Powers and Principalities
Sun, Apr 07, 2019

Rubbish

Duration:17 mins 51 secs

Our Second Reading for today comes from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, verses 4b-13. Paul’s letter to the Philippians is a letter full of love and joy, despite the fact that Paul writes from prison. He writes to his beloved church to counter threats from both the prosperous and imperial Roman culture and those in the church that create hierarchies and mark distinction. The immediate example that Paul calls to mind is circumcision which was being used to separate Christians who continued to follow the Jewish law from Gentile Christians who did not. Paul joins this argument with personal reference - recounting his own history and credentials. Let us hear this Word of God.

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Just over a year ago, new Chairman Fred Ridley, announced that the National would host the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur. It is the first such tournament for women at the National. As you probably know the first two days were played this week at Champions Retreat with 72 golfers competing. They were not just the first women to sign up online. It was not a random lottery selection either. No, these outstanding amateur women golfers had to earn their way to an invitation through winning one of a handful of tournaments, being in the top 30 Amateurs in the United States or through additional Women’s World Amateur Golf Rankings.

But that is not all. Then there is “the cut.” After the first two rounds at Champions Retreat, only the top 30 were invited to play the final round yesterday on the Augusta National course. According to the reports it was a wonderful day of golf and Jennifer Kupcho emerged victorious with a 4-shot victory. So now on her golf resume Kupcho, a senior at Wake Forest University, can say she was the first winner of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.

My friends, if we are honest, even if we have not won a golf tournament, we all have a list of accomplishments or things we value about ourselves. I invite you to think about your own list. What are the things that we use to give ourselves confidence, to build ourselves up, and to tell ourselves that we are better than someone else? Certainly wealth is one of the chief ways we do that in our modern culture. We also use education, profession, our parents or our children, how long we have been established in a particular community, beauty, talent, and more to distinguish ourselves and to give ourselves something to boast about.

When I was serving in my first pastorate, as Pastor of the Salem/Pageland Presbyterian Church in Pageland, SC, I began to consider continuing my theological education. I thought that I wanted to study church history and so arranged an interview with one of the professors at Duke Divinity School to learn more about full-time, in residence PhD studies. The professor was very gracious with his time, told me about the program at Duke, and introduced me to a few other students who were studying with him. By the end of our interview he told me that he looked forward to receiving my application.

After returning home, I continued to be interested, but also felt uneasy about it. Sarah and I talked and with her typical wisdom, she suggested that I reach out to pastors I knew who had either a PhD, a more research and teaching oriented, or a Doctor of Ministry degree, which is a more pastoral and practically oriented course of study.

So, I decided to email Ted Wardlaw who had just left his pastorate in Atlanta, GA to become President of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, TX. I had known Ted for a number of years and knew that he had a Doctor of Ministry and not a PhD. In my email I asked how he had decided which degree to pursue.

Ted’s response was quite profound. He said that he himself had been torn at one time about whether or not to pursue PhD studies. As he prayed about it and talked with his own mentors and friends, he discovered that the only reason he really wanted a PhD was so that he could be “credentialed.” He wanted to have a few more letters after his name, so that when he gave someone his business card they would see how smart and important he was. And he realized that being “credentialed” was the wrong reason to pursue a PhD.

I realized that my interest in a PhD was the same as Ted’s had been. There are many who are called to PhD studies and the research and teaching to which it leads. But I was not one of them. I never did submit that application to Duke. It was only when I felt called and excited about the particular program at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, a program which allowed me to grow both as a person and as a pastor; a program which encouraged me to explore a critical need I saw in my own life and the church; did I submit an application and begin studies toward a Doctor of Ministry degree.

Now I share that story with you this morning because if there was ever anyone in scripture who could claim to be “credentialed,” it was Paul. Sometimes we have this impression that before his conversion, Paul was deeply conflicted and guilty because he could not keep the Jewish law. And therefore, his conversion freed Paul from his overwhelming guilt. But reading our text for today, I am hard pressed to say that Paul felt particularly guilty. No, he is quite boastful about his credentials. Hear again what he writes,

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Talk about credentials! He even claims to be blameless, perfect, in his obedience of the law. Paul is willing to go head to head, toe to toe, eye to eye with anyone who wants to jump in the ring and start a boasting contest. There’s no guilt there – only supreme confidence! Paul had and was everything he thought he was supposed to be.

And then he met Jesus Christ. Yes, then he met Jesus. And he says, “Whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.” All his credentials went right out the window when he met Jesus Christ. All his boasting became empty words when he met Jesus Christ. All his blameless following of the law rang hollow when he met Jesus Christ.

And even more than that, “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” It’s a good thing that the vast majority of you do not know Greek and I did not read these verses to you in Greek because the word translated “rubbish” is actually a word that we are not allowed to speak in church. As one commentator writes, still cleaning up the language a bit, “The more graphic word “dung” is much to be preferred. Even the best Paul had accomplished he came to regard as nothing more than garbage because of the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

I know in my own life, and I would suspect in your life as well, that when we hear a statement like that we don’t to get up and cheer. The best we have accomplished is nothing more than garbage? My Davidson College education, my Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees, my pastorates in growing churches, the number of babies and adults I have baptized, two books published, my beautiful and amazing wife, my three incredible children – all rubbish? All my “credentials” are garbage? All is dung? I find it hard to say that and I suspect if you look at your list for boasting that you do too.

But the key here is not that all of Paul’s accomplishments as a Jew are worthless; not that all my accomplishments and yours are worthless. Remember Paul is boastful, not guilty about his former life. So, the point is, as preacher Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, “None of these things is bad, Paul says. He is not sorry he was born into the tribe of Benjamin, any more than he feels as if he has to apologize for being blameless under the law. It is just that none of those things ever got him one inch nearer where he wanted to go. If anything, they distracted him.”

My friends, what is distracting you from knowing Jesus Christ, from really knowing him? What will never change for us until we set it aside so that we can know Jesus? What accomplishments, accolades, schools, finances, neighborhood, family, and more are holding us captive and preventing us from finding our true identity and worth through knowing Jesus Christ? What is it that you so value, but is not getting you one inch nearer to the goal of being found in Jesus?

I am not sure there has been a greater gift to golf in the last decade than the Augusta National sponsoring the Women’s Amateur this past week. What a gift! Jennifer Kupcho should be justifiably proud of being the Tournament’s first winner. All this deserves to be celebrated! And yet, all that does not move us an inch closer to being found in Jesus Christ.

My friends, take a look at your list. Is it all rubbish compared to your being found in Jesus Christ? If not, what’s holding you back?

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: