October 4-5, 2008
Text: Philippians 3:4b-14
Dear Friends in Christ,
Why are adults still concerned about their parents? Well, because you only have one set of them. When they’re gone, you are on your own. There’s no one else to turn to. Even when our parents our old and infirm, perhaps even senile, they are still our connection to the past. They are our personal history. If they were good parents we also share a bond of love. But even without that bond, there is still something deeper. They are our flesh and blood. It is from their DNA that we came to be. No matter how bad they might have been, if that were the case, we cannot escape them. They are our parents. We are their children.
Why do people have a love for their country? Because these are our people. We share a common heritage. We have a common set of stories - a common set of heros. For us as Americans we are inseparably linked to names like Washington, Adam, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Franklin, Lincoln, Grant, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Patton, MacArthur, Nimitz, Abrams, Reagan, and several generations of McCains. These names are not just dusty bits of the past. They are part of our make up. We don’t just read about Captain Parker on Lexington Green. We are part of the story. His words - “If they mean to have a war, let it start here” - echo in our ears. We are witnesses to heroism of Mary Ludwig Hays who when she saw her husband fall wounded at the battle of Monmouth Courthouse, took up his rammer and continued to work his cannon. Names like Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Shiloh, and Appomattox Courthouse are not just points on a map. They are part of who we are. They are the monuments to the fact that we are a people of justice for all. Midway, Tarawa, Normandy, Inchon, Caisson, and Faluja, teach us that we too must not turn from the struggle. Freedom and justice must always be defended. All these things are who we are. They shape us and mold us. The make us act because we are Americans.
St. Paul is making the same point to the Philippians. We don’t live our lives in a vacuum. We are shaped and molded by the things around us. It takes more than saying it, to be something. We can say we are Christians, but that doesn’t make us Christians. If we really are a child of God, it will change who we are and how we live.
Where does this start? With Christ making me His child. We were not children of God. We were born enemies of God. We were born enslaved to sin. We are enslaved to our flesh. Now here we must make distinction between two Greek words. As you learned in school, words have denotative and connotative meanings. So you can have two words with the same denotative meaning, but which carry completely different connotative meanings. So for example, we could say someone is witty or we could say that they are a wiseacre. Both words tells us that the person is quick with their use of words, but one is seen as positive while the other suggests dislike. In Greek we have the words “sarx” and “soma”. Both could be rendered as physical bodies. “Sarx, however, carries with the idea of corruption. It is from this word that we get the English word sarcophagus - which literally means flesh eater. Soma on the other hand refers to the the physical creation of God. It is a positive thing. Usually, in the New Testament, when you see the word “flesh” it is a translation of the Greek word “sarx”. So when Paul in our text speaks of relying on the “flesh” he is speaking of that which is corruptible, that which fails. He’s talking about that which gets old and dies. He is not however speaking dualistically - that is contrasting material and spiritual. He is contrasting that which is corrupted by sin with that which is incorruptible. The material, that is our bodies, are not inherently bad. They are just corrupted by sin.
Paul warns against having any trust in our flesh. By this he means to say that we are not trust anything that has become mixed with sin. Why? Because sin kills. Sin makes everything temporary. Since our flesh is corrupted by sin, everything done by our sinful flesh is sin. Our flesh is capable of nothing else. But Christ makes us His own. He comes and takes up residence within us. So life is now Christ’s life, living within us. Christ incorruptible. He doesn’t get old and die. He doesn’t get sick. He the Son of God the Father from all eternity to all eternity. There never was a time when Christ was not. There never will be a time when Christ is not. Therefore, if we are bound up in Christ, we are bound to that which is incorruptible, that which does not die. Thus, we do not die. We become incorruptible, just as Christ is incorruptible.
If we are indeed bound up in Christ, we are changed. Our actions are no longer our own - that is the works of our flesh. They are the works of Christ living within us. Now we are not saying by this our sin becomes right. Rather that as child of God, our lives change. We seek different goals. Where we do the same things we did before, because these things were outwardly good, we now do them for God’s reasons rather than fleshly corruptible reasons. Where we were sinning, we seek to amend our lives, so that Christ more fully shines through our lives. But in all of this our trust is in Christ. It is Christ who brings all of this to fruition. Only the things of Christ last. The things of our flesh fail. So we must cling to Christ as our hope and live Christ in our lives. So in this sense, each day for the Christian becomes a struggle between the flesh and Christ, between sin and righteousness, between life and death. Only in heaven will the corruptible finally be burned away and only the life Christ gives will remain.
God does not intend for us to struggles against sin and corruption alone. Rather, Christ gather’s His children together into Christian congregations. This is so that we can support one another as we battle the corruption of sin. God intends that we lift one another up and teach one another what it means to live as a child of God. Within the Church many structures are set up to bring people together in Christ. Higher Things is there for our Youth. A new group - the Brother’s of John the Steadfast has been created to draw men together in service to Christ. Both of these relatively new organizations were needed because their older counterparts had largely failed. Such organizations within the Church do tend to come and go. They work well for a time then lose their focus on Christ. Yet, not all such organizations are new. The Lutheran Women’s Missionary League remains focused upon supporting one another in Christ. The LWML continues to work to do Christ’s work here and around the world, supporting missionaries and various care ministries, home and abroad.
Being a Child of God changes who we are. It changes how we live our lives. It refocus us upon the things that are incorruptible - the things of Christ. We trust in Christ alone for our salvation because there is nothing in our flesh which can save us. Being thus changed into a child of God, we live lives that reflect that reality - a reality that does not and cannot change, ever. I cannot change because Christ, our Savior, does not change. Amen!