Two Sundays ago, seven of our sons and daughters confirmed their faith, and two adults reaffirmed their baptismal vows.
In the weeks leading up to that celebration, our Scripture lessons spoke to all of us about what it means to have faith and belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and how it is that we live out our baptismal promises to live our lives for him.
So, for today and next Sunday, I’d like to let Scripture keep speaking to us about living our lives in, for, and with Christ. This morning’s lesson comes from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It is one of Paul’s many letters that he wrote to the first-century Christians who became members of the churches Paul founded in what today we know as the countries of Greece and Turkey.
In his letter, Paul reminds the Philippians that Jesus is as much about transformation as he is about salvation. Jesus comes as much to change lives as he does to save them. These are first 11 verses of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Listen for the Word of the Lord.
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.
And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:1-11)
I’d dare to say that many of us have projects around the house that we just never seem to get to.
For some, it might be any number of fix-’er-up projects. For others, it might be the hobby or craft project that seemed like such a fun idea at the time but is still sitting in the box it came in. Or, your unfinished project is the diet or exercise program that started off so strong out of the gate but soon petered out down the stretch. And that exercise bike or treadmill you were so sure would transform your body and your whole outlook on life now serves as nothing more than a place to hang clean clothes when they come out of the dryer.
With all of that unfinished business comes a fair amount of stress and anxiety that things aren’t moving along as quickly or as completely as they should be, and you can easily fall into a funk of feeling like a failure – maybe even feeling unworthy of the love of those who are wanting, or hoping, or expecting, or demanding that you get the jobs done.
So also it is for those of us whom God has claimed in Jesus Christ. We’re simply not getting the job done. We are made in the image of God, but as often as not, the image of God that others see in us is blurry, warped and distorted. Jesus calls us to be his voice, his hands, and his feet in a broken and fearful world, but sometimes, we just never seem to get around to rolling up our sleeves and digging in.
We’d just as soon shrug it all off with a casual “oh, well” or chalk it up to “no one being perfect.”
But then, in those quiet moments, the still small voice of the Holy Spirit whispers in our ears the disturbing word that, in spite of all our words and deeds that give glory and honor to God and declare Christ alive and well, we other times fall short and just generally miss the mark of how God in Christ would have us live our lives.
And in accepting the reality of sometimes disappointing God, it’s mighty tempting to think that we’ve messed things up so utterly and completely when it comes to meeting God’s expectations, wants and desires for our lives that we’re unworthy of God’s love and grace.
Maybe even quite possibly we start thinking that God’s given up on us altogether – that the Lord has thrown in the towel and left us to fend for ourselves as lost causes that are broken beyond repair.
But then, into our dark, dank and depressing places of fear, doubt and self-loathing strolls the apostle Paul with an attitude adjustment that intends to change our entire outlook on life:
“I am confident of this,” Paul declares with full-throated joy and enthusiasm, “that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”
Despite all our failures, despite all our shortcomings, despite all our rough edges, we are, as it turns out, works in progress – disciples “under construction” as it were. By the grace of God, our hearts and our minds – indeed, every fiber of our being – are construction zones where God is at work remodeling and rebuilding us.
From the moment we accept and take to heart the claim that God in Christ lays upon our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit, each of us is like a great, big ol’ farmhouse that’s undergoing a complete renovation, and God is the chief architect, general contractor, and master builder.
Sure, the house that stood the test of time has some nice features to it. But over the years, leaks spring up in the roof; cracks form in foundations and walls, and floors start to sag. The furnishings and décor start to look drab and dated; a lot of dirt has been swept under the rugs, and the closets are clogged with clutter that needs to be cleaned out and organized.
God is still quite fond of this old house, but God envisions a thorough remodeling
to make the house much more valuable, a whole lot more useful, and way more beautiful inside and out.
So, to kick things off, God tackles the little things: Patching up the leaky roof of your spirit, nailing up those loose boards in your being, throwing out some of the clutter that makes it hard for you to move. And then, before you know it, God starts knocking out walls and pulling up old, worn-out floors.
God is in the middle of a complete reconstruction!
How you think, what you believe, and what is important to you are all being taken apart and re-built from the ground up. You realize those small repairs that started things off were just adjustments to your attitude. And now you see that God is reconstructing your character and reshaping your heart to make a solid foundation on which your faith will stand and your life will be ordered.
What God envisions through it all is a house where the Holy Spirit of God in Christ may live and dwell.
And since the Lord intends you and me to be his dwelling place, God in Christ delights in coming in and cleaning up the messes and fixing everything that’s gone wrong. The God who fearfully and wonderfully made each of us – the God who knew each of us before we were even born – is the patient-but-persistent builder of our lives who never rests until the job is done.
And maybe the best thing we can do is get out of the way, let God do what God will do,
and trust that God knows what God’s doing.
The lyrics to an old Sunday school song surely declare those truths:
God’s still workin’ on me
To make me what I ought to be.
It took God just a week to make the moon and the stars,
The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars.
How loving and patient God must be,
God’s still workin’ on me!
There really ought to be a sign upon my heart,
“Don’t judge me yet, there’s an unfinished part.”
But I’ll be perfect, just according to God’s plan,
Fashioned by the Master’s loving hand.
And suddenly, the prayer Paul lifts up for the Philippians becomes the prayer that we need to be lifting up for ourselves and for each other.
Pray that our love will overflow more and more.
Pray that you and I will keep on growing in our knowledge and experience of God’s never-ending goodness and in understanding and living out what really and truly matters to God.
Pray that you and I live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return and he at long last gathers all of us together unto a new heaven and a new earth.
Let the new paint and fresh decoration that now adorns the ceilings and walls of this Sanctuary be reminders that God isn’t “done” with us – or with this congregation. Indeed, there’s plenty of life-giving work left for us to do as thriving members of the Body of Christ as we “build [and maintain] a house where love can dwell and all can safely live,” thanks the renovating grace of God and the skilled craftsmanship of the Holy Spirit.
For by patient love that never ends, God’s still working on you, and on me, and on us.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen, and amen!
Pastor Grant M. VanderVelden shared this message on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021. The service included a rededication of the Sanctuary after extensive renovations. Scholarship, commentary and reflection by Scott Hoezee and Morna D. Hooker inform the message.