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Changes for Christ, Changes for the Future

philippians-1To read this sermon from The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr. click on “Continue reading” below.

Sermon based on Philippians 1:1-11

What is a saint? Some may think of saints only as those who have been declared to be saints by the Roman Catholic Church. We think typically that saints lived many centuries ago. Others may think of saints as being pious. Still others use the word saint as a loose term of respect applied to a particularly good person. Our epistle lesson this morning from the letter of Philippians was written to friends Paul called saints. It is obvious that Paul held in high esteem the members of this congregation. To him each one had great spiritual potential. He knew they were “in Christ” and that Christ was “in them.” In Paul’s view, saints were people who were different. They were different because of their commitment to serving Jesus Christ.  While we may not think of ourselves as saints, we need to consider ourselves at least as saints in the making. Like Paul, I believe in our potential to deepen and broaden our relationship with God. As saints we have a calling to fulfill.

Our first calling as saints is simple. We are called to be something. We have a responsibility to help shape the life of others. In thinking of shaping the lives of others, I recall the story of a man who worked a 12-hour shift at a local factory. Often when he would come home, his children would be wrapping up their homework and chores and getting ready for bed. Sometimes he was tired and irritated when he arrived home. On one particular day his 8-year-old son came up to him and asked, “Dad, may I ask you a question?” “Yeah, sure, what is it?” replied the father. “How much money do you make an hour? ” That’s none of your business! What makes you ask such a thing?” the father said angrily. His son replied, “I just want to know. Please tell me, how much do you make an hour?” “If you must know, I make $20.00 an hour.” “Oh,” his son replied. Then, looking up he said, “Dad, may I borrow $10.00 please?” The father became even more furious. “If the only reason you wanted to know how much money I make is just so you can borrow some to buy a silly toy or some other nonsense, then you march yourself straight to your room and go to bed. Think about why you’re being so selfish. I work long, hard hours everyday and don’t have time for such games.” The boy quietly went to his room and shut the door. The father sat down and started to get even angrier. After an hour or so, the father had calmed down, and started to think he may have been a little hard on his son. Maybe there was something he really needed to buy with that $10.00 and he really didn’t ask for money very often. The man went to his son’s room. “Are you asleep son?” he asked. “No dad, I’m awake.” “I’ve been thinking, maybe I was too hard on you earlier,” said the man. “It’s been a long day and I took my aggravation out on you. Here’s that $10.00 you asked for.” The little boy sat straight up, smiling. “Thank you dad!” he said. Then, reaching under his pillow, he pulled out ten crumpled up one-dollar bills. The father seeing that the boy already had money, started to get angry again. The little boy slowly counted out his money, and then looked up at his father still smiling. “Why did you want more money if you already had some?” the father asked. “Because I didn’t have enough, but now I do,” came the reply. “Dad, I have $20.00 now. Can I buy an hour of your time?”

As this illustration demonstrates, there is a difference between being something and doing something. We can be called a father or friend or we can consider ourselves to be Christians as we get involved in doing good deeds, doing programs and activities yet still we can miss the BIG PICTURE. Christianity is more than an ethic to follow, a philosophy by which to live, or a theology to believe. Christianity is about people; Christianity is about a person to follow. This person we are called to follow is Jesus Christ and we are to give our lives in service to him and through our service to others. By following Jesus we can understand what kind of person we ought to be. Leonard Griffith in his book, This Is Living, points out that many great Christians have always taken Jesus’ life and used his example as a pattern in their lives.

  • Francis of Assisi prayed that he might be as selfless as Christ.
  • Brother Lawrence, a well-known monk who performed the lowliest tasks in the monastery kitchen prayed that he might be as humble as Christ.
  • Catherine of Sienna, known for her virtue and character prayed that she might be as pure as Christ.
  • David Livingstone, while in the dangers of the darkest parts of Africa prayed that he might be as adventurous as Christ.

What characteristics of Christ will we pray that we might gain during this New Year ahead of us? Throughout his ministry, Jesus was always changing his method of teaching to meet the needs of the community he was around. With farmers he would teach in parables that talked about things they were familiar with. Among the business people of the day, parables about talents and building up treasures were often shared.

This concept leads us to the second aspect of our calling as saints. As saints we are called to be something different. About 350 years ago a shipload of travelers landed on the northeast coast of America. The first year they established a town site. The next year they elected a town government. The third year the town government planned to build a road five miles westward into the wilderness. In the fourth year the people tried to impeach their town government because they thought it was a waste of public funds to build a road five miles into a wilderness. Who needed to go there many in the town expressed. Here were people who had the vision to see three thousand miles across an ocean and overcome great hardships to get there. But in just a few years they were not able to see even five miles out of town. They had lost their vision. In similar respects, a Christian church is made up of volunteers who have a variety of interests. Moving outside one’s comfort zone is often not one of those interests. However, with a clear vision of what we can become in Christ, no ocean of difficulty is too great. Without it, we rarely move beyond our current boundaries. As saints we are different, we are different because we have made a commitment to follow Jesus and we must follow the example of Christ in meeting the needs of our community and this often requires change.

Change leads us to our third point of our calling as saints. As saints we are called for a purpose. As Christians we are called by a higher power to exemplify the life of Christ and bring others to know him that in essence is our purpose. The late William Barclay the biblical scholar once told the story of a little girl who was with her mother at church one Sunday. She asked her mother about the figures in the stained glass windows of her church. Her mother replied that they were saints. Later in the week she visited an older woman with her mother. As they left the house, the mother said, “You have seen a saint today.” Trying to put the two together, she finally said, “Oh, I know what a saint is. A saint is someone who lets the light shine through.”

On this first Sunday of 2017, as we have drawn our Watchwords for the New Year we must ask ourselves whether we are ready to let the light of Christ shine through in our lives and in the life of our congregation in this year ahead of us? We as a church must strive to follow our motto as a congregation more closely, “loving to serve, serving to love.”

The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.

January 1, 2017

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