Sermon: December 30, 2018 – “The Flip Side”

The Flip Side

Texts: Matthew 10:39, 20:16; Philippians 1: 3-6

Matthew 10:39; Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 20: 16; So the last will be first, and the first will be last.

Philippians 1: 3-6; I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

There are several themes in the New Testament that become obvious over time as you read the sayings and the teachings of Jesus.  One of those themes is Jesus always seem to support preferential treatment for the poor or the sick, he speaks frequently of a life of love and a life of service devoted to others, he gives us examples of tolerance and a non-judgmental lifestyle.  But one theme of the several is Jesus always had a knack for turning things around, causing us to look at things in a new way, taking an event or a teaching moment and literally turning it upside down to create a better understanding.  Jesus loved to do this, it seems to me.  Whether it was the woman at the well or the group of legal eagles that wanted to stone the adulteress, Jesus had a way a finding the unexpected answer, telling the group that the person without sin could cast the first stone.  Jesus had a way of always finding what I call the “flip side”; or another way of viewing a situation.

This is evidenced in the first two passages of scripture I just read from Matthew.  In one passage Jesus speaks of losing your life but in reality finding your life when you lose it – and the other scripture is similar; the idea of the first shall be last and the last shall be first.  I wondered secretly to myself how that would work in a setting like the Olympic Trials or some other athletic contest, – but somehow I don’t think that is what Jesus had in mind.

As you begin to ponder these passages and a multitude of others just like it, it starts to become clear that Jesus made a habit of always looking for that flip side.  Whatever the situation, whatever the circumstance, usually there was a flip side that could be considered.  Jesus always considered the flip side, and I think we should as well.  We should take the examples given us by Jesus and put them into practice in the here and now.  What situations do you find yourself in that could benefit from a look at the flip side?  Chances are, there are many situations and many options to consider.

There is a great metaphor that represents this approach to life, a way of receiving life as it comes and making the most of every moment; it is a metaphor that I have not been able to find in the Bible.  Jesus didn’t say it, although if the situation had presented itself, I’m confident he would have.

The metaphor of which I speak is creatively portrayed in the first Harry Potter movie.  I want to show you a brief movie clip and after you watch, see if we can make the connections to this metaphor.

Play Movie

Did anyone make the connection?  Did you see what happened in the movie?  That’s right!  The wall became a gate.  Consider that metaphor for a moment…..the wall becomes a gate.  Doesn’t that sound a little like Jesus?  Can’t you see Jesus teaching a crowd of people and he is explaining that those who follow the way of love and follow the ways of the divine, that for them, when they encounter a wall, it will become a gate?  I think this could be the most powerful metaphor of them all for us to consider.

About 25 years ago I hit that wall.  I was in a job that I hated.  We were struggling to pay the bills.  Relationships were tense, the kids weren’t happy and we weren’t happy and everybody just seemed to be on edge.  Everything it seemed was a dead end.  There was no where to go, nothing to do, no future to believe in; just get up every morning and slog through another distasteful day at work only to return home and face the same thing again tomorrow.  It was quite a wall.

But that wall became a gate.  One day in the midst of that experience, while I was surveying the enormity of that wall, my sister called.  This is the sister who is an ordained elder in the UMC and has recently retired.  She had spoken to me before about entering the ministry, but I had never been interested, never really considered it to be an option for me.  But that day, up against that wall, suddenly what she was saying began to make sense; for me, the wall became a gate to the ministry.  I entered seminary that fall and began to pursue a new direction and walked through a new gate.

This happens to us all the time, if we can create an awareness of it.  Every time we encounter something that we perceive as not going quite right, chances are there is a gate in there somewhere.  There is an opportunity for us to move forward in a new direction, a new learning opportunity, a new experience, a new way of looking at life comes to us with every wall we encounter.

All of us hit walls in our lives.  Some walls are bigger than others.  But every wall we encounter is also a gate.  Every wall holds the potential to teach, to expand our thinking, to lead us to new ideas and give us the opportunity of a new experience or a new direction.  There are few people in this world that encounter all walls in life with joy.  And yet that is what we are called to do.  When we can experience every aspect of our life with joy, when we can view the walls as gates, then life becomes exciting and meaningful and full of joy.  Every wall can become a gate!  Consider the possibilities!

What are you up against right now?  Can you see the gate or can you only see the wall?  Do you have the faith to take a couple of steps back and run at the wall like our characters did in the movie?  Will you allow yourself to experience the transformation that takes place when a wall becomes the gate?

This has also happened to us on several occasions as a church.  We sometimes come up against a wall. A couple of years ago our music program hit a wall, but eventually Kris Haynal and her husband Mark showed up and the wall became a gate.  A couple of months ago I made a rather agonizing decision to pursue a new ministry opportunity with Habitat for Humanity.  For many of you, that announcement felt a lot like another wall. But through the process that wall has become another gate for this congregation to walk through with the capable leadership of my friend and colleague, Cody Stauffer.  If we can learn to not panic when we hit a wall and try to find ways to consider the wall as a gate, then we can really begin to follow the example of Jesus and find that “flip side”.

As we begin to put this transition that looms in front of us into practice, let me take just a moment and speak to the third scripture I read a few minutes ago from Philippians.  Here in a letter to the church in Philippi, the apostle Paul tells the church there he has fond memories of their time together. But just because Paul himself is no longer there with the congregation, he also assures them that the work that has begun under his leadership will continue.  Read the text again and try to place it in our context as well.

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

Even if it feels like a wall today, there is a gate in your future.

As you learn to experience walls as gates, life becomes fuller.  Life becomes more meaningful.  You will never again be disappointed, never again be angry, and never again feel like you are out of options.  Because the wall you are running into is really a gate.  When you can see that, your life will change and you will never view obstacles the same way again.

The first shall be last and the last shall be first.  Those who find their lives will lose them and those who lose them will find life.  And the walls you encounter will become gates.  Change how you look at a wall and the wall you are looking at will change.  Go in peace and go with God and go through that wall as it becomes a gate.

And that is the final food for thought from me.

Amen.

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