Toorak Uniting Church

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Living a Christ like life

Philippians 3: 4b – 14
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
8:00 am, 2 October 2005

What are we here for this morning? What is it we come to do early on Sunday morning, with most sensible people still in bed and us here gathered in the silence of this Church, praying, singing and listening? What is it for?

Is it to make us feel better? To satisfy our needs for order, safety, community and a sense of belonging? Or is it perhaps so we can be told how to live, what to do and what not to? Is it because this is just one of the things we have decided we do in life, go to Church on a regular basis, be Christians and identify with the institution through the attendance of a Church service? Or is it perhaps because we have always gone to Church and wouldn’t really know how to stop now? What is it Church does for us? Worship provides us with? Prayer and preaching bring about in us?

It must be something satisfying enough, otherwise you would not be here at this unearthly hour, and I would not be here either. It must be something worth while enough, otherwise this building would have been closed a long time ago. Even where, at the moment, it seems that what we receive here is not in very high demand.

Something happens when we worship. Something beyond and above us which is difficult to name, difficult to put a finger on, and at the moment, difficult to sell.

Paul, in all his writings, is somebody who tries to put words to that mystery. The mystery of being touched by something deeper and further than anything else that may be important in life. He does that stuttering and stammering, going round in circles and getting into all sorts of not so easy to disentangle knots. All the time struggling to convey what has become the most important thing in his life: Faith in Jesus Christ and the grace of God through him.

I had everything he says, I had myself all sorted out and felt fairly confident I was going to make it in life until I met Christ. When that happened I lost everything because it paled into insignificance in comparison. I thought I was quite something, knowing what I was doing, confident I knew how life stuck together and how I fit into it. I came from good stock, had an excellent education, proved my worth as a persecutor of people I understood to be undermining the old and proven ways of the fathers. I had it all sorted!

Until I met Christ. And suddenly I didn’t know anything anymore and realised that with all my self-importance and pomposity there was very little that really amounted to anything substantial.
And now the only thing I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.

Is that why we are here? To lose everything? To be made to discover that family connections, education, career and all the other things the world deems important are worthless?

I assume that for some of you, as for me, those words may feel a bit unsettling. And rightly so. Because they are radical and in sharp contrast with what some assume the Church and the gospel to be about.

For Paul faith is not about feeling good, about satisfying needs of whatever nature, it’s not about tradition or holding on to age old traditions. On the contrary. It is about losing everything, giving up and letting go and finding oneself in a position that is really not very comfortable. A situation of naked, profound and painful longing. A situation of straining, of reaching out, of running towards a goal leaving all other things that could be important in life to attain just that one thing: To be with Christ.

I want to know Christ says Paul and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death so I may somehow attain the resurrection from the death.

Knowing in the sense of the Hebrew verb for knowing: Knowing inside out, with body, mind and soul, being drenched with something in a way that makes one thoroughly and completely one with the object of ones knowing.

To know Christ. To become one with Christ. To let Christ be in me and me in Christ. To make the mystery of his suffering, death and resurrection my own is what I want says Paul.

Passionate language. Unsettling language.

How do we relate to that in a world where there are so many other things that are deemed important? More important than faith? Status, descent, wealth, education. For most people and even for most of us these feature on our list of priorities well before faith, Christ and Church.

And yet here we have Paul, telling us that really none of those things are important, that they all pale into insignificance when compared to knowing and being in Christ.

And on reflection I think he is right and that it is exactly that we are here to hear, sing and pray about on a Sunday morning. Especially when we celebrate communion.

To confronted with a man who gave his body to be broken, to be confronted with a God who’d rather be with losers, with the sick and the suffering, to be confronted with what makes up our lives and how they compare with the life of Jesus Christ.

If we do that faithfully a lot of the dearly held beliefs, convictions and securities of life have to go. And there is very little to boast about. We are fragile, insecure individuals that don’t like to be vulnerable and out of our depth. When we let ourselves be truly confronted with Jesus and his life and death however we are. A broken body, a suffering servant, God in the depths of life rather than in the highest.

That’s what I want to make my own says Paul. That’s what I want to rule my life. Because I have discovered that life lived like that, in complete surrender to God and his purposes through brokenness, suffering and death, brings life.
Eternal life. That becoming one with Christ, growing into equality with what he lived out in the world, brings me closer to God and closer to the mystery of a life that has more to offer than any of the other stuff ever can. With God taking from me all that trying and working and worrying and replacing it with his grace and the peace of his Spirit in me to a life that is filled with the richness of love, mercy and justice and no longer hampered by the worry, heartache and hard work of the world.

Straining forward, ever longing to be more and deeper with Christ. Disregarding all else.

This morning we come to the table. And perhaps, just perhaps, we can allow ourselves to feel that longing a little bit. And realise how fragile and vulnerable we are when we let go of all those things in life that we feel make us secure, but come before God as we are, longing for his presence, longing to be made right, longing for life, for peace, for love and justice to fill us and take over from here.
And perhaps also feel some of the liberation that a life lived like that would bring us. Filling us with the peace and purpose. Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2005


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