First Scripture: Joshua 1:7-8
Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful.
For those who may not know me. Or know me only as Santa, My other name is Tom Williams. I’ll be your sermonizer today.
So, thanks for letting me lead a conversation with you.
Let us pray
Lord, I invite you into this service. Take control. Open my mouth to speak your words.
Open their ears so that, no matter what I say, they will hear you speaking to them. Amen.
Hear these words from
(I, Paul, was) circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ,
the righteousness from God based on faith.
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death,
if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
I have a problem y’all. If you have attended church for a while you have heard this section of scripture read and preached on before … several times.
But, if each of you promise to pay attention to the sermon, I’ll do my best, with the Spirit’s guidance, to give you something new to chew on. Okay?
As Jesus often did,
I’ll start with a story:
A man, tattered and torn, enters the church doors. He’s dirty and disheveled with a back bent under with the weight of the world.
His eyes and cheeks sunken from the years of abuse of alcohol, drugs, and fleshly desires. He hasn’t eaten in days. The money, for which he has panhandled, has been spent on his last fix.
Those drugs are now decaying in his system and he is sick beyond imagination.
This wretched man, holding himself upright by leaning along the wall, makes his way past the glares and stares of the neatly dressed people gathered in the foyer and enters the sanctuary.
Not wanting to be more of a spectacle than he already is, he looks for a spot near the back.
But since this was a normal church, on a normal Sunday…
… all the rear pews were already filled,
so he just slides down the back wall, to sit crosslegged on the floor, stooped over, and head in hands.
(You still with me?
Another man enters the church. His head is held high. He strides purposefully into the foyer. He greets people by name, shaking their hands and clapping them on the back.
He is smartly dressed, as befitting his station in the community. He is a business man with income in the mid to upper brackets.
He was raised in the church and is on several of its committees. He is faithful with his donations. He is happy to push a mower, pound a nail, or paint a wall in and around the church.
He is a good husband and father who habitually attends worship service, most Sundays, unless away on vacation or business.
He enters the sanctuary and sees the man slumped to the floor. He looks around and sees all eyes are upon him.
(Big drum roll here … we are nearing the BIG FINISH. I hope y’all haven’t jumped ahead in the story)
He walks to the man on the floor and extends his hands to help him to his feet. Then he guides him to his pew, … the same pew where he and his family have sat for years.
Y’all got the picture in your head?
Can you imagine this happening in this church?
Now, What do you think,
which of these two men is to be pitied the most?
Some might say the man, who has been called “a waste of skin.”
Certainly it couldn’t be the church goer, for he clearly is a good man. Right?
Now, which is most in need of salvation?
Okay, Okay, that was a trick question. Both of them
… and all of us are in need of salvation.
But here comes the twist … Jesus’s parables all had a twist … and so does this one.
Though the tattered man is so far down that he can sink no lower, he stumbled into this holy place knowing he needs God.
Whereas the good man has never felt the need for God’s salvation. He has always been a good man.
He pays his dues to the church and works joyfully for the church.
There is a problem here, he does it for the church … not for the Lord he does it for the recognition of his fellow church goers.
Having been raised in the church, he has adopted the language, customs, and world view of the church.
He thinks he has become a Christian by being a good man.
Though he calls himself a Christian, he has never felt the need to face his own sinfulness and ask for forgiveness.
Nor has he given the control his life over to God. To make Jesus both Savior and Lord of his life.
This is were Saul found himself. Let’s hear what he wrote.
As Paul’s mostly Jewish Christian listeners heard the letter read to the congregation in Philippi, I can almost see them smiling and nodding in agreement with what this good Jewish man had just said.
circumcised on the eighth day (circumcision was a token of the covenant made by God with Abraham and his descendants an “everlasting covenant”(Genesis 17:13 “))
Descendant of Israel (the patriarch also know as Jacob, who wrestled with God)
From the tribe of Benjamin (Benjamin was the last-born of Jacob’s twelve sons. He was the progenitor of the Israelite Tribe of Benjamin.)
Paul was a pure-blooded Hebrew (The Talmud holds that a marriage between a Jew and a non Jew is both prohibited and also does not constitute a marriage under Jewish law. However, Paul’s lineage was pure)
He was a Pharisee (The Pharisees were a strict social and religious movement in Judaism which asserted that God could and should be worshipped even away from the Temple and outside Jerusalem. To the Pharisees, worship consisted not in bloody sacrifices — the practice of the Temple priests — but in prayer and in the study of and adherence to God’s law.)
Enthusiasticly he followed the strictest laws (The Pharisees’ ultra strict interpretation of the law is one of the things that Jesus railed against, calling them blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. He also accused them of giving a tenth of their spices (as a tithe), but of neglecting the more important matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness)
Saul was perfect in keeping Jewish laws (he had done as the prophet Joshua had said to do in the scripture that we read a few moments ago, “be careful to do according to … all the law . Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”) (Joshua 1:7-15 ESV)
Paul, when he was still called Saul, was assured of the promise of the Law. Obey the Law “For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
Notice that the only thing that the Law can promise is,
if … do not let that tiny word IF go un-noticed.
The promise of the Law was conditional IF you do ALL that the Law commands, THEN life on this world will be great for you.
So Saul was perfect, when it came to winning God’s approval by keeping Jewish laws and expected to profit and succeed as promised.
It wasn’t until he had a very personal, dramatic, life-changing encounter with the risen Jesus, that he learned that whatever rewards he might treasure on earth, paled in compairence with rewards he could expect in heaven.
Perhaps in some of his attacks on Christians, he came across the teaching of Jesus “Don’t lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don’t break through and steal.
Though Paul had done all that he … humanly … could to win God’s approval, by keeping Jewish laws, he realized that it was all … I can’t say that word in church, S.H.I.T. Yes, that is the literal translation of what he wrote.
To not offend modern readers, nicer words were used to translate: loss, trash, garbage, refuse, worthless or dung.
I’m sorry, but by “cleaning” the language, we lose the power of Paul’s intent. He intended his readers to be shocked by his comparison.
Paul wrote, reminding his readers how perfect he was under the law.
And then … and then, he wrote the most unimaginable thing, his whole life and accomplishments were all … all … EXCREMENT compared to life in Jesus the Christ. He was glad to give it all away.
As a pure-blood Hebrew and as a zealous follower of the strictest interpretation of the Jewish laws, Saul had sought to win God’s approval. But it didn’t work. It couldn’t work.
Saul, now going by his Greek (gentile) name, Paul, wrote to his fellow Jews, so that they might also understand the futility of the Law.
The Law can not save. It can only condemn. It can only shine a light on our failure to be righteous before God.
But Jesus came to us, while we were still law breakers and at war with God.
God was trying to bring us into his perfect will, while we were still willfully going our own way.
That was when Jesus came and bought our eternal life through his death. His Holy blood covers our sins and purifies them in God’s sight.
Before I gave my life to Jesus, I was a good man, as the world judges men. I abided by the laws of man … most of the time. And as far as the laws of God, I hadn’t broken any of the BIG ones.
But that’s the problem, you see, there aren’t big laws and small laws. There is only THE Law. To have broken one law is to be guilty of them all.
Yes, I was a good man, but I wasn’t a godly man. I may have been upright but I was far from righteous. My own goodness kept me from seeing my need for salvation.
God’s truth reveals that all need saving, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Saul also knew that he was a good man, as the world judges men.
He was firm in his conviction that he was right in judgement.
He was so assured of his righteousness that he actively sought to punish those who believed differently.
And then … and then … he meet Jesus and discovered his righteousness was a foul and disgusting thing in God’s sight. His only hope lay in the grace offered by Jesus Christ.
And, friends, my only hope, and your only hope lies in the grace of God through Jesus Christ.
This is the life application part of the service. Thinking back to the parable, where did you see yourself?
The world weary man who came to church seeking God’s forgiveness?
The man so good that he never felt the need for God’s forgiveness?
Or were you part of the congregation who sat in judgement over these two men and found one welcome in the church and one not?
Or have you acknowledged to God that all your earthly achievements are nothing but … well, you know.
Or have you said to God, “I am no longer my own. I am yours, Lord, to do with as you please. All I have called my own are now yours. All I may ever have, will ever and always belong to you Lord.”?
Pray with me now.
God be merciful to me a sinner, and make me to know and believe in Jesus Christ; for I see, that if his righteousness had not been, or I have not faith in that righteousness, I am utterly cast away.
Lord, I have heard that you are a merciful God, and have designated that your Son Jesus Christ should be the Savior of the world;
and moreover, that you are willing to give him even to such a poor sinner as I am—and I am a sinner indeed. Lord, take therefore this opportunity, and magnify your grace in the salvation of my soul, through your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead and buried;
The third day he rose from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
And sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The holy catholic church,
The communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting. Amen.
Father, in this time of social unrest I ask your prayers for peace; for goodwill among people and nations.
That our leaders be your followers.
I pray for your true justice and the peace which can only come from you.
I pray for the poor, the sick (of whom there are many), the hungry, the
oppressed, and those in prison (whether of stone and steal, or of their own making through sin or bad life choices).
I pray for those in any need or trouble, that they may be lead to your path.
I ask your prayers for all who seek God, for a deeper knowledge of him. I pray that they may find and be found by you.
I ask prayers for the departed, for those who have died, that their loved ones may find comfort in your loving arms.
These things we ask in the name of Jesus who taught his followers to pray in this manner …
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom com,
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, Forever. Amen.
In the wesleyan tradition, I will dismiss us with prayer for you and for me.
Lord, we are no longer our own, but Yours.
Put us to what you will, rank us with whom you will.
Put us to doing, put us to suffering.
Let us be employed by you
or laid aside for you,
Exalted for you or brought low for you.
Let us be full, let us be empty.
Let us have all things, let us have nothing.
We freely and heartily yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, O Glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
You are ours, and we are yours. So be it.
And the covenant which we have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen. Go in peace.
Also visit our daily blog