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5th October 2014 – Sixteenth after Trinity – Jack Noonan

Sermon (Click Link to Listen)

Bible Readings: Isaiah 5. 1-7; Philippians 4. 4b-14; Matthew 21. 33-46

Sermon 5.10.2014 Philippians 3. 4b-14

Today I’d like us to focus our attention on our second reading… where Paul is writing to his earliest European congregation; a congregation that he dearly loved….the Phillipians.

This letter is one of the most positive letters ever penned by Paul.

For from the opening lines to its conclusion it is a torrent of positive, affirmative energy.

A letter, in which the word ‘joy’ or ‘joyous’ is used at least 6 times and the word ‘rejoice’ repeated some 11 times.

Short as the letter is, it has layer upon layer of spiritual richness’ and depths,… inexpressible joy coupled with great hope and firm assurances. A must read.

Paul had visited Philippi for the first time when on his second missionary journey some 15 years earlier.

Back then he and Silas caused a riot and ended up being flogged and imprisoned.

The Phillipians who were converted during the visit grew into a church and were, throughout Paul’s life very attached to him, and he was very fond of them.

From the opening chapter Paul speaks to them with great affection;

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you….

I hold you in my heart…

They were not well off congregation. But even in their poverty they were open-handed and generous supporting Paul’s missionary work as best they could, something Paul always appreciated as he had come to know great hardship and want.

For from his house arrest, where he writes this letter he tells them that in serving Jesus he has;

learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need…

Still with firm but gentle assurance, tempered with experience and humility he shares with them… and with us… a great realisation of faith that we….;

can do all things through Him who strengthens me (us).

This tone of acceptance and joy is maintained right through to the last chapter when he prays, reassuring those who give to the work of Christ …that;

God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus’.

The Extract

Immediately prior to today’s extract we have the glorious section Christians have entitled The Hymn to Christ’s Humility. Where Jesus, in the words of Charles Wesley, ‘emptied Himself of all but love’

On being born into humanity Jesus did not grasp onto/hold onto His God –nature/ His equality with God…

but divested Himself/stripped Himself of all divinity, becoming truly human in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

Emptied Himself of all His divine attributes. Jesus had to be a 100% human and live his life trusting 100% in our FatherGod’s goodness, faithfulness, and love. This was the only way to redeem us.

God the Father who had put eternity in our hearts, sent His Son to our orphaned planet to show us the way home.

To achieve this Jesus became an obedient servant to the extent of accepting death, even the scandalous death on the cross in order

1.To destroy death,

2. Save a fallen creation and

3. Reconcile us…a flawed humanity from eternal alienation from the Father.

Although Jesus, Son of God was rich beyond measure…to restore us, to a right relationship with God, He became poor…And in Wesley’s words: ‘ bled for Adam’s helpless race.’

Because of Christ’s generosity and self-sacrifice, Father God exalted Jesus, granting Him a name above every name…that at the name of Jesus EVERY knee should bow…..of things in heaven, and things on earth ,and things below the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…’

Confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord was and is still radical and dangerous. For early Christians, saying Jesus was Lord meant that Caesar was not Lord. This led to death.

Today is no different, our fellow believers holding to the Lordship of Jesus are suffering death by beheading and crucifixion in parts of Syria, and Iraq. Our believing Jesus is Lord and God, indicates that Allah is not.

Last year the Vatican estimated that worldwide, about 100,000 Christians die each year for their faith in Christ.  That comes down to about 274 people each day, or about 11 every hour. 

Paul

-Paul was an exceptional man. He belonged to one of the most aristocratic tribes of Israel, the tribe of Benjamin, from whom Saul, the first king of Israel was selected.

-Paul had a brilliant mind. He had an education second to none.

-He was destined for an upwardly mobile and successful career in Jewish society.

-He was a committed member of a most influential grouping called the Pharisees. No fault was found in him in relation to his observing religious discipline.

-He was then a man of status and authority …who had used that authority to root out a heresy, called The Way ,centred on a recently crucified criminal named Jesus of Nazareth.

But Paul ,then in his late 20’s had dramatic encounter with the Risen Jesus on the Damascus road …and this put pay to his expected career path.

By the time, we meet in this letter, he is in his late 50s; under house arrest and within a few years would be beheaded in Rome.

In today’s passage we see him reviewing those things he once highly valued and boasted about…. his pedigree ….his achievements. But he now dismisses what he once greatly prized as nothing more than a load of rubbish, dregs and dung.

For Paul absolutely nothing in life could compare with the wonder of …knowing… living for and in his risen Lord Jesus.

Christian history down to the present day is strewn with individuals who on encountering Jesus have their lives dramatically radical changed. Life’s priorities take a somersault and in agreement with Paul they declare ‘For me to live is Christ to die is gain.’

Believers with Paul know that God is not an abstract or impersonal concept.

Believers with Paul know that God is a living being, a living Spirit who enters time and space.

A God who creates history…

A God Who is alive, personal and through the Spirit of Christ relates personally with each of us…..and having us, like Paul desiring with every waking moment, to fully know Christ and the power coming from His resurrection.

Knowing Christ

This’ knowing Jesus’, which is open to us all… is intensely spiritual and intimate. It would be wrong to understand this ‘knowing ‘as knowing about Jesus. This knowing is not about knowing biographical facts of Jesus’ life on earth. Where He was born. What He did Where he went to school etc.

The ‘knowing Jesus’ which Paul speaks of is profoundly radical and life altering. It is a ‘knowing’ that is virtually impossible to articulate.

Paul, like every single believer down the centuries, had, in Jesus, found the pearl of great price and…. sold all… gave up all…surrendered all…to possess it.

The nearest approximation I can make to describe this gravitional pull and passion…this drawing… is the intensity we associate with being in love. We are single minded…..we can move mountains… nothing, however difficult, side-tracks or diverts our ardour.

But be aware: whoever diligently seeks to be wholly with this Jesus will find that the love of Christ will constrain them…

In Christ… being loved totally, we totally love.

Divine Love, casts out all fear and outlast eternity.

As with Paul, no believer has ever been satisfied with their relationship with Christ this side of eternity.

With our Triune Godhead there will always be new lengths, heights, and depths to be realised, and experienced. It will takes eternity to know Him and His love.

———–

We find in Phillipian’s our mature Paul

is still constrained by love… to seek…. to realise…. more and more of the beauty and richness still to be known in Christ Jesus. He says:

[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly]

Why this love, passion and loyalty to and for Jesus?

No need for us to feel intimidated by the spiritual achievements that the Lord’s Spirit accomplished in Paul. We can glory in them. Be awed by them. Desire them. Seek to emulate and learn from them.

For the same Holy Spirit that indwelt and co laboured with Jesus, Paul and every believer worldwide and down through history is working with and in you and me. Just give Him our reins and seek His love. He has accomplished all that is needed for our eternal salvation.

He merely asks of us to have faith, trust and confidence in that fact…. and in His word of Lady Julian of Norwich ‘’All shall be well…and all shall be well … and all manner of things shall be well.’

Regardless of where we are in our spiritual growth right now… or what blind alleys our blinkered natures have led us down….we are never without hope …

Paul, the Apostle to us Gentiles, inspired by the Holy Spirit, gives us sound spiritual advice to heed and direction to go in;

one thing I do [it is my one aspiration]: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,14 I press on toward the goal to win the supreme prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward’.

Amen