What are You Bananas About? / Second Sunday in Lent

Philippians 3:17-4:1

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

I don’t think I’m making a controversial statement this evening/morning when I say that most sports fans are crazy. Of course, I’m not talking about any sports fans in this room today. I’m talking about fans of other teams. They’re nuts! Doesn’t matter if they’re cheering for preschool T-ball teams or professional athletes in the Super Bowl or the World Series. Sports fans are just plain crazy. They paint their faces in the team colors. They spend hours in a stadium, enduring freezing cold, as well as pouring rain or intense heat to watch their team play. They yell their heads off and act like fools to cheer on their team. They heckle the umpires. There’s something about loyalty to a sports team that makes a person do crazy stuff.

So, I guess it’s not entirely crazy to hear that an anonymous fan of the Washburn Rural High School wrestling team in Topeka, Kansas, has been sending hundreds of bananas to the school’s wrestling coach.

It started the morning after Washburn Rural’s girls’ and boys’ teams both won state wrestling titles. Washburn’s wrestling coach Damon Parker got a surprise delivery of 100 bananas. A few days later, more bananas arrived. At the time that Topeka’s WIBW television station reported on this story, Coach Parker had received nearly 600 bananas from this anonymous fan.

And I only assume that a fan is behind this stunt because Coach Parker is known for motivating his teams with the phrase, “Win the Whole Banana.” Now that doesn’t sound very motivating to me. I’m not even sure what it means. But this is the phrase that Coach Parker keeps putting on his team’s white board throughout the season, Win the Whole Banana. It’s memorable, and it must be effective because both the girls’ and boys’ wrestling teams won state titles. But it’s also probably the reason that his desk is hidden under 600 bananas.

Coach Parker told a reporter that he would give away the bananas to the student body, and if any were left over, they would be donated to the local food bank. “Win the Whole Banana.” What an interesting rallying cry. Like I said, sports fans are nuts.

In our Scripture lesson for today, the apostle Paul needs to rally the believers in Philippi to stand firm in their faith in spite of persecution from the wider society as well as internal conflicts and false teachers in the church itself. There were plenty of challenges that could destroy the new congregation in Philippi. Paul needed to give them a rallying cry to motivate them and the tools to empower them to hold on to their faith in Jesus Christ. Obviously, he didn’t choose, “Win the Whole Banana.” We can read the rallying cry he did choose in Philippians 4: 1, therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

Stand firm in the Lord. That’s his rallying cry. That’s his challenge to the Philippian church 2000 years ago, and it’s his challenge to us today. Stand firm in the Lord. Not a bad motto.

Paul gives us three tools for standing firm in our faith regardless of any challenges we might face.

First, Paul says to get connected with other believers. Find strength and support in a community of people who are striving to live as authentic Jesus followers. Paul writes in Philippians 3:17, join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.  In other words, do we know a model Christian? Then live as they live. Then be a model follower of Christ yourself.

That’s why Jesus called His followers to form a Church, a people who are set apart for the express purpose of modeling the love of God in their society. We need each other. No believer can do it alone. We need a community that supports us in good times and bad, accepts us for who we truly are, and models Christ-like behavior for us to imitate. We need to be in church as a faith community, together.

If you were house shopping and visited a new subdivision under construction. At the entrance to the subdivision, the builders would have constructed two or three “model homes.” These are the exact representations of the houses that would be available when the subdivision was complete. These model homes are meant to create trust in the builders’ vision and skills. That’s why they’re the first homes you see when you drive into the development.

The rest of the tract may be full of mud and bricks and exposed pipes and rolls of insulation. They may look ugly and incomplete. But you know the builders have a plan to make them into the same beautiful homes as those at the front of the subdivision, so you hand over a down payment and sign your name to a contract. What looks like a mess right now will one day become a beautiful home.

In the same way, God has placed “demonstration model” believers in the church, people who serve as an example of what an authentic Jesus-follower looks like. Not sinless, but a model how a Christian should be and a construction site in progress. Their character strengthens the church and keeps us focused on our mission as the body of Christ. They remind us of what God has planned for those who trust Him and give their whole lives to Him.

The second thing Paul advises us to do is remember that our citizenship is in heaven. Paul writes, for, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there…

I don’t know about you, but I’m concerned that we’re increasingly become a secular society that has lost its focus on spiritual realities. Remember that we’re not physical beings having a spiritual experience; we’re spiritual beings having a physical experience.

To be a spiritual being means to live in tune with God’s heart and mind. What would that look like? It would look a lot like a life overflowing with the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. It would look a lot like Jesus.

Jesus faced an overwhelming number of challenges, stresses and sorrows in His lifetime. So did Paul. And yet, they weren’t overwhelmed. They relied on God’s strength and wisdom and power to help them forge ahead with joy. Knowing that our citizenship is in heaven gives us great hope. It means that we’re spiritual beings guided by a God who offers us spiritual resources for overcoming our circumstances.

A group of Navy SEALs-in-training were entering an especially grueling week of conditioning. They went for days with little sleep. They endured intensive physical challenges. On Wednesday of that week, the trainees were directed down to the Mud Flats, a swampy area between San Diego and Tijuana. The trainees would be spending the next 15 hours in ice-cold mud up to their necks. Fifteen hours. Imagine how that felt.

However, there was a way out. The instructors announced that if five men from the group dropped out, then all the trainees could get out of the mud and go home. Just five men needed to give up for all of them to escape this long night of pain.

Then in response to the instructors’ taunts, one of the trainees began to sing. And then another joined in. And then another. The instructors threatened the trainees with more time in the mud if they didn’t stop singing. But the singing continued. They knew that if one man could rise above the misery then others could as well.

Remembering that our citizenship is in heaven allows us to rise above the misery of our present circumstances. It gives us the hope we need to stand firm in the Lord when we are tempted to give up. Paul reminds us that we can stand firm by being connected to one another. Secondly, he reminds us that this world isn’t our home.

Finally, Paul reminds us that we can stand firm in the Lord because we eagerly await our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He writes, but our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there.

That’s the ultimate source of our hope, the ultimate motivation to stand firm in the Lord. He has promised to come back, not as a humble man, but as the Messiah. We will see Him as He truly is. That truth transforms our waiting into a time of purposeful, joyful, hopeful living because Jesus promises to reward those who follow His commands until He returns.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

Remember that the apostle Paul most likely wrote these words from prison. He’d lost his job and his cushy place in society when he became a follower of Jesus. He’d been beaten and jailed many times for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. It was only a matter of time before someone finally killed him.

He knew what was coming, yet he stood firm in the faith, joyful until the end. And his advice written 2,000 years ago is just as relevant today. God has given us the tools to stand firm in the Lord no matter what our circumstances. Get connected with a community of believers. Remember that your citizenship is in heaven. And eagerly await the coming of Jesus Christ. God is faithful to His promises, and He will supply the strength you need to stand firm in Him until the day you see Him face to face.