Yr C ~ Lent 3 ~ Philippians 3:17-4:1
I’m calling this Lenten sermon series the War of the Worlds – borrowing from H.G. Wells’ classic sci-fi novel – a novel about what happens when a powerful, hostile ‘world’ wages war on a ‘world’ with an entirely different world-view. And really, that’s what this is about – it’s a war of the world-views. This concept is erupting with devastating consequences around our planet right now. Places like Ukraine, Myanmar, Yemen, Ethiopia-Eritrea-Sudan, on and on the violence goes. The evil of ‘power-over’ clashing with those who would resist.
Solving geo-political quagmires is far beyond us, but we can’t help but want to do something, anything to help. That’s why our recent appeal for donations of personal care items for people in Ukraine was so overwhelmingly supported. It was something we could tangibly do beyond thoughts and prayers.
And, this is important – it was a way to assert our world-view in the face of an oppressive world-view.
This is the war of the world-views that we can make a difference in. It’s the ‘ways of the world’ vs God’s Way. It’s the kingdoms of empire vs the Kingdom of God. It’s me, me, me vs us, us, us. The first Sunday in Lent we looked at Jesus in the wilderness – countering the voice of temptation that tries to entice us with taking the easy way, worshipping the wrong things, and distracting us from filling our tank with Spirit.
Last week we explored our constant struggle to turn away from self-interest, and self-indulgence, and self-importance and press on toward the ever-deepening goal of love, love, love. Today we’re picking up right where we left off in Philippians 3 and hearing Paul say more about those who worship the ways of the world, especially the self-indulgence part. We’re using The Message translation today because it’s phrasing is so personal and relatable, and I’m going to go verse-by-verse and amplify Paul’s words as I go.
v.17 Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal.
Watch for people whose faith journey seems deep and grounded. Seek out mentors you can be in relationship with and learn from. They probably won’t see themselves as worthy of being a mentor. But they are. We say we follow Jesus, but really we follow one another in the ways Jesus taught. When the world gives us so many examples of unhealthy and unloving ways to walk, it’s that much more critical that we find kindred in Christ whose walk inspires us.
v.18 There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I’ve warned you of them many times; sadly, I’m having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ’s Cross.
Easy street is the opposite of what Jesus taught. That’s why so many people seem hostile to our faith. Maybe you’ve encountered some of that. It usually comes in the form of a vicious and dismissive eye-roll! Maybe some of that hostility comes from the fact that far too many people through church history have tried to make faith into easy street. “Say these magic sentences and you get into heaven!” That’s easy street thinking.
Faith is the opposite of that.
Faith knows it’s not what you say – it’s how you live.
It’s how you love.
It’s how you love, love, love.
Easy-streeters hate Christ’s cross because the cross symbolizes dying to the ways of the world and opening your heart to God’s way of love. Dying to me, me, me and being reborn into us, us, us. Letting go of the lure of easy street is really hard, because on the surface it seems so appealing.
v.19 But easy street is a dead-end street.
The NRSV bible says for those on that path “their end is destruction.” It doesn’t really mean annihilation, but instead means “loss of well-being” not loss of ‘being’.
Loss of well-being. A dead-end street.
If that’s so obvious to us, why is this a problem? Why is the way of the world, easy street, so alluring?
v.19 continues Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites.
What does it mean to make your belly your god? It means you’re led by your appetites. It means whatever satisfies you in a particular moment is what you give yourself to. Matthew 6:21 Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If your treasure is your belly – that’s where your heart is. Lots of people are led around by their bellies – seeking the stimulus of instant gratification. And “belches are their praise.” If your belly is your god, then you and your appetites are the centre of the universe for you. That’s not good.
But when the belly god is what’s driving the ways of the world the consequences are enormous. The entire capitalist world economy is dependent on the elevation and veneration of the belly god.
You need a bigger TV. You need a better car. You need a flashier show. You need to look better in the mirror. You need more money. You need more stuff. You need more power.
All they can think of is their appetites.
That’s the belly god reigning in this worldly kingdom.
To complicate things, sometimes people worship the belly god because that’s the only way they can cope with what the world and its inhabitants may have dealt them. Perhaps the belly is their comfort for hurting, from violence, or abuse, or the relentless unlovingness that can swirl and make it seem like there’s no other relief than the belly. Sometimes the belly isn’t about what makes us feel good but what stops us from feeling so bad. Like I said, it’s complicated.
Here’s the catch. We mentioned it last week. We still gotta live here. How does a follower of the Way of Jesus navigate this? – ‘cuz I do need a TV, and a car, and I like to eat good foods, and I like to enjoy myself and feel good, and I like to try to be somewhat presentable to the world. I don’t want to renounce all the worldly pleasures and live in a cave somewhere.
What should we do?
Paul reminds us in v.20 There’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven!
I think that’s just a different way of saying that we strive to reside in the Kingdom of God. We strive not to put our belly at the centre of our life. But what’s this ‘more to life’ thing he’s talking about? Or, to put it more bluntly – What’s in it for me and my belly? Especially if we’re trying to help a belly god person understand what we’re on about – we surely must have something attractive or appealing to offer.
Paul offers this. The language is problematic for us, but I think we can work with it. He says, still in v.20
We’re waiting the arrival of the Saviour, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He’ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.
First, we have to admit that it sure seems like Paul was counting on Jesus actually, physically returning, and that it was going to happen soon. Perhaps we’re reading him wrong – it was two millennia ago and has been translated and copied many times – but the way it reads we have to say that Paul was wrong about Jesus’ arrival.
But then again, I think he was completely correct! If you drop the ‘physical’ part of this verse and think of Jesus’ Spirit arriving, or emerging, or being revealed, then it takes on much more life.
In fact, that word “waiting” here means to eagerly await, and to welcome into your presence. It’s not so much “arriving” as if from a distant place, but more like coming into focus, having a hoped for thing happen. And then what happens when that revelation comes into being? Transformation happens!
The Greek word used here is schematizo – like our word ‘schematic’. When you awaken to the presence of Jesus and allow that Spirit to work on your heart (and your belly!) it’s like your inner schematic gets redone. The language here suggests that what’s going on is we are being conformed to the shape of Jesus. That means to share the same inner essence–identity as Jesus.
The use of schematizo suggests it’s a noticeable change.
Do you think people ‘out there’ notice that you’re different somehow?
Do you ever get a raised eyebrow when you say no to something everyone else seems to say yes to?
Or when you don’t get as excited over the latest and greatest whatnot?
Or when you say really weird things like, “At my church the other day…”?
The “far more to life for us” part is that ‘fullness of Spirit’ replaces ‘fullness of belly’.
Desire to share the journey replaces ‘climb the ladder regardless of who gets stepped on’.
Us replaces me.
Love replaces lust.
That sounds great, and easy – but it’s really hard to stay on that path. We all struggle with it constantly – because the way of the world is powerful. The allure of the belly god is strong.
Of course the God of Love, the One God, the Holy Mystery, is far more powerful – if we can stay focused. That’s one of the reasons we gather like this – for strength of community, for mutual support, for encouragement.
Philippians 4:1, Paul concludes this section – My dear, dear friends! I love you so much. I do want the very best for you. You make me feel such joy, fill me with such pride. Don’t waver. Stay on track, steady in God.
Stay on track, steady in God. Know that you are not fighting this war of the world-views on your own.
We have the Presence of God.
We have the Spirit of Christ working on our schematics, conforming us to same inner essence-identity as Jesus.
We have one another.
We are not alone.
Yes, we need to start with our own ‘salvation’, our own transformation, our own journey of love – but we don’t stop there…here.
We also work to ‘save’ the world – to transform the systems of oppression and power-over.
By being people whose walk in faith is so filled with love, and care, and compassion, and justice that God’s light beams through us and lights up everyone near.
By being mentors to others who are struggling with their belly god and wondering if maybe there must be something more to life than that.
Our claim is that we’ve awoken to that Something More – and it has transformed us and is transforming us as we go. Our challenge and calling is to share our experience, and our walk. You may feel that the ask is too big – that we just don’t have the wherewithal to change the world. I respectfully disagree.
Margaret Mead said it best: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
It’s a war of the world-views – and I know we can make a difference by modelling something stronger and more enticing than the belly god.
Stay on track, steady in God.