Philippians 3:7 - 4:1
February 28th , 2009
“Us and Them”
There are certain aspects of our culture that promote an “us and them” mentality. Sports is one of them - who doesn't like to root for “us” and against “them” Then there's politics - Republicans and Democrats. And maybe in some other aspects of life we see that divide.
But there's also a stream of thought in our culture that runs against an “us and them” mentality. When it comes to American spirituality, many would balk at the “us and them” idea. “we're all God's children” we are told. “It doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you believe it.” We are discouraged from making distinctions between, “us and them” because it's judgmental and arrogant and, well, just not nice. “Coexist” the bumper sticker admonishes us.
But what does the Bible teach?
Philippians 3 is quite clear. There are many who “walk as enemies of the cross of Christ” yet, “our citizenship is in heaven.” Other portions of Holy Scripture teach the same. There are sheep and goats. There are the righteous and the wicked. The wise and the foolish. The distinction between “us and them” is often made.
Even in our Gospel reading we see the enemies of the kingdom, and of Christ hard at work. The Pharisees and King Herod, the powers that be in Jerusalem would have him killed. They are the enemies.
But doesn't God love everyone? Didn't Jesus die for the sins of the world? Doesn't he want disciples to be made of all nations? Why these distinctions? What's going on here? And more importantly, how do you and I fit in?
Let me first of all say this is not one of those sermons that is meant to build up the “us” by bashing the “them”. As I often say, one of the worst comments a preacher could hear about his sermon is, “boy, pastor, you really gave it to THEM today!”
Let's be clear. Without Jesus, “we” are “them”. You look at the description Paul gives of the enemies of Christ. And we look a lot like that don't we. We act as if our god is our belly. We sometimes glory in things that are shameful. And we certainly have our minds set on earthly things. In a word, we are sinners. We are “them”. The other team, playing against God, rebelling against his will. We cast our lot in with Satan each time we turn and do what is wrong. Any sermon that blasts sinners for sinning is going to blast each and every one of us. And it should. Paul says it well in Romans 3, “there is NO distinction. ALL have sinned... “
All the more, because we're supposed to be on the right side. We're disciples of Jesus after all. We're not like those unbelievers, those miserable people who have better things to do than worship God except when we are like them. We're not like those people who do whatever we want except we do whatever we want. We're not going around cursing and lying and stealing and hurting others, except, oh yes, we are.
If you don't think you're a sinner, scripture has something to say to you. Just take the 10 commandments, for instance. We're providing a little bulletin insert this Lent about self-examination. Looking at our lives, examining them for sin, in light of the 10 commandments. And a close look reveals much sin. A closer look reveals even more. We're full of wickedness. Like Luther said, “a bag of worms We are the “them” in the “us and them”. And our destiny is destruction. That is, without Christ....
And here's the wonderful paradox, the grand mystery of salvation. To all outward eyes, and to all close examination, there is no difference between us and them, between sinner and saint. The murderer and the holy man are the same - both fall short of God's glory.
But in Christ, the reality changes. In Christ, enemies become friends. In Christ, the wicked are righteous, the foolish become wise, and even the Pharisee becomes a disciple. Though our sins are as scarlet they are made white as snow. Though our body dies and rots and the memory of us fades, we who are in Christ are alive and well and eternally at peace. Our “lowly bodies” become like his “glorious body”
The “us” of the Holy Christian Church is a great place to be. The “us” of the body of Christ, the bride of Christ. There is a mystic sweet communion that we enjoy as members of this body. We are one with Christ, and one with each other. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. We are all the same sinners, rotten to the core. Saints forgiven by the blood of the spotless lamb. And in that blessed unity we marvel and wonder.
The only reason “us and them” remains this side of heaven, is because sin still lingers. Though forgiven, though renewed and recreated we still contend with the Old Adam. Our sinful nature, the flesh it's still a part of us. But it's not the ultimate reality.
We are citizens of Heaven. So let's live like who we know we are. Let's take the encouragement of Paul and walk in his example, and in the example of so many faithful before us. That example is one of lifelong repentance of total dependence on the mercy of God in Christ. And yes, it is also an example of good works.... but works of love that flow from faith.
We sing the national anthem at the ball game. We get a little weepy when we see the U.S. Athlete win the gold, and they hang our flag, and play our song. We are citizens of this nation, and they are on our team. We're a part of that. They are “us”.
So let's also rejoice in those saints who have already won the victory, those citizens of heaven who've already set foot on its shores. Let's turn our eyes to that horizon, and eagerly hope for that day when we too join in the new song of eternity, when we receive the crown of righteousness. Let's stand firm all of us in Christ, who makes us one with himself and each other.