Sunday, October 09, 2005

Philippians 4:8-9 - "Our Motto"

21st Sunday after Pentecost (Year A - LCMS Readings)
Saturday, October 8, and Sunday, October 9, 2005

(End of Children’s Message on Matthew 22:1-14. . .)

One last question for the children before you go back to your seats. Why do I wear this robe?

This robe reminds us that we are forgiven, clean in God’s sight. God has taken away our sins, made us like clean and white robes. You can go back to your seats, but as I start my sermon, I’m going to keep talking about this robe.

(As children go back, take off robe and hang it up).

There’s one more thing I want everyone to understand about that parable that Jesus told in the Gospel of Matthew, and it’s sort of like refusing to wear my pastoral robe. The king gathers in all of these people off the streets, invites them to the big wedding celebration, but then he find one person who isn’t wearing wedding clothes. He kicks this guy out, and it seems quite harsh. I mean, maybe the guy couldn’t afford wedding clothes.

Except a normal part of a big wedding celebration at the time of Jesus was that the host would provide wedding clothes, especially for people who couldn’t afford them. So when the king spots this guy not wearing wedding clothes, he knows that it’s because this guy refused the gift of wedding clothes. So the king kicked him out.

Now if the king is God the Father who has invited everyone to come to His big wedding celebration in eternity, then the wedding clothes are like the righteousness that He gives us. God the Father gives us forgiveness, innocence, holiness, makes us clean and white in His sight, gives us wedding clothes to wear, gives us white robes to wear.

And if we refuse His gift of forgiveness and righteousness, then we’re rejecting His invitation to the party. If we reject God the Father’s gift of forgiveness, then He will kick us out, sending us to hell for eternity.

Refusing to wear the wedding clothes, refusing God’s gift of righteousness, that’d be like me taking off my robe. The robe a pastor wears is supposed to be a reminder that we are all forgiven and holy in God’s sight because of Jesus. It reminds you that when I speak God’s Word, it is not me that speaks but rather God. It reminds me that I don’t come on my own with my own words; I come to preach clothed by God’s holiness.

If I say, “Oh, I don’t need God’s righteousness, I don’t need God’s help, I want people to see me not that silly robe. I refuse to wear a robe that might make it look like I need God to make me good enough to be a pastor,” well, then, I’m rejecting the truth, I’m going to get kicked out of the party, I’m refusing God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life.

(while putting on the robe again) I know I can’t do this on my own. I know that I can’t make myself right in God’s eyes. I know that I need God’s forgiveness, so I’ll keep this robe on today, this symbol of the forgiveness that covers us all.

You see, the parable of Jesus isn’t about clothes. We can’t use this parable to say, “See, all of those people that don’t wear suits and ties or long, pretty dresses shouldn’t be allowed in church.” That’s not what this is about at all. It’s about refusing God’s gift of righteousness, holiness, and forgiveness in Jesus. It’s about refusing to see that we need God to make us right. It’s about refusing the true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy Gospel of Jesus.

Hopefully that list of words sounds a little familiar, and for those of you keeping track at home, you know that these weeks we have been preaching about Philippians. This is our last week on Philippians, and I haven’t talked about Philippians today. . .until now. Paul says, “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.” When the guy refuses the king’s gift of wedding clothes, or if we refused God’s gift of forgiveness, that’s a huge rejection of the excellent things of God.

What Paul is saying is “if there is excellence, and you believe there is, then strive for this excellence” (Hawthorne). Paul is talking to Christians who know that there is truth and excellence in the world because of God. He’s urging them to think about these things, instead of getting caught up in all of the junk that’s around them. That’s a pretty good reminder for us, too—because even when you know God’s truth is the only truth, and even when you remember Paul’s words, it’s easy to start letting other things become more important than the praiseworthy things of God.

Philippians 4 verse 8 is the motto of Northwestern University where Susan and I went to college. Northwestern was started by Methodist Church in 1851. For years it was a school of higher education that also kept faith at its core. The excellence of God’s Word sent the founders of the school to study the excellence in God’s world around them.

Over the years, though, the excellence of the world became more and more important than the excellence of God. When Susan and I got there in the 90’s, the school motto was still Philippians 4:8, but it was hard at times to remain focused on God at a school where many professors rejected the faith—and sometimes even rejected students who believed in Christ. Faith was sometimes even kept out of discussions in the Religion Department.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my alma mater, the school where I got my bachelor’s degree. I love Northwestern, and when I sing the “Alma Mater,”

“Alma Mater”

Hail to Alma Mater,
We will sing thy praise forever.
All thy sons and daughters
Pledge thee victory and honor.

Alma mater, praise be thine,
May thy colors ever shine,
Hail to purple,
Hail to white,
Hail to thee, Northwestern.

TUNE: VARIATIONS ON ST. ANTHONY’S CHORALE BY HAYDN, Brahms; arranged by Peter Lutkin (1917)
TEXT: “Alma Mater” – Thomas Tyra (1958)

when I sing this song, I still get goosebumps. Northwestern is my alma mater, which literally means “founding mother.” Northwestern is the founding mother of my higher education, an incredible four years of learning.

Yet, my own school’s motto didn’t urge me to make my school the most important thing in my life. It didn’t make me limit my study to the excellence of the world. Instead, my school that has drifted away from its founding faith has a motto that reminds me to seek God’s truth above all things. God has given us the gift of His truth, and I don’t want to reject it.

So a few years ago I heard Sally Miller was playing “St. Anthoy’s Chorale” during offering, which is what Northwestern’s “Alma Mater” is based on. As I was sitting up front here, I found myself singing to my school. That didn’t seem right. First of all, it made me suddenly have flashbacks of being at a football game, and secondly, while I really love my school, being here is about worshipping God not a school.

So I decided I should rewrite Northwestern’s “Alma Mater” so that we could use it here for worship of the true things of God. Since “alma mater” means “founding mother,” I’ve called my new words “Alma Pater,” founding father, because God the Father is the founder of our faith, the One who begins faith in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

It sounds like this. . .

"Alma Pater"

Hail to God the Father,
We will sing Thy praise forever.
All Thy sons and daughters
Pledge Thee victory and honor.

God the Father, praise be Thine,
May Thy Name forever shine,
Hail to Father,
Hail to Son,
Hail to Holy Spirit.

TUNE: adapted by Stephanie Bowman
TEXT: “Alma Pater” – Benjamin C. Squires (2005)

More than singing praise to my school, I want to sing God’s praises forever. More than pledging victory to my school, I honor the victory of Jesus on the cross who saves us from death. More than my school colors of purple and white waving high above the football stadium, God’s Name will forever shine.

But where did Northwestern make its mistake—when it started to teach about the world instead of just teaching religion classes? Where do we make the same mistake—when we start to enjoy the world around us instead of just coming to church? No. Remember I said that Northwestern started because the founders knew the excellence of God’s Word which led them to study the excellence of God’s world. The mistake wasn’t enjoying the world; the mistake was forgetting that it is God’s world.

S-ame with us, we can make this mistake when we forget that the good things around us come from God. It’s OK to recognize excellence in the world until you start to make the world more important than God, until you sing with all of your heart for your school, your team, your family, making anything more important than God.

When Paul says, “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,” it’s like a pair of goggles that we use to see the world. We see the world with God’s eyes. We spot the excellent, praiseworthy, truthful things around us, knowing that they come from God.

There are a lot of excellent things in this world, but it’s important to remember that the excellent things come from God. Sometimes it might be hard to spot those excellent things around us, though, what with crime, immorality, war, terror, hatred, all of that around us. Yet, Paul’s not telling us to run away from all of it, to go hide in a cave.

Instead, when you find it hard to see anything good in the world around you, maybe think about it as “sheep in wolves’ clothing.” Did you catch that? Sheep in wolves’ clothing. There’s a lot of wolves around us, a lot of things that threaten to tear us apart, to lead us astray, to destroy our faith. Yet, behind even the most sinful places and people, there’s something that’s true and excellent. The wolves have taken those excellent things and distorted them, messed them up, but it all started with something excellent.

For instance, when you see someone who is clearly neck-deep in sin, living a life that is full of crime or hatred, all that you might see is that they are a wolf. However, what’s beneath that wolf’s clothing? A sheep. An excellent creation of God. A person loved by God. A person whom God wants to call back into His flock.

Take another example: you hear some song on the radio, see some movie, read some book that only seems to be about sinful passions. However, what’s beneath that wolf’s clothing? A sheep. An excellent creativity that’s a gift of God. A creativity that might be used in the wrong direction, but it’s a skill that comes from God. Maybe it’s a message that goes against God’s Word, but is there a search for truth, a desire to find God? That search has gone in the wrong direction, but the search, the need for hope, peace, comfort, or love, that search is an excellent, praiseworthy thing of God.

Knowing that there’s a lot of sheep in wolves’ clothing around us helps us to realize that there’s a lot of things the world uses for bad purposes but that God means us for us to use for good purposes. For instance, today is LWML Sunday, the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, who support mission projects throughout the world. They raise money to help spread God’s Word. They use the Internet to promote their efforts. They fly in planes or drive cars to go to conventions. Now money, the Internet, planes, and cars can all be used for evil purposes, but like the LWML Pledge says, “We dedicate ourselves to God with all that we are and have.” They pledge to use everything they have for the purpose of God. They will find the sheep in wolves’ clothing, finding that things are made by God in excellent ways to use for His purpose of telling the world about Jesus.

Wear your goggles, then, and start to see the praiseworthy things around you. You know God’s Word. You know that God loves us and forgives us because of Jesus. You know that God made this world to be different than it ended up, that He didn’t mean for us to sin and go against Him, so put your goggles on and start to see the true, noble, admirable things around you.

And when you spot them, praise your Father in heaven for them. I found excellent things at Northwestern, but I’m going praise God the Father for those excellent things. You’ve probably found excellent things in your family, your school, your work, your hobby, your backyard, but sing praise to God for those excellent things. God the Father is the founder of the excellent things in this world.

So will you try singing the “Alma Pater” with me? We’re praising God with this song for all of the excellent things around us—for God’s Word of truth, for God’s world that He made, for the people around us, for the eternal life that He will give us. So let’s sing. Please stand.

Hail to God the Father,
We will sing Thy praise forever.
All Thy sons and daughters
Pledge Thee victory and honor.

God the Father, praise be Thine,
May Thy Name forever shine,
Hail to Father,
Hail to Son,
Hail to Holy Spirit.