Sermon 13th March 2022

Readings for today;  Luke 13, v31-35, Philippians 3, v17-4,1  Pslam 27  v1-6


Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi is a little different to the letters to other churches Paul had founded. Many of his other letters are about facing issues within the church, or moving back to the gospel Paul taught. Here at Philippi, the letter is full of encouragement and joy at the way the church is, rather than correction and teaching. The church there had been largely founded with the help of Lydia a rich businesswoman who was converted. In fact, that church had provided, in faith, the majority of the much-needed financial support for Paul’s ministry. Just before this passage in chapter two, Paul had encouraged his readers to have the mind of Christ, and in this chapter, he explains how that leads to the different approach and way of life which Paul models and he is encouraged, and wants to encourage, in the church at Philippi. And of course, that’s sound advice for the church today too.

But just what is the mind of Christ and how do we discern it? Last week we considered Christ’s temptation, how, as he fasted in the wilderness, his mind was tempted with the things of this world, the quest for power, for an easy life, for him to misuse the powers only the Son of God could have. And we saw a reliance on the Holy Spirit and the words of Scripture to retain the vision, the singlemindedness of the mission to which God had called him to earth for. Indeed, here in today’s reading from Luke we see, again, that singlemindedness, the determination to look beyond the threats from Herod, or the attempts by the Pharisees to unseat him.

Jesus told them he would keep on, keep on healing, casting out demons, keep on toward Jerusalem, knowing he faced death there, yet determined, single minded in his purpose, to serve those around him and to complete the task before him, to go to the cross.

But Paul sees all around him, and his heart weeps for them, all those who have yet come to know Christ, those who continue to live worldly lives. And he wants to encourage the church at Philippi to continue with what it is doing, to continue to mimic Paul’s calling and lifestyle as Paul himself strives to imitate that of Christ. In this way, the people live in kingdom ways and those around them might be led to imitate them too, to come to faith, to come to know Christ. And the church was doing this, and it gave Paul great joy, perhaps it's a mark of the leadership of Lydia that the more masculine dominated problems of the other churches Paul ministered to were not present at Philippi.

So, as we consider these two texts this morning, what do they mean to us today, in the midst of the threat and the destruction of Putin’s forces, in the midst of a world of consumerism and selfishness, in the midst of a world still struggling with Covid. How do we imitate Paul, who imitates Christ, how do we develop that single-mindedness that even in the face of all these problems remains centred on God’s vision or the world, remains centred on the kingdom values Christ taught, remains on track despite seeing ahead, as Jesus saw ahead of him in Jerusalem and his death, an uncertain or difficult future?

I have been deeply moved, as others have been, I’m sure of the tragedy and human stories coming out of Ukraine the past two weeks. One of those stories tells of one of the bishops, who took 37 people (and most of their pets too) into a basement and cared for them there, risking his life above ground to source food, coordinating charity work from underground throughout the city and sharing communion whilst missiles and bombs could be heard not far away. Their future is uncertain, indeed there may be little future for them if Putin advances further, but there is a singlemindedness in that Bishop’s work and focus, on his people and on Christ. His servanthood and leadership, his own selflessness imitates that of Christ, a Paul did before him, as many, many others are also doing in Ukraine today.

And just how that is done comes back to what we were speaking of last week. Christ came to his time of temptation as we read, filled with the Holy Spirit. Filled with that same Holy Spirit, in the face of the knowledge of the threats from Herod about his death, he remains on track, still healing, still doing the work of God, still heading to Jerusalem where he knows that death awaits.

Single minded.

 Focused on God, and on the kingdom values he came to institute on earth. If we are to imitate Christ, if we are to have the mind of Christ, that singlemindedness that focusses on kingdom values, on love and compassion, on the servanthood that Jesus quoted from Isaiah in a synagogue in Nazareth, then we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit too.

Because in our own strength we are nothing, but with God, in Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit it is possible to do things which, in human terms might otherwise seem near impossible, or far beyond what we see as our own capabilities. And, like Paul was filled with joy and so encouraged by the church at Philippi, then so too we can be joyful and encouraged when we see our church living like that.

And to be filled by the holy Spirit, to be constantly filled, to have those empty human spaces in our lives filled, to have the unknown voids of the future filled, all we have to do is believe and ask. Believe in Christ and ask for the Holy Spirit to enter our lives. No-one has ever been refused. No-one.

Because in Christ’s death and resurrection our imperfections, our unreadiness, our unworthiness to receive are wiped away as if they never existed in God’s eyes, and undeserving as we are, we are never refused in grace and mercy.

Do you desire that singlemindedness, that life that is above and beyond every trouble this world throws at us, that has the strength and power to minister in basements and bunkers like that Ukrainian Bishop when hope seems distant, to be like Paul, and yes, even to imitate Christ? To begin in faith, or to enrich the faith you already hold?

Believe and ask. And he will change you.

It is all that God asks, and he will answer.