Sermon – October 15th, 2023
Hope Lutheran Church, Port Coquitlam BC
Text: Philippians 4:4-13
Theme: Series: “Active in Love, Growing in Christ”
Intr – I have in my hand an ice cream container. It is empty and I just can’t remember what flavour was inside here. It might as well have been one of my favourites, chocolate. Now, whatever the flavour was in here, that’s the only one you can get. I mean, if it was chocolate, then you couldn’t have vanilla. If it was vanilla ice cream, then you couldn’t scoop out strawberry ice cream of it; and so on. Whatever you have inside the container, that’s the only thing you can scoop out to enjoy.
Imagine for now that this is your mind, your heart – the place where your thoughts and feelings are. Then I would ask: what is inside your mind and heart?
We are starting today a three-Sunday Sermon series reflecting on our Mission as a Christian Congregation: “Acting in Love, Growing in Christ”. We want to reflect on how this mission is Bible-Based, Christ-centred and life-directed. Today, we think about how God’s Word is life-directed, and how our teaching reflects this life-directed aspect of God’s Word.
Our theme connects directly to the epistle for today. There we see St. Paul giving us life-directed counselling, connected straight to daily life. He says, “think of these things”, referring to the good things he had just listed. Another possible translation for that verse can be: “fill up your minds with everything that is good”. Then I’d go back to my first question: What is there inside in your mind and heart?
That is a very good question. In our life there are times in which we leave room in our minds and hearts for the things that are not quite what Paul asked us to think of. Sometimes what we see inside there is; (fills the container with) Anger / -Bad words/ Guilt / -Anxiety / -Bad words. These and others are all consequences of sin. They are real threats, thoughts and deeds that want to take over the space we have here. What happens then? Just as in the case of ice cream containers when something fulfills this space here inside of our minds, taking over our thoughts, other things are left outside.
If that is the case, what happens is that, like with ice cream containers where you can’t get vanilla out of a chocolate one, or vice-versa, the things we allow to have room in our minds, those are the ones we will scoop up out of it.
Paul is urging us to think of those things, to fill up our minds with everything that is good because this is the real danger: having our hearts and minds filled with empty space. Because this space there is never actually empty. There is always something occupying our thoughts, feelings, and minds. If the good ones are not there, then the not commendable ones will.
Then, sometimes we wonder why the world, our city, our neighbourhood are the way they are, when there are so many good messages of love, tolerance, respect and all the good vibes being nonstop communicated everywhere. But let’s hit close to home – sometimes we wonder why our family and our life are full of things we think shouldn’t be, but are there anyways, even though we want to have a happy home and a happy life. Is that the case we are trying to get chocolate out of a container that most of the time is occupied by vanilla? Are we trying to convince ourselves that we can occupy our minds with things that we know are not those good things Paul mentions – they are anger, resentment, lack of respect, lustful desires, greed, indifference, and some others instead – and still scoop out of our minds and hearts whatever is good, commendable and have good actions? What makes no sense when it comes to ice cream containers, we think could make perfect sense in our thoughts and actions of daily life.
We need God’s Word. We need Him because His Word is life directed. It is not just a good message of peace and love inside His book, or something to be celebrated and reminded of once a week at Church. It is a life-directed word, directing our lives in the path of Christ.
That’s why Paul invites us: “think of these things”. “Fill up your minds with it!” Leave little space for things that harm your faith! I’d truly like to say: “leave no space at all”, but being saints, saved as we are in Christ we remain sinners, and we know we can’t be perfect. The “other things”, instead of “these things” are always around us and eventually they land bad thoughts or bad actions in our daily life.
Here again the life-directed aspect weighs in: Forgiveness. It is not only to be received once a week at Church, but it is present in our daily life. We can look daily to the Greatest thought ever; not only thought, but words and action: Christ’s work – His perfect obedience, His death and resurrection to save us from eternal condemnation. He is the One who through His Holy Spirit fills up our minds and hearts with “everything that’s pure, lovely, gracious, honourable, just and if there’s any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise”, as Paul puts it. He forgives our bad thoughts, our bad feelings, our bad actions – our sin. He draws us near to His word, where we can get all the good things from to think of, to have our minds full of what leads us to Act in Love and Grow in Him.
This dovetails also nicely with our Catechism. Out of the 6 chief parts, I highlight two today: 10 Commandments (What we should think and do but can’t do perfectly) and Confession and Forgiveness(the daily medicine for our bad thoughts, words and deeds)
Life-directed. This is a call for us to “act in love and Grow in Christ.” Here, and tomorrow, and every day. One thing leads to the other. As we Grow in Christ, we fill up our minds with everything that is good from God’s Word. God’s Word enables us to act in love because His Word is life-directed.,
_It gives us life;
_It connects to our life;
_It shapes our life;
This is a call not only the Church as an institution but to the Church as people – you and I, in our daily relationships. God is the one who fills up our hearts with everything that is good, so we know we are forgiven, saved and redeemed. (the container is filled with: True / -Honourable / -Pure / -Lovely / -Commendable -Any excellence, anything worthy of praise. What Christ fills up our minds with, “everything that is good and comes from His Word” shows in our daily life the faith He has given us and that connects us with the source of all blessings, the source of all good.
When our minds and hearts are filled up with everything that is good, this is what we will scoop out of them. And whereas ice cream containers unfortunately eventually run empty, God’s Word and Sacrament they are inextinguishable sources of refreshment and taste to our souls. They break the ice of a life far away from Him and feeds our thoughts and hearts with His incomparable food.
As Church, we desire to act in love as we grow in Christ. That can be done only with God’s life directed means – Word and Sacraments – which send us to our daily life. They are the source of everything we need to have our faith strengthened, our life directed by His love and our future already decided in the present – for we know where we are going to. We want to be in that feast Jesus described in the Gospel, with the right clothing – faith – enjoying the eternal banquet of God’s presence.
Cc – In February 2006, my Pastor Brum and I were in Texas visiting with our friends Bill and Pat Thompson. On Sunday after Church, they took us for lunch. As we made ourselves comfortable, they asked for a tea glass each. Well, not just glasses but big Texan glasses. As our lunch went on, I noticed that their glasses never run empty. As soon as the liquid level approached the bottom some waiter appeared to fill it up again. Noticing my curiosity about that, for that was not a normal thing where I was coming from, Pastor Thompson told us: “Here in Texas, one of the ways you know if a place is good is by the glass. A good place is the one that never lets your glass run empty.”
We know that your God is good because He never allows our mind, heart, life to run empty. “Fill up your minds with everything that’s good”. “Think of these things”. In Him we keep growing in Christ and consequently acting in love.
What’s the best way to enjoy our favourite ice cream? Buying the bucket that contains it. What’s the best way to grow in Christ and act in live towards our neighbours? Going to the source of all good things. Ice cream can be good for sure. But in Christ and His word we find the life-directed content of the marvelous flavour of His Love and Grace that directs our life. And saves it. Scoop it up! Amen.
 The Psalm of today points to this as we see David describing the LORD as our Good Shepherd who gives us good pastures and calm waters. He feeds our minds and hearts with everything that is good so it can come and occupy it with his love and care. This is what we heard from Isaiah as well: “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well aged wine, of rich food full of marrow of aged wine, well refined”. Here we have a good illustration of what food for thought is. God’s good food for our good daily thoughts.