I have been cleaning out—
I am wondering if you help me with me a few items for the trash barrel… what do you think they might be?
Well, I have here my swim trophy from when I was 8. (put in trash can)
My college diploma… high honors. (put in trash can)
Seminary diploma… in latin (etc)
Whoa—my whole wedding dress!
Oh, here’s my stole from my ordination, and a picture of me and the bishop! There they go!
And a cute little picture of my family, when they were all younger. Goodbye!
Why do you suppose I am putting all these things into the trash?
It has to do with our second lesson.
Paul began this section of the letter with a warning: Beware!
Beware of teachers who required Jewish custom of circumcision
as condition for being a part of the community.
Paul wanted the Philippians to understand that nothing they do was as important
as what God did for them in the Jesus.
Then he launches into some boasting:
he lists all his own credentials—reasons he has ‘to be confident in the flesh’—
he was ‘circumcised’, a full fledged Jew
he was in a respected tribe of the people of Israel
he was a scrupulous Pharisee, with perfect behavior
his whole career was to keep the purity of the law; he was so successful he even persecuted Christians.
But Paul did not stay on that track.
Instead he had an encounter with the risen Christ that changed his life—
so much so, that all his former accomplishments, his former identity
he regarded as ‘rubbish.’
This is where it is fun to look at the Greek:
Skubalon was the waste thrown to the dogs, the dregs that must be discarded.
It can even mean ‘dung’!
It’s a strong statement: Paul is saying that all his accomplishments were nothing of value
compared to knowing Christ as Lord.
It’s like throwing all these treasurers of my life into the trash can.
You all can go back to your seats while I finish up the sermon.
This passage poses some deep questions.
More than whether we throw out all our memorabilia or not,
this passage brings up the values of a faithful Christian.
Should we put aside all talent and hard work?
Are our accomplishments or attachments worth anything?
If not, then what should we value?
The key to these questions are these words from Paul:
“For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish,
in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him,
not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,
but one that comes through faith in Christ.”
For Paul, it’s not about what we do that matters in the end; it’s about what God has done.
These items in the trash are not bad; in fact, they are signs of God’s gifts to me.
But to put my ultimate trust in my education or my family or my accomplishments is foolhardy;
at some point education and family and successes fail.
The only thing that is constant in my life is God’s love for me.
Only God’s love in Jesus is able to see me through of all of life’s joys and challenges.
So in comparison to that, all my treasures are nothing.
Seven years ago my family moved from Manchester, where we had lived for 14 years.
We were moving to Hartford, and you might think that this would not be a big deal—
after all, it was only 14 miles.
But for me, it rocked my world.
The church community where we lived and worked was my world
I had come as a student pastor and was ordained there.
I got my first call there as associate pastor.
We bought our first home and had our babies there.
We made friends in that community and the church became like extended family.
So when it became clear we had to move to be closer to my son’s school, I was devastated.
In the months leading up to our move, a friend from seminary, Hentzi, sent me a prayer.
He knew I was struggling to let go of the people and places I loved
and embrace the new possibilities in my life.
His prayer went like this:
“Gracious God, I pray for Julie and Jonathan, Joel and Stephanie:
for love, strength, courage, hope, peace, patience, perspective,
and humor with themselves and the world around them.
Help them remember all good comes from you.
Help them to recognize your loving presence all around them and to respond as faithfully as they can.
Help them to love greatly, but to hold lightly everything—
their ambitions, their dreams, and each other and even their own lives.
Remind them that you are by their side, Immanuel, and with you, everything and anything is possible.”
I’ve kept that prayer in my desk drawer ever since,
because I need the reminder to hold God’s gifts loosely.
Hentzi’s prayer helped me to see that the good gifts of my life in Manchester were penultimate-
as important as they were to me, they were not as important as God’s presence in my life.
That’s St. Paul’s message, too:
God gives good gifts, but hold them loosely.
We don’t have to throw away the people and things we treasure in life
but we need to be willing to let them go if God leads us to a new place.
Faithful Christian living is seeing what is most important—‘the surpassing value of knowing Christ.’
It’s about loving Jesus above all things.
When I left Manchester, I couldn’t see what God had in store.
Some of it happened to be wonderful—two new church communities to learn from and serve.
Some of it was pretty challenging.
But I wouldn’t trade it, because through the joys and the challenges, I have come to know Christ.
I could put this whole trash bag into the garbage, and I know I would be OK.
But I don’t have to.
Jesus loves me whether to do or not.
His invitation is there for me every day—to be ready to follow where ever he leads
ready to leave behind even the things I hold dear
Knowing that in Christ, I have everything I need.