(note: This is a sermon that I preached yesterday February 5th. Although the content is specific to my home church, I do believe that it can apply to all that have or are struggling in their home church.)
To start today I have, for you, a bit of a history lesson.
I will start out with an easy one.
What is the significance of the following locations, #5 Selkirk St., 32 and 34 Tutshi, 1609 Birch St., 16 Duke St., and 15 Duke St.?
A bit into the history books, but these are all locations that Riverdale Baptist Church has called home since its inception.
One that is a bit more difficult,
What do the following have in common? The old brown shelf in the choir room, the cross that hangs behind me, Loverna Armstrong and Ursula Heynen?
With nothing but the utmost respect for the two fine ladies in this list, these people and things have been integral to Riverdale Baptist Church since the beginning of my memory. As short as that might be, due to my age, it is long enough to note that some people and possessions stand the test of time.
If you would indulge a dive into my memory just a bit more I would like to relay a bit of a story, Approximately a year and a half ago, I was sitting at the full end of a thanksgiving dinner in Atlin. (Which some might say would fit into either of the two list I just gave you.) I was listening to Mrs. A relay a story from her youth, it was one of music and revival meetings. One of those revival meetings struck my fancy. It happened in a place dear to me. Juneau. Many years before Riverdale Baptist Church was ever to be.
This past August I was at the visitor reception center in Juneau, and I saw an amazing full wall photo of what Juneau looked like at that time. Suffice to say it, the whole town, was a mine.
None of this may be that important save one fact that amazes me. Although Mrs. A has a name in good standing on the list that I read to you, she has a HISTORY that goes far beyond the life and times of Riverdale Baptist Church.
I do not. I have a HISTORY and it is here. I was at Riverdale Baptist Church within weeks of my birth, and I am standing here privileged to occupy this pulpit just a few weeks shy of my 34th.
This is why the message of reconciliation that George and the Elders have discerned as the word for us here in 2006 is so very important. And it is why it is so important to me.
As we turn to Philippians we are about to engage in a dialogue of various histories. Ones that I would care to divide into Personal History, Biblical History, and Church History.
At the beginning of multiple sections in which the Apostle Paul gives instruction on humility, we have a basic advisory. In chapter two verses three and four, we have thee point of what we are looking at today.
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
Now if anyone has that nailed, you can take the rest of the morning off. Seeing that this is where I am stuck, I cannot offer advise that will go beyond what is here in scripture.
If however you struggle as I do with this basic Christian principle, please remain and hopefully as a group we may learn something.
As an aside, I would like to mention that I do so much struggle with this concept. Much time I sit and wonder why things are not, as I would see, in the best interest. Of course that quickly brings the question, 'in the best interest of whom?' This is a question that never gets answered. At least if I am honest, I never answer it. I do what I suspect most of us do. I go to the next easiest question. 'What can I do to make them see my point of view'
If I honestly look at these two verses, I do not see a dichotomy between my way and the other way. I rather see a call to likeness of mind. In verse four it does not present my interest against that of others, it presents a concept of in my interest, but ALSO in the interest of others. More a combined interest rather than separate one.
For those who may think that I am a bit off the map here, I would refer you to verse two of the same chapter. Here it says,
fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
There we have it. In a succinct form, that is where we are headed. Easy. Now we just have to map the road to get there.
To create this map, we need an understanding of the three histories I mentioned earlier. Or at least we need an understanding of what I am getting at when I mention them. So here we go one by one.
Personal History. On the surface this simply can refer to who we are, and what our accomplishments and failures have been. A bit deeper it may refer to some of our ancestry. A closer look at personal history, while keeping our eye on the topic for today will let us see far more though. A critical view will show that our personal history is filled to overflowing with memories that become bias to any given situation. It is what makes us either cling to the past and keep tradition close to heart, or disgusts us with poor situations of years past and makes us flee from what we know.
Neither of these are in and of themselves negative or positive. In simple terms, I believe that it is good that most children learn not to touch a hot burner based on the first occasion. Likewise if you quit the first time you fell off a bicycle, you would never know the exhilaration of a mountain bike ride.
Biblical History. Although complicated by old an new covenant or what many refer to as law versus love, the Bible shows us a continuity of thought. The Word. A God that never changes. A God that has always existed and always will. A cornerstone of thought and reason, of faith and truth.
Church History. This is where the previous two intersect. It is also where things get complicated. Suffice to say that in taking what is historically given in scripture, and looking at it with a mind on tradition and personal history you develop a history of the church. A theology if you like. This is where critically important matters are penned, such as creeds and methods of biblical interpretation. Outside theology it can also lead to patterns that are not of such critical importance, such as morning time for worship services, and pews rather than chairs.
I suppose that this morning what I really want to do, is to shine a bit of light on the importance of all of these histories, while pointing out some of the failings of others. As an example I would point your attention back to the cross that hangs behind me. A bit of what I would call Church History. In a global sense, the cross itself is a reminder of why we are here. It is a reminder of Christ's death. It is a reminder of the remission of our sin, and the pain that it caused our Lord. It's vacancy is also a reminder of the resurrection of Christ and of the empty tomb.
So what importance do we place on it? Are those two sticks of pine worth the loss of one soul? Do we care for it more than those who worship in front of it every Sunday? Of course not. Yet it can tell us much. To those who are in the know, it reminds us of where Riverdale Baptist Church has come from. It reminds us of 32 Tutshi, and the empty lot next door that supplied those two sticks. It reminds us of the Saints that have worshipped in this body before. To those who may not have been here long, it should say something to you too. Does it not beg the question in your mind, Why two sticks of pine? In a building such as this, the conscious choice of a pine cross says something to all who walk through the doors.
What is it worth though? Is it of value? That cross is worth much in the right light, and nothing more than firewood in the wrong light.
To those who are wondering how I am ever going to bring this back to the text for today, you can now relax.
The Apostle Paul was a great man. As Saul he was as great as any Jew could be this side of the Messiah. Yet was this of any value?
Here is where we gain understanding of the downside of personal history. Paul counted all that he was as a loss in favour of Christ. Nothing of his notable accomplishments added up to more than loss when faced with the Gospel. Anything that he had done to ensure his salvation or place in heaven, was worthless in light of the incomparable salvation offered by the cross. His personal history was useless.
Or was it?
He put no stock in it toward salvation, or standing in front of God. Did he therefore never use it?
I believe that Paul's past had a deep interaction with who he was now. It cannot have been compared to the salvation of Christ, and yet he used it as a tool. One with two edges. I wish to take nothing away from this scripture, and before I continue I must point out that the very primary point here is that the quality of all that Paul had done before meeting our Lord on the road to Damascus was that of rubbish. He new that well, and we need to understand that what we cling to outside the Gospel, has the same value when held up in comparison.
There is also another dynamic at work here though. Through Paul's intimate knowledge of the Law he is able to write these things. He has an authority that allows him to show how Christ is truly the Messiah. He does this using his understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures. But for him this is a double edged sword. His past gives him the knowledge to teach believers, new and old alike. His past also gives believers a reason to distrust him for he was instrumental in the churches persecution.
To sum up Paul, he has a Personal History, that was useful for teaching, and a millstone for trust. But far beyond that we have the supremacy of Christ. There cannot have been anything more important than that. We have here a direct comparison of quality, and in this case, as in all we come across, nothing compares to the quality of Christ.
Which brings us back to chapter two.
Humility. Christ here shows us the deepest form of humility there is. In verse six we are told that we cannot grasp His equality with God. Therefore we cannot understand how deeply He humbled Himself. In stark contrast to what we have just discussed with regard to Paul, Christ had every reason to put confidence in who He was and what His accomplishments were.
YET, He humbled himself. Verse seven says that He emptied himself. Verse eight states that Christ was humble enough to accept death on the Cross. And then in verses nine, ten, and eleven, we read why this was such a great act of humility. He has the name that is above all others and is the one that every one shall bow to. For every tongue shall confess.
A continuation for the next four verses explains that 'So then' our actions toward the Lords humbleness is to be done with fear and trembling remembering at all times that what is done in our soul, and the outpouring of the same, is none other than the work of God.
The obvious question now is, how do I compare myself. What is it that I have to be proud of when I look at my Lord and see such utter greatness, and humility that is likewise nothing short of Godly. Even when looking a the comparison of the Apostle Paul I find myself seriously wanting.
A look in the mirror and, do I like what I see? I look to find excuse for clinging to the ways of my past. I desire to find a reason to respect them. But in the light of this scripture is that reasonable?
And here we have the intersection of histories.
All of us sit here today with a past. There is no reason to believe that the validity of mine is better than any other here. Or to put it in another way, Paul's past included a knowledge of scripture that possibly surpasses that of any person since. His past also includes some of the greatest atrocities committed against the Church.
Paul's personal history was an intersection of biblical understanding, and personal action. It made him who he was. A vessel of usefulness to the Lord.
Our church is the personal history of those who sit here, and of those who sat here before, intersected with biblical teaching. It makes us who we are. We are Riverdale Baptist Church. We are followers of Christ.
We have in the past sat in these pews, and listened to the choir and quartets. We have listened to our young ones play the piano, or sax or violin for offertory. We also have enjoyed countless hours around the campfire singing choruses to the accompaniment of a guitar. As a young child I recall no discussion of the difference of these things. It was musical, and Riverdale Baptist Church loved their music.
Our church has a full and rich history, even though it is young, it is amazingly so. We are Anglican, Presbyterian, Mennonite, Pentecostal and many others including Baptist. It has always been so. It used to be something that we were proud of.
Does this mean that in this great intersection of histories that we sacrifice theology for peace? I would say not. If we have learnt anything from what we read in Philippians today, it should be that the ultimate theology, the ultimate intersection between personal history and biblical history is embodied in Christ and his Gospel.
Rather, when we endure this intersection of our own histories and the bibles we emulate that which is presented in the scriptures.
A quote of unknown origin, although sometimes attributed to Augustine goes like this.
"In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity."
We need this here. It starts with oneself, and although I am the one standing here with these words today, it is a change that my heart needs desperately. I love this church, and desire this change. Will you join me?
Hear the words of Larry Nickel that he wrote based on Philippians one.
May we never cease to pray
that out love might grow in every way.
We proclaim with joy and faith,
"Now for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain"
As a final punctuation this morning, I would like to highlight a few verses in Philippians.
Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ; so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;
Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing;
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
And finally in closing,
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.