"The Body of His Glory", Philippians 3:17-4:1, Lent 2
So our New Testament lesson today from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, has Paul doing his best Southern Baptist preacher impersonation…I am totally stereotyping here…I have many lovely, gentle, kind, compassionate and thoughtful Southern Baptist friends…ordained and otherwise…but I mean I can smell the fire and brimstone…like it is flowing off the pages of the bible...and it does seem that Paul had a fiery character or at least a fiery streak from what we know of him. So I can almost picture him…slightly bald, face scrunched up, fire in his eyes, muscles bulging from years of tent-making and walking literally all over the Near East…from Jerusalem to Greece and everywhere in between…a finger raised…spittle flying…of course this is actually a letter…but go with the preaching imagery here…he says, “I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things…”. And he continues later, “He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory…”. I mean I can feel the fire…I can feel the passion…but I also know, with all of my heart, that the passion and fire come not from a place of anger but from a place of great love. Paul loves the people of Philippi…all the way down to his toes…he has planted this church…with his own blood, sweat and tears. He says he sheds tears for them…and I believe it entirely. I wouldn’t be surprised if he literally shed tears all over the the letter he was writing…smearing the ink…and having to start all over again. And I can say all of this, in part, because it is exactly how I feel about you…about St. Julian’s. I think it is sort of an apples and oranges thing to compare family to any other community of people in our lives…so setting my family aside…there is nothing more important to me than this family of faith…I love you…all of…you and I, together, we have planted this church…with our own blood, sweat and tears. I have indeed shed many a tear over the past 6 and half years or so…as I have grieved loses alongside many of you…as I have felt like I was failing in my work…as I have reveled in overwhelming gratitude for what, with God’s help, we have become. And so I really do get and appreciate Paul’s passion for his people…the fire in his own belly
So what is it specifically that he is so passionate about? Well if you will allow me an oversimplification…Paul is deeply concerned that the picture that the Philippians shared life is painting for the world around them is something less…or different than…the picture of the crucified and raised Jesus. Or to use a different metaphor, he is concerned that the story that their collective life is writing is something less…or different than…the story of the crucified and raised Jesus. For they are…for their larger community…their neighbors and those who live around them…just as we are for ours…the very Body of Christ, crucified and raised, that indeed shows and tells the world something about who Jesus really is…what love really looks like. And this question around the picture we are together painting or story we are together writing is well worth Paul’s fire and passion. Perhaps there is not a more important question that lies before us each and everyday…what does our collective life say about Jesus…what does it say about love? Our Bishop, Andy Doyle, likes to ask the question, “So would it matter at all if your church disappeared overnight?” He is speaking about mattering to those beyond us who comprise this particular community…and perhaps the bank who holds the note on this building and is hoping we will continue to make our monthly payments. So would it matter to our neighbors if we were gone…would their lives be diminished in some way…would there be a sense that something important was missing…or would it quickly be forgotten in the midst of a 24-hour news cycle that is all to ready to move on to the very next thing.
Now the reality is…the fact that we do matter to those of us who comprise this church is so very important…and the worship, formation and service we do here does have ripple effects for love’s sake…it indeed says something about love….it does paint a picture of Jesus for the world around us…because we all live and spend the vast majority of our time out in the world…beyond the four walls that enclose this building. So every time our shared life, our encounter with God in this place, then effects the way we live and behave, what we say and do, in the lives we live beyond this place…in the care and love we share with those beyond ourselves…we have mattered greatly, profoundly even…we have said something about what love is…we have shown something of who Jesus is. I hope we will never forget that…and yet the question of what picture we are painting and what story we are writing about Jesus, about love…remains relevant and worthy of our consideration for indeed we have not arrived yet…our work is not done. We are individually and collectively a work in progress…we are always becoming…we are on that diagonal advance ever upwards that Tony speaks of in his book on Christian perfection. We have not yet finished the last chapter on the book of love…we have not completed our painting showing who Jesus is. You have heard me say and seen me write over and over again that we are constantly seeking to become more and more the people God is calling us to be. And I think if this is indeed our faithful work…and that we are faithfully living into it…then we are doing enough…or at least a lot…and yet again the question of what our lives are describing for those around us is still a good and worthy question…for it spurs us along…hopefully like Paul with passion and fire…for the race that we run together…the life long race to be and show and demonstrate and exude with every fiber in our being…God’s all encompassing glory…found in the face of Jesus. For make no mistake our neighbors are watching, our friends are listening…and I believe they are actually rooting for us…for they want somewhere in a place beyond words the very thing we name for our own lives…to know and experience God in Christ’s salvation…God’s shalom…God’s peace…God’s wholeness…God’s healing…the very fullness of God’s love…in this world and the next…which is indeed nothing less and nothing more than our very home…it is what we are made for. As St. Augustine once said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
So how do we paint a picture or write a story about Jesus, crucified and raised, that blesses, affirms and lifts up ourselves and all those whose lives touch our own. Well those who live as “enemies of the cross of Christ”, to borrow Paul’s expression, are those who see religion, who see the choice to participate in a community of faith, as primarily a self-serving enterprise. That is as something to consume that makes us, our bellies, feel satiated, good and happy…perhaps God will bless us with riches and comfort if we but show up. Honestly, this is not all bad…setting riches aside…I hope very much that our experience here fills us with good things…bring joy and a sense of direction and meaning for life. But we must remember that it is not just about us…but also about those for whom we are painting this picture and writing this book that says and shows to the world around us, our neighbors, something of what it looks like to be the Body of Christ…the body of the one who was indeed crucified and raised. Teresa of Avila well expressed this task, when she wrote, “Christ has no body on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.” A community of faith that paints a picture of the crucified Jesus remembers and embodies Jesus’ suffering on behalf of others who are suffering and so we take risks…we have compassion…we are willing to sacrifice time, energy, even money on behalf of those who are indeed suffering all around us. We remember and embody Jesus’ wounds, as we minister out of our own wounded-ness…standing in solidarity with others who are wounded offering consolation and support and the healing that comes from being really loved and accepted. And a community of faith that writes a story about the resurrected Jesus remembers and embodies the Good News that pain, violence, suffering and death that permeate our world are not the end of all things…they do not have the last word, for Easter reminds us that life and love are stronger even than death. We remember and embody hope that a different sort of future full of life is possible for ourselves and those we love…that grace and forgiveness are possible and that a new day can and will indeed dawn. This is the picture and story that we paint and write for the world around us. And it is accomplished through our prayers and faithful worship and meaningful ministry and intentional service…all with at least one eye always pointed toward those not yet here.
At successive Parish Meetings, I have drawn our attention to the image on the screens now (below). It is a mosaic of Jesus. As you know a mosaic forms an image, paints a picture that says something…that tells a story…using small things…like little pieces of glass or stone…that then come together to create an image that is bigger than any of the individual pieces. A single stone, a single piece of glass can not create the image on its own…it might even be too little to see on its own or at least could easily be missed…but together…together they can create something beautiful, something moving, something compelling, something that inspires and even disrupts, something that can be seen and bless many, many people. Together in this place, our own lives and faces, are coming together to build a mosaic that indeed paints a picture and tells the story of who Jesus, crucified and raised, is…what love really looks like. And yet the good work of creating and forming always remains before us…there are pieces still missing that include those not yet with us…who we need to invite to be with us. Artists will tell you that their passion and fire to create is never really ever over…they create till they can create no more. But the wonder of it all is that the joy is always really found in the creating itself…it’s worth being passionate about…a Paul like fire in the belly is indeed good. And what we create and form along the way is and will be beautiful and moving and compelling and inspirational and disruptive, and it will look something like Jesus, crucified and raised…and it will be seen and thus bless many, many people. Amen.