(Scripture Reading: Philippians 3:12-14; Suggested Hymn: Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee, Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal #158)

By Fred B Craddock, from Cherry Log Sermons, Westminster John Knox Press

Summary: Things get broken, are no longer of any value and they have to be disposed of. But once in a while, just once in a while, there is a case of somebody throwing away that which is very valuable.

No longer of value. I once took advantage of my wife’s absence to make a couple of trips to the landfill. In the past my life had been rather simple. I had a formula: take care of what you have and when it is broken, used up, or of no value, then throw it away. Then I got married, and the formula changed: take care of what you have until it is broken or useless to you or anyone else, and then store it in the garage.

So I went to the landfill. In my opinion what I threw away was useless. There were boxes, the bottoms of which had rotted out. . . . There was some bad birdseed. (At least, I assumed it was bad. I had planted some of it three times, and no birds ever came up. So I tossed it.) This is a common drama in everybody’s house. . . . Things get used up. . . . Things get broken, are no longer of any value and they have to be disposed of. But once in a while, just once in a while, there is a case of somebody throwing away that which is very valuable. Something very good gets tossed.

I am not talking about careless families, families that are full of waste and indifference toward the things they have because they have more than they can use and so just scatter it everywhere. I’m talking about those rare occasions when something good and valuable is thrown away. You can think of such times. They do not occur very often. Suppose a man in a very expensive suit sees a child drowning. He goes into the water. He can’t swim with all that on so he removes his valuable suit to rescue the child. The suit is still good, but compared to the life of the child? He throws the suit away.

Imagine pioneers moving West, trying to get to California and Oregon. They come to the Rocky Mountains and snow begins to fall. Those Conestoga wagons are heavy—squeaking wheels straining, horses pulling; they can go no further. They go up as high as they can . . . and the leader says, ?We’re going to have to unburden some on the wagons.? Children are crying; parents are crying; but over into the rocks and ravine go furniture, chests of precious things, a piano. The group cannot go on if they hold on to these things. Even in the Bible I have read of ships at sea tossed by storms that had to unburden themselves of precious cargo . . . all kinds of good things tossed away. It’s a matter of life and death. In view of the crisis, even that which is good has to go.

An exception. It is very likely that no such occasion will arise in your life. This is more the stuff of novels and movies. Interesting and moving, but so what? Well, even though it is rare and may never happen to you, I still feel I ought to share with you a case of someone who tossed away what was extremely valuable. His name was Paul. He said when he wrote to his friends in Philippi, ?If I were to enter a bragging contest, I would win. Not for what I have, I’m not a wealthy man, but for who I am. My identity, genealogy, my family tree, my connections, my standing in the community—I can win any bragging contest. I want you to know I am a Jew—a member of the House of Israel. I am proud of that. We have been mistreated severely. . . . But I remind you that we have clung to faith in God. We have kept the light on when darkness was everywhere. We have given the world the basis for all moral and ethical standards—the Ten Commandments, and we have contributed the writings that have shaped three of the great religions in the world: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I’m proud of that.? In some places it is very popular to join a synagogue if you fall out with your church. . . . Paul said, ?Not me. . . . I was born a Jew. I was circumcised on the eighth day of my life. My family, Benjamin, the smallest tribe, did not amount to much in a lot of people’s eyes, but God has always used the smallest, the weakest . . . to accomplish what He wants to do. Did you know that my tribe gave Israel its first king, Saul? I am named for him, you know—Saul of Tarsus. And I am proud of that.

?My denomination? Pharisee. . . . I am proud to be a Pharisee. Being one simply means that we believe in and follow the Bible. When the Temple was destroyed, we built a substitute called the synagogue. We are zealous about the synagogue. We establish synagogues everywhere we go. But one thing that we hold at the center is how important it is to know, to listen to and to obey the scripture. I am proud of that. As for myself, I have kept true to the scripture. You can ask my teachers. I outstripped all my classmates in zeal for the scripture. . . . I live by the Book. I am proud of that. In fact, I am so conscientious about it that I have a passion against anybody who weakens or distorts the scripture or trades it for something else. I cannot stand it. . . . If I went into a bragging contest, I would beat out everybody. My standing, my character, my genealogy are all unsurpassed!?

And yet Paul said ?I count all this as garbage. I’ve tossed it. I took it to the dump.? Why? We do not have a story here of a man who regrets his past, who is . . . burdened with guilt . . . saying, ?Oh what am I going to do?? No. This is not about guilt. All of his zeal and achievements are good. It is not a case of a new Christian being asked to give up terrible old habits. ?If you’re going to be a Christian,? they say, ?You’ve got to give up those bad habits and clean up your language, quit beating on your kids, be nice to your wife and quit all the ugly things you’ve done. You’ve got to lay them down and come to Jesus.? While that may be true, we are talking about a man who said that if anyone reviewed his past before he came to Christ, one would find only good stuff. ?Nevertheless, said Paul , ?I took it to the dump.?

Why? Was the church an occasion for some sort of upward mobility? Did Paul say, ?Well, looks like everybody who is anybody is joining the church. I might as well switch my membership?. . .? No! Then why did he do it? He did not have to do it. Every church that ever existed would have been glad to have him. He is the kind of folk we need in the church—good, clean, upright, honest, productive, love the Bible, follow the Ten Commandments kind of folks. . . . He does not have to do all this tossing of his past. Just add Jesus and join the church—that would have sufficed. In fact, Paul could have done what some other people do: join the church and . . . choose the parts you like. Come now and then, give a little now and then, do a little now and then, and maybe serve on a committee now and then. There are many people who do that. Paul could have done that. . . Yet he threw it all away.

Why would Paul throw away what he has just called good? This man believed that Jesus Christ was with God but that he did not count being equal to God something to covet or grasp. Instead, Jesus emptied himself, became a human being and was obedient to the hour of death, even death on a cross. That is what Christ is like, not upward mobility but downward mobility. He came from God’s presence, from all that was so

good. He came from . . . the throne, from glory, from the angels, from the praise . . . but he tossed it and became a human being like you and me, obedient even to death. Paul says, ?How can I, how can anyone, claim to be a follower of that man and still seek upward mobility? How can I tack Christianity around the edges but keep my life intact when this new faith is in the name of Jesus, who gave it all up, took it to the heavenly dump, and came down and became a servant??

Still running. . . . . Paul thought, if you are going to be a Christian, then you should be like Jesus. So then, what do you do with your pride? What do you do with your own agenda? . . . Your own selfishness? . . . You take it to the dump in order that you might be like him. This unusual man Paul had the idea that the ideal Christian life would be to be like Jesus: to love, to care, to give, to serve, to suffer and to sacrifice like he did. ?I am not there yet, he said, I do not mean for you to get the idea, he protested, that I have arrived, that I have attained my goal. Oh, no. But I’ll tell you this: being like Jesus is the one thing on my mind. I’m running toward this. I’m running toward this, temples pounding, heart pumping, bones breaking, muscles aching, face swearing, running. If I could just be like Jesus.?

I know Paul is unusual. You may never in your lifetime meet anybody who takes Jesus that seriously. But I felt obligated to bring it up to you today, because once in a while when somebody does, I had the feeling it might be you.

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October–December, 2001

Simplicity