March 13, 2022
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 Psalm 27 Philippians 3:17-4:1 Luke 13:31-35
In his letter to the church in Philippi, the apostle Paul warns its members of the “enemies of the cross” He says, “their god is the belly; . . . their minds are set on earthly things.” He is likely speaking about the Gnostics. The Gnostics believe it is the spirit that matters and that the body is inconsequential. By denying the body matters, they are, in effect, denying the significance of the cross. Christ’s death on the cross means nothing if our mortal lives mean nothing.
God has created everything that is and declared it to be good. Humanity was created and has been given the responsibility of caring for God’s creation (which includes one another). Over and over again we have failed to do so. So, God comes to us in the flesh in the person of Jesus. Jesus lives among us. In today’s gospel he is healing the sick and casting out demons. He teaches us to live a life of servitude and to make sacrifices for the greater good.
What we do here and now matters, how we treat our bodies and one another should reflect our faith. We celebrate the gift of our creation and we respect the gift of creation when we care for ourselves, others, and the earth. To disrespect creation is to disrespect God, our creator. Our experience of our earthly lives may be short lived, but it is important. The example we set for others can lead to a brighter future or to further disrespect and destruction. Whether we are talking about the environment or relationships, God calls us to respect the world in which we live.
Paul speaks to the promise of our transformation through Christ to “the body of his glory” and of our citizenship in heaven. Paul wants us to understand that we are to follow the example of Christ with our body and soul. Paul is in prison, awaiting his own execution, and yet he continues to care for others. The physical is important, but there is more to life that what we are experiencing on earth.
In the gospel, Jesus is warned by some of the Pharisees that Herod wants to kill him. They want Jesus to go away and hide, but Jesus says “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.” Jesus is too busy caring for the physical and spiritual needs of people to focus on preserving his own life. Jesus then says, “Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.”
On the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, we heard the story of his transfiguration on the mountain. Peter, James, and John witness Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah about “his departure, which he [is] about to accomplish in Jerusalem.” Jesus then comes down from the mountain and is headed to Jerusalem. He is not running from danger; he is deliberately headed toward it.
Like Jesus, Paul is trying to help the church in Philippi understand that faith often requires us to make sacrifices. The Gnostics see no reason to exercise restraint from seeking physical pleasure. They have intellectually separated the physical from the spiritual. This separation is reflected in how they live their lives.
Jesus cares for the physical AND spiritual needs of people, making no real distinction for the present life. Yet, both Jesus and Paul are placing their faith above their physical needs and desires. We are not to guard the physical at the expense of the spiritual. On Ash Wednesday, as I imposed the ashes upon your forehead, I said, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Our body may be mortal, but our spirit is not.
The example that Paul sets for the people in Philippi is one of following the way of Christ. It is unselfish love, a love which makes us willing to give up our own lives for the benefit of others. Few of us are ever called upon to do this, but many do or have placed themselves in harm’s way defending our country and providing for our safety. In addition to the obvious, the men and women of our armed forces, police, firefighters, and first responders, the pandemic has placed even more people in harm’s way; health care workers, educators, and a host of “essential workers,” people who are needed to support our lives together. There is a touching story in this morning’s Democrat Gazette about a hospital’s response to the first COVID case in Arkansas and the extent to which their staff went through to care for patients- sleeping in cars and avoiding family to prevent taking it home to their loved ones.
We depend on one another and, although this is not included in this passage, Paul acknowledges our interdependence. He says all the members of the church are essential for us to be the body of Christ. If one of us suffers, we all suffer.
Thus, we are to care for one another in body and soul. We are to love one another as Christ loves us. And, we are to work toward unity of purpose. When we do, we are able to turn our attention away from ourselves and seek to serve Christ in ALL persons.
Let us pray.
Lord, be gracious and have mercy on all of us who have gone astray. Help us, we pray, to return to you and then share with others the love and mercy which you have shared with us. Help us to approach those who are lonely or feeling lost with grace and love. May the love we share lead them to experience life in you. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.