9th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus who has given you and me priceless worth, dear friends in Christ, Have you ever heard of the story about Kathy Ormsby? The NCAA track-and-field championships were being held in Indianapolis in 1986. She was a premed honor student and a track star at North Carolina State University. She was also her college’s record holder for women’s ten-thousand meter run. During the championship race she fell behind and couldn’t seem to catch the front runner no matter how hard she tried. All of a sudden she ran off the track and out of the stadium to a nearby bridge where she jumped off. The forty foot fall that she took left her paralyzed from the waist down. I have no idea what was going through her head, but I can take a guess. My guess is that she was believing two lies: first, “I need to be perfect” and “my worth in life is determined by my performance.” And since she was believing that lie, when she was facing failure, it led her to a point of total despair in which she wanted to just end it all.
I think this, too, is a lie that each of us is tempted to believe- hopefully not to the degree of Kathy Ormbsy. Think about it, if you played any kind of sports – or, if your children play sports- how are they graded? The kids who perform well get awards and praise, the kids who don’t, don’t. And as a child did you let your performance on the field or on the court determine whether you’re happy or sad, do you feel low and worthless if you played terribly? You’re probably believing this lie. What about school? We have a grading system so that the kids who perform well get good grades and are put in advanced classes, while those who don’t aren’t. So, when you were in school or are in school did you equate your worth in life with how well you scored or what kinds of grades you got? This last week I spent taking a continuing education class which ended with a final review exam on Friday morning- as I stayed up late and got up early to study and cram for the test, I’ll let you decide if I thought I’d be a pretty pitiful person if I did horribly on the test. J Or, think about work. What’s the usual question when you meet someone new after you find out their name? “What do you do?” Think about the response, “Oh, you’re a doctor” vs. “Oh, you clean porta-potties.” J Do you equate how good of a job you have or how much money you have or make with your personal worth as a human being? In other words, if you suddenly had a low-level job and lost ¾ of your income would you feel worthless and tempted to do what Kathy Ormbsy did?
Believing this lie will really put us into to dangerous situations. If I perform well and enjoy success, I feel pretty good about myself and begin to look down on others as less important. Or, if I don’t feel I’ve achieved much, done much, I can feel worthless.
In our text this morning the Apostle Paul is dealing with certain people called “Judaizers” who had infiltrated the church in Philippi. In essence, they were saying that in order to be a good Christian you needed to perform, you needed to do this or that. In other words, you need to be circumcised as the OT law said, you can’t do any work on the Sabbath. So Paul tells them, “If you think that we’re going to be saved by who we are or what we’ve done, look at me. Please note, that Paul’s simply making a point here, he’s not bragging. Notice what he says about himself, “Circumcised on the 8th day, of the people of Israel.” That shows that he’s from good stock, he comes from a very religious family. He also says that he’s from the tribe of Benjamin. You know how special that is? Many of the Jewish people couldn’t trace their lineage- remember how the whole northern kingdom- the northern 10 tribes had been completely destroyed? Only the southern two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, survived. The fact that he could trace his lineage made him a “Jew of Jews.” He was also extremely zealous and religious as a Jew, so much so that he was a Pharisee. That meant he belonged to that special group that didn’t only claim to keep all the OT laws, but 613 additional laws that they had come up with. He was also so zealous for what he thought was the true faith that he persecuted those who didn’t believe. And he comes up with the conclusion that if someone could earn God’s favor by being religious and zealous and pious people would have called him “faultless.”
If one of us were writing this list, perhaps ours would look a little different. Perhaps we would say that we come from a very religious family, we finished confirmation class in 8th grade, we have an almost perfect church attendance record, we pray every night, we fight off temptation better than others. And then come to the conclusion, because of who I am or because of what I’ve done or not done in life, I’m worth more and loved by God more than others. And the opposite of this thought is just as much wrong. Perhaps you know your life and the terrible things you’ve done and you know that you deserve God’s wrath and punishment and you’re just living in fear waiting for God to get you back for those things you’ve done in the past. Whether you’re believing that or you’re believing you’ve earned God’s favor, it means you’re believing the lie, “My worth is determined by my performance.”
But all that changed when God appeared to Paul. On the road to Damascus to persecute Christians, Jesus appeared to him and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me.” He was literally knocked to the ground, totally terrified. All of his pride, all of his life’s achievement, all of who he was and what he had done came crumbling to the ground with him. Not only had he been persecuting Jesus by persecuting His people, but he fell far short of God’s standard of perfection. And that’s exactly where you and I will be if we think our performance is what determines our worth before God- crumbling in fear because none of us, none of us even comes close to God’s standard of perfection.
You see, what Paul realized, was not that he was worthless, but that everything that he did in comparison to everything that Jesus did for him was worthless. He said, “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” He continues by saying where his pride and his worth was now found. (vs. 8) “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”
Everything that I’ve done in the past, good or bad, is rubbish, garbage, junk, filth- useless or undesirable material that is subject to disposal, KJV “dung”. Paul no longer sees his identity or his worth in what he has done but rather in what Christ has done. Anything that you’ve done in life that makes you feel “worth it” is really rubbish. Anything that you’ve done or not done in life that makes you feel “worthless” is really rubbish. When it comes to pride, your grades, your job, your income level, your achievements- those all are absolutely nothing in comparison to what Christ has done for you.
How do you determine something’s value? An auction is really a good illustration of this. If I had a pen and I asked each one of you, “How much will you give me for this pen?” Some might say a penny, another might say 5 cents, someone else might say 25 cents, still someone else might venture even a dollar. Then this pen would be worth a dollar because that’s what someone is willing to pay for it. That’s how you determine something’s value. So, how much was God willing to pay for you? “For you know that it was not with gold or silver that you were redeemed…but with the precious blood of Christ, a Lamb without blemish or defect.” How much are you worth? You are worth the blood of Jesus, the blood Jesus paid with His death on the cross to pay for all your sins, to win you forgiveness. How much is God’s blood worth? It’s priceless. So how much does that make you worth? To God- it’s priceless.
So often we try to find our worth in life horizontally- by what other people say about us or think about us. The truth that frees us from this lie, though, is when we find our worth in life vertically- from God, about what He says about us.
So if you want to be proud, be proud of your Savior, who is no longer going to judge us based on what we have or haven’t done in life, but who is going to judge us based on what he did for us. If you want to boast, boast about your Savior who decided to save you and call you priceless even though we were worthless. If you want to brag, brag about your faith that connects you so intimately to your Savior. Hear it in God’s Word where your Savior says, “You are worth it to me to live and die for you.” Hear it in your baptism where your Savior says, “You are worth it to me, I’ve clothed you with my righteousness.” Hear it in the Supper where your Savior says, “Take and eat, take and drink my own body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins- that’s how much you’re worth it to me!”
All the feelings of worthlessness or of sinful pride that you feel go away when we see that our worth is not determined by our performance, but by His. Amen.