More Valuable than Gold

There are two types of people, those who see the glass as half empty and those who see the glass as half full. St. Paul was one who saw the glass half full. In this morning’s reading from his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul extorts his reader to “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Powerful words coming from a man who is writing to his beloved church from a prison cell while awaiting execution. But not surprising at the same time.  
For the past few weeks, we have heard St. Paul share how blessed he believed he was to serve the risen Christ. Earlier, St. Paul shared with the Philippians everything he willingly gave up for Christ. He was born to the Pharisaic class, this meant he was born in the context of the Jewish aristocracy. He was born to parents who were Greek citizens, this gave St. Paul rights and privileges afforded to very few Jews. But as he declares, he willingly gave up all these rights and privileges because of what he termed “the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord.”  
St. Paul felt the assurance of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus was the greatest gift he came to possess. We are all afforded this same gift through Baptism. Sadly, many of us take this for granted because most of us have been raised in the context of the the church, therefore we were literally born into the context of salvation and the hope of eternal life.
In many conversations that occur in my priestly role, I am led to conclude that belief in an after-life is now part of our cultural fabric. I often speak with people who hold no specific religious beliefs yet they are confident there is a heaven and an after-life. On occasion I have asked them how they have come to such beliefs. Most have no answer. In such teachable moments, I share with them that our common beliefs in heaven and an after-life are rooted in the Gospel story and in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Without Jesus there would be no concept of an afterlife as we know it.
Has this conversation brought anyone new into the church? I can’t say. What these conversations do tell me is, despite the present declining membership in organized religion, and the spiritual but not religious movement, the world continues to need the church. In a world filled with chaos and fear, we, the Body of Christ, offer people hope. It is this hope in the resurrection that allowed St Paul to “rejoice”, even when facing execution. It is our hope in the resurrection which allows us to believe there is something greater than this earthly life. And it is our hope in the resurrection that assures us this world can, and will, be so much better than it is today.
At St. Peter’s we offer this gift of hope in all that we do. It is here, where our pre-school children learn of a God who loves them, who watches over them, and who is present to them even in the darkest and scariest parts of the night. It is here, where our neighbors, who struggle financially, find both hope and fellowship. It is here, where our Community Market doesn’t just offer food, but dignity without judgement. It is here, where our neighbors, who have become invisible to the greater community, are seen for the individuals they are, and experience through us, the fact that God still loves them and has not forgotten them.
Whether we realize it or not, when we come on Sunday morning, we come seeking the assurance of hope as well. St. Peter’s bolsters this hope through the gift of the Word, the Sacraments, and fellowship. The communal celebration of the Holy Eucharist assures us no matter what the chaos of the week has been or the evil this world has revealed in the past week, God is still among us. . .God’s love for us is constant. . .and,God has not and will not abandon us. 
In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul declares “without love, we are nothing.” I believe the love St. Paul refers to is the love of God and the hope it affords us. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul declares there is nothing on this earth that can separate us from the love of God. Even from his dark, damp prison cell, St Paul tells the Philippians the hope he has received through God’s love is the most valuable possession he has. In fact, he declares the value of all he has sacrificed for Christ pales in comparison to what he has received from God.
This week we begin our annual stewardship campaign. It is that time of year when we ask each of you estimate what you plan to give to support the ministry of St. Peter’s. This year, as you prayerfully consider your gift for 2018, ask yourself these questions: what would be missing in your life if you did not include the hope of the resurrection? To what degree do you value all you receive from St. Peter’s?
These are hard questions to answer, I know. 
Like many of us,I have never known a life without Christ being part of it. The closest I can come to answering this question is based on comment a college hall mate made to me after a night of partying. “Don’t judge me,” he said. “I don’t have what you have.” 
The only thing I had that he did not. . .was hope in the risen Christ. From his perspective my hope through Christ made all the difference in the world. 

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