“Does This Spark Joy?” (Philippians 3:4b-14)

Fifth Sunday in Lent
April 7, 2019

“Does This Spark Joy?” (Philippians 3:4b-14)

Have you ever heard of a woman named Marie Kondo? She’s a young Japanese woman who is an expert on organizing the stuff in your house. Marie Kondo is the queen of decluttering. She has written a best-selling book called, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” And this year she has her own television show called, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.”

This is a popular trend right now, this tidying up. And Marie Kondo has a certain method for doing it. She says to pick up this or that item you’re debating whether or not to get rid of–hold it up in front of you and ask yourself, “Does it spark joy?” If it doesn’t, then get rid of it.

I tried this myself to test it out. The other day I looked around and found this phone book. I picked it up and held it in front of me. I asked myself, “Does it spark joy?” And I had to answer, “No, this does not spark joy”–particularly because it’s a 2014 phone book, and, look, see, I also have this 2015 phone book. “So who needs you, 2014? Out you go!” But then I looked again and saw that I also have a 2016 phone book. “So, 2015, do you spark joy? No, you only take up space and collect dust. Out you go!” “Oh, and 2016, you’re on pretty thin ice yourself, since I can look up phone numbers on the internet and I haven’t used you once.”

So this is the principle of tidying up, of decluttering your stuff. Things you once thought were worth holding on to, that you thought you might use someday–if they do not spark joy, if they’re just dust collectors, then get rid of them, throw them out.

And this method even works for decluttering your life. Things you once thought were important–that gave meaning, identity, and purpose to your life, but no longer do–if you hold them up in front of you and find they no longer spark joy, then put them behind you. They’re not worth holding on to.

Well, in our Epistle reading for today from Philippians 3, St. Paul does some decluttering of his own. He considers things that once gave him great meaning, identity, and purpose. But now he holds them up and asks the question, “Does This Spark Joy?” As we go through this tidying-up exercise now with Paul, we’ll also examine our own clutter. And as we do, with Paul we’ll discover one thing that does indeed spark joy and is very worth holding on to.

Paul writes: “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” Here is Paul’s pedigree, the things he was most proud of. These are what gave meaning identity, and purpose to his life. But do they now? Let’s look and see.

“Circumcised on the eighth day.” This is Paul’s way of saying, “Look, I was doing the law up right, even from the get-go! My parents were obedient Jews. They were attentive to the details of the law.” Was there anything wrong with this? Not at all. The problem might be in what one makes of this obedience to the law, but there was nothing wrong with the practice itself.

How about you? Were you baptized as an infant? Were you brought to church early on? Good for you! Thank God your parents cared enough to do this! But what do you do with this fact? Is this a point of pride for you, that you are a lifelong Lutheran? As though this makes you pretty special? Hmm. . . .

Back to Paul. Next he writes, “of the people of Israel.” Paul had been proud of this. And you can understand why. Israel was God’s chosen people. Israel had a special meaning, identity, and purpose, out of all the nations on earth. The Lord had told Israel, “You shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” That is a high calling!

But Israel often forgot, it was not because of any special virtue in them that the Lord chose them. Quite the contrary. They were a rebellious house. They rejected the Lord’s prophets and stoned those sent to them. Being “of the people of Israel” was a high but humbling calling.

How about us? We are the church. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” But how are we tending the Lord’s vineyard? For our own desires? Or to do the will of our master? This calls for humility, not pride.

Paul continues. Or should I say “Shaul”? “Shaul,” Saul, was his birth name. Saul of Tarsus, “of the tribe of Benjamin,” named after the first king of Israel, Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin. But then that Saul wasn’t so faithful after all, was he? Even so, Paul took pride in being “a Hebrew of Hebrews.” That gave him a strong sense of identity.

Where do you find your identity? Can you trace your lineage back to Perry County? Do you come from a long line of Lutherans? Fifth-generation Missouri Synod? Well, good for you. But remember, God can take these stones and raise up children for Abraham.

Now Paul will up the ante. He will move from pedigree to performance: “as to the law, a Pharisee.” Paul was a Pharisee. He was set apart to give special attention to God’s law, so as not to violate it in the smallest degree. And Paul was an A+ student, top of his class. The Pharisees would make a strenuous effort to maintain the minutest part of the Mosaic law. But the problem was, they couldn’t see the forest for the trees. They would tithe a tenth of their spices, mint and dill and cumin, but neglect the weightier matters of the law, like justice and mercy and faithfulness.

Paul was very zealous at his religion. He would outshine all of us, I’m sure. But now he sees, in retrospect and regret, how misplaced his zeal was: “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church.” Paul thought he was doing a service to God by trying to stamp out that blasphemous new sect. But the ascended Lord knocked him to the ground and said, “You’ve got it all wrong, son.”

So Paul was pretty good at being a Pharisee. In fact, he assesses his past performance and says, “as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” You couldn’t do any better than Paul at trying to attain righteousness with God by a zealous and strenuous keeping of the law.

But now, here in Philippians, Paul is looking back at his pedigree and his performance–the things he used to take pride in, the things that gave meaning, identity, and purpose to his life. Paul holds these things up in front of him, and he asks, “Do these spark joy?” And he answers, “No. They do not spark joy. Instead, they spark regret and humility and repentance. I was putting confidence in my flesh, in my own efforts. I thought this was the way to be right with God. But how wrong I was!” You see, God had led Paul to do some divine decluttering, to clear away anything and everything that might become an idol for him.

How about for you? Are there some things you need to declutter in your life? Things you put too much pride in? Things that you looked to for your meaning, identity, and purpose in life? Your pedigree in the church? Your performance as a Christian? You know, one time Jesus sent out his disciples to do some work for him, and they came back rejoicing that the demons were subject to them. But Jesus had to remind them, “Do not rejoice in this, that the demons are subject to you. Rather, rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” In other words, the big thing is not what you can do for God. It’s what God has done for you.

So it can be subtle, this turning good things into clutter, into idols of sorts. Time to tidy up and find where your real joy lies! That’s what Paul discovered. He writes: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count 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 that which comes through faith in Christ,” and so on.

Here is your true joy, dear friends. It is in knowing Christ Jesus your Lord! It is in receiving the righteousness that he gives you! To know Christ–that outshines everything else! No contest. Jesus earns your right standing with God and gives it to you as a gift. Your pedigree and your performance don’t enter in. You need a better kind of righteousness than that of the scribes and the Pharisees. You don’t earn it. Jesus did. God’s own Son came in the flesh to do the job for you. Christ Jesus obeyed God’s law perfectly, as a man, taking your place. His righteousness is the only one that works.

Jesus then paid the price for all your pride, for your misplaced confidence in the flesh, for your making yourself your own god. God’s law condemns you. God’s grace redeems you, sets you free by the forgiveness Christ won for you on the cross. And God’s means of grace delivers these things to your door, with your name on it, as a free gift. And it comes complete with the power of Christ’s resurrection, which guarantees your own resurrection from the dead.

This is what Paul discovered. It is the life-changing magic–no, the life-changing gospel–of tidying up. In the light of the gospel of Christ, Paul could see that all his impressive pedigree and all his zealous performance didn’t amount to a hill of beans. Did they spark joy any longer? No. But Paul had discovered the one thing that did: “that I may gain Christ and be found in him,” “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection.”

Dear friends, Christ has made you his own. This is your one true treasure. This is the one thing worth holding on to in life. Everything else may go, but this one thing remains. Does this spark joy? Oh boy, you bet it does!

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Published in: on April 6, 2019 at 5:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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