Our second passage is from Philippians – chapter 3, verses 2-14. In this letter Paul has been giving thanks for the Philippians, and exhorting them to live lives of humility and Christlikeness, and to be joyful, even in the midst or trials and suffering.

In chapter 3, he shifts gears a little bit… but in order to make a point that connects back to those big themes of joyful, humble serving and living. Listen for God’s Word:

Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh— even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh.

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Do you remember those assignments in school: “please summarize what you just heard, or read, in your own words”? We may need that, because that was a lot to take in.

Here’s one possible summary of what Paul is saying:

Watch out for the ones who follow the rules and insist that you follow the rules but have entirely missed the purpose – the end goal of those rules. If earning righteousness was possible by checking all the right boxes, then I’d have done it. But to know Christ and become like him, I’m not banking on what I’ve done, and neither should you. What matters now is who I’m becoming.

That’s a decent summary, but still a little wordy, so let me condense it even more:

I’ve not arrived, but you better believe I’m going hard after Jesus so I can grab ahold of all he has for me, knowing full well he’s already grabbed ahold of me.
Even better, right? But we could go even more concise and catchy, with the Fleetwood Mac version:

(You know Patrick had people singing Bon Jovi in his sermon at the retreat a few weeks ago and I seriously considered leading us Don’t Stop today, but I’m just not confident enough in my singing.)

This passage from Philippians 3 tells us 3 things; it tells us: how not to live, how to live, and why to live that way. How not to live, how to live, and why to live that way.

(It just feels right to preach a 3-point sermon on Reformation Sunday)

I read this passage, and I hear a clear emphasis on time, or on tense (and those summaries were clearly trying to draw that out, a little).

1. First: what we are called to not do, how not to live, is focus on, or dwell in, the past… and, believe it or not, we are called not to focus fully on the present moment. There are a lot of pithy sayings about time I bet you’ve heard, and each could almost encapsulate a corresponding philosophy about life.

For example:
“If we don’t study history we are doomed to _______ (repeat it.)” A little less known and pithy, author Henri Nouwen, who I hope you know, says something like this: “our wounds are healed not by forgetting or rushing to move on, but by re-entering our past.” The past IS important.

But, Paul says… you can’t stay there. There’s a long list of fortune-cookie-like proverbs about the significance of living in the present moment:

“Seize the day!”
“Take it one day at a time.”
“Yesterday’s history, tomorrow’s a mystery, today’s a gift, that’s why they call it the present.”

There are even some more religiously-rooted sayings, like:
          “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re ______ (no earthly good.)”

The new testament offers wisdom likes this. Jesus himself said “don’t worry about tomorrow;” his brother James cautioned against saying “tomorrow we’ll do this or that”… because only God knows.

Some of that seems to directly contradict Fleetwood Mac, and my sermon title. At different times, we need to hear different things; all of those sayings – depending on the mental groove we’ve worn in our own thinking that has so much power to shape our lives – all of those sayings can have guiding value.

It’s true that learning and healing can and do come from engagement with the past; living in the present moment is healthy and grounding. But Paul says in this passage: who I was, and even who I am, today, are not the only or even most important, defining things about me.

To help us understand, he offers one of his famous credential lists – his resume of righteousness – all the merit badges that would be on his “religious scout uniform”… and it is quite impressive. Most of us are typically self-aware enough of how that comes across to not do that, ourselves, individually – touting all the things we’ve done (unless we are actually submitting a professional resume)… but sometimes I wonder if there is a different level of social acceptance when it comes to offering righteousness lists about groups that we’re in.

For example, we have reason to boast, as a congregation:
     • incredible music and music program – choir, youth choir, children’s choir
     • 3 pastors and a whole staff team who work well together and bring different yet compatible gifts and passions
     • tangible love and hospitality for our downtown neighbors expressed through Saturday Sanctuary!
     • welcome circle or over 30 people supporting Afghan refugees in our community
     • a 5-star licensed, in demand Child Care Center that we house and support (and started)
     • an active Racial Justice Task Force, fostering relationships and inviting us into concrete action and activism
     • rich faith-formation and education opportunities for all ages
     • opportunities to connect and enjoy fellowship throughout the year
     • a vibrant youth group
     • a Liturgical Arts groups that helps us theologically and imaginatively engage with symbols and beauty in worship… (the list goes on)

I’m not sure if you have ever had any of those boastful thoughts, or even spoken them aloud to friends or neighbors or family… but I know I have. Almost every one of them! (and I’ve only been part of this church for 10 months). We do a lot, as a church. And this is good. But those things – none by themselves, and even that list as a whole… they do not, it does not, make us righteous.

In fact, Paul takes it one step further and says that he considers those things – his credentials and accomplishments – as rubbish: a pile of trash (Eugene Peterson calls it dog dung, though even that may be tame for the Greek word Paul uses here for excrement). Why? Because not only have none of those things made him righteous; in fact, they could be more harmful than helpful because they could lead him (or others) to think that they do make him righteous. He would trade all of those things, in a second, for the much greater good of simply knowing Christ.

The list of all the good things you have done, that we’ve done… does not make you more and more like Jesus. We can’t rest on our laurels.

2. Instead, we are called (and this is point 2) to think about tomorrow. Not in order to worry about it. Not to make unbreakable plans for it. Not really even in the way Fleetwood Mac wants us to, as a sort of positivity life-hack or optimistic glass-half-full rose-colored glasses mind-trick. “Yesterday’s gone, why not think about times to come?”

We are called to look ahead because we genuinely believe – with hope, and faith – that God is not done with us. For Paul, looking ahead is about getting everything being offered to us in Christ Jesus.

There’s a play on words toward the end of the passage I read that we only partially see in our translation. The same word is used for what Paul is trying to do to the prize of Christ… make it his own, as is used for what Christ has done to him – made him his own. Some translations say obtain or achieve or grab. But the Greek word also means to perceive or understand. We press on to understand Christ and the power of his resurrection, knowing that Christ fully understands us. I think the word, grasp, would be the best translation, because it can have both meanings. You can grasp something in the sense that you seize something eagerly… the way our two-year old daughter grasps onto a stuffed animal (or her mom) after being reunited after a few minutes apart. You can also grasp something intellectually, to lay ahold with the mind, to comprehend, the way our daughter is beginning to grasp the concept of “No.” (She’s not there yet; what she does understand of it, she doesn’t like). Paul says: “I’m trying to grasp Christlikeness just like Christ has grasped me.”

What is required of us to become like Jesus, is striving to understand and grab ahold of what God has done for us, to embrace tightly the reality that God has embraced us. The life we are called to is a life of pressing on, running hard, straining toward that goal. And that sounds… exhausting, doesn’t it?

3. So third, and finally: why? Why are we called to live this way – a life of pushing hard and straining.

Because God wants us to mature and grow; we are meant to become more and more like Jesus, and we have to know that this doesn’t happen overnight, or by accident. Christian author and philosopher Dallas Willard probably said it best when he said, “nobody drifts into Christlikeness.” It takes intentionality. Deliberate work and effort. Discipline. Development. Formation. But he also said:

Well-informed human effort and actions under our control certainly is indispensable, for spiritual formation is no passive process. But Christlikeness of the inner being is not a human attainment. It is, finally, a gift of grace, through the interactive presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who place either confidence in Christ.

(You know I so badly wanted to quote John Calvin today, on Reformation Sunday. He basically says the same thing, in the Institutes… the problem is that he takes about 8 pages to say what Willard says in a few lines.)

If it was up to us, to simply work hard to become as Christlike as possible, through rigorous discipline, that would become one more patch on our religious scout uniform; one more feather in our righteousness cap. Or, as Luther puts it in our opening hymn this morning: “our striving (if only our effort) would be losing.”

When we allow Christ to grasp us, and the more we grasp Christ, the more Christlike we become through the Spirit’s work in us. We simply allow what God did for us in Jesus, who Jesus is, to awaken us to fully embracing what that means for us.

The reformation reminds us that God is not done with the church, or with us. We are reformed and always reforming. And we are being shaped and formed by all kinds of things that are coming at us, all the time – messages from the news media and politicians, movies and shows, how we spend our time, the people we spend our time with…Whatever our level of awareness or desire for that, it is happening.

So to close, I want to pose some questions for you to consider, right now, and later today, and throughout this coming week:

• How is the Spirit shaping you into Christlikeness?
• Is there something more or different you are being invited into (not to earn your righteousness, but to open up more space for God to do what God wants to do in you)
• Are there disciplines that would help you – not to force yourself into becoming more like Jesus, as though it were in your control – but to open yourself more to the Spirit’s molding of you into what she wants you to be – which is like Jesus?
• How are you pressing on toward that goal or grasping Christ?

And even as we ask those questions, may we remember, first and foremost… Christ has already grasped – understood, and eagerly embrace – us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[Benediction] As you go… Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. Press on toward the goal of grasping and becoming like Christ… confident that Christ has grasped you. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.


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