Good morning and welcome to this celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Wherever you’re joining us from we’re delighted that you’re here.
Check in with each other in the comments and download the liturgy here to pray along: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1LqXQV0JSEOO6-fyMcnMaXcZXBaGjX1lj/view?usp=sharing
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13)
Beloved, this morning Jesus wants to comfort and encourage us but he also wants to gently prod us along. I mean, that’s why shepherds have staffs, right? He wants us to know that salvation is a gift, but a gift that invites our response. And so this morning Jesus is inviting you to cooperate with what he wants to do for you, in you, and through you.
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” is how the Apostle put it. Paul wants that little church in Philippi—and this little church in Simcoe County—to be a sign of God’s new life in the middle of a world that only knows the way to death. And he knows the only way that’s going to happen is if they and we get on with the business of being God’s people.
At issue is the question of obedience. Not just a one time obedience but an ongoing obedience to our Lord. An obedience that can’t be reduced to just following a few rules but involves the transformation of your mind by the Spirit so that your whole life is increasingly conformed to the character of God.
I like how one pastor put it: discipleship is “a long obedience in the same direction.” A long obedience in the same direction. That’s what it means to “work out” your own salvation. Do not be presumptuous, thinking that you have a right to the grace of God. Do not be spiritually lazy. Rather take hold of what you’ve been given and work it out. Practice it. Bring it to life in your homes and neighbourhoods. It’s in your power to cooperate with the grace of God, that’s part of your God given dignity as a human being.
And don’t just work it out but do so “with fear and trembling,” he adds. What’s that about? Does Paul want us to be afraid? Doesn’t he know that fear is a poor motivator? Think about it this way. When I was a boy we used to take relatives to visit Niagara Falls and I’d always try and get as close to the falls as I possibly could and I would watch in amazement as millions of gallons of water rushed past me and over the edge just a few feet from my nose. And I’d think about what it might be like to fall in or to hop over the railing and dip my toe in the current. And I would literally tremble at the thought because of the sheer power of the water. I would stand in awe.
To work out your salvation with fear and trembling is to know that you live and move and have your being in the presence of the God who made you and everything else including Niagara Falls. It’s to know that God is good and beautiful and awesome but he is not safe. And so we live in awe before him knowing that everything we do and say and think is done in his presence.
Beloved, we are invited to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. But so we do not despair Paul adds, “it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
“A long obedience in the same direction” might sound like an exercise in the impossible and if it’s simply a matter of our own desire and will it is impossible. But the good news is that while the Christian life involves our desire and will it doesn’t involve only our desire and will for God is at work in you. You see when the Holy Spirit invades your life he begins to shape and direct not only your will but your desire so that more and more you desire and will what God desires and wills.
That’s why for most of our reading Paul talks more about Jesus than he does about us. Because all our obedience, all our love, all our faith, all our hope, flows from the wellspring of Christ’s mercy. And Paul knows that if we’re going to get on with the business of being God’s people then we’re going to have to focus on Jesus Christ, on what he’s done and continues to do. Beloved, in Jesus God gives us everything we need to love what he loves. So both in the gift of salvation and in your working it out be confident in Jesus. This is how we will be a sign of God’s new life.