What to Think About This
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We are continuing our study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians and the passage that we are exploring today is fascinating, so I’d encourage you to have a paper and pen handy. Sometimes it just helps me during the week to look back at my notes and see where we’ve been, so I’d encourage you to take some notes. I’d also encourage you to take advantage of our guide to prayer and study, every day we have a daily reading, thought and prayer that ties back into our message and you can find those on our facebook page every morning and on our website.
As Deb read for us this morning from Philippians 1:15-19, “Some certainly preach Christ with jealous and competitive motives, but others preach with good motives. They are motivated by love, because they know that I’m put here to give a defense of the gospel; the others preach Christ because of their selfish ambition. They are insincere, hoping to cause me more pain while I’m in prison. What do I think about this? Just this: since Christ is proclaimed in every possible way, whether from dishonest or true motives, I’m glad and I’ll continue to be glad. I’m glad because I know that this will result in my release through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.”
Our best guess is that the letter to the Philippians was written some time around the year 60 or 61 so let’s think about this timeline for a moment. Jesus’s crucifixion took place in the early 30s and from that time to the beginning of Paul’s ministry, the Jesus movement was almost exclusively Jewish. Jesus was a Rabbi, the Disciples were all Jewish, and the vast majority of the persons that Jesus and the Disciples knew and came into contact with were Jewish too. Non-Jewish folks had been a part of the Jesus movement, but Christianity was not a distinct religious branch growing off our Jewish family tree until the late 50s and early 60s.
So you know what this means, right?
From the very beginnings of the church, as Paul writes, “Some certainly preach Christ with jealous and competitive motives…”
Thank goodness those dark days are behind us.
Since Christianity got started, televangelists, which I now have to consider myself one, have been trying to take advantage of the faith by, “preach[ing] Christ because of their selfish ambition”
How many countless ways has Jesus been used to justify abused, fraud, trauma, and fear, instead of grace and peace?
Take the horrible and unholy example of so-called conversion therapy. Conversion Therapy is used in some churches, and administered by individuals that aren’t therapists, in an attempt to try to change the sexual or gender orientation of LGBTQ folk, usually teens. Conversion therapy against minors is banned in 20 states, but not Iowa.
On the light end of conversion therapy, men are forced to play baseball and women are required to paint their nails, wear make-up, and repudiate pants. In other forms of conversion therapy, men punch pillows representing their mothers in an attempt to beat out the femininity forced into them during their childhood. As you might be able to imagine, conversion therapy gets a lot worse than that and is anything but therapy, it’s torture.
Electrodes have been attached to kids in the name of Christianity.
Churches and Christians calming grace and peace have too often been anything but gracious and peaceful.
When Paul writes, “Some certainly preach Christ with jealous and competitive motives…” the Greek word for jealous is φθόνον (phthonon) and is often translated as envy or jealousy or spite. One scholar writes that φθόνον is a desire that sours due to the influence of sin while another scholar writes that φθόνον is “the miserable trait of being glad when someone experiences misfortune or pain.” The Germans have a word for it too, schadenfreude.
Sometimes we feel good knowing other people feel bad.
Have you ever been to the grocery store and thought to yourself, I know these magazines at the register are terrible and untrue, but I just need to see people that have everything suffer a little bit. Every now and then one of those tabloids will have a story of celebrity living in a mansion, all by themselves, talking about how lonely they are, and to their loneliness and pain we can feel lucky.
Why else would we enjoy seeing Wile E. Coyote never catch the Road Runner?
While in prison, at the very beginnings of Christianity, Paul admits to what we all know, and what we have all experienced, “Some certainly preach Christ with jealous and competitive motives, but others preach with good motives. They are motivated by love, because they know that I’m put here to give a defense of the gospel; the others preach Christ because of their selfish ambition.”
I feel into that trap of selfish ambition this week. Irene and I have both struggled with sleep this week, nights that only drop to the 80s in the midst of a pandemic will do that to you. Irene might say, “I had problems sleeping last night” and instead of being concerned for her wellbeing I’ll say back, “I haven’t been able to sleep all week.”
Too often churches and pastors such as myself have turned the teachings of Jesus into us verses them instead of us for and with everyone. Instead of empathy and understanding, instead of grace and peace, our first response to one another can be one-upping each other out of selfish ambition and jealousy.
It’s called the ΙΧΘΥΣ (ichthys) and is the earliest symbol in Christianity, it predates the cross as the sign of our faith. ΙΧΘΥΣ (ichthys) is a Greek acronym that translates into Jesus Christ, Son of God, our Savior.
Because, for some reason, we think bumper stickers are the best way to change hearts and minds, the Jesus fish was turned into just that, and the reason why I never put one on my car is that I never wanted anyone to think a good Christian would cut people off like I do. That’s also why I don’t have a chaplain tag on my car either and always take the further away spots at the hospital.
After the Jesus fish bumper sticker movement got started, things evolved as it were, and the Darwin fish as born.
Because bumper sticker Christianity is known for it’s compassion and care, the Darwin fish had to be one-upped and Jesus ate Darwin, for some reason.
Personally, my favorite bumper sticker in this battle is the fish n’ chips one.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but wonder if this sort of bumpersticker back and forth is what Jesus and Paul had in mind.
While we don’t know what Paul would think about bumperstickers, we do know what Paul thought about the ways Jesus was being used for selfish ambition and jealously. Paul writes, “What do I think about this? Just this: since Christ is proclaimed in every possible way, whether from dishonest or true motives, I’m glad and I’ll continue to be glad.”
While sitting in a jail cell, how can Paul say, “I’m glad and I’ll continue to be glad”?
If you never knew about the dangers and the abuse that is conversion therapy before today, but now know that it is legally carried out in Iowa, are you glad and will continue to be glad knowing that it is carried out in Christ’s name?
In Colossians, which is just a few pages to the right in your Bible from Philippians, it’s written, starting in chapter 1 verse 15, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the one who is first over all creation, Because all things were created by him: both in the heavens and on the earth, the things that are visible and the things that are invisible. Whether they are thrones or powers, or rulers or authorities, all things were created through him and for him.”
Or as another author wrote, “Among the scenes which are deeply impressed on my mind, none exceed in sublimity the primeval forests undefaced by the hand of [humanity]; whether those of Brazil, where the powers of Life are predominant, or those of Tierra del Fuego, where Death and decay prevail. Both are temples filled with the varied productions of the God of Nature: — no one can stand in these solitudes unmoved, and not feel that there is more in [humanity] than the mere breath of [our] body.”
We have a bird nest on our garage and twice summer we’ve seen finches hatch, grow up, and fly from the nest. Sadly, in the first batch of baby birds, not all of them made it. One of the eggs fell out of the nest, and one of the birds did too. But with this second batch of baby birds, we got to see each one slowly emerge in the nest, we saw the finch parents fly home to feed their young and in the last week and a half we were able to countdown as one-by-one each baby bird flew from the nest.
A week ago when I checked on the nest, one of the remaining two baby birds could chirp, but the other just opened its mouth without a sound. The next morning, there was only one baby bird left in the nest, but it was chirping. Our dog, Leo, had to go outside that morning. Three times. By the third trip I was annoyed, but thankful because as Leo sniffed around the yard I watch that bird slowly move to the edge of the nest, chirp, and fly away.
I don’t know what to call that moment other than holy.
I felt in that moment what Charles Darwin wrote, saying, “no one can stand in these solitudes unmoved, and not feel that there is more in [humanity] than the mere breath of [our] body.”
In Ephesians 3:19 it’s written, “ I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God.”
I think these two passages from Colossians and Ephesians can help us understand how and why Paul, in the midst of self-ambition, jealousy, and insincere faith can write, “I’m glad and I’ll continue to be glad”
When it’s written in Colossians 1:15, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the one who is first over all creation, Because all things were created by him: both in the heavens and on the earth, the things that are visible and the things that are invisible. Whether they are thrones or powers, or rulers or authorities, all things were created through him and for him” do you see what’s being said? The scriptures are recognizing that the God we know in Christ, we only know in part.
Or from Ephesians 3:19, “ I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge…”
Paul admits that when it comes to the mystery of faith, even for Paul, God is a glorious mystery. Paul, the author of a lot of the Christian Scriptures, essentially says, when it comes to the God we know in Christ, I’ve got some hints and I’ve got a lot of guesses, and they all get their start in grace and peace, with knowing the love of Christ that is beyond our knowledge and will never be fully within our grasp.
To the ways that Christ is preached with selfish ambition, jealously, pride, arrogance and all the rest, Paul can write, “since Christ is proclaimed in every possible way, whether from dishonest or true motives, I’m glad and I’ll continue to be glad” because Paul’s faith is found in awe, humility, and openness to the movement of the Spirit.
In the Franciscan Tradition of the Catholic Church it’s sometimes said that creation is the first testament of the Bible. The scriptures point to this time and again, showing us that in the splendor of the cosmos we meet the mystery of God. From a baby bird taking flight for the first time to the majesty of the Grand Canyon, there is awe all around us. We cannot take credit for creating it, we can only appreciate it.
This sort of awe, those moments of divine delight that open us up to God, that point us towards our hints and our guesses, it can humble us. In the book of Micah it’s written, “[God] has told you, human one, what is good and what the LORD requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.”
If we are moved to faith with awe and humbled by the mystery and majesty of divinity, all while being confident in grace and peace, but still humbly walking with one another and with God, than we have to be open to the movement of the Spirit with one another.
This part is the hardest.
For a church like Grace, it can be easy for us to admit that God is still a holy mystery that we only have some hints and guesses about. For as much as this church does in the community, for one another, and with our neighbors, y’all don’t brag so pride is clearly not a problem for us. But this openness to the movement of the Spirit is hard because we can see how Christ is used and abused, how grace and peace is turned into shame and guilt and fraud, and unlike Paul, our first response is not, “I’m glad and I’ll continue to be glad”, but let’s remember what Paul says before that, because Paul isn’t glad for the selfish ambition, Paul isn’t glad for the dishonest means, Paul isn’t glad in the shame or guilt or abuse, Paul is glad that through it all, “Christ is proclaimed in every possible way”.
When a televangelists tries to fleece their congregation out of more money so they can get another jet, in the midst of that fraud, the Spirit moves and the world sees anything but Christ proclaimed, and they know it, and in its own way, the Spirit moves and Christ is proclaimed.
When Christians and churches try to convert children out of the image of God they were created in, when they try to deny the goodness and grace found in the lives of our LGBTQ kin, in the midst of that abuse, the Spirit moves and the world sees anything but Christ proclaimed, and they know it, and in its own way, the Spirit moves and Christ is proclaimed.
Every time a church or a pastor or a Christian organization is exposed for abused, fraud, trauma, and fear, we all know, at the core of our being, that those behaviors, attitudes and actions have nothing to do with Christ because at the core of our being grace and peace are pointing us towards Christ and we should be glad for that.
As Paul says, and as we all know, “Some certainly preach Christ with jealous and competitive motives, but others preach with good motives. They are motivated by love, because they know that I’m put here to give a defense of the gospel; the others preach Christ because of their selfish ambition.”
May we be a people that can rise above jealousy and competition, that can transcend our selfish ambitions, and be motivated by love, by grace and peace, so that we can see, “Christ is proclaimed in every possible” and in that, we will be glad.
Those that are outside of the church, those that have been turned away, those that struggle with spiritual ptsd, they aren’t waiting to hear Christ proclaimed, they hear Christ proclaimed all the time, what they’re waiting for is seeing the light of Christ lived out with grace and peace.
We can be that kind of church.
We can be that kind of beloved community.
And because of that, we should be glad.
So may you be glad this week. May the wonder and the majesty and the transcendence that is all around you open your heart and your eyes and your soul to beauty and wonder of God. This wonder, this awe, might only point us towards hints and guesses as the depths of divinity, but those glances that we get, they fill us with hope, they move us towards love, they are, even if only for a moment, exquisite sensations of grace and peace. With this grace and peace, may we humbly, but confidently, live out this proclamation of Christ that is gladness, that is joy, that is justice, that is love, that is the faith our world is waiting to see lived out.
May we live with this gladness, and share this hope, wherever we go. Amen.
Some certainly preach Christ with jealous and competitive motives, but others preach with good motives. They are motivated by love, because they know that I’m put here to give a defense of the gospel; the others preach Christ because of their selfish ambition. They are insincere, hoping to cause me more pain while I’m in prison. What do I think about this? Just this: since Christ is proclaimed in every possible way, whether from dishonest or true motives, I’m glad and I’ll continue to be glad. I’m glad because I know that this will result in my release through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
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July 13 – July 18
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Read – 2 Samuel 12:1-10
Notice – Cynthia Ruchti notes in the CEB Women’s Bible that, “Bathsheba is often vilified as a women who deduced King David. But if we read 2 Samuel 11 with eyes wide open, we see her as a victim of David’s uncontrolled passion. He took her even after learning she was married. After he’d used her for his selfish purposes, he sent her away.”* In our reading from 2 Samuel 12, Nathan confronts David with a blistering indictment, culminating with the warning that, “the sword will never leave your own house.” Before David’s conversation with Nathan, David shows no remorse or guilt for his actions, perhaps what David assumed would be kept in private would make no difference in his public life, and that his faith and his actions could be separated in this instance. Have you ever seen faith misused or abused in order for someone to fulfill their selfish ambition? If you were Nathan, what would you have said to David? When you notice selfish ambition in yourself, can you speak those same words to yourself with grace and peace?
Pray – God, we live with guilt and penitence, dread and redemption, sorrow and comfort, because we are accountable to you and renewed by you. Help us to live beyond selfish ambition and into your love. Amen.
*CEB Women’s Bible, Portrait of Bathsheba, page 386
Read – Amos 5:21-24
Notice – John Wesley once wrote about the relationship between our personal piety (devotions, prayer, study) and social holiness (the ways our faith makes a difference in the community) saying, “Whenever, therefore, one interferes with with the other, works of mercy are to be preferred [over works of piety]. Even reading, hearing, prayer, are to be omitted, or to be postponed, ‘at charity’s almighty call’ – when we are called to relive the distress of our neighbor, whether in body or soul.”* Has there ever been a moment when you knowingly or unknowingly used what seemed to be a faithful activity to avoid what would have truly been faithful? If you’ve seen this in others or in the news, how did it feel? What can we do, together, to remember Amos’ mighty call on our lives from God?
Pray – God, let us remember where your delight is found, in the acceptance, love, grace, and above all else, true justice that rolls down with righteousness like a mighty stream. Help me to not fight that current, but to live in the flow of those mighty waters. Amen.
*Sermon 92: “On Zeal”, 11.9)
Read – Acts 9:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-13
Notice – In our reading from Acts, we get a glimpse of the power and control that Paul once lived with. How would you describe the anger that took over his life? How would you compare the control that Paul sought to have over people’s lives in Acts to the lack of control that Paul expresses in Ephesians? Have you ever experienced a change like Paul? How have you processed changes in your own life? Can you, like Paul does in our reading from Ephesians today, not be discouraged but see the potential for glory?
Pray – Jesus, sometimes just like Paul I need you to stop me in my tracks. When Paul’s conversion began, he didn’t know how to make sense of it, but he was still open to grace and peace. Help me to live with that openness today. Amen.
Read – Job 32:1-22
Notice – In this section of Job, Job has lost everything and his friends have gathered to give him comfort, but that comfort begins to fade as Job’s friends start to wonder if it is Job’s fault that everything in his life has fallen apart. In our reading, why is Elihu angry with Job? Why is Elihu angry with Job’s friends? When you find yourself in a tricky or difficult conversation, what kind of advice could you take from Elihu?
Pray – God, fill me with your spirit, the “almighty breath” that comes to us as wisdom and insight. Help me to listen carefully, and speak purposefully. Amen.
Read – 1 Corinthians 13:8-13
Notice – In 2015, Tom Nichols, professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, created a survey asking Americans if they supported bombing Agrabah. 30% of those surveyed were in favor of bombing, 36% opposed, and only 34% of those surveyed recognized that Agrabah is the fictional setting for the Disney animated film, Aladdin. Nichols said of the survey, “Half the people interviewed had a very strong opinion about bombing a cartoon”.* What do you think is behind our impulse to assume that we have it all figured out? How does our assumption about our expertise compare to what Paul writes in our reading today? When you can see or only understand in part, what can you do to keep your love complete?
Pray – Jesus, by your Spirit give me a humble heart. Help me to know that I don’t know everything, and remind me that even when I am incomplete, your love is complete. Let me live with that love for myself, and others, and everyone else. Amen.
* Everybody’s an expert, or are they? https://clarknow.clarku.edu/2018/10/16/everybodys-an-expert-or-are-they/
Read – Philippians 1:15-19
Notice – Think back over this past week. Have you seen any selfish ambition in yourself or in others? What ways have you seen God or faith misused? While seeking to make things right and live with the love that we spoke of in our reading yesterday, how can you, like Paul, be glad and continue to be glad? What will you do today for the sake of gladness and joy?
Pray – God, give me your joy today. Even in this season of social distancing, enable me to see your gladness and joy in my life. Amen.