October 4, 2020

Message for October 4, 2020- “All-in!”

(From Philippians 3: 4b-14)

     The Miriam Webster Dictionary defines the term “all-in” as risking everything, being completely committed to the desired outcome of a particular venture.  When we are all-in, we are completely committed to and focused upon achieving the desired outcome of a particular goal.  I particularly appreciate the segment of the definition that speaks to the risk involved when one determines to be all- in regarding a particular endeavor.  We often do not know with surety that the desired outcome of a venture or goal is achievable, or even feasible.  Nevertheless, we press onward toward our goal, committed to giving it our all.

     When it comes to matters of our faith, by the very nature of the word “faith” we know that the final outcome cannot be seen from the onset of the journey, or it would not require faith.  Chapter 11, verse 1 Hebrews reminds us that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  Romans 8: 24 states, “But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?”  It is by faith that we journey on toward our desired outcome, eternal life in the kingdom of God.  If we are truly committed to it, we are willing to bear the difficulties we may encounter along the way.  Thus, we are all-in.

    Paul shared with the Philippians Church in our lesson this morning regarding his personal faith journey, its path, and its desired outcome.  From a worldly standpoint, Paul had an impressive resumé. Paul was born both a member of the Hebrew Tribe of Benjamin and a Roman citizen.  It was rare for Jews of this time to also be Roman citizens.  Roman citizens had rights granted to them that were not given to those who were not citizens of Rome. Paul was also a member of the Jewish Pharisees, and he was one who persecuted the followers of Jesus because they did not strictly adhere to Jewish Law and traditions.  Then, on the road to Damascus, where Paul was traveling with writs of allegation against followers of Jesus, in order to have them both prosecuted and persecuted, Paul met the living Christ.  Nothing in Paul’s world would ever be the same.

     On the road to Damascus, Paul became painfully aware of his wrongful assumptions about Jesus.  Jesus, was, in fact, everything that Paul would not allow himself to believe.  Jesus was the true promised Messiah, whose life, death, resurrection, and ascension prove once and for all the power of God’s love—for it conquers even sin and death!  Paul then determined that he would strive to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. He would abandon the comfort and protection offered by his status and position as a Jewish Pharisee.  Instead, he would follow the great commission Jesus gave to the twelve Disciples–to go forth into the world and make new disciples of Jesus Christ.  Paul chose a path that would lead him to become all-in for Jesus.

     Being completely devoted to the work of his commissioning, Paul shared in his letter to the Philippians, came at a significant personal cost.  He suffered, in his own words, “the loss of all things,” things of this world like power, status, and comfort, all of which he came to regard as mere rubbish.  The true prize for Paul, his ultimate goal, became knowing Christ and suffering for his sake, just as Christ suffered in this world for the sake of our salvation.  Paul was determined to give everything he had formerly used to persecute the followers of Jesus in order to now further the gospel of Jesus Christ.  “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,” Paul shared with the Philippians, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Jesus Christ.” Thus, Paul’s extensive mission activity throughout the Roman Empire revealed his commitment to furthering the gospel of Christ.  Paul was now, in fact, all-in for Jesus, and his mission was to invite those he encountered to follow Jesus and become all-in for Jesus too.  Paul’s mission was much like that of our own Methodist Denomination: to make, nurture and equip disciples of Jesus Christ, so that they may to go forth to transform the world.   

     So, dear friends, the critical question for us this day is, are we, like the Apostle Paul, modern-day disciples committed to being all-in for Jesus? As we remember all that Jesus has done for us and for our salvation through his life, death, resurrection and ascension, are we drawn toward a closer relationship with him?  Are we willing to step out into our world, with the love of Christ, beyond the limits of our comfortable and established lifestyles?  Will we commit to advocate for peace with justice and for equal access to the means of quality of life for all people?  Will we practice a radical hospitality that invites all of God’s people to be a part of God’s kingdom in this world? In our community? In our Church?  Jesus welcomed all whose hearts and minds were open to him.  He healed the sick, ate with sinners, and set free those who were oppressed of body, mind or spirit. His self-sacrifice for us proved that he was, and still is, all-in for us.  Are we, Church, willing to allow ourselves, to truly commit ourselves, to strive to become all-in for him?  I pray that we will, by the power of the Holy Spirit working both in and through us.  Amen.

I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus-no turning back, no turning back.

Though none go with me, still I will follow, though none go with me, still I will follow, though none go with me still I will follow—no turning back, no turning back. (“I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”-words and music-anonymous).