Something to Boast About
15th Sunday after Pentecost
Something to Boast About
Text: Galatians 6:12-16
Seventeen days ago, on September 4, 2014, comedienne Joan Rivers died. Though she showed the battle wounds of countless plastic surgeries and several frantic decades of Hollywood life, it seemed to many that Joan Rivers was ageless and would keep going strong for years. But after complications during a surgery, she finally passed away at the age of 81. Not to worry though, Joan Rivers had her funeral planned out well in advance.
The funeral was two weeks ago at Temple Emanu-El in New York City. Here are some of the details of the funeral. Guests started arriving around 11am and were welcomed by the New York Gay Men’s Chorus singing “irreverent, fun songs” as they were described. The Rabbi opened with prayers that were followed by Broadway star Audra McDonald giving a moving performance.
Next, several celebrities stood to honor Joan Rivers and share their fond memories and gushing compliments. The last to speak was Melissa Rivers who read a touching letter that left the audience laughing.
Actor Hugh Jackman ended the service with another spectacular performance that ended with the crowd standing and cheering. As guests left, Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York was one of the songs played.
The funeral was apparently quite the event. Hoda Kotb, co-host of the Today Show described the funeral this way: “It felt like a Broadway show with tons of humor, lots of tears and it ended with a standing ovation.” Hoda and countless other celebrities attended this extravaganza. Although someone was conspicuously missing—Jesus.
Think what an absolute mockery and travesty this funeral was. When you arrive at church and later leave, whom do we sing about? Jesus. Guests arrived at and left this funeral to fun songs about life in this world and New York. Whom do we talk about and hear about in worship? Jesus. Whom did the funeral speakers talk about? Joan Rivers. Whom do we stand in honor of at church? Jesus. Whom did they stand in honor of? Joan Rivers. Whom do we rejoice and sing praises about? Jesus. Whom did the funeral audience stand and cheer about? The performers and Joan Rivers. Our entire service each and every week is designed to center around the life and death of Jesus alone. This red carpet funeral two weeks ago was centered around the life and death of Joan Rivers alone. What an absolute mockery and travesty.
But should we be surprised? This is how Americans think. It’s all about “me.” Joan Rivers planned out a funeral exactly the way she wanted it. The guests were there not to honor God but to honor a person.
I suppose that’s tragic irony, too. What did Joan Rivers do her entire life? She spent her entire life in the spotlight. She spent most of that Hollywood career talking about other people in the spotlight, other celebrities. She walked red carpets and hosted TV shows where she complimented or criticized people based on their outward appearance—their hair, their jewelry, their Versace dresses and Dolce & Gabbana tuxedos. And all of America joined Joan in giving cheers or jeers to the outward appearance of these celebrities.
Why? Because celebrities set the trends. The cars they buy, the underwear they wear, their hairstyles, their purses, their Nike shoes—we want them so we can be like the rich and the famous. We watch TV tours of their homes and we dream of having the tools, technology, and toys they have. We get ideas for the kinds of cabinets and countertops we would like someday. We buy magazines and like US Weekly and People and ESPN and Sports Illustrated because we need to know if Taylor Swift likes Häagen Dazs ice cream too and if Adrian Peterson is really a deadbeat dad or just an overaggressive football player.
Don’t think outward appearance matters? Then why do we buy new wardrobes so often? Why did Apple have eight million preorders for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6+ on the first day it was available? Why do we upgrade our home to “better” furnishings and finishes? Why do we stare in the mirror for our hours to style and shave and cover up and accentuate?
Still not sure culture and society and celebrities affect us? Then why is it suddenly cool to be homosexual when it has always been viewed as a sin? Why is being gay something to support and be proud of when when for all of world history previously God’s people have known it was wrong?
Why is it OK to go off to college and sow your wild oats? Why is it OK now to follow every urge, every craving to sleep with anyone you want because “it’s love” and “I’m just following my heart”? How much has our culture’s views on marriage destroyed how we honor the sanctity of marriage and the marriage bed?
Still not convinced culture and society affect us? In the early church they were filled joy over Jesus. The first Christians used to meet every day at the temple. They prayed. They gathered together. They worshiped. They told everyone they knew or met that Jesus has risen and Jesus is Savior. Their whole lives centered around worship, serving, and sharing Jesus.
Where has that gone? When did church become a once-a-week, if I happen to feel like, it event? When did the Bible become a book that we’ll blow dust off occasionally? When did our Christian faith become something we try and hide and keep quiet so we don’t cause trouble or get in trouble?
Why is this the Christianity that we have become comfortable with and accustomed to and how did it happen?
It’s really not that hard of an answer. We live in a world that loves to feed the desires of the flesh. And even worse, we live in a country that thrives on satisfying the flesh. Like Joan Rivers’ funeral, outward impression and appearance and fame and glory and riches—those are things to be desired, to be proud of, to boast about.
And I must admit, my sinful flesh is dripping with drool, eager to whet its appetite on the ways of the world. It feels good to “upgrade” my life. It feels good to have more, to be comfortable, to keep up with the Joneses. It feels good not to have pressures and not to make hard choices. Like Adam and Even in the Garden, Satan has coaxed me to chomp into a fruit of self indulgence a million times over. And to my sinful flesh, it has tasted so good.
It sounds a lot like Peter today. Jesus taught his disciples that he must go on to suffer and die and rise again. But Peter didn’t like that. He didn’t want Jesus to die. He was perfectly happy with the comfortable life of hanging with Jesus and watching miracles fly. So he tried to stop Jesus, “Never, Lord!” he said. But what did Jesus tell him? “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
It also sounds a lot like the problem with the Galatians. Their church had become a mess. The good news of the free gospel was being lost. Pressure was coming from Jews who were concerned about outward impression. They thought they were more spiritual and more important, and thus, more special to God because of what they did. They followed the laws of Moses. They were circumcised. They had all kinds of reasons of outward appearance and impression that they could boast about.
Many Galatians were leaving the truth of Scripture they once learned. Some were convinced this was proper Christianity, to follow all these rules. Others were simply caving in to the pressure to avoid being persecuted. Here’s how Paul describes it: “Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh.”
Hmmm. Concerned about good impressions and outward appearance? Boasting about the flesh and works and accomplishments? It sounds a lot like Americans! It sounds a lot like me.
But sadly, these things don’t lead anywhere. Following the laws of Moses didn’t get the Galatians anywhere. Circumcision didn’t get them anywhere. Fame and riches didn’t get Joan Rivers anywhere. A celebrity funeral with all the bells and whistles doesn’t change where she is for eternity.
Similarly, we are fooling ourselves if we think what we do or what we have will get us anywhere. How much money I have, how cool my clothes are, how good I feel, how easy and comfortable my life is, what I’ve accomplished in life, how famous I’ve become in a two minute YouTube video—none of those things will lead me to heaven. In fact Jesus put it quite simply today: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”
Joan Rivers might have had quite the career and a show-stopping funeral, but I bet she would give it all up in a second right now if it meant she could be in heaven. And we might work very hard to find worldly happiness and success, but what good will it do if we enjoy that for a few years only to spend eternity in the devil’s dominion of fire?
This is what Paul was trying to communicate to the Galatians. This is what Paul is trying to tell you. Outward impressions and appearance don’t matter. Who you are and what you’ve don’t aren’t worth boasting about. But something else is. Verse 14: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
It sounds strange doesn’t it? Would you walk around with little gun earrings? Would you wear a necklace with a guillotine on it? Would you get a tattoo on your arm of the electric chair? Of course not. But the Bible tells us to boast in the cross, a vile and offensive form of execution that was reserved for criminals and scumbags.
But yet we can boast in this cross because of what happened on the cross. Listen again: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Through the cross of Christ I have been crucified to the world.
You see, all those desires of my flesh, all those cravings I give in to, all those sinful and selfish actions that I indulge in—every single one of my sins was nailed to the cross with Jesus Christ. Yes, every grain of greed, every shred of selfishness, every little piece of pride—it all was crucified with Christ and died with him on Calvary. The world has been crucified to me, and I to the world because Jesus died in my place and for my sins.
What’s the result? Verse 15: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumsion means anything; what counts is a new creation.” The result is that fast cars and big houses don’t matter. Fat bank accounts and wallets don’t matter. Fame and fortune don’t matter. The newest clothes and coolest hairstyles, three minutes of internet fame, or a whole flock of Facebook friends—they don’t matter. Worldly happiness, worldly success, worldly accomplishments—they don’t matter.
What counts, what matters, is that I am a new creation in Jesus Christ. My sins have been erased and I have been given a new life in Christ. It’s a new life to live not pleasing myself, not doing whatever I want, not finding happiness in worldly choices. I am a new creation who lives for Jesus. It’s like the early Christians. Christ has taken away my sin and given me a new life so that I can worship him and serve him and share him every day to the best of my ability.
What will happen then? What will happen when I don’t think like Peter did today? What will happen when I don’t boast in the flesh like the Galatians did today? What will happen when I don’t care anymore about worldly things and outward appearance like so many Americans around us? What will happen when I live like the new creation I am? Verse 16: “Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.”
Do you want to have real happiness in your life? Do you really want to experience the love and mercy of our mighty God? Do you really want to have peace in your heart, peace that will give you comfort and joy in any life situation? Well it’s yours! Any who “follow this rule,” the Israel of God (believers) who boast in the cross of Christ and who live as his new creations—they will have peace and mercy. You have peace and mercy, and you will have peace and mercy when you boast not in worldly things but only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It’s been a year of many strange and sad deaths of famous people. Lauren Bacall, Phillip Semour Hoffman, Tony Gwynn, Jack Ramsay, Robin Williams, Joan Rivers, and more. When celebrities and athletes pass away the world loves to celebrate them. Their accomplishments, their awards, their philanthropy. The world loves to boast in what people have accomplished.
But not us. Not anymore. Maybe we used to think that way. But not anymore. We don’t need to seek satisfaction in worldly things. Fame, fortune, success, power, glory, honor. I don’t need those things. But I do need Jesus. I need Jesus who died for my sin to give me not worldly riches, but eternal riches in his paradise. The cross of Christ is where my relationship with this world ended. The cross of Christ is where my sins were nailed. The cross of Christ is where my punishment was finished. The cross of Christ is where my new life in this world began. And the cross of Christ is where my eternal life was won. Now that is Something to Boast About.
Posted on September 23, 2014, in Church, Sermons and tagged Appearance, Boast, Boasting, Church, Cross, Cross of Christ, Death, Funeral, Galatians, Galatians 6, Gay, Good Works, Hoda Kotb, Homosexual, Homosexuality, Hugh Jackman, Jesus, Joan Rivers, Melissa Rivers, Pride, Robin Williams, Selfishness, Sermons, Tony Gwynn, Works. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.