Easy Street: Road Closed Ahead

Sermon Series: Discipleship in Community/Service in Community

Easy Street: Road Closed Ahead

February 17, 2011 - February 20, 2011

Philipipans 3:15--4:3

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Jake Marvel

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I’m going to ask you a question that I don’t want to you answer just yet. Something think about as I talk for the next 15 minutes or so: “Why are you here?” We’ll come back to that, but first, a story…

A king had several daughters who were wise, beautiful inside and out, and one by one married princes and kings from other lands. In time, only the youngest daughter still lived with her parents, and to counter her loneliness, she took to going for walks in the woods. Often she would bring along and toss up and down and golden ball. It happened that one day she dropped the ball and it rolled into a pool of murky water – she could swim, but realized the water was so dirty, she would not likely ever find her ball. In tears at the side of the pool she heard a voice, “I can retrieve your ball for you, but you must do something for me.” Not thinking, not even looking up to see who was talking, she agreed, “Anything!  Just please get my ball!” However, when a frog delivers her ball to her and asks for a kiss, she’s not so sure she wants to keep her word.

Why didn’t she want to kiss the frog?

Easy Street is alluring. Taking a risk in life, stepping into something new is not something we always like to do. Besides the fact that she was disgusted with the idea of kissing a frog, for the Princess, part her hesitation was likely that she did want to move too far beyond the world that she knew. In the traditional Grimm Brother’s version, this tale is the traditional first in the collection (the frog doesn’t ask for a kiss, though) as if it were an invitation to take a risk.

Now, Paul wasn’t asking Philippi to kiss a frog, really. But he was challenging and pushing them to move outside of their comfort zone, to get off “Easy Street” as he calls it in this paraphrase. It’s clear, especially from verses 18-19, that there are some folk in Philippi whose teaching and ideas are threatening to mislead the Philippians. We aren’t exactly sure who these folks are: they could be the same as either group mentioned earlier in the letter, or this might be a new “threat.”  In chapter three we knew what they were teaching – that following rules, like circumcision, would make God love you – but here we have just a couple clues from verse 3:19: “their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” (TNIV) “Stomach” here could mean more than the upper duodenum, it could be a way to say that the most important thing to them is pleasing their body. As if their bodies were for them to enjoy rather than for service to others. (This would fit the overall flow of the letter after talking so much about grace earlier (3:1-14) he now needs to remind them that just because God loves you no matter what, don’t use that as an excuse to do whatever you want.) Paul is warning them that following these desires, feeding the stomach, will distract them from the goal, will knock them off course.

In our lives, I think we struggle with this as well, though maybe at different times in our lives. It’s tempting to focus our energy on earthly things and turn away from God’s invitation to a deeper meaning in our life. I’m not just talking about going to church each week and never missing Bible study, I’m asking you to think about why you are here. On earth, I mean. Why are you here? God gave YOU as a gift to the world. To help make all of us stronger. 

Paul tells the Philippians to stay on target. He says, “There’s more to life for us!” He encourages the church there to “keep focused” (vs 15), “Stay on” the right track (vs 16), “stick with me” (vs. 17), “don’t waver, stay on track, steady in God” (4:2). Paul says you were made for so much more than your stomach. For so much more than Easy Street. He names two things in this passage that are essential to how we were made: we have a goal/meaning in life and we are made for community.

Community. In this series, you’ve heard several times that the English word “you” in here is almost always in the plural: “Y’all.” Paul offers a running buddy in vs. 17 and citizenship in vs 20. It’s all through here that he wants the Philippians to work out their faith lives amid other believers. We might be tempted to walk the easy path and stay away from people who challenge us and we don’t always like, but that’s not the life of faith. (Note the bit of conflict between Euodia and Syntyche in 4:2-3; when we live and work in community, we don’t always get along with everyone, right? There’s bound to be conflict from time to time. Paul sees this in Philippi, names it to the church, and asks others to help those two women figure it out.) (This probably doesn’t need to be said at Brunswick, but that these people arguing are women has nothing to do with their gender: he names them as full partners.)

A goal, a purpose in life. In a few moments we’ll gather around the communion table and find nourishment for our souls there. We’ll hear again that God’s work in this world is not complete, that we here are the Body of Christ. We’ve seen an example again this past week of someone who lived this out: Tom Little. We’ll take time to pray for other missionaries we support. But don’t forget that YOU are a missionary as well. YOU carry salt and light into this world. The God who so dearly loves you has gifted you to live in this world and fill it more with God’s love. So: Why are you here?

As you think about this, I pray that you would kiss a frog. Choose God’s path. Accept the invitation to a life lived among these good folk so you can be who God has called you to be. 

 

To contact Jake Marvel about this sermon, please email or write to: Brunswick Presbyterian Church, 42 White Church Lane, Troy, NY 12180