The Israelites are grumbling because they're thirsty, really thirsty. The Philippians are apparently not practicing humility and neither do they seem to be getting along with each other to well. And then we have the high priest and leaders of the Temple questioning Jesus' authority.
As we listen to these readings we hear what sounds like a whole lot of discord in people's lives. When we listen to our local and national news on the television or listen to the radio or read the World Herald or the Register we soon discover that nothing has changed. There's still a whole lot of discord in people's lives.
People still grumble. This year it hasn't been because they didn't have enough water to drink but that there was too much water. There are still folks who aren't very humble and have trouble getting along. Just as an example notice how many people are getting married and then notice how many of them are filing for divorce. And the authority thing, people are questioning that all the time. None of our elected officials can agree on the steps to take to correct any of the problems facing them or who should be responsible for doing it.
So, what's the answer? Fire the lot of them and start over. That may sound like a good idea but it still doesn't solve the problem with our stiff necks, hard hearts, and our inability to get along with our neighbors. So, what should we do?
Today I think we should go to Paul's letter to the people of Philippi. They were disagreeing on how to get things done. Apparently there were two ladies who weren't acting very humble and so Paul was giving them his best counsel.
The gist of his Message was everyone should live and act like Jesus Christ. That sounds easy enough until we try it.
Have you ever tried to imitate someone you admired and looked up to? That's exactly what Paul is advocating. He's telling this church they need to change and he begins by asking them some really hard questions. He says, “1 Does your life in Christ give you strength? Does his love comfort you? Do we share together in the spirit? Do you have mercy and kindness?”
Paul packed a whole lot into those first 4 verses. Maybe we need to listen to the rest of them again. Paul said, “2 If so, make me very happy by having the same thoughts, sharing the same love, and having one mind and purpose.3 When you do things, do not let selfishness or pride be your guide. Instead, be humble and give more honor to others than to yourselves.4 Do not be interested only in your own life, but be interested in the lives of others.”
Again, it sounds kind of easy until we try to live it. It's not so easy trying to reach consensus, doing it all with loving hearts and minds, and working toward the same goal with the same determination. And the other part of trying to keep our work from being selfish and full of pride. It's hard to be humble as the country western song says.
So, does anyone have the answer? If what we are called to do is so hard what chance do any of us have of ever living like Jesus? Should we just pack it all up and quit trying? Paul didn't think we should.
He said, “Keep on working to complete your salvation with fear and trembling,13 because God is working in you to help you want to do and be able to do what pleases him.” Notice what Paul says here. We are to keep trying but he reminds us that we aren't alone in this work. God is working in us to help us to do what we want to do and enable us to do what is pleasing to him. We need to be reminded of this every day. We keep trying to do it all by our own strength and will without asking God to help. We are really slow learners. Not any better than those Israelites traveling through the wilderness with Moses and and Aaron.
God was standing right in front of them but the only one who ever saw him and talked with him was Moses. They were too afraid of God to talk to him personally.
Friends, the good news is that God knew this and that's one reason he sent Jesus here to live like us, with us. It was so he could be our advocate and intercessor before God.
But friends, we have to bend our knees and talk to God and listen for his voice. We aren't in this alone. God loves us and is right here this very moment working in us to transform our hard hearts and soften our stiff necks.
So, which son are we? The one who said he wouldn't but then changed his mind and went to the vineyard or the one who said he would but then didn't show up. Again the choice is up to each one of us.
Remember God is with us and he loves us even when we stumble, even when we don't get along too well. Thanks be to God for his loving grace. Amen.