Fifth Sunday in Lent April 2-3, 2022
“Good Eye” Philippians 3:4-14
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Did you know that there are only two religions in the entire world? Two. There is only a religion of me or a religion of He. Either one will have a religion that is centered on self or one that is founded on Jesus Christ. I know that there are lots of world religions and thousands of varieties of those religions, but when you look at them closely you will see that religion is based either on “me” or on “He”.
In the Parable of the Rich Fool, (Luke 12:13-21), Jesus speaks about “I” problems. “I” as in me and mine. The rich fool had a religion, a faith, that was centered on self. “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain.’ I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ ‘This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.’”
How many times, in just a few sentences did he mention I, me, or my? A bunch. Life revolved around him. Jesus gives us a parable, a story, about a Pharisee and a Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14) which made a distinction between a religion of me or He. “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’”
The Pharisee built his hope, his faith, upon himself. He based his very life on who he was not like, what he had not done, and then on his very goodness. Jesus said, “He prayed about himself.” This was a religion of ME!!
St. Paul, with brilliant words from the Book of Philippians, tells about the failings of a religion based on self. Chapter 3 is clear about the failings of a religion of me, Paul says, “[We] put no confidence in the flesh”…and then to combat those who were exalting a religion of self-glorification he says, “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eight day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” (Philippians 3:3b-6) Paul’s heritage, his history, his pursuits and his zeal couldn’t be matched.
If he wanted to, he could have said, “Look at me! Look at how good I am! Look at how important I am!” But the “religion of me” is a religion of idolatry. We have become the idol that is to be worshipped. Jesus spoke about the eye – how we see life – as being either good or bad – by what we focus on. “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” (Matthew 6:22-23a)
The religion of me fails. St. Paul, comparing life based on self, or on faith in Jesus Christ, says, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Philippians 3:7-9)
The religion of He succeeds. “Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”
Paul says that this religion of me is only but a bunch of “rubbish”. “I consider them (all his self-made actions) rubbish.”, he says. Pastor Scott Abel from Our Father in Centennial, in a study that he wrote in 2010, said that that word, skubalon, can refer to things like filth, human excrement or a half-eaten corpse. Paul says that a religion of me, all those things that he could have boasted about, was skubalon – refuse, rubbish. I have a dog, Rodrigo, who just a few years ago presented Marilyn and I with some skubalon. One evening as we headed for bed there was a strong, terrible odor coming from under our bed. I was hoping it was my socks. My socks can smell pretty bad at times. But when I looked under our bed, I found out it was not my socks that gave that stink. Rodrigo had caught a little baby bunny rabbit, had killed it and that darn dog had started to eat some of it. He brought the half-eaten bunny into the house, put it under our bed and was ready for his midnight snack. That is what skubalon is. It is a religion of me, thinking that we can fix life, handle guilt, answer sin by what we do, rather than having faith in the work of Jesus Christ. That faith is empty and doesn’t provide any answers that last.
Rockies baseball is just a week away. There is a phrase that baseball fans and coaches use when a player is at bat. The phrase is “good eye”. A batter needs to know the tricks of a pitcher. Good pitchers don’t become good because they throw lots of strikes. They are good because they throw pitches that are really close to the strike zone but are outside of the strike zone. The batter swings and misses on pitches that are balls. But if a batter can stay away from those pitches that are balls, you’ll hear fans and coaches praising them with the words, “Good Eye”.
It is a good eye when we can see clearly the work of Jesus and trust in what He has done for us to bring us true life. Our religion is not a religion of me but one of He – of Jesus. Hebrews says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2a) Paul, to the Romans would say, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the law and the prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-24)
The only religion that is any good is the religion of He – of Jesus. One of the first sermons ever preached by Peter said, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven, given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) Paul would speak these words, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (II Corinthians 4:5)
A good eye trusts in Jesus alone for forgiveness of sins. A good eye knows that Jesus gives us every gift, freely, including life forever in heaven. Our religion is not one of me but of He – Christ alone. Paul, with this clear focus makes this his prayer, “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Philippians 3:13a, 12b)
You know what? We have a good religion. A religion of grace, faith, hope – a religion centered on Jesus. Our religion is one not of me but of He. Such a religion is just right. Amen!!