“Fred Craddock tells the story of a missionary family in China who was forced to leave the country sometime after the communists took over. One day a band of soldiers knocked on the door and told this missionary, his wife, and children that they had two hours to pack up before these troops would escort them to the train station. They would be permitted to take with them only two hundred pounds of stuff. Thus began two hours of family wrangling and bickering–what should they take? What about this vase? It’s a family heirloom, so we’ve got to take the vase. Well, maybe so, but this typewriter is brand new and we’re not about to leave that behind. What about some books? Got to take a few of them along. On and on it went, putting stuff on the bathroom scale and taking it off until finally they had a pile of possessions that totaled two hundred pounds on the dot.
“At the appointed hour the soldiers returned. “Are you ready?” they asked. “Yes.” “Did you weigh your stuff?” “Yes, we did.” “Two hundred pounds?” “Yes, two hundred pounds on the dot.” “Did you weigh the kids?” “Um, . . . no.” “Weigh the kids!” And in an instant the vase, the typewriter, and the books all became trash. Trash! None of it meant anything compared to the surpassing value of the children.
“Craddock has used this story to illustrate the power of what he calls “the moment of truth.” Sometimes events crash into our lives in so shocking a way that we are instantly forced to view all of life in a new light. Suddenly what had previously been of value to us comes to mean absolutely nothing–we’re only too happy to leave it behind.”1
I’m sticking with the blessed Apostle Paul for this week as with last, as once again the parable we heard from Jesus is illumined, if not intentionally, by Paul. This week we look at Paul’s letter to the Philippians, who were in a bit of a better place than the Corinthians we heard about last week.
Now, “Paul was a man who was very much concerned with righteousness. Before that astonishing change in his life, Paul was righteous in the conventional sense of that word. He was a devout, pious Jew; exacting, scrupulous in his observance; a Jew who kept with precision all the ordinances of the Jewish law. But in all this Paul yearned for a deeper righteousness, because, you see, the law didn’t satisfy him. It promised relatedness to God on the basis of behavior – “works,” as he would have it – but it didn’t deliver what it promised. There was within Paul a nagging, painful, frustrating sense of his un-relatedness, his apartness from God. (He would have called this sin.) Paul had the hunger of the mystic for union with God, but the separation of sin prevented the realization of that desire, and the law did nothing. But one day all that changed. He had been Saul; he became Paul. He had been a persecutor; he became an apostle. He had been a man of the law; he became a man of faith.”2
And so Paul, leaving behind his old self along with his old name, considered what it meant to leave things behind, to re-prioritize his life and faith. Jesus had crashed into his life and changed everything.
Paul had planted a church in Philippi just as he had in Corinth, and just like in Corinth, nay-sayers descended when Paul exited and did their best to muck it up. Circumcision was their big thing, the keeping of the Jewish Law as the path to Christian righteousness. Paul tells the Philippians to rebuke the Judaizers, Paul calls them dogs (and remember that the Jews hated dogs), and tells them to leave behind the old ways, ditch the things that feel comfortable but weigh you down, because a new way has come.
I don’t know about you, but I rather like the old ways of doing things, and so this isn’t a sermon about ditching the old ways and finding new ones – there are no changes on the horizon. But Lent is the perfect time to take stock, to do an inventory of the things that we cling to, to examine the things that we think keep us close to God but perhaps keep God at bay. As we round the corner to Palm Sunday and Holy Week, we can keep in mind the words of Christ, that He makes all things new, that only in Him can we attain to the righteousness of God, pressing toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. In other words, now’s the time to weigh the kids, and leave the rest.
1Scott Hoezee, This Week. http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/lent-5c/?type=lectionary_epistle
2Fr. Allan Warren, Advent Boston. http://archive.theadventboston.org/sermons/aw031713.htm