Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
Have you ever tried to do something and, despite whatever distractions and obstacles thrown into your path, you have not been dissuaded, but have carried on with an absolute determination to accomplish whatever needs to be done?
Determination was required, and through that experience you found the strength to face each and every challenge fully, overcoming difficulties and moving towards your goal.
I’m sure we’ve all had these times in our lives, and when others believe we are doing something foolhardy, or pursuing a lost cause. Some people will be there to help and give us the strength and encouragement to continue. Possibly our family, friends, or others want to help us achieve our goal. However, as people of faith, we don’t rely simply on those around us. We also seek strength and wisdom from God through prayer and faith in Him.
Today Paul, in his letter to the church in Philippi, offers us a glimpse of determination requires of us. He tells the Philippians about his lineage, as a member of the house of Israel, and as a man of learning, a Hebrew by birth and defender of Jewish laws and traditions.
This may seem boastful to us. Prior to his Damascus experience it probably would have been. But now it’s about setting the scene for the road he travels. He wants to show his determination has shifted from the destruction of Christ’s followers, to an understanding more worthy and significant, than he previously thought possible.
Paul’s focus is not on himself. Instead, he is driven by a need and passion to follow Christ. Note in the middle of our epistle he says, ‘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’
What drove Paul in the past was his position as a Pharisee, schooled in Jewish tradition, and as one who persecuted the followers of Christ. Now longer matters nor is relevant to his theological beliefs.
Through his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul changed irrevocably. As soon as he was healed of his blindness and received his baptism, he immediately proclaimed Christ as messiah, and began preaching the Gospel. His goal was to follow Christ and be transformed that he might emulate Jesus and become Christlike in his thoughts and deeds.
Paul shares his very personal experiences, by describing how he turned his back on and abandoned his old Pharisaic self; not as a boast or to gain the adoration of those who he ministered to. Instead, his attitude becomes clear in his letters. He learns how to belong to Christ. His epiphany in Damascus, and everything else he learned since that time, taught him this personal transformation was far more significant and a valuable gift to receive.
But what we see more clearly is that Paul isn’t satisfied with simply being known as Christ’s, disciple on earth. He hopes to follow him all the way to glory in the eternal kingdom promised by Christ for all who believe and follow him.
The message Paul offers the young church in Philippi is filled with hope and encouragement. This, however, begs the question. Why did the lectionary writers join this epistle with our Gospel today? The two lessons could not be more at odds with each other. The Gospel speaks of death and destruction, while the epistle offers hope.
Two weeks ago, we heard the parable of another vineyard owner. That owner showed grace to those who didn’t deserve it. He paid all of his workers the same wage, regardless of how much they worked during the day.
However, this vineyard owner spent much time creating a vineyard where the crops were protected and then entrusted it to his tenants. These tenants should have paid the vineyard owner a percentage of the profits from the annual yield, while keeping the remainder for themselves.
Of course, this didn’t happen. Instead, they methodically assaulted everyone sent to collect what rightfully belonged to the owners. Undoubtably, they hoped to take possession of the vineyard for themselves.
The parable provides a twofold meaning. First it reveals the corruption rife in Israel through its officials. They destroy anything and anyone who gets in their way. It describes how Christ prophesied his own suffering and death. The vineyard is God, the slaves are the ancient prophets who spoke wisdom and the Son is Christ, but the tenants represent the officials of Israel.
This parable isn’t about growing crops., It’s about the growth of a Godless society. and how ultimately, those people will put Christ to death. Jesus is the cornerstone which the leaders rejected. They fear what he represents. He represents the loss of title, position and power, all the worldly things they have amassed for themselves to keep them comfortable, and all at the expense of the people, who God previously rescued from slavery in Egypt.
Together these two scriptures demonstrate the two extreme ends of the spectrum. They remind us that our God given freewill is an awesome responsibility. It means we each have a choice to make, do we strive to be like the officials or like Paul.
Yes, Paul will no doubt have once demonstrated traits like the officials. Yet at the moment where he accepted Christ into his life, he was determined to change himself. Now his focus will be upon Christ and the Cross of salvation.
Are we like the officials? Do we hold onto whatever power and position we have and remain entrenched in old ideas and habits, preventing us from embracing Christ as our own?
No doubt each of us remain somewhere in-between the two ends, and that’s fine, because we are practicing Christians, learning and growing as we go. However, there is another question that we should ask ourselves. Where are we currently, and which way are will we head?
Are we determined to become more like the model that Paul offers us? Will we submit to the kingship of Christ in our lives, and offer to him all that we have? Or do we slip back towards the officials, complacent and no longer thirsting to become Christlike in our lives? Let us be like Paul and strain toward the goal of attaining Christ as our savior. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.