Damariscotta Baptist Church
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

10/2/11 Sermon

Philippians 2:1-13

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Thy sight O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer, Amen

One Sunday worship, the pastor was praying his usual pastoral prayer, and as he was nearing the end, there was a loud noise near the back.  As heads started to turn, the congregation heard a little boy excitedly exclaim, “Mom, I was praying for God to teach me how to whistle, and he just did!” 

Our scripture today speaks of how God is actively working within us. The little boy saw God working within him, teaching him how to whistle.

But I wonder if we are really aware of how God works within us. Are we aware of how God is involved in our lives? 

You know that’s what’s so unique about our faith as Christians. Our faith is differentiated from all other faiths in that we understand that God is this ever-present, God that works within our lives.  But that’s something we can easily forget; especially in our world that has been so shaped by scientific reasoning.  In fact many of our forefathers, the founders of this country didn’t ascribe to a God who was involved and actively working in our lives.  We like to say we began as a Christian country but in reality many of the early founders of this country were known as deists who were shaped by the Enlightenment.  They believed that God had created this world but after creating it, he hit the road leaving us to our own power to fend for ourselves. 

Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Ethan Allen and Thomas Paine while believing in God didn’t see a God that was actively working in our lives.  And while this deism declined in the 1800’s its affects are still present in our country, especially in New England where we see a mentality of individualism and progressiveness that doesn't see God’s activity in our lives.  While many Americans believe in God, they also believe that whatever they do, they do by their own power, relying on their own strength. 

Many in our country, who ascribe to the progressive philosophy, truly believe that we human beings (by our own power) are progressing or getting better as time goes by.  It stems from the Darwin theory of evolution that was also related to deism. With an evolution belief system, progressives believe we are evolving and getting better on our own, with no help from God as time goes by. 
Interestingly enough, the Unitarian Universalist movement so prevalent in New England was influenced also by this deistic, progressive philosophy.  Unitarian Universalists don’t believe in the Trinity; that God is active thru the power of the Holy Spirit. They also don’t ascribe to the need for Jesus’ death on the cross as an atonement for our sins because they don’t see that human beings are flawed and in need of a savior----they simply need to progress. 

Now I don’t know about you but when I look around at our world today I don’t see that we’re progressing. If anything I see we’re digressing. We live in a fallen world that keeps on falling.  And while we can continue to try to solve the problems on our own with new sets of rules, the reality is that new sets of rules and guidelines don’t get to the heart of the problem. 

The real issue is that we need the power of God to come into our lives and change us. 

Tom Wright, in his book “After You Believe” was talking to a senior banker who had been near the heart of the financial crash of the summer of 2008. The banker was trying to figure out what could be done to prevent something like this from happening again.  He said, Tom, congress can introduce as many new regulations as they like, and we do need regulations because people we went too far giving people freedom to gamble with huge sums of money.  But he said, Tom, any banker or mortgage broker can hire a smart accountant to get around those regulations and go around the back of the system.

So Tom asked, “Well, what’s the answer?”  And the banker said “the answer is character. Keeping the rules is all right as far as it goes, but the real problem in the last generation is that we’ve lost the sense that character matters; that integrity matters”.  He ended by saying “that the system is only healthy when the people who are running it can be trusted to do the right thing not because there are rules but because of the sort of people they are.” 

What we desperately need in our country and our world today cannot be found thru our own power. No government or political party, no progressive philosophy can solve our problems. 

We cannot make ourselves better people relying on our own strength. What we need is the power of God within our lives. And that power is available…….  And that’s what this scripture is saying to us today.

The writer of this scripture, the apostle Paul, was telling the community of believers in Philippi that God was actively present in their lives working within them and changing them.  He was reminding them and us, that our God is an ever-present God who wants to be in relationship with us, who wants the very best for us, and therefore wants to work within us in order to make that possible. God wants to work within us and transform us just as a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, or a seed becomes a flower, God wants us to bloom and become the joyful, peace-filled and complete creations we were created to be.  God wants to change us to become like Christ, because as we are changed into his likeness, we become His change agents in the world bringing about the ways of peace and justice, love and compassion. We bring about the ways of Jesus. 

So the progression that we deep down desire, the ways of goodness and peace, justice, love and compassion are possible but it doesn’t come thru our power; it instead comes thru the Power of a changed character that is transformed by God. 

But how does this happen? How does God change our character? 

Well because God respects our free will, he can only work within us and change us when we are open to receive God’s active presence in our lives. 

That means we have to have faith that God is able to work within us; that God is close by working in this world. 

It means we have to open all of our senses such as the imagination along with our enlightened, rational minds........you know we're so much more than what you can see or touch.

Each one of us is made up of hopes and dreams. We have memories and wishes that no one can see or touch or explain scientifically. 

There is so much more going on around us if we have use all of our senses to see. 

I like the 2002 Mel Gibson movie Signs.  It’s a science fiction movie that you think is about crop circles and UFO’s and aliens, but in reality it’s more about how you see life and whether you see signs.  There’s one scene in the movie where Mel Gibson is talking to his brother played by Joaquin Phoenix.  His brother is looking for comfort as they’re watching the TV showing UFO lights up in the sky.  This is how Gibson explains how to respond to the mysterious lights in the sky to his brother: Merrell----People break down into two group when they experience something lucky. Group number one sees it as more than luck more than coincidence.  They see it as a sign...evidence that there is someone up there watching out for them.  Group number two sees it as just pure luck, a happy turn of chance. 

I'm sure the people in group number two are looking at those    lights in a very suspicious way. For them, the situation isn't   - Could be bad, could be good. But deep down, they feel that whatever happens, they're on their own. And that fills them with fear. 

Yeah, there are those people…… But there's a whole lot of people in the group number one.

When they see those lights, they're looking at a miracle. And deep down, they feel that whatever's going to happen, there'll be someone there to help them. And that fills them with hope.

So, what you have to ask yourself is, what  kind of person are you? Are you the kind who sees signs, sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or look at the question this way...is it possible that there are no coincidences?

His brother Merrill responds with a story: He said: I was at this party once. I'm on the couch with Randa McKinney. She was just sitting there looking beautiful, staring at me.  I go to lean in and kiss her...and I realize I have gum in my mouth. So I turn, take out the gum, stuff it in a paper cup next to the sofa, and turn around. Randa McKinney throws up all over herself.
I knew the second it happened it was a miracle. I could have been kissing her when she threw up. That would have scarred me for life. I may never have recovered……………….. I'm a miracle man. Those lights are a miracle………….. (Signs) 

Are you a miracle man or woman? 

Albert Einstein famously said, "The way I see it, you have two ways to live your life: one, as if no miracles exist and the other, as though everything is a miracle." To be open to the miraculous is to be open to impossible things becoming possible. It is a stance toward life that is fundamentally hopeful, one that places confidence in God always, and is especially confident when all other sources have run out. Source: Sermon (Feeding the Hungry) St. Mark's Presbyterian Church in Rockville MD 

For God to act in our lives we have to be people who are in tune and open to God’s activity in our life. We have to have faith that God is present and active, working in many ways thru people and circumstances. 

And once we’re open to that truth, we’re in a place where God can work within us; to change us and transform us. 

But how does God change our characters once we’re open to the truth that God is present and able to work in our lives? 

Well, Paul says that God works in our life and changes us when we intentionally imitate Christ in our life. 

Paul says that we are to have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. Now this mindset as we see in verse 3 and 4 is the attitude and character of a humble servant. 

Paul often spoke of metaphors of clothing ourselves with Christ, putting on Christ (Romans 13:14, Galatians 3:27). This meant that we were to act like Christ. We are to choose to be humble servants, to be selfless instead of vain and conceited.

And Paul said we're to do this within and among other believers.  In verse 5 he says IN YOUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHERS have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.

For Paul, the church itself was like a practice field.

For those of you who played sports or sing in a choir or rehearsed for a play or dance, you are part of a team. And as a team you work together sharpening your skills. 

If you are playing baseball you practice working on your swing over and over until it becomes second nature to you.The same thing happens as we practice imitating Jesus Christ. As we respond to God, and practice imitating Christ with others, something begins to happen to us. 

God’s power within us changes us and transforms us so that we actually become more and more like Christ. 

Now you might be asking, isn’t this the same thing as willing ourselves by our own power to be better people?

Well the difference has to do with the reason or purpose behind it.

You see, when we seek to imitate Jesus we are doing so because we want to follow him. We are yielding our natural desire for selfish ambition and in doing so we create a space for God to come inside of us to transform us.

We are plowing out the weeds and creating fertile soil for God to grow a changed person within us.

By seeking to follow his way of humility, we understand and accept that we are indeed flawed and unable to progress and be better on our own.

We are surrendering our egos and self sufficiency to God accepting that while we might not be the worst sinners, we still sin. 

We may not be killers but we still hate, we may not commit adultery but we still lust, we may say we trust in God but we often follow after the “In God We Trust” motto on the dollar bill. 

We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. We can’t make ourselves better. We need the power of God to work in us to change us.  And so as we seek to be like Christ, genuinely practicing humility and selflessness with each other, we are allowing God to freely work within us so that Christ's ways suddenly become second nature to us. We grow to become more and more like Jesus which in turn leads us to become instruments of God’s purposes in this world. 
As Paul says in verse 13, "God works in us to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose."  Thru our change, others are drawn into a relationship with God. They see a light within us that draws others to want to experience the same joy and peace we’ve found.  Not only that, but because we are like Jesus we also are working at transforming the world with our words and action as we seek to bring about the ways of the kingdom of God ………………
In closing this morning, Paul is reminding us that our God is not a distant uninvolved God.  God longs to have a personal ongoing relationship with you. God is never done working within us. He is always growing us to become the creation that both He and we long to be. So today, ask yourself, “Is God working in me?  Do you see God working in your life? Do you see God at work in the world thru you and thru others?  Are you practicing and honing your skills of Christ’s humility and selflessness among other believers creating this space for God to change you?
The Holy Spirit is speaking to us if we'll be open to hear him. He's inviting you and me to open ourselves to allow him to change and transform us.  Today, let us yield to his power; let us imitate the One who has saved us, so that we might become instruments of God's good purpose…..

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen