The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
March 17, 2019
Before European colonialism imposed national boundaries on Southeast Asia, the kingdoms of Laos and Vietnam reached an agreement about how to tax those in their shared border areas, where the people of the two distinct kingdoms lived intermixed.
Those who ate short-grain rice, built their homes on stilts, and decorated them with Indian-style serpents were deemed Laotian, while people who ate long-grain rice, built their homes on the ground, and decorated them with Chinese-style dragons were deemed Vietnamese. The exact location of people’s home did not determine their identification with a kingdom. They belonged to one or the other by virtue of whose standards they exhibited.
Christians and non-Christians live intermixed on this turf we call the earth. What distinguishes the one from the other is not where exactly they are located, but what standards – in this case, what values and convictions –they exhibit. Their citizenship is proven by the standards to which they hold.
People may claim to have their citizenship in heaven, but what proves their claim to belong to that kingdom is whether they live in line with what the King of heaven says matters eternally: the everlasting concerns of love, justice and the truth of the gospel.
The Apostle Paul lived in line with such lasting concerns. That’s why he here urges the Philippians to “imitate” him and to “observe those who live according to the example you have in us.” They especially need to do that when there are people within the church people who claim to be followers of Christ but who are actually living “as enemies of the cross of Christ”. They refuse to make sacrifices for the sake of God’s big purposes of grace. They indulge their feelings and appetites as if they were what is most important. They set their minds on “earthly things”, and their hearts on material satisfactions that pass away, as if they were equally worthy and enduring goods. They therefore fail to stand firm in the faith of the kingdom.
The way of Christ is picking up our cross, denying ourselves and following His model, as seen in scripture and in the faithful saints around us. It is saying No to the transitory and Yes to the eternal. It is living to hear the King of heaven one day say to us from His heavenly throne, “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your Master”.
Greg and Donna have a home in a new residential community where everything from landscaping to parking is governed by bylaws and rules. Both Greg and Donna have served on their homeowners’ association Board.
A thorn in their side, and in the side of everyone else, was a couple named Brad and Brenda. Brad and Brenda were always uncooperative, complaining, combative and just plain mean. People who prayed would catch themselves praying that Brad and Brenda would just go away.
A week ago, Brad committed suicide. His suicide devastated Brenda. But no one from the community reached out to Brenda. Plenty enjoyed speculating how soon she’d move out of the area.
Greg and Donna, however, belong to the kingdom of heaven, and they have heard their King tell them to love their enemies and bless those who have cursed them.
They get it that living in line with what lasts sometimes means doing what you don’t want to do.
And they get it that kindness can be in our power even when fondness cannot. So they put their feelings in their place, and showed up on Brenda’s doorstep, armed with nothing but warm smiles, homemade soup, fruit and chocolate.
Much to their surprise, Brenda invited them in and poured out her heart to them for almost an hour. A couple of days ago, she sent them an email expressing her gratitude for their reaching out to her. In it, this woman they’d only known as a bitter, troublesome and cruel soul said: “I so appreciate your kindness in visiting me. You were so sweet to let me talk your ear off. It was restorative for me….I am so thankful to have such compassionate, caring neighbors who are there for me…. Much love, Brenda.”
Sometimes Christians are criticized for being so heavenly minded as to be of no earthly good. But experience suggests otherwise. For example, heavenly minded Christians ended slavery, and heavenly minded Christians today are at the forefront of bringing recovery to war-devastated countries such as Uganda.
Let me close with an analogy. Imagine you and your family live in a rundown house with leaky pipes, cold drafts in the winter and old stains on the floor that can’t be washed out. Out of nowhere, a rich uncle shows up and announces, “I am saving up for a big renovation of your house that will make it a model home that will last your lifetime. Ten years from now, I’ll come back and redo everything; and I will give you the best new floors, appliances, wiring, insulation and landscaping.”
After he leaves, your family processes the good news and talks about how to live until all that happens. Your brother says, “Let’s live it up partying, and not worry about trashing the place. After all, uncle is going to make everything perfect before we know it.” Your dad says, “I’ll enjoy thinking about our new dream home and building anticipation; but, I tell you, I’m done with fixing anything around here anymore. It’s just not worth it, since uncle is going to fix everything eventually, and make it better than I ever could.”
Your wise mother, however, says, “I’m looking forward to our new renovated home as much as anyone; but, in the meantime, we must live like we are going to live in the new place, so that we learn how to make the make of such a place. If we trash this house, we will just get in the habit of trashing houses, and we’ll soon trash the new one. I too will be dreaming about this dump being transformed into a mansion; but, if we think only of how we will enjoy this place in the future, we will in the present let it grow even more rundown and dangerous to live in, and we will become less healthy and happy than we otherwise might be in our time of awaiting the renovation. Moreover, we will not have readied ourselves to take advantage of all the amenities of our mansion-to-be, when we finally occupy it. We should live now as if we were already in it. We should practice now what it means to live in such splendor.”
Jesus left earth to prepare a place for us. Let us live as if we were already in it that we might make the most of it when we are. Let us live in line with what lasts: doing justice, extending compassion, and walking and witnessing humbly with the King of heaven.