Philippians God’s Story in Ours: Profit and Loss

Philippians God’s Story in Ours: Profit and Loss Rev Shari Monson

Hamblen Park Presbyterian Church


Today is Family Worship Sunday at Hamblen. Our Sunday school teachers are getting a well-deserved day off. This morning’s scripture passages are well suited for intergenerational engagement. And in a moment we are going to use a word scramble exercise to help us wrap our minds around what Apostle Paul is saying in Philippians chapter 3. So if you’re one of our younger worshippers this morning I want to give you a head start. (Explain green worship folder for ages 7-12 page 2 word scramble)

When Paul was a young man he would have attended a fine Torah school, something along the lines of our Sunday school here at Hamblen. Torah schools had one primary text. It was the Hebrew Bible; what we call the Old Testament. Like clever Sunday school teachers today first century Rabbis used creative means to engage young minds.

When teaching Psalm 78 for example, a Rabbi might place a drop of honey on students’ fingers to remind them of the sweet truths of the Hebrew Bible found in Psalm 78.  Wise teachers then and now understand this: learning happen best in the context of community. Each member of the community plays a vital role – fathers, mothers, grandparents, siblings, everyone.

Psalm 78:1-7 from The Message

Listen, dear friends, to God’s truth, bend your ears to what I tell you. I’m chewing on the morsel of a proverb; I’ll let you in on the sweet old truths, Stories we heard from our fathers, counsel we learned at our mother’s knee. We’re not keeping this to ourselves, we’re passing it along to the next generation— God’s fame and fortune, the marvelous things he has done.

5-8 He planted a witness in Jacob, set his Word firmly in Israel, Then commanded our parents to teach it to their children So the next generation would know, and all the generations to come— Know the truth and tell the stories so their children can trust in God.

At the close of our service we will participate in a sending prayer reminding us of these truths.

In the meantime let’s look at our New Testament passage today – Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi chapter 3. Here Paul instructs Christians about spiritual profits and loss.

If anyone could boast of the things that tend to lead to success in life – it was Paul. He had it all.

If you’ve been sorting out the word scramble please put your pencils down and look up. On the screen each of the 7 words to unscramble will appear in the same order as your Children’s bulletin. Let’s see what things could have made Paul proud: (found in Phil 3:1-6)

  • GILEINOR hint: Paul’s beliefs and practices (religion)
  • PURTTAINEO hint: Paul’s honor and esteem (reputation)
  • REEBHW hint: Paul’s nationality (Hebrew)
  • BIRTE hint: Paul’s family ancestry (tribe)
  • VOOTINED hint: Paul’s sincerity and dedication (devotion)
  • SKOWR hint: Paul’s good deeds (works)
  • SARHIPEE hint: Paul’s religious group (Pharisee)

Paul was what you might call a Jewish ‘goody two shoes’.  He was raised to do the right things, at the right time, in the proper way. I imagine him well groomed, neatly dressed, punctual, impeccably mannered, and well spoken. This is the image of Paul the Philippians were fond of remembering.

When a church received a letter from an apostle the letter was typically read aloud for all to hear. The setting in Philippi when Paul’s letter to the Philippians was read may have felt something like this – a family friendly worship setting.

Read Philippians 3:7-11 NRSV page ___ pew bible, this comes right after Paul’s long list of spiritual gains, beginning with verse 7

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ,[a] the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ[b] and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

I imagine it may have taken some by surprise to hear this word read aloud in verse 8:

  • SKUBALON let’s practice saying it together.

Skubalon is a Greek word we translate RUBBISH. It looks much like one of our word scrambles, does it not?

This is NOT a word that first century righteous people would have said to each other. It’s more the kind of word one might mutter under one’s breath when vexed by something detestable. There is a good reason Skubalon appears only once in the Greek New Testament. It is meant to shock as it refers to the thing your dog leaves behind and you are obliged to pick up in a plastic bag.

Deeds of service, learning, spiritual practices, are counted as RUBBISH, valued as SKUBALON, worthless, offensive, and insignificant COMPARED to being found in Christ. You can add it up any way like – but nothing of any worth compares to knowing Christ.

What does it mean to know someone?

  • We can say we know someone because we are acquainted with what they do: maybe you follow Russell Wilson’s Twitter feed, like me you’re one 1.09 million who ‘know’ Russell is finding solace in John 3:30 He must become greater; I must become less.
  • We can say know someone because we actually converse with them; we are speaking terms, kids fighting cancer in Seattle’s Children’s Hospital ‘know’ Russell Wilson in this way,
  • We can say we know someone because we spend time in his house and with his family

We can say we know Jesus because we are acquainted with what he does. We can say we are on speaking terms with Jesus through prayer. Spending time at church and hanging out with his family – is another way knowing Jesus. But Paul says here that as good and valuable and insightful as that knowing is – there is something beyond. There is a relationship built in following Jesus that goes beyond knowledge, prayer, and church family. Those things get us close – but there is more.

There is communion – the laying down of our life in favor of a life built in Christ. Everything is loss compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. In Christ we find full life, flourishing life, resurrected life. A life built in Christ enfolds everything: successes, failures, wins, losses, strengths, weaknesses, our brokenness, everything.

We are going to sing What Wondrous Love is This, verses 1 and 2. Hymn #85. And then as we collect the offering Susan is going to play this hymn ~ during which I invite you keep your hymnal open and reflect on this American folk hymn from the 19th century that captures profoundly a soul’s bliss in knowing and being found in Christ.

May God bless our singing and meditation as we prepare our souls for communion, AMEN

Invitation to the Table: all who know and love Jesus, all who are learning to trust and follow him in all that life brings, you are invited to this table. This morning the Prayers of the People are offered at the table – with great thanksgiving.

Sending Prayer:                                                 

Today, O Lord, we pray for the children and youth of Hamblen that they may be grounded in your truth and learn to love you with a whole heart,

            O Lord, hear our prayer.

And we pray for the children yet to be born who will sit in these pews in the years to come that they may carry your kingdom to future generations,

            O Lord, hear our prayer.

And we pray for the mothers and fathers here that they may faithfully tell each new generation of your mercies and your salvation,

            O Lord, hear our prayer.

And we pray for our current children and youth ministry leaders, pastors, and staff, and those to come in the future, that their leadership may always be true to your Word and faithful to your calling,

            O Lord, hear our prayer.

And we desire, Lord, that you will continue to use us to reach our community and throughout our world so others may know your love and justice.

            O Lord, hear our prayer.

Sermon reflection questions:

  1. Is there a teacher to whom you are grateful for the creative way they taught you about spiritual truths? What was it about their instruction that stands out in your memory?
  2. Are you troubled by Paul’s use of Skubalon to describe ‘loss’? Is there another word you might substitute to translate the full meaning Paul is stressing?
  3. What have you learned to count as loss compared to knowing Christ Jesus as Lord is your life?
  4. Who taught you about loss and suffering in the Christian life? In what ways has their life impacted yours? In what ways might your suffering and loss impact others?
  5. What does it look like for a family to practice Psalm 78?
  6. Write a sending prayer for your group/family/church that builds on Psalm 78 or another favorite Psalm.

Reflection Questions for Interim Ministry:

  • As you think over the past weeks, months, perhaps years of interim ministry what wisdom have you gained about what matters most and what is ‘skubalon’? Is there someone who might benefit from your lessons learned?
  • What is the hardest lesson you’ve learned about loss and suffering as an interim minister? How does that learning impact your ministry today?
  • Are you aware of a group for interim pastors in your area? Are you participating?
  • Prayerfully consider sharing your lessons of loss and/or suffering with others.