Lent 5C 2019

Lent 5 Year C 2019

Texts: Isaiah 43:16-21

          Psalm 126

          Philippians 3:4b-14

          John 12:1-8

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection…Not that I have already obtained this or reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own…I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

May the words of my mouth and the meditation on my heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.  Amen.

I love this reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  Actually, I love all of Philippians. This was a church founded by Paul and one for which he had great affection.  From what scholars can tell, the Philippians loved Paul and were faithful to him and to the Gospel, giving sacrificially to his trips and to the church in Jerusalem.  

This is one of four letters written by Paul known as the Prison or captivity letters. It was written while Paul was in prison either in Rome or Ephesus.

In this letter, Paul expresses his joy and gratitude to the Philippians for their continued support of his efforts in proclaiming the Gospel.  Paul tells them that even in prison he rejoices in God and in the gift of grace that was given to him in Jesus Christ.

Paul is writing to them because after Paul left Philippi a group came to the young church and preached that they had to submit to circumcision before receiving the gospel.  To give you an idea of how big and issue this was for Paul, nothing we are currently dealing with in the Church today, not the issue of sexuality, women’s ordination, or biblical interpretation can come close to the seriousness of the issue of circumcision. For Paul, to submit to having to be circumcised negated the gospel altogether as it placed righteousness not on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus but on an action of man.  For Paul, grace came by faith in God’s saving work in Christ or not at all.

Paul lays his credentials down against those that came preaching to the church in Philippi.  Paul’s pedigree and importance could never be in question. He was circumcised on the eighth day as required by the law.  He was a member of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew to the core. A Pharisee, that part of the faith that knew the law the best and was considered most accurate in their interpretation of it. No one could say that Paul was not a faithful Jew, was not one of the most faithful followers of the faith.

He was such a devote keeper of the law that he actively persecuted the church-turning people in to the authorities. He even held the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen as he egged on their anger.  

But all of this-all of his pedigree, all of his notoriety, all of the advantage that he had, all of his confidence, his superior position to his opponents, he counts as loss; he considers it garbage compared to what he has found in following Jesus.  Nothing can compare to the new life he experienced since he was found by Christ. Absolutely nothing.

Paul tells the Philippians that he has most certainly suffered for following Christ.  He was imprisoned several times, flogged, beaten almost to death, and shipwrecked. Paul also tells them that all of the suffering he has experienced and all the suffering he will experience is worth it.  The suffering gave him a better understanding of what Jesus went through and what Jesus passed through.

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection” Paul tells the Philippians.

“I want to know Christ.” Nothing else really mattered for Paul.  He hasn’t reached that pinnacle yet, he hasn’t reached that goal so he “presses onward” not looking backwards but towards a future he can only dream about.  

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”  

I grew up in a town very much like Granville.  Maplewood was also known for the wonderful Fourth of July celebration it threw.  When I was in first grade I ran in a race at my town’s Fourth of July celebration. It was held in the large municipal park a few blocks from my home.  It was the 100 yard dash. I ran my little heart out. I was faster than all of them. I was smoking the competition. I ran and I ran and then I did something I still can’t explain.  Right before the finish line I stopped dead in my tracks and just stood there. I actually heard someone in the bleachers say, “Oh No! I think she thinks she finished!” I went from a guaranteed first place finish to third by the time I realized the race was not yet over.  

Now, you could say, at least I got back into the race.  At least I came out of whatever fog I was in and decided to try again.  But the fact of the matter was I had lost my focus. I stopped too early.  That gold medal was mine and I lost it because I didn’t press on, I stopped striving for the prize.  That race was 50 years ago and I still remember it like it happened yesterday.

In our religious language of today faith is often described as a journey or ongoing discovery.  But in Paul’s time it was seen as a race, a race that was to be run with persistence. It was a race that saw the straining of an athlete that is in such a close race that at the end he throws out his chest to cross the finish line.  

It was a race to which one was to give their all-not their all for a while but their all until such time as God calls one home with the heavenly prize being nothing less than Jesus Christ.

Paul wants us to know that our efforts are just that-efforts-exertions of physical, mental, and spiritual power; they are strenuous attempts that should never be over until the goal of truly knowing Christ, of being eternally in God’s presence is given to us.

Paul is an amazing example of that.  This little man, a man who experienced hardships we will likely never know, this man who also had some sort of physical disability, worked tirelessly to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  

As tired as Paul got what he found was an energy in proclaiming the Gospel.  It was as if in those last moments of the race God became Paul’s second wind.  It was in wanting to intimately know Christ that Paul was able to say goodbye to all the stuff, all the things that got in the way of knowing Christ and God’s call and claim on him.

My dear St. Luke’s, we need to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.  We need to be able to say goodbye to those things that might be keeping us from being able to run the race with persistence.  We need to acknowledge what we have been given in the past and move towards serving Christ in this time and place and in this day and age.  Not being stuck in the past, not being a slave to the present, but always looking forward-always deepening our love and witness to Christ not just for our generation but for the generations that are to come after us.

It is hard work.  It is tiring work. But when we do it, we, too, will find that through all the effort and exertion God becomes our second wind.  We will discover that there is energy and passion in preaching the gospel, teaching the faith, and reaching out to those God would have us serve.  We will find that we can run the race with persistence. That we can ever press on till we meet our prize which is no less than the heavenly call of Jesus.



Robin Whittington