Let us pray: Dear Savior, we know it is easy to talk the talk, but much harder to walk the walk. That is, we find it easier to mouth spiritual truths about Who You are and what You did to save our souls, but much harder to live our faith by avoiding sin and the pitfalls of pride and arrogance. Today remind each of us that we are a work in progress. Likewise, turn our gaze from fastening upon the pitiful raw material of our human nature and instead fasten our eyes upon the transforming power of Your forgiving love at work in each of us. And let that be our sole reason for rejoicing! Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, WHO WORKS IN YOU BOTH TO WILL AND TO DO HIS GOOD PLEASURE!
TEXT: Philippians 3: 17—4:1
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
17 _ years ago I was installed as your Pastor here at Pinewood. Pastor Kehl from Rumford, RI preached the installation service. I still remember his text, too. It was 2 Cor. 4:7 which says: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”
Now, being called a jar of clay is not flattering to anyone’s flesh. And yet, those words ring true for any preacher and also any parishioner. God uses the raw material of our frail flesh and by His grace transforms it into something amazingly beautiful! He makes us into new creations from which He pours out His goodness. None of us are perfect in this life. We all struggle with sin. Sometimes we wonder: “Why does God waste His time on me?” And yet, from such humble hearts, God channels unconditional love, forgiveness for all sins, and His amazing grace. No matter what point you are at in your walk toward heaven, the fact that you are here today shows that God is working upon you and slowly turning you and me into a masterpiece of holiness. That’s a stunning thought. A humbling thought. An uplifting thought. Today, with that in mind:
WELCOME TO THE CHURCH! THE HOME OF GOD’S MASTERWORKS
Many years ago a relative of mine who has trouble getting rid of grudges announced to the family: “I’m not going to church anymore!” When asked why, she said: “Well, I see people there who I also saw coming out of the bar on Saturday night, and I don’t want to be a partner with such sinners.” Another relative responded: “Well, isn’t church for sinners, so why not come and join the rest of us hypocrites!”
By nature we’re all hypocritical when it comes to our faith. We all have moments of weakness. The real question we need to ask is this: “Are we actively trying to deal with those weaknesses, or not?” Remember when St. Paul called himself “the chief of sinners?” Of course, those words were in reference to him holding the cloaks of those who killed Stephen for confessing Christ. They refer specifically to the days when Paul was an active persecutor of God’s Church before his conversion. But, even after His conversion, late in his ministry, Paul still struggled with his sin and what he viewed as hypocritical behavior. Recall his words in Romans chapter 7: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do….What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Just like you and me the great apostle struggled with his sin-tainted flesh. He struggled with his own hypocrisy. He didn’t ignore it or downplay it. Instead, just like every Christian he constantly pleaded the mercy of Christ to cover his sin and transform him into a new and better creation. It is this focus on Christ’s transforming work in and through him that he directs our attention when he says: “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.”
To be sure, temptations come in all shapes and sizes and no Christian is immune from them. Every one of us has, at times in our lives, given in to temptation, too. We’ve adopted the attitude: “Well, God forgave me, so it’s o.k. for me to get drunk; it’s o.k. for me to engage in lewd behavior; it’s o.k. for me harbor greed or envy in my heart because I’m forgiven!” Right here Paul says: “No way!” Moreover, if we continue with such attitudes soon we’ll harden our consciences to the point where Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is meaningless to us. And then destruction is our future.
Now that you’re thoroughly discouraged, what’s the answer? It is to embrace repentance over every single sin, and to actively embrace the transforming power of the cross. It is to long with our whole being for something better than the constant struggle with our frail flesh. It is to embrace St. Paul’s words: “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.”
Do you see yourself as a Godly work in progress? Do you view your fellow believers in the same humble way? I hope so. Because every single soul here today is precious in God’s sight. Every single soul has been bought and paid for with Christ’s blood. Every single soul is being transformed, slowly but surely, into a heavenly creation.
At least a few times every year, one of our elderly members asks me: “Pastor, why am I still here? Why can’t the Lord take me to heaven? I’m ready right now.” To which I always respond: “Well, obviously the Lord’s not done with you yet, so listen, learn, and be patient.” The Lord isn’t done with any of us. And so just as He patiently transforms us individually into masterworks of holiness, so too, He expects us to be patient with each other. He expects us to encourage each other. He expects us to learn from each other.
“Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!” Yes, welcome to the Church! The Home of God’s Masterworks! Amen