Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sermon on Control

We all have a past. For some, they are pasts we can find pride in. For others, the past is something we would rather forget.

For all of us, there are things we have done in our pasts that bring us shame. I remember well the things of my past that though I would like to forget, still haunt me. One situation occurred as a child. When I was in elementary school, I was a very shy child, and like most 8 or 9 year olds, longed to be accepted. One of my neighbors and childhood friends was very unpopular. She was picked on ruthlessly by the children in our school. Yet I never stood up for her. In fact, I would sometimes laugh along with the other children. Later in the day I would apologize and tell her I didn’t mean it, but yet the next day I would still do it, so as not to be picked upon myself. I still regret my behavior to this day, and even when we correspond now as adults, that childhood past still haunts me.

The season of Lent in the church is one that offers us a unique opportunity. It is a time for us as the body of Christ to journey towards the cross. This is a journey which is to take us, lead us, in a time of reflection, journeying through this life from cradle to grave.

No one in this world knows how long our journey will be. We do not know what challenges will arise along the way. Some may face the ghosts of their past, calling them to reflection, confession, and repentance. Some of us may battle the pain of illness, whether it be physical or mental. We may journey through the challenges of broken relationships or past abuse. We may be faced with realization we must deal with the heavy load we bear financially. This road from cradle to grave brings with it many past or present hurts that we would rather not deal with. We are faced in this journey with the realization that life has and will continue to bring us situations that are beyond our control.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians echoes this truth. He writes to the people of Philippi from prison, reminding them and us of the importance of perspective. We are told that we are to gain perspective by reflecting on our past, present, and future, and how they can come together at any given moment.
Paul is speaking from a perspective that can understand the struggles people may face with their pasts. When we look at my example and Paul’s past, there is a laughable gap between their severity. We know of Paul’s past from his account in the book of Acts. He was one of the greatest persecutors of Christians in his time. He was known to torture and kill any followers of the Way, the name for Christianity at that time. He would harm women, child, and men, all because of their profession of faith in Christ.

Paul does not shy away from acknowledging his past to the people he is writing to. He knows that through reflecting on and acknowledging his past, it makes his claims and boasts as a Christian even more authentic. Paul is able to reflect on the sins of his past, yet embrace with pride the things which he has and continues to do that is for the Gospel. His words are considered more honest and real, and people listen to him, because he is able to boast of the Gospel while acknowledging that he once was one that caused harm to the church.

In Paul’s writings, he takes time to compare himself to his opponents. He acknowledges that once they were his peers, and then states that the things he did in his past count for nothing. While he does not say that as person in the past he had no value; what he is saying is that what matters is the here and now. He is putting his life’s journey into perspective.

His perspective has changed. The things he valued in the past no longer have meaning. Once, Paul valued power, riches, and control. While he hasn’t disengaged himself completely from his past, as he still counts himself an Israelite, and he is still quite zealous with his behavior…he no longer seeks the things that do not matter. What has changed is his standard. For you see, Paul no longer evaluates his life based upon what he has or how much power he has gained; For Paul, that standard is now his understanding of the life pattern established by Christ.

Paul now views his life through the lense of the cross. He recognizes that faith and service are what constitutes as a way in which to evaluate ones life. Paul knows that the things of this world will happen and are beyond our control. What matters is not that they happen but how we respond. Do we respond through selfish means in order to gain, or do we respond with faith, hope, love, and hearts that serve. Do we respond through the lense of the cross?
Paul acknowledges in his letter to the Philippians that the future has as much impact on our present as does the past. We can easily become trapped in the despair of the past, making us feel as though our faces are against the wall with no where to turn. In contrast, hope in the future can help us to press on towards the unknown. Indeed, our present is shaped from what we have experienced and what we have to hope in.

As we hear in Philippians, Paul had great hope in the future. His writings are surrounded by words of encouragement and hope in the promise of the resurrection and life in Christ. This shaped how he faced the present and helped sustain him in the present, urging him on towards the future.

As we face this life, we can learn a great deal from Paul. While there are so many things that we face that are beyond our control, we can know that living in this present reality is a part of the journey. While things may have happened in our past that we are not proud of, they are a part of our journey towards the cross. We can use those experiences to help shape how we deal with the present. We can look towards the hope of the future, knowing the promise given by Christ that we will receive the prize, we can have hope and trust in the resurrection of the dead.
This hope, and this encouragement we receive from Scripture, can help us to face those things which are beyond our control. In our Gospel reading, the disciples and all who loved Jesus were learning of what was to come. They refused to accept that indeed Christ was going to die. While they didn’t want to accept the fact that they could not control the bad things from happening to Jesus, there was hope to be found, there was comfort that was offered.

What we are told in this lesson is to not simply look at the small picture of our pain and suffering, but to look at the larger scope. While Jesus’ death looked hopeless to the disciples, it was not. While the pain had to be felt and the suffering had to take place, there was hope to be found in that moment. This is our journey from birth to the grave. This is the gift of this Lenten season, for we are reminded to open our minds and hearts to the bigger picture. The grave is not the end. Suffering does not last forever. Joy is to be found beneath the cross. Amen.


Bruce & Sylvia said...

I certainly have things I regret. Thanks for the message. I hope you get feeling better soon. I love you.

Denise said...

So glad for the Atonement and the opportunity to change and be forgiven of those regrettable things we have done!

We actually just discussed Paul and his great teachings last night in our family lesson night. (We have named our kids' middle names after Bible figures, and we wanted to remind them each of their namesakes, so we discussed Paul, Adam, Rebekah and the sign of the Dove.) I'll have to print this sermon out and keep it for Zachary Paul to read when he gets older. :)