September 25, 2005

18th Sunday after Pentecost

"Who's Working In You?"

(Philippians 2:1-13)

Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn


You've probably heard the story, it's been floating around since it first appeared in the 1998 Minneapolis Star-Tribune: It seems three-year-old Katie was taken to her pediatrician during a recent bout with the flu. As the doctor examined her ears, he asked, "Will I find Big Bird in here?"

Apprehensively, Katie replied, "No." Then, before examining her throat, he asked, "Will I find the Cookie Monster in here?" Again, "No."

Finally, listening to her heart, he asked, "Will I find Barney in here?" With innocent conviction, she looked him directly in the eye and said, "No, Jesus is in my heart. Barney is on my underwear." (1)

Katie had it right didn't she. She might have only been three, but I think she understood the nature of today's passage of scripture. Let's look at it.

Philippians 2:1-13

[1] If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy,

[2] make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

[3] Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.

[4] Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

[5] Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

[6] who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,

[7] but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,

[8] he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross.

[9] Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,

[10] so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

[11] and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

[12] Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;

[13] for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

This is an important passage of Scripture in our series on the Christian life. We've been challenged by Paul to Deviate and be abnormal. He's asked us all kinds of questions like: Who Do You Wear? Where Do You Live? and What Are You Riding? Today it's a question of the heart. Paul doesn't care who's on your underwear, he just wants to know "Who's Working In You?"

The answer simple and it's found in verse [13]. "It is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for God's good pleasure."

But no one else will know that unless there is some ability showing through somewhere. So there are certain Abilities we need in order to answer the question "Who's Working In You?" like, Availability, Accountability, Adoptability, Credibility, Visibility.


The FIRST ability we need to answer the question "Who's Working In You?" is Accountability.

There is an old Japanese legend that tells of a man who died and went to heaven. Heaven was beautiful, full of lush gardens and glittering mansions. But then the man came to a room lined with shelves. On the shelves were stacked piles of human ears! A heavenly guide explained that these ears belonged to all the people on earth who listened each week to the word of God, but never acted on God's teachings. Their worship never resulted in action. When these people died, therefore, only their ears ended up in heaven.

It's not a question of who has your ear that's just Receptibility. It's a question of who has your heart or , Accountability. Who's working in you? Does God just have your ear or Does God have your heart?


The SECOND ability we need to answer the question "Who's Working In You?" is Availability.

A man applied for a job as a handyman. The prospective employer asked, "Can you do carpentry?" The man answered in the negative.

"How about bricklaying?" Again the man answered, "No."

The employer asked, "Well, what about electrical work?" The man said "No, I don't know anything about that either." Finally the employer said, "Well, tell me then what is handy about you." The man replied, "I live just around the corner."

Sometimes the greatest ability we can have is availability. To be where God can call us, to be within whisper range of his summons, that is the beginning of a life of meaningful discipleship. (2) And a meaningful relationship that let's others know Who is Working In You and your Availability to God.


The THIRD ability we need to answer the question "Who's Working In You?" is Adoptability

There is a wonderful story about a group of military leaders who succeeded in building a super computer that was able to solve any problem, large or small, strategic or tactical. These military leaders assembled in front of the new machine for a demonstration. The engineer conducting the demonstration instructed these officers to feed a difficult tactical problem into it. The military leaders proceeded to describe a hypothetical situation to the computer and then asked the pivotal question: attack or retreat? This enormous super computer hummed away for an hour and then printed out its one-word answer . . . YES.

The generals looked at each other, somewhat stupefied. Finally one of them submits a second request to the computer: YES WHAT? Instantly the computer responded: YES, SIR.

It doesn't make any difference what your answer is or how you answer it if you never really answer or adopt the answer to ultimate question. And contrary to what Douglas Adams said in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the answer to life, the universe and everything, the answer to the ultimate question is not 42. The answer to the ultimate question is "Jesus."

And our response should be, "Here I am Lord." Use me, take me, fill me, guide me, whatever, but "Here I am Lord." It's all about Adoptability.


The FOURTH ability we need to answer the question "Who's Working In You?" is Credibility.

Julian Gordy, in a sermon titled "Didn't You Hear What I Said?" Tells of a time in High School when a physician came to talk to the school about the dangers of smoking. The physician scared them with his grim pictures of smokers' lungs and tales of death from lung cancer. The doctor finished his speech by saying, "Remember, fire on one end, fool on the other."

They were all impressed, especially those boys who would sneak out behind the shop building at lunch to light one up. But a couple of the guys saw the doctor himself lighting up when he got back in his car after the lecture. And his credibility was shot. He was the talk of the campus. It would have been better for the no-smoking campaign if he had never come to speak. Saying one thing and doing another is something nobody respects.

It doesn't make any difference what you say. If your actions don't match your words, you can claim to be a saint but if you act like a stinker, someone's going to get wind of it real quickly.

There was a Dilbert cartoon a couple of weeks ago where Dogbert tells Dilbert, "I decided to start a discount religion. The tithing would only be 5% and I'd let people sin as much as they wanted. The only problem is that I don't want to spend any time with people who would join that sort of religion." (3)

There has to be Credibility to your answer of the question "Who's Working In You?"


The FINAL ability we need to answer the question "Who's Working In You?" is Visibility

Do you all remember Lewis Grizzard, the Southern writer and columnist who wrote great books with funny titles. One of my favorites is, Elvis is Dead and I don't Feel so Good Myself, but he wrote another one titled Shoot Low Boys, They're riding Shetland Ponies. It's a book full of short stories of ordinary people who chose to serve others. In Lewis' estimation they were heroes. His point was that the real heroes in life aren't the ones who ride in on the charging white steeds dressed like the Lone Ranger or the White Knight. Instead, they're the ordinary people who will humble themselves, reach out their arms and descend to serve others. Servants are heroes who ride Shetland ponies.

There was an old man in Chicago who got a burden and a passion in his heart for the inner city kids in Chicago. He didn't have a big developed plan, but what he decided to do was just to adopt an inner city high school. And what he did was every time there was a sports practice that ended he would be there and spend time with the kids. If it was basketball season, he'd be there when the basketball players came out of the locker room. If it was football season, he would be there to hang out with the kids. And he made sure in that time that they knew that he thought they were special and mattered. And he made sure that they knew that God and Jesus thought they mattered and they were special. And somebody who watched this going on came to him and said,

"Man, what are you doing wasting your time and these kid's. You're not young, you're not hip, you don't speak their language what are you doin' wasting your time down there and wasting theirs."

And the man said, "You're right, I'm not young, I'm not hip and I don't speak their language, but when I'm there God's got one more option than when I'm not."

It's not about being great, it's about choosing for the sake of our love for Christ and others to give God one more option when we're there than when we're not. That's Visibility.


So, there you have it. You have to have a little Ability to answer the question, not much but a little: "Whose Working In You?" And if you say "Yes" to God through Christ, this passage says that it will be

[13]. "It is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for God's good pleasure."

It will be God enabling your ability and working in you and through you. So, "Whose Working In You?"

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.



1. Alden E. Lynch, Shoreview, Minnesota, Leadership Vol.21, #2

2. King Duncan, Time for Action

3. Scott Adams, Dilbert 8-29-05

Other References Consulted (Copyright, Richard Niell Donovan, 2000) (Richard Fairchild Lectionary Resources)

Homiletics, (Communications Resources, Inc., Canton, OH)

Lectionary Homiletics, (Lectionary Homiletics, Inc. Midlothian, VA)

Dynamic Preaching, (Seven Worlds Publishing, Knoxville, TN)

The Clergy Journal, (Logos Productions, Inc., Inver Grove Heights, MN)

Preaching Magazine (Preaching Resources, Jackson, TN)

Circuit Rider, (The United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville, TN)

The Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1953)

The New Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1995)

Lectionary Preaching Workbook, Cycle A, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 2002) SermonPrep Version.

Preaching the Miracles, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 1998) SermonPrep Version.

Preaching the Parables, Cycle A, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 1997) SermonPrep Version.