To Work for God’s Good Pleasure

The theme verse for this year’s Every Member Canvass, which culminates on Loyalty Sunday, November 13, is Philippians 2:13, “For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you to will and to work for God’s good pleasure.”  St. Paul’s claim always reminds me of the fantastic 1981 film “Chariots of Fire,” and especially about the real-life Olympic runner whose life the movie portrays: Eric Liddell, known in his day as “The Flying Scotsman.”  Liddell was the son of Scottish missionaries in the early twentieth century.  He was made famous at the 1924 Olympics, when he refused to race in the 100 meter prelims, because they were scheduled on Sunday, and he would not break the Sabbath.  Liddell’s entire life was formed by his relationship with God.  And he experienced a connection between his running and the faith in God in which he had been formed.

eric-liddell

Eric Liddell, the “Flying Scotsman”

At one point in the movie, Eric Liddell’s sister asks him why, after winning so many medals, he still runs.  Liddell’s response is an epiphany.  He says, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast.  And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”

That sentiment sets Eric Liddell apart from all the other runners in “Chariots of Fire.”  They run for the medal, for the trophy, for what they get in the end.  But for Eric, the purpose, the meaning, the victory is in the running itself.  Eric runs not to win; running is winning.  In the movie, the difference can be seen in Eric’s final Olympic race by the rapture on his face as he makes the last turn.  Others have looks of pained desperation, of darkness across their brows.  If they fail to finish—or if they come in second—they’ll feel lost.  But in the home stretch, Eric has already won.  The prize is his as surely as he lives and breathes.  Because he runs for God’s pleasure, Eric experiences victory in his races and in his life.

That’s what St. Paul means!  “For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you to will and to work for God’s good pleasure.”  And, in all my experience of churches, across states and across denominations, that’s what sets Christ Church Cathedral apart.

eric-liddell-chariots-of-fire

Ian Charleson portraying Eric Liddell in “Chariots of Fire.”  The ecstasy on Liddel’s face reveals that he has already won, simply by running for God’s pleasure.

I don’t believe that we worship, or serve those on the margins, or fight for God’s justice in the world, or study, or engage in fellowship with darkness across our brows.  I don’t believe we do these things because of grim duty or obligation that feels like drudgery.  I believe we do this work, and I believe that we financially support this work generously and, in many cases, sacrificially, because we feel God working through us, and we feel God’s pleasure.  What deeper joy could there be?  None of it happens—not the worship, not the service, not the justice, not the pastoral care, not the fellowship—without our financial support.  I have made my pledge, and I pray you will to, as we continue to will and to work for God’s good pleasure in downtown Houston.

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