19th Sunday after Pentecost

October 4, 2020


4b If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of
the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a
persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as
loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ
Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may
gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith – 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 3:4b-14 ESV)

If, at the beginning of this year, you invested everything you had and started up a restaurant, I can imagine that
things would be pretty grim for you. If, at the beginning of this year, you invested everything you had in a
courier business, I can imagine that you might be smiling with the amount of work you have. Same year, same
pandemic, these people might even be the same age, same get-up-and-go, same confidence, but very different
outcomes. And it’s not as if it is anyone’s fault per se. We say, ‘That’s life!’.

Eric Bogle’s song ‘The Gift of Years’ is about an elderly man visiting the war grave of a mate who died 75 years
earlier in battle and he has returned to the foreign land to say ‘thank you’ and says,

“And the country that you died for, mate, you would not know it now.
The future that we dreamed of, mate, got all twisted up somehow.
The peace that we were fighting for, the end to stupid senseless war,
So it couldn’t happen to our kids – well, old mate, it did.”

The hoped for future doesn’t always work out as we hoped – often we get blind sided by the unintended
consequences or human hubris. Nevertheless so much of living is about navigating the future so we are happy
and healthy but life isn’t the same for everyone. When the pandemic first really took hold there was the
metaphor going around that we were all in the same boat which I didn’t like or accept and said that we were in
the same storm but we definitely not in the same boat. But in whatever boat we’re in, we all want to reach
harbour safely and do as well as possible for ourselves and our children. And so we live by what we think is
important and teach the next generation that – and what they do is finally up to them.

It is exactly the same with religion. If people believe in something more than they can see, hear, feel, taste, and
touch, then somewhere there will be a confidence, a foundation, that upholds that belief and the lifestyle that
flows from it. But it is still very much up to the individual how the religion is believed and lived – and assuming
that the priests and teachers are consistent in the message. Differing doctrines come about because words might
change their meaning, get translated differently, or people want to use them for their own purposes. Differing
responses can happen to the same situation – two women in the same congregation both discover husbands
having affairs, the husbands repent and ask for forgiveness and two years later one marriage is together and
strong and the other marriage has ended in divorce. Two families lose a child in death and a year later one family
still trusts God and the other family has rejected God.

Again we all nod and say ‘That’s life’. Yes, it is but how should we live it?

Well, of course, it is your life, and so it is very much up to you but what Paul discovered that, for him, the
answer for living, the person who gives true meaning to life, the person who can and does help, and the one upon
whom one can have confidence is Jesus Christ – a crucified carpenter – who was raised by God again to new life
and the only description that makes sense of the story of Jesus is that he is Lord – which challenges every
religious person especially his fellow Jews because that word really refers to ‘God’ – and it also challenges the
political and social world of the Roman Empire because it was a term first century Emperors tended to use – and
to claim someone else was Lord had political and social consequences.

We find Paul still under house arrest, still writing his thank you letter to the Philippians and he has heard or he
knows their experience that other people have come after him to the Christian communities to ‘update’ the
Gospel by insisting that the process to become a Christian is Gentile becomes a Jew (male circumcision) and
then becomes a Christian. This version tore the Church apart and Paul saw clearly that the confidence rested in
what people did – in this case circumcision and following the rules of Moses. So in his letter Paul reminds the
Philippians that our foundation, our confidence about faith and life can only be in God’s grace in Christ and
nothing else. He knows what he is talking about because he had both a Jewish religious pedigree people would
die for and a Roman political pedigree that was top notch, and he even persecuted Christians in his former life,
but now he regards is former confidences and securities as dung or smelly rubbish – because all that is important
is knowing and growing close to Jesus.

And I know that sounds almost like 1960s hippy Jesus freak type message but Paul wasn’t off with the fairies in
a spiritual Woodstock but pointing out to the Philippians that following Jesus will get you noticed, at some point,
because you will be out of step with those around you – family, friends, work colleagues, society – and they will
be challenged by you and often not respond kindly. It is not a matter of Christians pointing the finger at the
world and saying ‘you sinners!’ – and sadly there has been too much of that in Church history – but it is a matter
of Christians speaking up or often not doing something that is expected, accepted, regarded as ‘normal’ –
whether that be in business, in politics, in friendships, or with what or how much we eat and drink or how we
behave in our relationships.

It is hard to go against the flow – and we can even doubt ourselves. Paul was still waiting for the Roman judicial
system to deal with his case and if found guilty – an enemy to Rome – he would be executed – but this was the
path he was on that might lead to his resurrection or to a stay of execution and then he would be released and live
on until one day he would die and face the resurrection. All Christians live that way – we believe we will live on
in the resurrection that Jesus has won for us – but we don’t see it yet, we trust the words Jesus says – and live by
faith always conscious that our sinful self wants to find confidence in something other than Jesus – good works,
being a nice person or better than most, a good church member, and so on.

Life throws new things at us all the time. People have all sorts of theories, philosophies, and religious views and
more are being added all the time – though often they are repackaged versions of old ideas. How do we best
live? Where is our security? There are many answers here and for the followers of Jesus it is that we choose not
to look inwards for our security and not outwards to our things – possessions or accolades – but outwards – to a
cross, to an empty tomb, to words, water, bread and wine – all of which mysteriously bring a person to us –
Jesus, truly human and truly divine – and here’s the greatest mystery of all, he has given us life with him and he
helps us live it. Such security and confidence is the best way to face the vagaries of life or any storm that might
blown in.

I don’t know how Jesus will help the new restaurateur or guide the new courier business owner but he will not
abandon either of them and in a Christian community Jesus will lead their fellow sisters and brothers to help and
support them. Life is not lived alone – when we are following Jesus, there are always others nearby looking to
the same Lord as we are – as we all go forward one day, at a time, with hope.

Bible References

  • Philippians 3:4b - 14