Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sermon for the Sixth Wednesday in Lent

[8] 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
[9] 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— [10] that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, [11] that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
[12] 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. [13] 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, [14] I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philip. 3:8-14 (ESV)

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 skubolla, in order that I may gain Christ.
The language is so particularly strong in this passage that it is rarely if ever translated correctly. King James comes close with the four letter word of “dung”. I suppose many today would be ready to declare St. Paul immoral for using that word. But Paul doesn’t hesitate; he labels it skubolla, the righteousness he had earned by the law.
As if I had lost dung he says, in comparison to what he gained in losing it all, that is the knowing of Christ Jesus our Lord, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. This he clings to and nothing else.
He was righteous. He was known for his righteousness. He was known to be an upstanding Bible scholar, a mover and shaker in Jewish politics. Up and coming. He had a name for himself. And he threw it all away that he might gain Christ, and be found in him.
A reputation. We are so careful. A good reputation. We are told to work, to strive for that, A righteousness that comes from the law, a righteousness that other people see. Well that is alright in this world I suppose. There is nothing wrong with having a good reputation. Would that more of us did. But it does become a problem when it becomes our god, when it becomes that for which we think God should regard us.
For some, it is all there is. The righteousness of the law. I once talked to a man who said he stopped being a Lutheran because he wanted to go to a church that practiced what it preached. He was nonplused when I responded, that I make a very pointed effort to practice exactly that, the forgiveness of sins. It’s what I preach and it is what I practice. He then went on to tell me about how bad the sinners were in the church he attended: Drug users, fornicators, adulterers, etc. Again I responded that seems church was a good place for people like that to be. He said “now, I go to a church where the people practice righteousness. I like going to a church where the people are as righteous as me.” I think this man got it backwards. He forsook the righteousness of Christ, for his own righteousness by the law, and not even his own but that of other people! That righteousness Paul labels with a four letter word!
I don’t quite understand that. I thought to myself, knowing that this conversation was going nowhere. I do go to church where everyone is as righteous as me. Truth be told everyone who goes to church where he goes is as righteous as he is too, and it isn’t too hard for them to be as righteous as this man. But thankfully for me, thankfully for you it isn’t our righteousness by which we experience the power of the resurrection, but Christ’s righteousness, the righteousness that comes from God and depends on faith, and not the law. It is that righteousness we have and for which we count everything else a loss just as willing to give up and leave behind as we are to flush the toilette when were done. Because with Christ’s righteousness we have the gift of eternal life.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, amen.


Steve Martin said...

I feel very sorry for people like that man you encountered.

They are so far from God and wouldn't know the gospel if it hit them in the face.

I know many Mormons who have that attitude. I also know many "Christians" with that attitude.

They are in a terrible, and dangerous place.

Bror Erickson said...

Yeah, there is only so much you can do. May God break through to him sometime.