“A Life Worthy of the Gospel”

September 18, 2011


Philippians 1:21-30


The playwright William Saroyan began his great play of redemption and hope with the words: "In the time of your life, live—so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches."

Writing from prison, awaiting trial, Paul struggles to put his own life in perspective.

“For me,” he writes, “living is Christ—and dying is gain.” Paul does not suggest that his struggle and his conclusion should be normative for those who read this letter—in any age. But he gives us a bracing affirmation of what it means to be fully alive.

“Living is Christ. Dying is gain.”

Then, turning his focus from his own life toward those who hear his words, Paul exhorts a first century congregation in Philippi, as well as a twenty-first century congregation in Iowa City: “Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

We might like it if Paul had spelled out what this meant: do this; don’t do that. But Paul offered no such specifics. In some sense, he couldn’t—because a “life worthy of the gospel” is not a life constricted by and restricted to a set of guidelines. And while there is something about the gospel that is unchanging, the meaning of a life worthy of the gospel must change as the world changes.

Live a life worthy of the gospel.

While we don’t have specific ethical guidelines or rules for action, let me suggest a few characteristics of such a life.

A life worthy of the gospel is lived with humility.

We begin with the paradoxical affirmation that we cannot live a life worthy of the gospel. For the gospel is, at its core, all about grace—God’s wonderful love and mercy given to us freely. We don’t deserve it. We can’t earn it. We can’t be “worthy” of grace—no matter how good we are, or think we are.

That there is something rather than nothing—grace.

That we are alive to rejoice and be glad in this day that God has made—grace.

That we can affirm in some great or small way, “to live is Christ”—grace.

That we can share with others some of the love and mercy we have received—grace.

The gospel—the good news—is grace and it is a gift. So our lives should be lived with a certain humility:

with a sense that we don’t have all the answers, in fact, we don’t even have all of the questions;

with the grateful recognition of all the talents and abilities—the Bible calls these “gifts”—that we do have;

with an appreciation that in spite of our standing in this community—or in our nation or our world—we all share a basic equality as the children of God.

We are called to walk gently upon this earth.

A life worthy of the gospel is lived with humility.

A life worthy of the gospel is lived with commitment.

With commitment we come close—I might say at times terrifyingly close—to following in the way of Jesus Christ. Paul hints at this when he tells the Philippians that God has “graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well.”

So many voices can be heard on campus and across our nation urging people to “believe” in Christ. Far fewer mention the gracious privilege of suffering for Christ. And yet this often has been the result of commitment.

You’ve probably heard it said that we haven’t found something worth living for until we’ve found something worth dying for. I don’t want to say that too glibly. But there is something of deep and lasting value that arises from commitment.

Downstairs in a small room off of the Jefferson St. entrance is our Meditation Chapel. It is a quiet place that students and others use to pray, talk, cry, meditate, or sit in silence. Muslims have used our chapel for their prayers. Sometimes piano music can be heard coming from the room.

You might walk by and miss the words that are posted on the wall outside: “Pause here and pray and remember that a life is not measured by its span of years.”

Our chapel is dedicated to all who are young in faith but especially to three young people from this congregation.

One of them was Marian Seashore, who had completed a pre-med course at the University and in the summer of 1926 was preparing to go to Harvard for further study before entering medical school. As a trained lifesaver he was leading a program of swimming and boating at a camp in Maine. One August afternoon he and three companions were caught in a sudden storm and the boat capsized. He saved the lives of the others but became so exhausted in the effort that he could not save himself.

“A life is not measured by its span of years.”

In the time of your life—live so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches

Again, let me be clear that it is not easy to speak like this—nor is it to commend a death wish. Paul struggled with his own commitment, with his faithfulness to the point of arrest. “Living is Christ,” he affirmed—a share in the love and mercy of God. “Dying is gain”—but the better choice was to live and be with those he loved.

A life worthy of the gospel is lived with commitment.

A life worthy of the gospel is courageous.

Last weekend I officiated at two weddings here at the church. It was really kind of remarkable that we had two weddings on the same day. That was a lot of work!—especially for Cynthia and Sheila, who were the wedding coordinators last weekend.

What was not remarkable was that in both weddings the couples were two women. Such weddings have become a common and joyful occurrence at this church since April of 2008 when the Iowa Supreme Court wisely and rightly extended constitutional rights to all people.

Sometimes the couples have come from out of state, seeking a place to sanctify their marriage before God as well as have it be legal. This was the case with one of the weddings last weekend. Other times, the couples have been faithful members of this congregation—most recently Courtney and Raven last weekend.

What seems remarkable is just how unremarkable these weddings were.

They didn’t require any heterosexual marriages to be defended.

They didn’t erode the moral underpinnings of Iowa City.

They were blessed by God.

They made our community a little stronger.

They showed the value of marriage for all people.

We are an open and affirming congregation. That has become such an essential part of who we are that we often forget just how courageous and needed such a Christian stand is. We welcome all people with open arms into the work and worship of this church. We do so because we take our faith seriously and understand that God’s great acceptance shown in Jesus calls us to love at a deep level.

We do all of this—but, you know, in our understated Iowa kind of way. We don’t fly a lot of rainbow flags or anything. We live like this—in a sense with a casual courage, not thinking too much about that our acts of faithfulness make some people quite angry.

We just live our lives.

We live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel—lives characterized by humility, commitment, and courage.

That’s what we seek to do, isn’t it? We seek to live lives worthy of the gospel.

I’ve tried to put out a few markers to suggest how such a life might be recognized, but there are other characteristics as well—other markers that you have found, that you try to show in your own lives.

Somewhere along the way each of us individually and all of us together were seized by the gospel. The gospel as we know it is the good news that we have been accepted by God.

In the time of your life—live.

Live a life worthy of the gospel.