Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 22)

Text: Philippians 3:8-9a CEV
Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. All I want is Christ and to know that I belong to him.



I wonder how many times a day we are side-tracked, distracted, do a bit of day dreaming, stare into space?  Probably more times than we realise but mostly it’s only a minor thing and doesn’t make too much of a difference unless you are distracted while driving a car or when your husband or wife is talking to you – then distraction can be a serious thing.

I like this little story about old Grandma Schultz – I’m sure you’ve heard it before but it does highlight the power of distraction in our lives.  It goes like this. 
“Grandma Schultz sets out to hang the washing on the line.  She goes to the laundry to fetch the pegs, notices a mouse, and runs inside to find a trap.  She sees a grimy spot on the kitchen floor, rummages through the cupboard for a cleaning rag, and comes across an old letter from cousin Hilda who lives in the Barossa Valley.  She reads it and finds Hilda’s recipe for streusel kuchen. She goes to the kitchen and seeing the jam boiling over on the stove, opens the window and sees Grandpa in the garden.  She remembers that she needs some tomatoes for lunch and goes out to the garden.  She sees the dog and says, “Oh my, you need a bath” and heads for the laundry.”  

Now I wonder if Grandma Schultz will see the unhung washing in the laundry? 

No one can say Grandma Schultz was a lazy person or that her intentions were all wrong.  It’s just that she was so easily distracted!  There always seemed to be something more urgent that took her focus away from what she really wanted to do. 

Distraction is one the sneakiest and most effective tools that Satan and the world around us use to keep the Christian’s focus away from Jesus and work he has called us to do in his Kingdom. Paul often uses the image of an athlete running a race pressing on toward the ultimate goal of winning the prize – getting to the finishing line and winning the victor’s crown.  To do this requires focus, determination, commitment and no distractions. 

If you watch athletes as they prepare for a race whether it’s running or swimming, many wear headphones.  This is helping them to block out all distractions – the cheering crowds, possible heckling, focusing their mind and energy completely on the task that is front of them – getting to the finish line in the best time they have ever performed.  Focus is ever so important.  Athletes who don’t perform as well as they expected will often admit that something went wrong during their race – they lost that all important focus.

The apostle Paul had his own battle with distraction.  In one of his letters, Paul is distracted by his own weakness.  He knows what good things he ought to do be doing but he does the very opposite. He says, “I don't understand why I act the way I do. … Instead of doing what I know is right, I do wrong” Romans 7:15, 19).  Sin has a real grip on him.  He feels a prisoner of sin.  It controls everything he does.  It distracts him no end and makes him feel miserable as he focusses on to his own weakness.  He is distressed at how easily sin distracts him.

Then there is the time he is distracted by what he calls “a thorn in the flesh”.  This physical ailment really bothers him and prays and prays that God would take it away.  For a while this problem takes all his energy and time as he focuses his prayers on a cure.  I think we can all relate to this.  Something that goes wrong in our bodies can be terribly distracting.  It absorbs our mind and energy and leaves little room for anything else.  There’s nothing more distracting than pain.

In each of these cases, when Paul is distracted by the depth of his own sin, or the pain in his own body, his focus was turned back to Jesus.  In that moment these distractions are no longer a force that pulled him away from Jesus, but drew him closer to Jesus.  No one can help him when he is distracted by sin and pain – only Jesus.  His sombre description of himself, “What a miserable man I am!” turns into a victory cry, “Thank you Jesus for winning the victory for me!”

Maybe this has been your experience as it has been mine.  You are facing a frightening moment – maybe that moment just before going into surgery.   It’s only when you turn your focus away from your fear and toward Jesus and his promises, and say, “Jesus, I am placing everything in your hands.  I know you love me and my family and you will do what is best.  I am in your hands”, that this terrifying distraction fades away.  Knowing Jesus and that we belong to him is the most precious thing that we have.

In our reading today from Philippians Paul is giving a personal testimony, if you like.  He had every reason to feel pretty good about himself when he was a Pharisee.  He was pious and strictly followed the law.  He was proud of his achievements and had no need to change anything in his life.  He said, “I did everything the Law demands in order to please God. (Philippians 3:6)” He had no need of a Saviour.

His conversion on the road to Damascus changed all that.  He says, “Christ has shown me that what I once thought was valuable is worthless.  Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage.  All I want is Christ and to know that I belong to him” (Philippians 3:7-9 CEV). 

Whatever Paul had considered as important prior to his conversion is no longer important.  Once Paul thought his heritage as a Jew, the festivals and ceremonies of the Jewish religion, and obedience to the law were the most important things.  But in comparison with Christ all this pales into insignificance, or to use Paul’s word, “what I once thought was valuable is worthless, as mere garbage.” 

It's very easy to sideline Jesus and the Kingdom of God.  We are distracted.  Our focus is taken away from Jesus and living as those who belong to him. We put at the top of our lives the things that we, that sinful selfish part of us, consider to be more important at that particular moment of our lives. 

Whatever is distracting us, keeping us away from Jesus, Paul is challenging us to have a rethink; reconsider what it is that is keeping us away from focusing on Christ.  In some cases, we will need to call on Jesus to help us by turning to him in prayer and getting into his Word.  We will need to ask for his help us refocus on what is real and what is truly garbage that is cluttering our lives.

Paul assures us that it is worth the effort.  He says that whatever he had considered so very important, now he considers as completely worthless because the things that clutter and distract us in this life fade into total insignificance compared to everything that we receive through Christ. We might think these things are important, but compared to Christ they are nothing.

The question that we now have to ask ourselves is this: what distractions do you have in your life?  I’ve had quite a few distractions in my own life so don’t think I’m pointing my finger only at you.  This word from God applies to all of us.  The evil one takes delight when we are distracted.  When we try to fill our lives with so much that we don’t have any room left for Jesus, the work he has for us to do, for being his chosen people in the world, then it’s time to declutter.

We could spend a long time working through those things that get a short-shrift because we are so distracted -
getting to know Jesus personally through the pages of the Bible;
spending time in prayer and talking with Jesus;
meeting with my fellow Christians to worship our ever-loving, always forgiving, all-powerful God;
showing to others the same kind of love and forgiveness that Jesus has shown to us;
making time to give a helping hand to someone we know needs one;
stopping a minute to give a word of encouragement;
and the list goes on.

Each of you know best of all what the distractions in your life are that sideline Jesus and the love he wants to shine through you into the lives of others.  For most us I would say the pace of life, even for retirees, that distracts us and keeps us away from Jesus.  We complain that there is just too much to do and too many places to go and people to see – these are our real distractions that turn our focus away from Jesus and life in his Kingdom. 

Sorting through the distractions and getting our priorities right can be hard work and involve some tough decisions.  It might mean letting go of some things that we have considered important for so long.  Paul’s words ring in our ears today, “Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.  I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage”.  There is absolutely nothing in the world that is more important, more valuable, more lasting, gives more joy, security, strength and blessing than knowing Jesus Christ as your Lord.  Paul said, “I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. … All I want is to know Christ and to know that I belong to him”.

I saw a movie recently about a promising gymnast whose leg was severely injured in a car accident.  This should have meant an end to her dream of competing in gymnastic events at the top level.  For a while she had her doubts about her ability to come back, her down times, but in the end she put the past behind her, the distraction of her injuries, and with hope and resolve she looked toward the prize of winning her event. 

The hope and strength our risen Lord gives us, enables us to look up when we are downhearted and disappointed in our own level of commitment to our Saviour.  He gives us the courage to work through our distractions and inspires us to love him more and care for others more. Jesus came for all the times we are distracted away from him and his love, when we get our priorities all wrong.

I’m sure you know people who are so distracted by the world that they are in danger of losing their way completely.  Pray for them and remind them that the distractions of this world are only temporary.  They amount to nothing with no long-term blessing.  Gently remind them that there is nothing more important than knowing Jesus Christ and belonging to him.  He is the only way that leads to the Father who loves us and saves us from death.

Paul said it all when he said, “Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. All I want is Christ and to know that I belong to him”.


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
8th October 2017

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