A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sermon (September 21) by Rev. Robert McDowell - "A Life Worth Living"


     I read in the news about a man who was recently hired to begin a new job. He is so excited about his new job that every single morning, he wants to do a back handspring out of bed, because he is that excited about going to work.
     If you are interested in trying this, I want to show you a little demonstration of someone doing a back handspring. This is one of our own church members, Alli Romans, who is a gymnast. Let’s watch her demonstrate this for us.
video

     I’m sure that most of us can do what Alli just did on that video! What a positive way to begin each day by doing a back handspring  out of bed every morning!
      Please do not try this unless you know what you’re doing and you have approval from your physician. I just wanted to offer that disclaimer.
     I really like this man’s approach to his new job. He is that excited about his day.
     The Apostle Paul strikes me as somebody who did back handsprings out of bed every morning. He couldn’t wait to begin his day so that he would be able to share his faith in Christ with the people around him. Nothing was going to stop him. Being an apostle of Jesus Christ brought him great joy.
     This is someone who founded at least fourteen and maybe up to twenty churches during his lifetime. He wrote fourteen of the twenty-seven books that are in our New Testament.  About half of the Book of Acts is about this man. And on top of all of that, he led three missionary journeys to help spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
     This man probably did back handsprings out of bed. He was that excited about his faith. If you haven’t already done so, I want to encourage you to read the Letter of Philippians from beginning to end.  It doesn’t take long to read at all. If you are feeling discouraged, this letter will probably cheer you up.
     Some of my favorite bible verses are in this one letter. Verses like the one that we already heard read a little bit ago. “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.”
     Philippians 2:13 – “For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
     Philippians 3:10 & 11 – “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead”
    Philippians 3:13-14 – “But this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
     Philippians 4:4-9 – “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
     And probably my favorite of all the verses. Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Say that verse over and over again and see if it doesn’t change your outlook and approach in a given situation.
      In writing this letter to the church at Philippi, Paul is pointing us to a life that is worth living. It’s a life that is centered on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s the kind of life where you want to do a back handspring out of bed when you wake up in the morning. You can’t wait to begin your day because you know that Christ will be with you in every single moment.
     In our scripture reading from Philippians, Paul offers three ways for us to live a life that is worth living. These three reasons can make a huge difference in our lives.
     The first way is by having a purpose in life. In our passage of scripture, Paul is wrestling with the idea of which is better; being with Christ for all of eternity, or serving Christ while here on earth.
     His answer is that both of these thoughts are wonderful! While he is looking forward to that time when he will be with Christ for all eternity, he also knows that he has a purpose here on earth.
     Several years ago, Rick Warren, the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in California, wrote a devotional book with the title, “The Purpose Driven Life.” The book offers a forty-day personal spiritual journey that offers five purposes for every person who is seeking to be a follower of Jesus Christ.  What a wonderful thing to know that your life has a purpose!
     I came across this funny story about three guys who wanted to sneak into the Olympic Village. I don’t know if they thought someone there might mistake them for athletes or if they just wanted to meet female gymnasts, but they kind of loitered around the screening table. Soon a big, hulking guy walked up with his athletic duffel bag, bulging biceps, size 19 neck, and said to the guards: “I’m Angus McPherson. Scotland. Shotput.” The security team looked in his bag, saw a huge shotput ball, and waved him right through. They gave him room keys and even meal coupons for the Pizza Hut and McDonalds and Häagen-Dazs food court. 

    So these three guys said to themselves: “Cool. We can do this.” The first one sneaks outside, slices all the branches off a tree limb, comes back in and says to the guards: “Chuck Wagon. Canada. Javelin.” The guards inspect his “javelin” and hand him a bulging envelope with his athletic pass, room keys, meal ticket, everything. This was pretty lax security—probably pre-9/11.

     The second guy goes down an alley, pries loose a manhole cover, marches up to the front gate and announces himself: “Dusty Rhodes, Australia. Discus.” Welcome to the Olympics, Mr. Rhodes. So these two guys who have impostered themselves into the inner sanctum loiter around the gate to see if their third beer-drinking buddy can weasel his way in.

     A couple of minutes later, he walks up to the front gate with a huge roll of barbed wire painfully tucked under his arm. “Who are you?” the guards ask. “Foster Bean,” he says. “Vermont, USA. Fencing.” 

     I guess the moral of that story is to not try to be somebody else but to live out who God created us to be. God has given each one of us a purpose and that purpose it to be in a relationship with God. Jesus invites us to follow him every single day of our lives. That’s our purpose. This is who we are called to be.
   
     A second way to live a life worth living is to serve others. This is what the Apostle did throughout his ministry. He had a gift of starting churches and encouraging them along the way.
     Paul writes in our scripture passage that as long as he is alive he will continue to help them be faithful in their ministry. Even when Paul was away from them, he wrote this letter to encourage them.
     It’s when we serve others in the name of Christ, that we are able to live a life that is worth living. Every time we help prepare a meal for the homeless, fold a church newsletter that will be mailed from the church, greet somebody at the door as they enter our sanctuary for worship, teach a Sunday School class, split firewood to help someone heat their home this winter, and lead one of the games for our fall Halloween festival, we are living a life that is worth living.


     Some of you might know the name, Mike Singletary who was a Pro Bowl linebacker for the Chicago Bears back in the 1980s. He was a member of a church in the Chicago area during his playing days.
     He asked his pastor if there was anything he could do to help serve the church by keeping a low profile. He said, “Well, there is something that just might be the perfect way for you to serve.”
     He went on to tell him that every week when the custodian vacuums the sanctuary following the weekend worship services, the vacuum cleaner cord gets caught on the pews and the custodian has to always stop and straighten out the cord. He said, “How would you like to be the person who holds up the vacuum cleaner cord?”
     And this ended being a very practical and humble way for an all-pro linebacker to serve in his church. I always think of this story when I happen to come across one of our unsung heroes tidying up our pews on a weekday morning. Every act of service in the name of Christ; great and small, seen and unseen, is what helps us to live a life that is worth living.
     A third way to have a life worth living is to live a life of integrity. We see this in our scripture passage where Paul encourages the church at Philippi to live in a manner worthy of the gospel.
     We all know how important it is to not just talk the talk but to walk the walk. If our actions don’t match our words, not only will people be turned away from the faith, our lives will become shallow and have little meaning.
     Our like the quote that our Discipleship Director, Dan Kemp puts at the end of each of his emails. It’s a quote attributed to St. Francis of Assissi. “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”
     Yes, our words matter, but so do our actions. Paul wants the church at Philippi to live in a manner worthy of the gospel.
     A young officer being considered for a promotion stopped to purchase a newspaper. A passerby dropped some coins in the machine, took out a paper, and held the door open for the officer.
     “Go ahead and take one. Nobody will know,” he offered. For a moment, the officer held the door as the man went his way. Finally, he shut the door, inserted his coins, and took his paper.
     Later that morning, in the interview for his job promotion, the attending general retold what had happened at the newspaper box. “I watched to see what you would do. Had you taken the paper without paying, I was determined to pass you over for the promotion. You see, I am looking for a people of character who live their principles even when no one is around.”
     God calls us to back up our words with our actions.
     What are the ways that we live a life worth living? We live with purpose. We serve others. And we live with integrity.
     A woman who suffered with Parkinson’s disease made it a point to comfort her children by saying, “You must live until you die.”  She didn’t want her family members to stop living because of any adversity they may face, including the medical challenge that she was facing. This woman taught her children to lead a life that is worth living.
     So what do you think? Will you do a back handspring out of bed tomorrow morning?

    Better yet, will you wake up tomorrow morning, ready to lead a life that is worth living? I hope our answer to that important question will be, “Yes.

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