16th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 20) LSB #’s 827, 839, 411
Text – Philippians 1:18 (NIV)
But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, & I will continue to rejoice.
ALL THAT MATTERS
The central thought: In the midst of a society imprisoned by injustice & ripped apart by racial tension, followers of Jesus are called & empowered to be God’s prophetic voice as we speak out & live out “All That Matters.”
The Church has every right under our nation’s law, & more importantly, every obligation under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, to speak into the political, moral & social issues facing our United States. That’s why God put His people here.
Issues of social-economic inequity, historic or systemic racial injustice, a punitive rather than restorative justice system, poorly performing & poorly funded schools in the poorest neighborhoods that guarantee generational poverty, an atmosphere in which police are more like soldiers in battle than guardians of the peace, & the resultant deaths of black men at the hands of police followed by peaceful protests & vengeful violence all scream for God’s Spirit to speak His peace, His truth, His love, His righteousness, His justice, His hope & His healing into the world our Lord created & died to save.
Our saintly nature, as the people of God, cannot help but speak His Word. His people live as the Spirit-filled Body of Christ & we are emissaries of His new creation & His coming kingdom. How do we go about doing that? How do we lean into our responsibility in this timely opportunity to speak & to live as God’s mouthpiece?
Over the next 7 weeks we will address the message from God to His people in the context of the racial tension in our nation. We’ll address how God’s chosen saints in Christ Jesus can think, speak, pray & act. We seek the Holy Spirit’s wisdom & power to be our best selves as Christ’s ambassadors to a sin-fallen world. We seek to address racial issues that are in the forefront of our nation. In this context, the Word of God may be difficult to hear & accept.
We will discover that 1st we need to repent before God for our own role in racial injustice – whether that is active or passive, intentional or in ignorance, whether one is black or white. We will seek God’s healing through the cross of Christ &, from there, carry the message of His cross into conversations & active engagements with people who are different from us.
This is not new & I’m thinking of one reason in particular – the Concordia Pulpit. They are books containing entire sermons for each Sunday & special day in a year. They were intended to record how pastors had engaged the words of Scripture in years past. It was hoped they would assist the pastor in framing his thoughts & to perhaps borrow an illustration or two.
In reading volumes from the 1950’s through the mid 1960’s, there was no lack of sermons that included very blunt references to the geopolitical issues surrounding the “Cold War” & the threat of nuclear attack. They were intentionally addressing current issues in the context of God’s revealed Word & helping God’s people think Biblically about them.
This series of sermons is meant to do the same. References will also be made to a Concordia Publishing House Bible Study written by Rev. Keith Haney. His work is titled, One Nation Under God: Healing Racial Divides in America. The hope is that you will work through this Bible Study for spiritual growth & meaningful conversation on the topic.
St. Paul wrote in Philippians 1:18, “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice!” Did you hear that ending note? Joy is all over this brief letter that Paul wrote to his supportive friends. Yet, as you may know, Paul was in prison as he wrote this letter. He is one who, as a follower of Christ, was on the ragged fringe of society even though he was a Roman citizen. His life could be ended at any time, yet, Paul wrote of joy, & did so with joy in his heart. Living in prison & on that ragged fringe of society, would you say the Apostle was in a position of power or of privilege?
I hope you conclude that the Apostle Paul had confidence, & hope, & courage, & peace, & humility, & power, & position, & privilege, & hope, & joy in the midst of difficulties & suffering because he knew, by faith, “ALL THAT MATTERS.”
You & I can have those same things as we purposefully live in the midst of the racial unrest that we must not ignore as the people of God. And, my friends, we will need all those assurances to effectively participate in conversations & actions that transform people as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”
In His Word, God has given us two foundation truths that matter. 1. Our identity is wrapped up in Jesus. 2. Our life is wrapped up in Jesus.
We may self-identify as black or white, European, African, Middle Eastern, South or Central American, or Asian. We may identify with being American, male or female, employed, unemployed, or retired, city dweller or rural folk, well-educated or street-smart. These & many more could be identifying marks. But “what does it matter?”
Paul was a prisoner, yet that was not his identity. He was “in chains for Christ.” (v. 13) He was a victim of injustice, but that was not his identity. He was victorious “in Christ.” (Romans 8:37) He was powerless to correct those who preached Christ from selfish or destructive motives, yet powerless was not his identity.
He joyfully responded, “What does it matter? …Christ is preached!” Later in the Philippians, Paul confessed that at one time he proudly identified himself as a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” well educated in the Law of God & a devout follower of the legal traditions. He was a “persecutor of the Church,” but he concludes, “I count it all as rubbish that I may gain Christ & be found in Him …having a righteousness that is from God & is by faith!” (3:5–6, 8–9) Paul’s identity was all wrapped up in Jesus!
And like Paul’s, our identity is wrapped up in Jesus. At Baptism, or through hearing the message of Christ, we were made children of God. We bear His name! We are individually & collectively the Temple of the Holy Spirit! All this is only by the grace of God connecting us by faith to the accomplished work of Jesus on the cross!
This single identity for each of God’s children is “ALL THAT MATTERS!” Every other identifying mark pales in comparison! At one time our identity was that of “enemies of God” (Romans 5:10), “by nature objects of wrath” & “dead in our sin” (Ephesians 2:3–4).
Our original identity as God’s personally created image-bearers in His universe has been twisted & trashed by our sinful rebellion, both inherited & personal. Apart from Jesus Christ, that is still the destitute identity of every man, woman & child on the face of the earth. It is ours too without God’s action in Jesus, on our behalf.
The challenge confronting us is the question: “Are we living out our true identity? Do our thoughts, our words & our deeds, that the people around us hear & see, align with our identity in Christ? How this matter of identity relates to issues of race in our society is pointed out by Rev. Haney as he offers these remarks:
“Although God created mankind as one human race, our sinful, selfish natures have created false lines of color dividing that race. Over the years, these false perceptions about different races have been cooked into the recipe of our culture. We have seen them played out in the media, on television sitcoms, & in books. The challenge now is; how do we get around what we believe to be true in order to start seeing people as individuals? The apostle Paul gives a pathway forward – start seeing as God does, not ‘according to the flesh.’ (2 Corinthians 5:16) To bring about true healing, we have to find our identity in the new life we have in Christ.”
As followers of Jesus, we must realize that every neighbor on our planet is a beloved image-bearer of God, a broken sinner under God’s righteous wrath, redeemed by Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, & welcomed as a forgiven child only by faith in the victorious, risen Jesus. That is the reality whether you accept it or not.
That is true of everyone whether black or white, rich or poor, Christian or non-Christian, conservative or liberal, citizen or illegal alien, immigrant by choice & opportunity or immigrant by force on a slave ship. Holy Spirit, lead us to repent of identifying ourselves or others as anything else. “ALL THAT MATTERS” is one’s identity in Jesus Christ.
Secondly, the Holy Spirit through Paul teaches that our identity in Christ is to be lived out in daily relationships. On the heels of declaring his ultimate confident faith, in the face of potential death, “For me to live is Christ & to die is gain” (v. 21), Paul gives this encouragement:
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (v. 27). In other words, not only is our identity wrapped up in Jesus, our life is wrapped up in Jesus. Therefore, it is secure in Christ’s resurrection life for eternity. How we live each day makes a difference in the Church & in the world, even if we don’t see the results.
In just a few strokes of Paul’s letter, the Holy Spirit outlines what “living in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” looks like:
1. “Standing firm in one spirit, contending as one man” (v. 27). We are united. We stand together – all for one & one for all – just as a human body is not meant to be divided. We share a common identity in Christ. That’s true in the Church. In broader society, inclusive of Christians & non-Christians alike, all of us are sons & daughters of Adam & Eve. We’re united, in one human family, regardless of color, position, or ethnicity. In our nation, the focus should be more on unity while celebrating diversity without division. As believers in the God of creation, the Church must affirm the great value that each human being has in the sight of God.
2. “Contending as one man for the faith of the gospel” (v. 27). Yes, we are united, but what unites us is not our willpower. Rather, we are united by common faith in Jesus. We are also united in action. Namely, we are “contending for the faith of the gospel.”
Now that word “contending” is not limited to making sure our doctrine is pure. Indeed, our call is not just to “protect” the gospel. No, we are to intentionally & intensely work together to advance the Good News, to be emissaries of His coming kingdom. Jesus outlined His kingdom mission as He initiated His public ministry by reading from Isaiah the prophet:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, & recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18–19)
All God’s promises stand fulfilled in the person & work of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). After His victorious resurrection, Jesus said to His followers, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you …Receive the Holy Spirit.” As the Spirit-empowered Body of Christ, we “contend as one man” when we join with Jesus on His kingdom mission.
That includes fighting injustice, being a voice for the disenfranchised, defending the weak, working to release those held captive by poverty & poor education, bringing healing to broken lives, & reconciliation to fractured relationships including those between black & white.
As one of our Lutheran educators put it in a recent blog, “Do I, as a teacher, want to be just the keeper of correctness or be an agent of access?” Such an attitude should also be ours as
we “contend for the faith of the gospel.”
3. The final mark of living in a “manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” is framed by Paul with these words: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him.” Yes, as we dare, in faith, to live out our identity in Christ as the Body of Christ in the society & world, we can anticipate suffering for the sake of Jesus.
Even as God’s Son did not grasp or hold onto His position with the Father, but humbled Himself & became man & was obedient to the Father even to death on the cross (Philippians 2:5ff), so we are called to suffer alongside those who suffer & seek to relieve their suffering.
Did you know that, in 2014, the median income of a white household was $71,300 & the median income of a black household was $43,300? Of households headed by someone with a college degree, a white household’s median income was $106,600 & that of a black, college-educated household was only $82,300?
Did you know that a black man is three times more likely to be searched during a routine traffic stop than a white man? These pieces of information are used to make the claim that “white privilege” is a real thing in our society. This sort of information clearly shows the great disparity among us as citizens of the same nation.
Attending issues of education & job opportunities work to expand the divide. In Christ, we are called by the Spirit to release our grip on white privilege or black victimhood, whichever is your assumed position. Failure to acknowledge & release our prideful posture will only keep us divided, unable & unwilling to have the hard conversations we need to have with one another.
Followers of Jesus can no longer allow black or other marginalized people to be the political pawns of the “Left” or the “Right.” This is not a political issue for us, but a Biblical one. We must engage in the work & enter the suffering of others. The people of God must speak – 1st to ourselves to repent; then also to our neighbor, whatever color he or she may be. We can expect to be misunderstood, mistreated, disenfranchised, muffled & marginalized. We may even expect persecution as we take our stand with Jesus, speaking truth to falsehood while following Jesus’ straight path in a crooked & twisted world.
Nevertheless, our present & eternal identity is always wrapped up in Christ; & our life is always securely wrapped up in Jesus. That’s ALL THAT MATTERS. Amen.
O Christ, our true & only light, enlighten those who sit in night; let those afar now hear Your voice & in Your fold with us rejoice. Fill with the radiance of Your grace the souls now lost in error’s maze; enlighten those whose inmost minds some dark delusion haunts & blinds. O gently call those gone astray that they may find the saving way! Let every conscience sore oppressed in You find peace & heavenly rest. Amen. LSB 839:1-3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet