Stewardship of Life
Philippians 3:4b-14

We began with a bit of a humorous look at a running race, the four contestants were Billy Eyes-Closed, Suzie Out-Of-Bounds, Wanda Lookback and Carlos Straightahead.  All but Carlos Straighahead ran into trouble, he kept his eyes on the goal ahead, the finish line, the others were distracted by running with his eyes closed, watching the crowd instead of what was going on around her and looking over her shoulder to see what was going on behind her.

It’s a good reflection of the way we live our lives isn’t it?  Sometimes we’re like Billy and running along with our eyes closed, maybe even running scared, hoping that we will be OK.  When there’s a bend in the road we tend to crash and burn.  Sometimes we’re more like Suzie and get distracted by the crowd either cheering or jeering and get wobbly.  At other times we spend so much time looking back that we slow down, and forget about where we’re headed.  Then at other times we’re hopefully focussed and heading in the right direction, eyes on the prize and ready to rock and roll.

Yesterday was the grand final of the Australian Football League; the team that finished first were focussed right from the outset on holding up the cup at the end of the season.  They had some distractions along the way and strayed from the mark from time to time, but they had their coaches and other staff there to encourage them and guide them in the right direction for the goal ahead, my team had far too many distractions this year to make it through, and it just got worse for them in the season to come.

This afternoon the National Rugby League will also hold their grand final and I’m sure the journey has been similar for the players on both of those teams this year too.  It doesn’t matter what the sport, the metaphor fits and works.  The players set their eyes on the prize, they are encouraged by others to make their way to their ultimate goal, and most athletes these days have a team around them, even if they’re in an individual sport, to guide them, strengthen them and help them achieve their goals.

This too is a reflection of our lives in the church.  We aren’t on this journey by ourselves; there are plenty of others around to help us along the way.  This morning young Scarlett was baptised, she has been welcomed into the family of God, received forgiveness and eternal life.  The journey for her has just begun.  We, together with her parents and sponsors made a promise to God to bring her up in the faith and teach her everything she needs to know to combat the enemy and reach the heavenly prize that Paul was talking about in his letter to the Philippians.

He was encouraging the new and growing Christians in Philippi to focus on the same goal of reaching forward for the kingdom of God rather than being focused and distracted by the trophies and trappings of life in the world.

Paul was a man who had everything he could hope for in the world, he was happy and content with what was going on in his life, until Christ called him to stop persecuting the church and start sharing the good news of salvation that Christ brings.  He gave up what he had and now thinks of all those former things as garbage as he now focuses on living his life with Christ as his example.  The race that he now runs is toward a finish line that will only appear in God’s good time, we don’t know the day or the hour.

The Message paraphrase of the Bible put it this way, “I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward – to Jesus.  I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.”  Scarlett is off and running and so are we, running with her, the challenge for each and every one of us is not to be distracted, not to look back and to focus on the ultimate goal.

I just want to shift metaphors for a moment though.  In any race, in any sporting event there are usually participants and spectators.  The participants train, prepare, focus and are assisted, but the spectators pay their money and turn up on game day, sometimes making the effort to come along and watch the practice sessions but on the whole they pay their money to see the big event.  People who don’t even support Collingwood or Geelong will have paid up to $1300 to watch yesterday’s grand final and they probably haven’t seen either team play or train for the whole season except maybe when they played their favourite team.

This may seem a bit cynical but sometimes I wonder whether we who come and sit in the pews on Sunday morning are here as spectators, putting some money in the plate as an entrance fee and watch the game play out and then head home discussing the umpire’s decisions.  What Paul is talking about though isn’t a spectator sport, it’s life, it is to be lived, to be experienced, to PARTICIPATE in!  He’s not telling the Philippians to come along and watch him run the race; he wants them to join him!

This race involves several parts, all based on living in response to God’s incredible love and forgiveness for you his children.  Prayer is the first, having a conversation with God, saying thanks, asking for guidance from the coach, listening for his will in our lives.  Next and equally important is regular worship, spending time with God, hearing the words of forgiveness spoken to us, listening to God’s word being proclaimed and being blessed by God.  Reading God’s word for yourself and applying it in your life are also key tools in the journey.  The next component is having meaningful relationships with your team-mates, the rest of the church, keeping in contact and caring for one another.  The final one is a bit tougher but it comes down to giving, not paying an entrance fee for the spectacle, but giving in response to the blessing you have first received from God, for the building up of God’s people and the support of the less fortunate.

This is nothing new to most of us, we’ve heard it all before, many of you are doing exactly that, focused on the real prize, others are just a little distracted or busy looking back, I have a question for you -
Are you ready to face the challenge and run the race of your life too?  Not for some perishable prize, but for the ultimate prize, a life lived in heaven, rejoicing that we have been given the amazing gift of eternal life and sharing it with our loved ones and friends.

We can do it – but only with Christ as our focus and goal and with his help and the help of the rest of the team gathered around us!