Preached by Barry Unwin, in Upton, Welland, Hanley Swan, Hanley Castle and Ripple, June-Aug 2017

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Imagine you life as a book. A novel. I don’t know what sort of novel it would be. Maybe a Thriller, or a Mills and Boon Romance, hopefully it’s not a murder mystery.

Now I dare say in your book of your life, there’s loads of good things, fantastic holidays, happy memories, and wonderful things you’ve done. But there’s also some pages in there, that you’d be ashamed of. there’s pages in there you’d like to rip out and destroy forever.

I know in my story there are pages I wish had never been written. And it’s these pages that are the problem on the day God judges us.

There’s even a prayer in our Prayer Book that tells us that.

We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness….”

 When we pray that prayer, we’re admitting we can’t get to God by being good. We’re admitting our sin makes us unworthy of God.

So how can we know him?

Well let’s think back to our Bible reading from Philippians, And how it began:

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,  To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi.

And the key phrase is: “SAINTS IN CHRIST JESUS”.

So, what’s a saint? Now you might think that a saint is someone the church has declared really special and really good

Let’s take St Barbara[1] as an example, She lived in the third century, and was murdered by her parents for becoming a Christian. And after her execution, her dad was struck by lightning and died. Apparently she’s the patron saint of fireworks! But not for 400 years – It was 400 years later before the church declared her a saint.

However that’s not what the Bible means by the word Saint. It’s a word used 67 times in the New Testament, and each of those 67 times, “saint” means living breathing, common or garden Christians, just ordinary folk who have put their trust in Jesus Christ.

The Saints in Christ Jesus in Philippi”

Was Paul’s way of referring to the church in Philippi. If he wrote to us, he’d say

The Saints in Christ Jesus in Hanley Castle.

And he’d be referring to anyone here who has made a decision to follow Jesus Christ. So look around the room – everyone who is a Christian here, is a saint. If you have put your trust in Jesus then You are a Saint. That’s how your loving Heavenly Father sees you, When he looks at you, he sees not a miserable sinner, nor a useless failure, but a saint. Someone holy, special and set apart.

But how can that be possible? I mean I know we all scrub up well for church, we’re good at looking respectable, but deep down, when we’re honest with ourselves, we know we have flaws and failings. So how can God call me a saint, knowing all that I know about myself? Did he not see what I did yesterday?  Well yes. He did see it.

So let’s think back to what the Bible verse said…It called us,

Saints in Christ Jesus

The point is, we aren’t saints because we’re good people, we are saints because we are in Christ Jesus.

Think of it this way: I was never much good at Rugby. I was never good enough. Even for the school team. But just suppose instead of me trying to win a Rugby game on my own, you put me in a team with Johnny Wilkinson, Jona Lomu in his prime, Brian O’Driscoll, Gareth Edwards, and let’s throw in David Campese for good measure. Even a terrible Rugby player like me, could be on the winning side in a team like that. And that’s what “Saint in Christ Jesus” means. It means that as flawed as we all are, if we’re on Jesus’ team, we’re on the winning team.

The language the Bible uses to describe this is the idea of being “United with Christ”. And if you’re united with Christ you’re a Saint, because Jesus is spotless. You’re holy, because he is holy. And you’re heavenward bound, because he has risen from the grave,

We can never earn that title “saint”, we can never on our own live up to it. Instead it is God’s gift to us. It’s what the Bible calls God’s grace, a gift that costs us nothing, but cost God everything – the life of his Son.

Here’s the problem though: When I explain Saint in Christ Jesus to people, they often wonder, How can they possibly live up to that title of Saint? Well the rest of our Bible passage tries to answer that, by challenging us to try to live up to it the title saint, by committing the future of our lives to loving and serving others. That’s why Paul prays in verse 9,

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight

He’s praying that Christians would use their skills and gifts to be better at loving people, both in the church family, and the world outside it. Why not set yourself a challenge for this week: to consciously do something new to care for someone?

The thing is, for all our good intentions, we still mess up don’t we? We aren’t as loving as we could be. We struggle with persistent problems that can leave us wondering if maybe, that title “Saint in Christ Jesus”  really is just wishful thinking and nonsense. How could I ever live up to it?

Well if that’s you, there’s a wonderful promise  for you from God, in v6, that

the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ..”

It’s saying that when you become a Christian, no matter how things feel on a day by day basis, God is slowly and surely changing you to make you more and more like Jesus. Day by day we won’t even notice him doing it, but he’s promised he will be doing it. And God never breaks his promises.

So don’t despair over day-by-day failure. There’s an old saying,

We overestimate what we can achieve in a year, and underestimate what we can achieve in five years.”

And when we take a long-term view, of how God has transformed us over a period of years, there’s always so much to celebrate.

So don’t despair over the daily mistakes, say sorry for them, work hard to overcome them, but trust God to deal with the big picture, of getting the book of your life ready to read.

He who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Christ..”

I’m gonna’ stop there… Except to suggest that tomorrow, when you’re looking in the bathroom mirror, say to yourself,

I’m a saint in Christ Jesus

And then take a moment to thank God for that, and ask his help so you can live like it.

Let’s pray.

[1] http://www.cracked.com/article_16509_the-8-most-bizarre-patron-saints.html

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