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03.17.19 Waiting Without Boredom Philippians 3.17-4.1, Psalm 27 Sermon Summary

by on March 18, 2019

Between Psalm 27 and Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we receive some help in observing a faithful Lent. It’s the second Sunday in Lent, and it is appropriate for us to hear Psalm 27. In the Jewish lectionary, this psalm is read during the High Holy Days between Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). It’s a time of rededication and repentance, just like Lent is for Christians.

Psalm 27 offers help for Lent in two ways. First is related to language. Rededication and repentance create challenges. As New Year’s Resolutions remind us each year, change is hard. If our attitude is set too low, we will fail. But language can help us set our attitude aright.

Psalm 27’s attitude is urgent. There’s a battle for the author’s life, and the language is fitting: “evildoers assail me to devour my flesh;” “an army encamps against me;” “war rises up against us.” There are probably actual events in the author’s mind, but these are behind the text and beyond our experience.

However, the difficulty of change, of rededication and repentance, IS within our experience. Psalm 27 invites us to address our spiritual challenges as “adversaries and foes” and “false witnesses breathing out violence.” Doing so can motivate us appropriately. It can give us “courage” and help us “wait” for the Lord. “Waiting” in the Bible is often active, not waiting around, and that’s the idea here at the end of Psalm 27. This language is active.

Second, Psalm 27 helps us in Lent by giving us images for prayer. This is helpful when our words fall short, and is especially helpful for people with vivid imaginations. So God is our “light” and our “stronghold.” God “lifts our heads over our challenges,” “camouflages us under his tent,” and “sets us high upon a rock.”

Psalm 27 envisions us living “in the house of the LORD,” and “seeking God’s face.” And God, the psalmist depicts, turns the divine face toward us. These are vivid images for use in prayer. Images and imagination have traditionally been undervalued, especially in Presbyterianism. But Psalm 27 gives us license to use them.

In the Philippians passage Paul also gives us perspective during Lent. He is writing from prison yet full of joy and determination. For Paul, Jesus Christ is our Savior with power to subject all things to himself. That power was on display in his resurrection. When the Savior’s work is complete, Paul says, our body of humiliation will be transformed to conform to Christ’s body of glory.

From Paul’s perspective, our true home is heaven. What is heaven? It is simply the presence of God without distraction. And Paul says a Savior from home is coming to release us from our spiritual prison. So Paul stands firm in faith, even in literal prison, and urges his followers to do the same. The Philippians are to imitate Paul.

When you read Philippians you can see Paul’s character, some of the traits he would commend us to imitate. Beyond rejoicing in imprisonment, Paul believes that dying exalts Christ (because of the shared resurrection we have with him in baptism). But he also realizes that living in this world can also exalt Christ. So to imitate Paul is to live fully in this world.

Paul also urges us to grow in our knowledge of Christ. From his own experience, he testifies that knowing Christ is greater than righteous living. You’ll find other inspiring traits to imitate throughout the letter to the Philippians.

The Second Helvetic Confession says: “We acknowledge the saints to be living members of Christ and friends of God who have gloriously overcome the flesh and the world. Hence we love them as brothers and sisters, and also honor them. We also imitate them.”

May these passages inspire a more faithful Lent, helping us to set our attitudes high enough, giving us language and images to enhance our prayers, and inviting us to imitate faithful examples.

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