9/20/20 – Pentecost 16 – “Life is Christ” – Philippians 1:21

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. I remember the week of March 8th quite vividly. When the 2020 calendar came out, I had circled March 8th, because I knew that it was going to be one of the worst days of the year. See, I love my sleep, and March 8th was the day that we all get robbed of an hour of sleep. In case you haven’t gathered, I don’t like daylight savings time, so that week already started off quite badly! But I remember sitting in class that Tuesday…right after chapel, I had Pastoral Leadership and Theology with Dr. Weise. Now, Dr. Weise has his PhD in hematology, so he likes talking about things related to the medical field.

I remember sitting around the circle of tables while Dr. Weise was going on about this “Coronavirus.” He was telling us, “You guys better get prepared to get your diplomas in the mail because we might not have a graduation ceremony.” And we were all thinking to ourselves, “Yeah right…there’s no way that will actually happen.” I remember that by the next day, Wednesday the 11th, life had already begun to change. I was scheduled to preach at the mid-week Lent service at my Field Work congregation. The vibe was beginning to change. We had gotten rid of the sharing of the peace and the passing of the offering plate, but otherwise people were acting about normal. Life changed even more quickly on Thursday. I remember going to chapel and hearing the announcement that in-person classes would be suspended after the end of the week. We didn’t quite know what that meant, but by Friday, I was again sitting in Pastoral Leadership and Theology class, talking about this Coronavirus. I remember saying goodbye to a number of guys after class, many of whom I haven’t seen since. Life changed quite quickly that week, and it left me feeling helpless against the changes and challenges which were coming so quickly.

2. I suspect you might have had a similar experience that week. Obviously, I wasn’t here, so I don’t know exactly how things played out in Waterville, but my understanding is that there were some discussions about how the church ought to respond and what precautions (if any) should be taken. There was heated discussion, but in the end, it didn’t really matter, because by the following Sunday, the government had shut down all activities, and we couldn’t meet together, even if we wanted to. And so, the two-week stay at home orders became a month, which became six weeks, then two months, and so on. But many of us still had faith: if we kept our heads down, kept to ourselves, stocked up on groceries (don’t forget toilet paper!), and didn’t go out much, we would get back to life as normal…eventually. But now, two weeks has become six months. And here we sit—thank the Lord we can at least be together! But here we sit with half the pews roped off, hiding behind masks, with the knowledge that, whether we say it explicitly or not, we might be dangerous to one another. I might get you sick, you might get me sick. And so, out of love for our neighbor, we physically distance, we wear masks. But it wears on us, doesn’t it? Maybe you’ve started to wonder, like I have, Lord, when is life going to return to normal? The longer it takes for that answer to come, the clearer it becomes that We are helpless to fend off the struggles and sufferings of this life. And so, we helplessly ask, How long, O Lord? How long until life returns to normal?

3. Paul has an interesting take on what “normal” life is. Throughout the book of Philippians, Paul makes it clear that knowing Jesus is a deeply personal and transformative experience. Knowing Jesus means that we are brought to live in Jesus’ kingdom. And in Jesus’ kingdom, Paul says, For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). Did you catch that? Life is Christ. In other words, living as a Christian means seeing your own story as a lived expression of Jesus’ story. And Paul knew all about that, didn’t he? From the first moment after his conversion in Acts 9 until the day he died, Paul courageously traveled around the Roman Empire preaching the Gospel of Jesus to everyone who would listen. And his life turned into quite the imitation of Jesus’ life! He was flogged 5 separate times, he was beaten with rods three times, he was stoned once & left for dead, and was shipwrecked not once, not twice, but three times (2 Corinthians 11:24-25)! And it’s this same Paul in our reading from Romans 14 last week who said, If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:8). Life is Christ. True life means imitating Jesus’ life. True life means willingly accepting the gift of new life that Jesus has given us, and then being willing to follow Jesus, even when there’s suffering involved. As Jesus said, Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my take will find it (Matthew 16:25). See, Jesus offers us true life through his love, but true life can only be kept by living in that love.

4. So, what does it mean to live in Christ’s love? Well, it means that if you and I want to live the fullest life possible in Jesus, we need to accept that life is Christ. Life means living in the love that Jesus has for us by first surrounding ourselves daily by God’s Word and Sacraments where we experience the love that Jesus has for us each day. But living in the love of Jesus also means living like Jesus. We need to accept that suffering like Christ is a part of “normal life.” Life is Christ. My friends, we need to stop making excuses! We have a Lord Jesus Christ who is alive! He rules and reigns over all things! Helpless as you and I may be, Jesus’ life restores you to true life. Now, Paul’s not under some delusion that the life we now have in Christ somehow means that we won’t struggle or suffer again—quite the opposite! Suffering is a part of living in this fallen world. But we have a Risen Lord who enables us by the power of His Spirit within us to participate in Jesus’ love by going out and serving our neighbor. There’s no time for excuses!

5. Can you imagine what our world—what our community might look like if we Christians stopped making excuses? Can you imagine what our neighborhoods might look like if we embraced that reality that living as a Christian means seeing your own story as a lived expression of Jesus’ story? The Spirit of God is already living and active in this Coronavirus pandemic. Many of you have shared stories with me about how the Spirit is using this unique moment in history to reach those who were previously removed from the church. He’s reaching those people through the work of his church. He’s even reaching those people through technology. But most impactfully, the Holy Spirit is reaching helpless people who are in need through people like you. And there are many more folks out there who are in desperate need of the life that Jesus has to offer them. The Spirit wants to use you to touch them so that they too might come to know and experience that life—not “normal life” (as if there’s such a thing), but true life. Because life—true life—is Christ.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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