16th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 20) LSB #599 to tune of 655
Text – Philippians 1:27
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come & see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.
WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL
Joe Delaney & his 8-year-old son, Jared, were playing catch in their backyard, when Jared asked, “Dad, is there a God?” Joe replied that when he was younger he did go to church a couple of times, but he really knew nothing about God. After a short while Jared ran into the house, yelling, “I’ll be right back.”
He got the helium-filled balloon he had from the circus, a pen, & an index card. “I’m going to send God an airmail message,” he explained. He wrote, “Dear God, if you are real, & you are up there, send people who know you to Dad & me.” As they watched the balloon sail away, Joe thought, God, I hope you are real & that you are watching.
Two days later, Joe & Jared pulled into a car wash sponsored by a church. When Joe asked the cost, he was told, “It’s free. No strings attached.” “But why are you doing this?” Joe inquired. He was told, “We just want to show God’s love in a practical way.” So Joe asked, “Are you guys Christians? Do you believe in God?”
That car wash encounter led Joe & Jared to learn about God & His Son Jesus Christ through the people from that church. Demonstrating our heavenly Father’s love to strangers is letting our manner of life be worthy of the Gospel. For the nature of the Gospel is free gift. To live our lives as worthy of it means that our lives revolve around giving.
The season of Christmas is celebrated through the giving of gifts to reflect the essence & nature of the Gospel. That was necessary after The Fall into sin, yet, it’s not the 1st instance of the Triune God’s giving. That happened already in the beginning when God created the heavens & the earth. He was giving of Himself then too, & has never stopped giving. In The Creation the Triune God even gave His own image to mankind:
“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male & female He created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful & multiply & fill the earth & subdue it, & have dominion over the fish of the sea & over the birds of the heavens & over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” (Genesis 1:27-28 ESV)
Except for one tree, everything that Yahweh had created was at the disposal of Adam & Eve, to be used according their good wishes. So the man & woman weren’t satisfied. They took even the one thing that had not been given them. Mankind has not stopped taking ever since, as these words to King David demonstrate:
“…This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, & I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, & your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel & Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in His eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword & took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.’” (2 Samuel 12:7-9 NIV)
It is the nature of God to love & therefore to give. Our rebellion has twisted & perverted everything God created. Instead of the spirit of giving, the spirit of taking has infected each man, woman & child on this earth. In spite of that, our Lord & Savior has come to earth in the womb of the Virgin Mary, in order to restore every aspect of His good creation.
That work has already begun, as St. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (5:17 ESV) The Apostle elaborates on that today in the reading from Philippians:
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come & see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, & not frightened in anything by your opponents.” Paul wrote this letter from prison & the penalty that had been hanging over him was death by execution. Maybe that threat would help us get our priorities in order as well. St. Paul wants us to ask ourselves, “Is the life I am living worthy of the Gospel of Christ?”
By the language he uses it’s clear – he’s not trying to lay a guilt trip on us. He simply wants you to see by faith in Jesus, rather than by your sin-clouded physical sight – you know, that physical sight which can never get enough & always wants more, & more. How do we encourage one another while not making each other feel guilty, or shamed?
If the shame is legitimate, due to the recognition of our sins, how do we help each other move forward trusting in Jesus to save us? To ask the same question in a more positive light, now that you are a child of God, what kind of life do you live? How do you respond to the giving of God? How do you love your neighbor as yourself?
There are literally millions of ways to do each. Since you are a new creation in Christ, you have God’s Holy Spirit living within you to guide & direct you in moving forward, & in bearing fruit. The trouble is you also have the Old Adam living within you which daily needs to be drowned & die by contrition & repentance.
Guilt is part & parcel of our daily lives, so the hope & joy of the Gospel also needs to be part & parcel of our daily lives. No other human being can make that application in your heart, & mind & soul more effectively than you. That’s what daily & personal devotions are about. They are for applying the forgiveness of Christ to your sins so you can move forward in giving.
Plenty of people in the world today, like Joe & Jared from the opening illustration, also need to know who their Lord & Savior is. They need to know that He loves & cares for them, individually & personally. They need to know that they too can move forward from the guilt & the shame that stains their heart & their mind & their soul. It is that news of the forgiveness of sin that brings people to light & to life even in this broken & twisted culture. Not government, not education, not activism, not even good & free health care can bring healing into our world like the Good News of Jesus will do. Only the news that God, Creator of the entire universe, loves you, one on one, can change your heart so good behavior follows as part of who you are.
In this 1st chapter of Philippians, St. Paul is writing for the purpose of encouraging us in this faith we have in Christ. He knows how difficult the life of a child of God can be, but he also knows that every last moment of that struggle here on earth will be worth it once we arrive in heaven. Amen.
O gracious Lord, with love draw near to these, Your children gathered here; the Spirit’s gift in them renew: The gift of faith that clings to You. Sustain the work You have begun in these united to Your Son, for in that pure baptismal flood they have been cleansed by Jesus’ blood. O Father, grant that by Your grace they may Your will each day embrace; with fruits of faith their lives now bless, till they at death Your name confess. Amen. LSB 599:1-2, 5.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet