**We apologize for the audio quality and we are correcting the issue for future videos.
The pews at First United Methodist Church of Pasadena were filled with students, alumni, staff, and faculty members in full regalia as they congregated for the annual Festival of Beginnings service, which jumpstarts each new academic year.
Soft light flooded the sanctuary through the stained glass windows as the service began with a welcome from Provost Doug McConnell and time of worship.
In his first Festival of Beginnings sermon, President Mark Labberton began by inviting students and members of the Fuller community to be open to God as they go through this year.
"I want to invite you into an unguarded approach to God-a desire to seek God, to know God, to be filled with God-and to be ready to give and receive the good gifts that God wants to give you," Labberton said. "Let go of cynicism. Let go of irony. Seek to open yourself to the work that God wants to do in you in this time and in this place."
Preaching from Philippians 1, Labberton commented that often scripture from this particular book of the Bible is so familiar and frequently quoted that it becomes like "spiritual comfort food." He asked the community to lean into what is "actually a very salty book" and to hear the deep gospel message that the Apostle Paul is preaching when he asks the church in Philippi to let their love "abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ."
Labberton noted that current culture idolizes what is "best," and in the pursuit of what the world deems best, people can be easily distracted from what the scripture says is best: the self-giving love of Jesus Christ. This is why, he explained, Paul could be imprisoned and in chains, and was able to write that he rejoices.
"Paul is saying there's something better going on here than might appear," Labberton said. "Christ is proclaimed. . . . For Paul that is the reality that is best, and every part of life is meant to be seen in that Christological lens."
Turning to the current state of the world in which there are wars and government shutdowns, Labberton said it can be so distressing and chaotic that people might wonder: "Who are we? What is Fuller Seminary in a world like this? What do we have to offer? Why do we study the scriptures?"
The answer, he said, is that we are pursuing that which is best, and growing and maturing in love, compassion, and discernment.
"We live in a world of enormous challenge. What we need is the capacity to discern that which matters most and that which is best," he said.
But in this world that is filled with anguish, confusion, and sorrow, Dr. Labberton concluded with the encouragement that the Bible offers a real gospel where the love of God is more profound than our needs. So much so that Paul could say, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."
Each member of the Fuller community and the world needs a gospel that is capable of telling us what is best, he said.
"It's that [gospel] that we call you today to consider, to ponder, to study, to be informed by, to be nurtured, to be filled by, because it's that that is the call of the world and it's for that that Fuller Theological Seminary exists, and it's for that reason the school year of 2013-2014 matters."
President Labberton will continue his series on Philippians as he preaches at the All-Seminary Chapel the first Wednesday of every month. For a full schedule of chapel speakers this quarter, go here.