it comes to our own standing firm, It gets a little tricker, and I want to show you why.
See this key? I know, it doesn’t look like a key, but it is, I promise. It also functions like the fob most of us are used to these days. See, it has a few buttons on it: panic (of course), unlock, open the trunk, and lock.
The other day, I had parked and was walking away from the car. Since I cannot for the life of me remember for more than about 3 ½ second whether I had locked the car, I reached back and hit the button again.
At which point the car should beep a little.
I tried again. Looking at the car this time, because, of course, I might not have aimed it very well.
Still no beep.
That’s ok; if one of the doors isn’t closed all the way, or if the trunk isn’t shut, it won’t beep.
So I proceeded to open and shut every door. No beep.
Opened the trunk. Shut the trunk. No beep.
AT THIS POINT, I realize I’ve been pressing the “unlock” keep the entire time.
BUT I WAS SO SURE I WAS PRESSING THE RIGHT KEY
Kinda like you and I are SO SURE of so many of the things we stand firm on.
Many, many people have had their faith shaken, have felt their feet move from a stone to sand by watching the History Channel. Or my reading Dan Brown.
That’s not very firm. Sometimes we are guilty of trying to stand firm on what a famous preacher or talking head tells us “has to be” the foundation of our faith.
Sometimes those famous preachers or talking heads go tumbling, and we realize our faith was more in them than in those things they said we have to believe.
Martin Luther stood upon “scripture and plain reason.” I don’t really have time to explain why there’s really no such thing as “plain” reason – but let me say this: everyone thinks their own reason is “plain.”
A lot like most every preacher tells you his or her interpretation of the scripture is “the right one.”
What we can gain from Luther, though, is this: I think he simply gave the Church’s teaching and behavior the smell test. Compared to his own reading of scripture, and his own understanding, something smelled bad. Actually, 95 things smelled bad.
But we’re not here to enumerate what’s wrong with a church – or our church. We are here to worship God and, particularly today, to stand firm in the Lord.
Which gives us the clearest, simplest place to start. Our standing firm is not on a set of beliefs or creeds or doctrines. It is “in the Lord.”
It is time to stand firm in the Lord.
It seems to me that at least two things are necessary to stand firm in the Lord:
- We have to know the Lord
- We have to acknowledge the Lord’s lordship
First, we have to know the Lord. Paul is clearly talking about Jesus: remember the kenotic hymn in chapter 2: “every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord”
Who is this Jesus, the Lord? We could spend the rest of the day talking about who Jesus was and is. In fact, I suppose if all the things Jesus did were recorded, I imagine the world itself wouldn’t have enough room for the scrolls that would be written. (that’s a quote from the last verse of John’s Gospel – his account of Jesus’ life.)
So, to stand firm in the Lord, we have to know Jesus, and know about Jesus. One doesn’t have to know everything about Jesus – no one can! – but I believe this is essential – in our efforts to know Jesus and to know about Jesus, we have to be really careful about shooting down what others say they know about Jesus.
To stand firm in the Lord, we have to know Jesus and know about Jesus – not to prove others wrong, but so we can feel our feet are on the rock, not sinking in the sand.
Second, we have to acknowledge his lordship. It is hard for Americans to grasp Lordship because we think leaders are, and ought to be, elected.
Jesus wasn’t elected Lord! So it doesn’t matter whether you voted for him or not.
Jesus being lord means he rules. His word is final. His subjects seek his will.
I hope you can see why this second point depends upon healthy, careful, faithful commitment to the first point.
Otherwise we could end up with people going off into battle in the name of Jesus our Lord.
As if Jesus told them to.
Honestly, can you read about Jesus in the Gospels, or in the epistles for that matter, and picture THAT Jesus sending you off to kill others on His behalf?
Sure, a Lord has the power, and the authority to command his subjects to do so.
In fact, within months of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, Europe was at war, with BOTH SIDES claiming they were fighting for Jesus.
They weren’t the first, they weren’t the last. Caesars often try to convince us that waging war is God’s will.
And there are so many other things that Christ’s lordship has been read onto. For years – centuries, an obscure verse in Genesis was used by many to claim that in Jesus’ name white people were superior to black people.
For years, for centuries, and some still today, read some passages in scripture and ignore other passages to claim in Jesus’ name that men are superior to women.
This is why we need to know the Jesus who we claim to be our Lord. Because it is too easy instead to create a Jesus as Lord in our own image.
We stand firm in the Lord – not in any one version of who Jesus is or was or what Jesus said to do. But in standing firm in the Lord, we yield ourselves to Christ the Lord himself!
Only together can we know what that means!
Here, again, are Paul’s challenges to “stand firm” in 1:27
Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel…. Do this so that you stand firm, united in one spirit and mind as you struggle together to remain faithful to the gospel.
Our citizenship is in heaven. We look forward to a savior that comes from there—the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform our humble bodies so that they are like his glorious body, by the power that also makes him able to subject all things to himself.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters whom I love and miss, who are my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord.
We can stand firm in the Lord! If we live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel, and as Christ himself transforms our humble bodies so that they are like his glorious body.
Only on Jesus Christ our Lord can we stand firm! Therefore, let us stand firm in the Lord by committing ourselves to
- Know Jesus Christ
- Acknowledge his Lordship.
What does this look like? We’ll have to work on that. Together.