Encouragement
Philippians 2:1-13

Our parable for today gives us an interesting commentary on life; both at the time Jesus told it to the chief priests and elders and in our time.  Here we have two sons, one who tells his father he won’t go and work in his vineyard and then changes his mind and goes out to work anyway, then one who says he will go out and decides not to bother.  Jesus asked which one did the will of his father?  I ask you the same, which one did the will of the father?  That’s right, it was the first one.

He may not have acted straight away, he may have been impetuous telling his dad that he wouldn’t do his duty in the vineyard, but he did eventually follow through.

How do you feel when someone doesn’t follow through on a promise they’ve made to you.  Maybe someone said they were going to call or visit and then didn’t, or maybe your husband or wife was going to pay a bill or book a ticket for a holiday and missed the deadline, it makes you feel disappointed doesn’t it?  Surely that would be the response in both situations for the father, first when his son tells him he won’t help out, then when the other son says he will and then doesn’t.  Both scenarios brought about disappointment, but the timing varied, as did the end result.

I’ve been reading and listening to a few different books on leadership and life in the last few weeks.  There are some absolute certainties in life, sometimes you are going to be disappointed, sometimes you will be surprised and pleased other times you will encounter the exact opposite and be in desperate need of encouragement. 

In his letter to the Philippians Paul was offering them encouragement, in the middle of all kinds of difficulties they could be encouraged by being united with Christ; in him their joy is made complete.  When all of the disappointments and failures of this life mount up on us and drag us down, we can look to Jesus for our encouragement, our hope and our strength. 

Rather than taking out our disappointment on our workmates or spouses or brothers and sisters we should turn to God and humbly hand things over to him.  Our little scenario earlier showed how we can become self-centred and self-absorbed in this life, and it happens to all of us in varying forms throughout our days.  If we argue and bicker on the way to church, put on a brave face for all to see and then whinge and bicker on the way home.  What does this achieve?  It creates conflict within families and relationships, it makes us look silly when others see and recognise what is actually going on and takes away our opportunity to be truly engaged in worship. 

Funnily enough this morning I was looking through the news headlines as I was eating breakfast and stumbled across an article about a new show that will be airing on commercial television next year. The basic storyline is about a woman who returns to her home town after a failed marriage and all of the girls from her high school are gossiping and acting just like school girls even though they are in their late thirties or early forties and to top it all off the preview trailer that I saw was set in the foyer of the local church.

So someone out there has seen what can happen and is trying to cash in on a non-Christian’s stereotype of hypocritical Christians.  Is that what we’re really like?  What does living the life of a Christian look like for you?  Are we followers of Christ for an hour a week or do we live out each day in response to God’s incredible gift of salvation for us?

One of the books I read recently talked about our opportunity to begin each day with a blank sheet of paper.  Have you ever thought about life like that?  I certainly have since I read the book.  We can live our lives reflecting and living in the shadow of our previous sins and failures and living with selfish ambition and vain conceit or we can start afresh, having been washed clean in the waters of baptism and allow God to walk with us as we write today’s screenplay, showing others compassion, and love as God has showed us compassion and love through his son Jesus.

Christ humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  Now we aren’t about to take a step like that and it wouldn’t do us any good any way, we would gain nothing from it.  Christ has already done it for us and it is now God who works in us, if only we allow him too.  Paul was encouraging the Philippians to live out their lives by following the will of the father.  When God asks us to go and work in the vineyard he wants us to say, Yes!  He wants us to follow through once we’ve said that we will.  As we heard in the parable, sometimes that will take a little time, there’s many a reluctant leader out there who has fought off the calling of God for days or weeks or years, only to find that eventually God leads you to lead.  It’s usually only when we humble ourselves and allow God to lead that things start to go well, because it is the father’s will for us, to fulfil his good purpose.

We heard a couple of weeks ago the familiar line at the end of one of our gospel readings, the last will be first and the first will be last.  This is the way of God’s kingdom.  It all seems upside down to us, but when we with God’s help put aside our personal dreams and ambitions and submit to God’s will, starting our day with a fresh sheet of paper and allowing him to be the artist, just maybe there will be evidence of that peace that goes beyond all human understanding.  God’s peace often comes following a time of surrendering our will to allow God’s will to be fulfilled.

People on the outside sometimes see us as hypocrites, they expect Christians to be perfect, but as the old bumper sticker says, Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.  It is that forgiveness that allows us to start each day fresh, ready to serve God and follow him.  We know what we are truly like, we live in a fallen world, we can either wallow in our mess or we can humble ourselves and submit to God’s love and forgiveness and move forward.

It’s your choice each and every day, minute by minute even, be encouraged by Paul’s word to the Philippians, be encouraged by Jesus parable for the chief priests and scribes, and seek the will of God in your life.

Amen.