October 2, 2011
Scripture: Philippians 3:4b-14
Rev. Leanne Walt preaching
“I’ll get some rest tomorrow. I’ll read that book that’s been collecting dust on my shelf and visit my mother and get the tires rotated on the car and make that dentist appointment that I’ve been putting off and get the dog groomed and unpack those boxes from our move this past winter. Well, ok, maybe not tomorrow, but I’ll do it all next week, when life calms down a bit.”
This is my mantra most days, most weeks and my tomorrows indeed become the busiest day of the week, as the Spanish Proverb goes.
"Never put off till tomorrow," insisted Lord Chesterfield in 1749, "what you can do today."
Well, isn’t that nice. I’ve always admired those people who live into this declaration by the wise Earl. Those who know three languages, whose dogs smell like roses, and not only make lists but actually cross them off in a timely manner. Believe it or not, such people do exist. In fact, just last month a good friend delivered homemade pastries to my office, those that she had made in a pastry making class with her husband. They also took sailing lessons on the Charles last summer and just finished canning fresh tomatoes from their garden in anticipation of the winter. Though I’m always the first to give her a hard time about her intense hobby schedule, she takes the time to do all those things that I cast away into the endless pit of my tomorrows while I am far too busy running to wherever it is I’m going.
The first pet I ever had was a guinea pig. I named her Carmelita, which I thought was just the cleverest of names because her coat was the color of caramel. It wasn’t too long after that my brother expressed his eternal desire for a guinea pig. So, we went to the pet store and Tom picked out another female Guinea Pig. He named her Roxanne. Little did we - or the pet store clerk know - that Roxanne was actually Rocky…and it wasn’t too long before our 2 guinea pigs had turned into 8.
Though I can’t say the same for my parents, my brother and I adored all 8 of these rodents…and the 6 more that were to follow… we would watch them for hours interact with one another and take turns running on the beloved exercise wheel in their cage. They would run and run and run on that wheel with incredible zeal without ever getting anywhere.
This morning, in his letter to the Philippians we find the Apostle Paul’s description of his run on a similar wheel as the guinea pigs and me. Granted Paul’s version is a bit more convoluted – or should I say craftier - than mine. For, this is Paul at Paul’s finest, at his most rhetorical. This is a tough passage to dissect. I like stories and this is not a story, this is rhetoric, pure unadulterated rhetoric. This is Paul arguing with a group of people in Philippi who assume that they have absolute knowledge of Christ; they claim they have it all figured out.
Paul is telling them, “Hey, listen to me because I used to be like you. I thought I had it all figured out.” Paul had been running and running and running throughout the early years of his life. He was following all the rules, he was living by the Torah, and he had status and wealth as a Pharisee. He persecuted followers of Jesus, those whose beliefs ran against his own. He lived a cushy, comfortable life. He was running and running and running. And, it was easy and it was good.
But, we recall that story from the book of Acts of that one day when Paul – then Saul - was travelling on the road to Damascus going to arrest some early Christians and he hears Jesus calling out his name, “Saul, Saul,” Jesus jams the spokes of Paul’s wheel and he is forced to stop running.
Paul writes this letter as he is in tension between the past and the future – between what came before the road to Damascus and what now comes after. All that he thought mattered in his life, all of those things that he thought would lead him toward the ultimate goal of favor with God – his status, his adherence to the law, his wealth, his profession – no longer mattered. Jesus had disturbed his run and Paul reflects to those self-righteous folks at Philippi about his encounter with Jesus, “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.” All the power and prestige and privilege and wealth loose their luster as Paul is forced to reevaluate the goal of his race. Just like all of those things upon which we base our confidence – the power, knowledge, money, success – all those things that propel our wheels are valueless in God’s sight.
The gospel disturbs Paul. The gospel complicates things for Paul. There are no longer clear rules to follow with Jesus. There are no laws. There is only freedom. There is no to-do list, no tasks to cross off once completed. There is no wheel to run on, but now there is an actual destination.
In this passage Paul is struggling to find the present, to live in the now in the face of new freedom with Jesus. Paul writes in Romans, “because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).
The law of the Spirit sets you free. The law of love. It’s the love that jams up our wheels because love, true love, is freedom. And this is where the tricky part comes in because we are given choices and options in this relationship with God. I’ve recently been reading a wonderful little book called, Love Wins, by a pastor named Rob Bell. In it he writes that,
“For there to be love, there has to be the option, both now and then, to not love. To turn the other way. To reject the love extended. To say no. God has to respect our human freedom to choose to the very end, even at the risk of the relationship itself.”
When I was a teenager struggling through 10th grade geometry so much so that I threatened to fail, my dad sat me down at the kitchen table and he drew a series of boxes on a piece of paper. There was one big box on the bottom of the page and then many smaller boxes toward the top. He explained, very pragmatically as he tends to do, “Leanne, life is a series of choices. You can choose to remain in the one big box on the bottom and only have two other boxes that you can move to from there or you can choose to move up to other boxes so that you have many other boxes to choose from. It’s best to put yourself in the position where you have the most options in life.”
I thought about this for a minute. “Why complicate things,” I replied, “Wouldn’t it be easier to just stay in the big box? After all, how will I know if the next box is any better than the one I’m already in?”
Well, as usual, this wasn’t exactly the response my father was hoping for and I could sense he was beginning to fear that at this rate I would never graduate from the 10th grade.
In many ways our faith is like the series of boxes drawn on that piece of paper. It’s easier to stay in the one, familiar, safe box. I sometimes think that’s why it’s so difficult for people to come to church because doing so, in a sense, requires us to look beyond our box and step off the wheel hopefully long enough to realize that we are busy running so hard and so fast that there is no room for God. But s the gospel makes its way into our hearts, it disturbs our race and we begin to see the real choices that we face. The choice to see the light in spite of the darkness,
to free ourselves of all of those things that we store up,
to forgive others as we have been forgiven,
to fed ourselves so that we can feed others,
to accept God’s love so that we can truly love ourselves.
I have a feeling that if Jesus had anything to say on the matter, he would offer similar words to those of dear Lord Chesterfield, that when it comes to the gospel, "Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today."
 Bell, Robert H., Love Wins, Harper Collins: New York, NY (2011) 103-104