God’s Upward Call 10-8-17

We were hoping to be outside today. If the weather forecasters are wrong, I’m grateful. If they are right, I’m grateful, because we need the rain! Either way, today we celebrate the fall harvest. Part of the idea of being outside was connected with the Jewish celebration of Sukkoth, which is happening right now. We are invited to several local synagogues, particularly Beth Am in Gladwyne this evening, to be outside in their synagogue’s sukkah for a gathering of unity and peace. If anyone wants to represent St. Luke there, let me know and I will get you directions. I know most people are preparing for Grace Cafe and can’t go.

Our reading this morning from Philippians, the way I read it focuses on privilege and humility. Listen for the word of God for you today.

Philippians 3: 4b-14 If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on God’s call at this time in our lives, straining forward, never looking back.

October 8, 2017

God’s Upward Call

It’s always fun being with my pastor buddy Jim McIntire. Sadly he is no longer pastor of Hope UMC, so we won’t see him at charge conference this Saturday. It’s fun to be with Jim because he has a great sense of humor and you never know what’s going to come out of his mouth to keep everybody laughing. One the constant jokes that happens a lot when the two of us hang out together – going to court or a demonstration or leading a worship service – is about our relative height. It’s fairly inevitable that someone will make a “Mutt and Jeff” comment of some kind, since Pastor Jim is fairly short and I am fairly tall.

Jim gets ribbed constantly for being short. He partly brings it on himself, mentioning it before someone else does. It’s an easy joke, and folks latch onto it. I never get teased for being tall. People don’t say, “Whoa, you’re a giraffe next to him!” They comment on his height, not mine. Being tall is often an advantage for me, and I like being tall. Do you think God loves me more for being tall? Of course not! God’s upward call has nothing to do with height, even if I am closer to heaven than most other mere earthlings.

Really, it just seems absurd to talk about, doesn’t it? But there are unconscious ways in which people think better of someone who is taller, or is able-bodied, or male, or white, or heterosexual, or married, or a parent, or more educated, or a citizen of the United States.

How many of those privileged categories do you fall into? Do you think God loves you more for being a man or being heterosexual or being a US citizen? Or course not! That is not what God’s upward call is about.

It took me a long time to realize how privileged I am. It took me a longer time to realize that the blessings I enjoy don’t mean that I’m better than other people, I’m still working on that part really. God does not love me better because I’m a citizen of the US or because I’m a pastor and or because I try to do good things in the world.

Paul is saying something similar in his letter to the people of Philippi. He says, I have every reason to think God is giving me special assistance because I was “circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”

Some of these characteristics, Paul did not have to work for. He was born in Israel into the tribe of Benjamin. Other characteristics, such as his persecution of the early church, are aspects of Paul’s life that he had to work for. He felt proud of his work for the Jewish community that was his birthright. Remember that Paul was Jewish. He was proud of his Jewish roots and his status in the community. He was not trying to start a new religion, only to convince people that Jesus had a new and important truth to teach all of them.

This new and important upward calling was not that God loved one group more than another, not that God is going to love men more than women or free people more than slaves, or Jews more than Gentiles, but that God loved every part of God’s creation – that God in Christ calls all people to know they are loved and honored and expected to live a good life. Christ frees all of us to know we are loved for who we are, not for how society judges us, honors us, critiques us or respects us.


It is not easy for us who are on many of the more privileged side of the spectrum to hear Jesus’ message through Paul clearly. It’s not easy for me sometimes to realize that my advantages are not a blessing from God that indicates I am better than somebody else. Those advantages are often a blessing, but sometimes they blind me to the situation and need of the person next to me, and the calling I have to be part of the solution.

We can laugh about it in relation to me and Jim, Mutt and Jeff. Some situations are much more serious. Somebody pointed out how we even have trouble understanding the situation of the mass shooting in Las Vegas this week. The media expresses horror over the killings, but they call the shooter a “lone wolf,” isolated and a one time aberration. If the shooter was Muslim or an immigrant, he would have been called a terrorist. And that’s what this action was, an act of terrorism, committed because an unstable person can buy an insane number of lethal weapons in a short amount of time.

Jesus calls us to love and protect all of God’s creation. That is so hard for us to do when we can’t acknowledge our own privilege, the ways in which we have more than our share and receive those gifts without thinking or reflection. Paul says, all his privilege and special status he considers rubbish; it’s garbage because of his new relationship with the Living God in Christ. Because of that relationship he knows that he is not better than the next person of a different gender, cultural background or social status than himself. It doesn’t matter any more. Because of Christ’a love in his life, he says, he feels and upward calling, a calling to a resurrection life, a life made new in a world full of God’s love.


Dorothy Hull came back to church last Sunday. It was so great to see her out because of Lisa and Rick making sure she had a way to church. Dorothy started coming here when her husband got sick and she couldn’t make it all the way into town to go to her beloved Tindley Temple UMC. In that church the sermon always ends with an altar call, so Dorothy is always perplexed when I don’t call people to Christian discipleship at the end of a sermon.

It’s an old tradition which many evangelical churches maintain and main line white churches sometimes find a little embarrassing. I haven’t figured out how to do an altar call in our church. I do it every now and keep trying to give folks a way to take a step, a step forward to dedicate your life to the Living God who is calling you to new possibilities and a recognition of your oneness with all of God’s creation.

Today, in honor of Dorothy and in respect to Paul’s message inviting us to a higher calling, I invite you before & during our responsive hymn to take your own personal symbolic next step. You might want to turn to a person next to you and talk to them about each other’s intentions. You might want to pray at the altar & talk to God. You might want to go to the back of the church or outside in the rain for a moment! Consider how God is calling you to a deeper connection this fall – a deeper understanding of your value to God just for who you are, not for what you’ve been given or what you are trying to become. Pray with me for our broken world, and for our own need to open our hearts. Whatever helps you most to take in God’s love and call.


Responsive hymn 398 Jesus Calls Us (vss. 1-4)