We have been speaking the last few weeks about what it means to be a Christ-centered church made up of people living Christ-centered lives. We learned that Christ-centered lives are rooted in the salvation from Christ and the hope he gives. Being rooted means we know God loves us and will sustain us. We know that if we allow Jesus into our lives we will think, talk, and act more like God’s own son or daughter. We learned that Christ-centered lives are built up with the knowledge and experience of Christ. That people living Christ-centered lives want to find one another not for any sense of protection but for the sense of joy and peace community gives. We learned that Christ-centered lives are lives of faith and quiet confidence that God is true to his promises. A Christ-centered life is lived always focused on the Prince of Peace.
Sadly, this week we heard the news reports of a young man who knew nothing of Christ-centered living. Sadly, this young man knew violence and used that violence against his former classmates. He killed three staff members and 14 students and seriously wounded many other students.
The news media cites people saying how shocking this school shooting was; as though it is the first one to happen. Should this event shock us? People who do not follow the will of God began killing others starting with the very first family. We must not forget, Cain killed Abel with his own hands and a rock. From the lineage of Cain came a man named Lamech. The Bible quotes Lamech saying to his wives, “A man hurt me, so I killed him. I even killed a child for hitting me.” Death came by Lamech’s own hands and a simple tool. King Herod slaughtered all the young boys in and around Bethlehem in the hopes of killing the young child, Jesus. Herod ordered soldiers to do his killing, this time using a sword. The apostle Paul wrote, “28 People did not think it was important to have a true knowledge of God. So God left them and allowed them to have their own worthless thinking. And so they do what they should not do. 29 They are filled with every kind of sin, evil, greed, and hatred. They are full of jealousy, murder, fighting, lying, and thinking the worst things about each other. They gossip 30 and say evil things about each other. They hate God. They are rude, proud, and brag about themselves. They invent ways of doing evil. They don’t obey their parents, 31 they are foolish, they don’t keep their promises, and they show no kindness or mercy to others.32 They know God’s law says that anyone who lives like that should die. But they not only continue to do these things themselves, but they also encourage others who do them.” We should not be shocked that within the world there are people who reject God and look to unleash violence upon others. It has been going on shortly after God set the journey of humanity into motion. Laws of man will not alter the desires of depraved minds of those who have rejected God; there will always be rocks to throw.
The author of our New Testament readings today, Paul, knew something about rocks and violence. In his earlier days, Paul unleashed deadly violence upon Christians. His weapon of choice was like that of Cain, a rock. There will always be rocks; instruments to unleash violence upon others. The apostle Paul learned and shared that the antidote to a depraved mind committed to do all manner of violence is a mind transformed by the love of Christ not the laws of man. Paul said, “6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” Paul was talking about a transformed life; a Christ-centered life is the antidote for all manner of depravity, murder, jealousy, fighting, lying, gossiping, parental disobedience, foolishness, unkindness, unmerciful acts, and all evil things. There is no other way offer to us. Only a Christ-centered life brings true peace.
Paul said, a Christ-centered life is rooted in Christ, built up in him, strengthened in him as we earlier spoke and now to that Paul added “overflowing with thankfulness.”
Thankfulness, or thanksgiving here, means an understanding and recognition of God’s blessings expressed in part through words but mostly expressed through living. Jesus gave this illustration of the difference between false and genuine gratitude. “10 Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee [a respected religious leader] and the other a tax collector [a despised traitor to the people of Israel]. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’” 13 ‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 ‘I tell you that this man [the sinner], rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’” Thankfulness is not about expressing a life lived better than other people or more privileged than other people. That is arrogance. Thankfulness begins with words of genuine humility and reverence for the life God has given us and gift of salvation for all eternity. Our words suggest something about our inner life. They are a little window into what we think.
However, words alone do not reveal the full truth of our thinking. There must be some form of outworking of beliefs. James, the half-brother of Jesus, at once said, “14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? [James asks the question, “What if I stopped at words of thanks but never expressed it through my life? Are my words of faith, of thankfulness, genuine?] James continued, “Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
James was clear gratitude toward God must be more than words. He used an example of sharing clothing and food with someone else in need as an attitude of gratitude.
Now some people might say, “This is all fine but right now in my life I do not have something extra to give. I do not have extra food or clothing or even money to place in the offering plate. How then can I show my faith-based gratitude as I try to live out my Christ-centered life?” It turns out everyone, regardless of their circumstances can show their thanksgiving toward God for free.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, first Paul said, “4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” It does not cost anything to put a smile upon our face and rejoice that no matter what is going on in our life, you know that God loves you. We can show our joy without even saying a word or reaching into our wallets. Yet so many Christian look sour and glum. Rejoice! Second, Paul said, “5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” Gentleness is an outward display of our inner being. Gentleness does not mean we just speak without shouting it means our demeanor is easy on others. We display politeness toward others not because Mom or Dad taught us manners, but we show gentleness because we allow God’s spirit to move within us. In our gentleness, we see the dignity in others just because they are human created in the image of God. The apostle Peter said, “in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” Gentleness is free.
Paul continued with his third point, “6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Prayer is free and freeing. Prayer is a physical act of faith. Some people have gone so far as to create their prayers around the acronym ACTS. The begin with A for Adoration. They give God praise and honor for who he is as Lord over all. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hollowed be thy name.” Then follows C for Confession. They confess the sin that has appeared or reappeared in their life so that they can turn the matter of the sin over to God. Confession is an admission that sin is present and that only God can remove it. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” T comes next for Thanksgiving. They give thanks to God for being in their life and in the world that surrounds them. “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” They rejoice before God because the spirit of God moves them to do so. Remember our friend the Pharisees did not understand this point because he said, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers, - or even like this tax collector.” In contrast, after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead he prayed, “I thank you that you have heard me.” Finally, comes the letter S for Supplication. Supplication is a bit of an old word and we do not use it in our daily life. Supplication simply means a request. We ask God for our needs and make him aware we have learned of the needs of others. “Give us this day our daily bread…Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Prayer, whether done in the ACTS form or some other genuine approach, is a way of saying thank you to God and is an outward working of our gratitude toward God. We do not need any money or other personal wealth to pray for our needs or those of another person.
Paul’s words guided his brothers and sisters in living a life thankful for presence of Christ in their lives. It is a life of generous giving even when it does not cost anything. Now Paul was not willing to just speak these words to others, he invited others to see the outworking of his faith and to examine his life. Paul said, “8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.” Christ-centered gratitude appears in the ways we relate to others. Paul said there are eight measures we can see Christ alive in another person, and Paul held himself out for examination. He said, “If I shared with you what was true, true about love of God, the salvation found in Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, then put these truths in practice.” Do we share the truth with others? Paul said, “If did those things that are noble, acts the encouraged others and lifted them out of fear, then put those actions into practice.” Do we encourage others and lift them up? Paul said, “If I did those things that were right, even when it may not have been in my best interests to do so, then do similar acts.” Do we do what is right even when we do not think anyone is watching? Paul said, “If I did those things that were pure and free from selfish desires and honoring of God, then do those things as well.” Do we act with pure motives? Paul said, “If I did those things that were lovely and brought a smile to your face, then do likewise to someone else and bring joy to them.” Would others say of us, he or she is a lovely person who brings joy into my life? Paul said, “If I did those things that are admirable and brought justice and mercy to others, then show mercy and seek justice for others.” Are we merciful? Are we seeking justice for those who cannot seek it themselves? Paul said, “If I did those things that are excellent and showed my desire to give God the very best that I can give, then do the same.” Do we give God our best? Finally, Paul said, “If I did anything that was praiseworthy, meaning in that moment you could well imagine Jesus doing the very same thing, then do it yourself.” Do we imitate Jesus?
When we do these things and act true, noble, right, pure, lovely, excellent, admirable, and praiseworthy, Paul says then “the God of peace will be with you.” When we do all these things, then we are living a Christ-centered life overflowing with thankfulness for him. Let us pray.