by Timothy Brown
Philippians 1:21-27 21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23 I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25 Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, 26 so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again. 27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel,
"Boasting in Christ"
Imagine with me, if you will, that this letter from Paul that we just read was actually written directly to my grandmother. We'll call it, "The First Letter to the Floridians."
Imagine with me that we are standing in her kitchen in south Florida, and she is just now through reading it to me. This is how I think that conversation would go.
Paul, Paul, Paul, Paul, Paul
What is it, Grandma?
Well, you know he's in jail. He only writes me when he's in jail, you know.
Well, it's just...well listen to him. "Boasting in Christ," wants us to boast.
C'mon Grandma, ease up.
Well, if he wouldn't boast so much, he wouldn't be in jail! That's all I've got to say...
And that would be about where the conversation would come to a halt. I mean, it's hard to argue with her logic. If he didn't boast so much he wouldn't be in jail! And here he is, encouraging these poor Philippians to do the same. Why? So they'll end up in jail?
Boasting is not something we're comfortable with. Although none of us are afraid of ending up in jail for boasting, we've been taught from an early age not to boast: about sports, or academics, or music. As my grandmother said to me once, "Tim, don't boast. I think you're the best, but not everyone in this world is your grandmother."
And I think we've especially been taught not to boast about our faith, and I think the majority of us would shudder to think that we'd have enough hubris to boast about faith. This might be a strange notion for those of us who have been caught in the undercurrent of those baptismal waters that leads to the pulpit, but think of how many times you've uttered the phrase, "Well, I'm a Christian, but I respect other people of other faiths." As if the two of those things are necessarily mutually exclusive. And most of us only respect the people of our faith or other faiths who don't boast about it.
The words of our grandmothers and grandfathers, our parents, and teachers, and pastors rings true to us even today: we're not comfortable with boasting.
But let us now, re-look at this boasting, or as Paul puts in "boasting in Christ." Let us come to a new understanding of boasting, a more philosophical understanding of what boasting is.
You see, philosophically, to boast about someone is to talk about them so highly, that even the very gods were challenged. Philosophically, to boast about someone is to talk about them so highly, to invoke their name in such a way that even the very powers that have sway begin to bend under their name.
That, my friends, is what Paul is meaning when he encourages the Philippians to continue to "boast in Christ," even as Paul himself sits in a prison cell. They are to talk about Christ, invoke the name, the very presence of Christ because that name challenges the powers, the idol gods that hold sway over the minds, hearts, the bodies of the Philippians.
And as I think about this new definition of boasting, I hear other boasters who have also raised me.
I hear a boaster in his tall castle retreat, a cell of sorts, who reminds us by invoking the freeing name of Christ, that ink is not to be used to sign indulgence checks, but to be thrown at the very devils of greed and sin that try to control this world.
Boast Brother Martin.
I hear a boaster in his prison camp, from not so long ago, who reminds us by invoking the loving name of Christ that we are not called in our baptisms to be nationalistic, but Eucharistic.
Boast Brother Bonnhoeffer.
I hear a boaster in his cell in Birmingham, who calls out to us in the radical name of Christ that we cannot silently and idly by as our brothers and sisters are thrown from diners and bars for simply trying to gain the right to sit idly by and eat their dinners where only the white folks could sit.
Boast Brother King.
I hear these voices who have boasted in their own time and place, boasted in the strong name of the weak one on the cross. The one, who when bolstered on that cross, first challenged the powers of sin and death in this world. Who first challenged death, and who as death took everything from him, still rose three days later. Who first told the powers of this world that, even with all their might, they are no match for the God who comes to free humanity from those powers that would lead us to greed, to prejudice, to racism , sexism, and hatred, those powers that would have us kill each other. Jesus Christ, that strong name who, even in humility, even in weakness, was stronger than those powers.
And I hear that own small voice inside myself. I hear that own small stirring inside myself that says, as the Gospel hymn goes, "I wasn't gonna tell nobody, but I just can't keep it to myself, what the Lord has done for me!"
Jesus Christ challenges those powers in this world that would lead us to sin and death. To utter the name, to boast in the crucified and risen one is to hear that Spirit working inside, moving, breathing, living.
So, I know what your grandmother told you...
But boast Brother Martin, boast Brother Bonhoeffer, Boast Brother King. Bost Zach, and Matt, and Kelli, and Kristin. Boast Joshua, and Jen, and LSTC. Boast Boast Boast in the strong name of the crucified and risen one!
Boast. Because the living Christ who challenged the idol gods of the Philippians, who challenged the powers of old, still challenges powers today.