Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost–“Everything and Nothing” (Philippians 3:4b-14)

A-80 Proper 22 (Mt 21.33-46)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon this morning is the Epistle, which was read earlier.

How much is nothing worth? It’s a silly question, I know, because nothing is worth nothing. How much is everything worth? Again, a silly question, because everything is worth everything, or so it would seem. Zeroes are worth nothing, but we would never give up those “nothings” when they appear on our $20 or even $100 dollar bill. Since God’s ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts, nothing is not always worth nothing, nor is everything really worth everything. In fact, God wants to give you the nothing that is everything. In Christ, God replaces the nothingness of self with the everything of Himself – the very righteousness of Christ and all its benefits.

We strive to “have it all”, everything under the sun. But when we focus on “having it all,” it focuses on the self. It focuses on one’s life, one’s possessions, one’s experiences and accomplishments, giving little thought to one’s relationship with God, because in the end, it’s all about you anyways, right? It’s all about your happiness, your feelings, your worth, etc. But as we see in Philippi, having it all wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

There were those in Philippi who took great confidence in the flesh, that is, in their own achievements under the law. For them, they had it all. They could look at themselves and see how great they were, how holy they were, how much better they were over everyone else. As far as they were concerned, they had everything. There was no one else better than they were and they let everyone know it. But if you were to take a step back and really look at them, you would uncover their errors.

For the Judaizers, those people who “had it all,” they compared themselves to others by the keeping of the Law, that is the Law of Moses and their own invented laws. They were the ones who were truly righteous because they were able to keep the Law in all its entirety. That fact alone made them better than everyone else. But in the end, they had nothing. They might have had the worldly possessions, the wealth, the power, the prestige, but there was one thing that they truly lacked: that was God. They had taken themselves to God by their own actions rather than allowing God to come to them through Jesus Christ.

Still, there others of Paul’s day who were more consciously “religious.” For them, it meant they were accountable to “Law” in general, whether it be God’s Law or the invented laws of religious man. To them, “having it all” focused not so much on material possessions, but on one’s relationship with God. That is where they differed from the Judaizers. However, it was presumed that if you were “right with God,” then material blessings would follow.

How much different is today’s society from that of Paul’s day? Aren’t we consumed as a culture of “wanting and having it all?” We focus on gratifying ourselves through materialism and experience. It’s all about how much you have – money, power, wealth, stuff. Money can buy you whatever you want, whatever you need. If you have enough of it, you can buy whatever you want, even happiness, or so we tell ourselves.

Whether it be Paul’s world or ours, “having it all” is never enough. In terms of worldly possessions or experiences, “having it all” is never enough – which means that “all” is not everything.

Think about when you were growing up. How many toys did you have? How many did you “have to have?” When we get older, the need for toys hasn’t changed; it’s just that our toys are a lot more expensive and more high tech than they were when we were kids. We think that we need the new car, the new house, the new whatever to make our lives complete, that if we just had this item, then we would have everything; that is, until the next thing that we “need” catches our eyes. Eventually, we learn, sometimes very quickly and very painfully, that what we had set our hearts and minds on are things not capable of delivering lasting contentment.

Paul realized that. He says, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” What bold words Paul spoke! Everything he had formally put his confidence in—his heritage, his zealous keeping of the law, his persecution of the church—Paul now considered as nothing more than rubbish. Not only were they not for his profit, they stood to cost him everything; they were a loss. Jesus Christ and the righteousness that comes through faith in His life, His cross and His empty grave were far superior and the only thing worth keeping. That was the real profit. That was where his salvation would come from.

It is important to realize that some of the things that we often regard as a real advantage and to our “profit” can actually be to our disadvantage if we regard them as a meritorious work, that is, something we do to earn favor in God’s eyes. Boasting over the fact that one has been baptized and confirmed, that one has received a Christian education through a Lutheran elementary or high school, taking pride in one’s church attendance and “all that I’ve done” for the church—this stands in the way of relying on Jesus Christ alone for salvation. The sad thing is: it’s very easy to do. It’s so easy, most of the time, we don’t even think about it. By our thoughtless actions like that, we distort what Christianity is. We take the focus off of what Christ did for us and put the focus on what it is that we did for ourselves. That was exactly what Paul was trying to end: “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

The “stuff” that we have, “having it all” means absolutely nothing if we do not have Jesus. I don’t mean the Jesus who rewards us with “stuff” when we ask or who blesses us with our great material possessions. I mean the Jesus who went to the cross and suffered hell for our sins to give us a gift greater than all the “stuff” that we have or could ever hope to possess. We need the Jesus who gave His life in exchange for our life. We need the Jesus who willingly shed His blood as a sacrifice to win for us the forgiveness of sins.

At the end of the day, all the “stuff” that we have is just stuff. You can “have it all” and still have nothing at all. But through the work of Jesus Christ, through His life, death, and resurrection, we have received everything. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.