Thanks to inflation I think that the old idiom of “that and fifty cents will buy you a cup of coffee” has now jumped up to at least five bucks . . . “that and five bucks will get you a cup of coffee” . . . but it won’t get you heaven! The saying describes something as being worthless . . . for example, “He’s got a doctorate in philosophy.” Of which the response is, “So? That and five bucks will buy you a cup of coffee.” At least in this day and age it is going to take at least five bucks!
Apparently all of us value different things in life. What some of us deem as valuable and important, others of us find to be useless and worthless. It all depends upon who you ask. An advanced degree in philosophy, as nice as it sounds, is pretty worthless when it comes to ranching or farming . . . and, if you have ever studied philosophy . . . it is pretty worthless period in our time. It is important that we understand what it is that we think is important and value . . . understand what it is that we think gives us status and importance in our lives, our communities, and even in our churches. We need to understand because this is how we see ourselves in relationship to others and in regards to our holy standing.
In our scripture reading this morning the Apostle Paul throws away a way of thinking—a theology—which made him important and had given him great status within his community and faith. Listen to what the apostle has to say about what he once perceived as important:
“. . . circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.”
One could not get a better pedigree than the Apostle Paul . . . he was the epitome of the perfect follower of his religion and community . . . he was among the best with his upbringing, education, and status in the community . . . he was sure winner when it came to entering into the gates of Heaven.
Or so he thought.
As we encounter Paul this morning we see that he now considers such trappings to be nothing in comparison with what he has experienced with Jesus . . . that they are all for naught. Instead the real status . . . the real value and power comes from the relationship that one has with Jesus. Paul has reversed his values.
There was a time in a lot of churches when people received pins for Sunday School attendance. If a person attend Sunday School a certain number of Sundays in a calendar year, he or she would receive a pin. Usually these pins would clip onto one another and create a chain showing the accomplishment of being a conscientious student of the Sunday School program. In one of my congregations I had a man who had not missed Sunday School . . . ever! His pins created a chain that was nearly two feet in length representing over fifty years of Sunday School attendance . . . he was certain in his mind that he was going to be on the fast track to heaven because of that chain of pins.
I knew another lady in one of the congregations I served . . . a nice lady who liked to let everyone know how “holy” she was. She enjoyed letting everyone know how she got up every morning and spent an hour reading her Bible . . . how she paused several times during the day to spend thirty minutes in prayer . . . how she attended Sunday School each Sunday, the weekly Bible study, the women’s fellowship, and always made it a point to spend at least an hour each week with the pastor letting the pastor know the inaccuracies and mistakes in the previous Sunday’s sermons. In her mind she was a “holy and faithful” woman certain that she would be waltzing into heaven.
The only problem with both of them, as far as I could see, was that they didn’t have much of a relationship with Jesus. They were not real involved in Jesus or the call he had put upon their lives. Outside of their routines . . . their “holy” routines . . . they were not too involved in doing the business of Jesus. They were not out feeding the hungry, helping the poor, clothing the naked, helping those in need, washing the feet of their fellow sojourners of the faith, or even helping out around the church. What they valued in faith were not the things that Jesus valued as faith. That and five bucks would get them a cup of coffee, but it sure wasn’t going to get them into heaven.
The Apostle Paul saw this as foolishness. First of all, Paul would argue that there is nothing that any individual can do to save him or herself . . . only the grace of God through Jesus could save an individual. Because of that the apostle argued that it did not make a whole lot of sense to be spending a lot of time stacking up so-called values that the world or “church” saw as important, but that one should be doing the business of Jesus and what he saw as valuable. Besides, he says, he had the most immaculate pedigree and list of accomplishments and they were not going to get him any closer to the gates of heaven than if he had had five bucks for a cup of coffee. In his mind, though he doesn’t quite say it like this . . . in his mind, he saw this as a loss . . . a waste of time.
Instead he has declared that what is important is that he “. . . know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. . .” In other words, he wants to walk in the footsteps of Jesus . . . he wants to walk with Jesus . . . and, he wants to be what God has called him to be in Jesus. Paul recognizes that it is only through the grace of God that he has been saved and redeemed. It was nothing that he had done . . . only God’s grace. And, he recognizes that his only response for such grace is to follow Jesus where Jesus leads . . . to dedicate his life to Jesus and his ways.
It is a life-long journey.
As Christians we have not made it once we declare that we are followers of Jesus . . . a good confession of faith and baptism does not save a person. No, it only signifies a willingness to embark on the journey of faith with Jesus.
As Christians we have not made it if we attend Sunday School every Sunday of the year . . . read our Bible every day for an hour . . . pray without ceasing . . . attend fellowship groups and Bible studies . . . or even read the pastor the riot act on a steady basis. As important as those things are, they will not unlock the gates of heaven.
Only through the grace of God does any of us enter into the realm of heaven. All that busy work is just that . . . busy work. What marks our faithfulness comes down to what was important to Jesus . . . relationships. Relationship with God . . . relationships with others. Jesus asked us to love the Lord our God with our whole being, and to love our neighbors. That speaks of relationships and a lifetime of building them. All else, as the Apostle Paul says, is rubbish.
What do you think?
I imagine, in some of our minds, that and five bucks will get you a cup of coffee. The apostle would argue differently. To follow Jesus one must do as Jesus did . . . love God, love others. Amen.