You are different
Philippians 2:5-11; 3:20-21
As Christians we are confronted with many decisions on a day to day basis. Decisions in our family and personal life; decisions in our careers and business; decisions in our spiritual life. The Word of God challenges us to go one way, and our society entices us to go a different way. Who is our guide when we make these decisions?
When I was a young man (I don’t think my parents considered me a man yet at that time), I didn’t feel like going to church on a given Sunday. When my parents noticed that I wasn’t getting ready, my father said: “Why aren’t you getting ready for church, we have to go soon.” I said defiantly: “I’m not going to church today!” And my father asked: “Why not? Is anything wrong? Are you not feeling right?” “No!” I said, “I just don’t feel like going today.” At this my father became very firm and said: “Son, let me tell you something: If you have a valid reason NOT to go to church, then you’re going to church.” And there was no amount of adolescent arguing that could convince him otherwise.
At the moment I did not understand what the big deal was about skipping church every once in a while when you don’t feel like going. But I have come to appreciate my father’s reasoning through a number of experiences: for example, the reading of the scriptures; a book by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon that speaks about the Church as a colony of heaven; the experience of my -and many of your – ancestors in settling in the Paraguayan Chaco; and also by paying attention to the words of young parents in our churches.
This message is about what it means to be a Christian community in a secular world. Something has changed in the last generation, that has confused many people in the church. All sorts of Christians are waking up to realize that we no longer live in a Christian world – where all of society revolves around the worship hour on Sunday morning. We can no longer deceive ourselves into thinking that the church is in charge.
Because of this shift in society, many people refer to our time in History as the post-Christian Era.
One day over coffee, of friend said to me: “it is tough to be a Mennonite today. We are forever telling our children: ‘That is fine for everyone else, buy it is not fine for you. Your are special. You are different. You are a Mennonite. You have a different story. A different set of values.’"
As we listen to our members, particularly to young parents, we hear them saying to their own children, with increasing regularity and conviction, "Such behavior is fine for everyone else, but it is not fine for you. You are special. You are different. You have a different story. You have a different set of values. You'll are a Christian."
This realization represents a shift in our thinking about the role of the church. This shift makes all the difference in the world for how we go about the business of being the church. It makes all the difference for how we carry out Christ’s Mission in our community. This shift sets us free to embrace our roots, to become of community of faith, that does not ask the world to do for the Church what it can do for itself.
As a people set appart from society the church has no business trying to force society into its mold. For example, we all know that our city has a gay Mayor. The people said that he is the best person for the job. Concerned Christians asked whether they can support the work of the Mayor. I say, “As long as his leadership improves the lot of the poor, the elderly and the sick, and business goes well, and the crime rate goes down. However, if he intend to teach us about morality, then we can no longer support him.” When we support his efforts to improve our city, we do not automatically supports his lifestyle.
Our secular society will do what it wants. It may decide to get rid of the Sabbath and hope that Christians will work or shop on Sundays – and we must confess, that by doing so, we do support the kingdom of this world to some extent. (By the way, my intention here is not to critisize those who have to choose between a Sunday Job and No Job at all. That is a difficult decision).
My point is that society may agree that morality is irrelevant. And again I say, that may be OK for our secular society, but it's not OK for us who have been transformed by the power of God in Jesus Christ. We are different. We have a different story. We have a different set of values. We are Children of the Living God.
In saying that, we must confess that this is easier said than done. Life in the secular fast lane often looks very appealing. We have a tendency to go with the flow, and to forget that God has called us to be a separate people. . . Set appart to to do His will. We forget that we have a different story. A story of forgiveness, reconciliation and God’s leading.
Let us turn to the Word of God to get a greater appreciation of life in the Christian Community.
Phillipians 3:12-21 (Reaching out toward the Goal)
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
15 All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
17 Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Paul writes this letter to the Christians in the city of Phillipi, a Roman Colony in the province of Macedonia. He warns the Christians in Phillippi about other missionaries whom he calls “dogs”, “evil workers” and “enemies of the cross”. They speak about righteousness based on law, which is different from the righteousness based on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul encourages them to live in a manner worthy of the gospel.
In this passage Paul speaks about the goal for which Christ has taken hold of him. He does not pretend to have already reached this goal, rather, he continues to reach out for it. He invites the Philippians to follow his example, and he warns them of the enemies of the cross. Their end is destruction, and their minds are set on earthly things.
Then he gives reason for what he has just said: “Our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we expect a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
This is a profound statement about the nature of the Church of Jesus Christ. Our citizenship is not of this world. The fulfillment of our lives is not dependent on what this world has to offer. Our Commonwealth is in beyond our earthly existence. The Church is an outpost of the Kingdom of God in a foreign land. It is a community of those who know that they have No permanent dwelling place in this life. Those who journey together toward an eternal dwelling place – the Kingdom of God and its rigtheousness.
In the life, death, resurrection, ascension of Christ, all human history must be reviewed. The coming of Christ has cosmic implications. He has changed the course of history. Being a part of the Christian church is an invitation to be part of an alien people, who make a difference because they see things that cannot otherwise be seen without Christ. The greater challenge for us is not whether we think right, but whether we live right.
In many ways our ancestors had it right, when they left their country and moved to the green wilderness of the Paraguayan Chaco, and lived separate from the world. Their statement was, "we are not of this world – we cannot agree with its standards." One could argue whether or not they had the right interpretation of that phrase, but my point is rather that our ancestors knew what Paul meant when he spoke of citizenship.
What makes the church different and new is that she knows Jesus Christ whereas the world does not. And just as our ancestors came to this conclusion that it is God who rules the world, our generation too must learn to rediscover that Truth. This can happen only when we make a commitment to stand apart from the world. . . When we consciously and intentionally choose to ignore the standards of this world and live instead by the standards of the world to come.
We must be transformed by the vision of God who is righteous and just, who judges us on the basis of something more significant than merely what feels right for us in the here and now.
If the world were basically Christian, then one need not worry about the church. Then conversion and transformation are not necessary. All that is needed is a visit to the psychologist and a few new insights. But because the world is secular and doesn't know Christ the church has a tremendous responsibility to be a witness and a light.
Our responsibility as a church is to interpret the Word of God for our time in history, and to imprint God’s eternal will into our collective conscience. This discerning process is what some people refer to as soul making. That is, bringing the soul of the collective church into harmony with God’s purpose for the world. The most credible form of witness of the church is the creation of a living, breathing, visible community of faith.
The confessing church is also a Church of the cross. The cross is a sign of the church’s solidarity with those who suffer. In Christ we carry one another's burdens, and we reach out to share living water.
As we discern what it means to be an outpost of God’s Kingdom here at Springfield Heights, may we encourage one another to a deeper commitment to Christ and the community of faith. May our eyes be firmly set on the One who calls us to His eternal glory.
Our citizenship must show in the way we live and behave as Christians. It must show in how we bring up our children, and how we model our lives before our young people. It shows in how we relate to one another, in the love and forgiveness that we share, how we carry one another’s load, and how we discipline one another.
As those who belong to the redeemed community, God is calling us to accountability. God is calling you and me as Ambassadors of Christ in a foreign land to live a life that is different from the standards of this world, and that reflects faith in God’s Kingdom of Justice.
Let us therefore urge one another to keep our eyes on Him who is the author and perfector of our faith.
Let us Pray,
Heavenly Father, help us to strive towards the goal that you intend for us.
Give us the strength, in our weakness, to stand apart from the world – to be an outpost of your kingdom in the world.
Lead us to a deeper conviction that our citizenship and our commonwealth is not of this world, and that we are but passing travellers to the Kingdom of God.
May your Holy Spirit work in us, so that many citizens of the world would be convicted to join us on the journey heavenward.
Grant us safety on our journey; protection from the evil one; comfort in our sorrow; strength to carry with those in need.