Who Do You Want to Be?
“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 toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
This is the Word of the Lord
I have a pretty solid Christian pedigree. I was born on a Saturday and eight days later I was in the church nursery. I come from a long line of southern and conservative Baptists – some of who are missionaries and ordained ministers. The tradition in which I was raised continues to frown on women in positions of authority in the church, so I am the anomaly. Family gatherings are sometimes interesting since, as the only ordained woman in the bunch, they don’t quite know what to do with me.
My mother’s family can trace its roots to the original Pilgrim settlers who came to this country in order to express their Protestant Christian beliefs in a freedom that was lacking in Europe at the time. My father was a full-blood American Indian, and as far back as anyone can remember the tribe embraced the Protestant Christian faith as articulated by the Baptists.
We often say my mother came over on the Mayflower and my father was here to greet her. It was very convenient that there would be no religious squabbles at their union.
So I get Paul. I get him completely. Paul had every right to be proud of his religious heritage. He had every right to sit back and relax. He was circumcised according to the law; he was born a Jew – he wasn’t a convert. Paul was from the tribe of Benjamin – one of the two southern tribes of Israel that actually continued to exist through the exile. The Northern tribes were assimilated into Assyrian community and culture following the fall of Northern Israel. They were no longer “pure bloods.” Paul, on the other hand, could trace his Jewish roots as far back as the temple records would go.
Paul was a “Hebrew of the Hebrews,” which meant he not only was born a Jew he spoke fluent Hebrew, even though he grew up in the diaspora – in Turkey – the city of Tarsus. Not many in the diaspora could make that claim.
Goodness gracious! Paul was a Pharisee. Not only did he observe the law, he interpreted the law for everyone else. Paul knew what righteousness was and he knew that he was the dictionary definition of the word.
Paul had every reason to boast. He was so righteous that he spent a few years persecuting the Christian church. “What he was by birth and what he had become by conviction and achievement were enough to tally a high level of superiority compared to anyone else” who might be preaching righteousness by what they do.[i]
But you know what? That wasn’t enough for Paul. That long list of religious accomplishments wasn’t enough. Paul realized that righteousness solely according to the law was an illusion. Now, It’s not that Paul thought the law was bad. In fact, “for Paul, the covenant with Abraham, who believed in God and whose faith was accounted to him as righteousness, was still in effect.[ii] Paul continued to believe “the Law of Moses given to Israel … was good and holy and of God, serving to teach, restrain, and to make sin clear and evident.”[iii]
No, Paul was not disparaging the law. Paul was asking, “have you met Jesus.” Meeting Jesus made all the difference. To know Jesus is to have his resurrection power. To have faith in God through Jesus is the power to be all that God has created us to be.
What is resurrection power? Well, I think it is the power that pours new life into lifeless circumstances. It is that kind of power that perseveres and overcomes anything that would resist what is compassionate, good and right in the eyes of God. I believe that is something this community knows something about.
Now. Today. In this time and in this place we have the power to be all that God has created us to be; and we have the authority to do all that God has prepared for us to do because we participate with Christ in the mending of the world.
So, how does that play out? Well, I thought I could rest on my Christian pedigree until I became a member of Hollywood Presbyterian Church. It was my first Presbyterian experience; and, following the new members class, those wishing to join the church had a one-on-one interview with one of the elders. Before I could get myself firmly situated in the chair, Elder Evelyn Beberian said to me: “tell me about your relationship with Jesus Christ.”
At that moment I realized that I knew the language. I was brought up in the church. I first came to know Christ at the 1957 Billy Graham Crusade in Madison Square Garden. I could talk a good game, but it wasn’t real. I knew a lot of stuff about being a Christian, but I didn’t know Christ and the power of his resurrection. Not really. And from that moment on, knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection became my goal because I knew that during all those years of my being Christian-lite, Christ had already made me his own.
So yeah. I get Paul – at least in this passage. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection. I want to live in the power that propels me to do more for the mending of the world than I can possibly imagine. I want to live in the power that calls me to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God – every hour of every day – even when I am afraid.
I’ve read the Western Presbyterian Church mission study. This community, too, has a long and proud pedigree of Christian endeavor. The first church building was completed in 1856 and it was not too many years later the church was used as a hospital to treat wounded Civil War soldiers. From its inception Western Presbyterian Church supported global mission in China and in India and in the Middle East.
Even when Western landed on troubled times she saw herself as a beacon of light for those experiencing the vicissitudes of changing neighborhood demographics. This community was the genesis of Miriam’s Kitchen. What an amazing feat! Two meals and a myriad of social service assistance provided each day to people who are experiencing homelessness and economic insecurity. I am in awe of what this community has been able to do in resurrection power. Western Presbyterian Church continues to follow that Presbyterian imperative to be the exhibition of the kingdom of Heaven to the world. And, although John Calvin did not write that line, I know he would be proud.
I have only been at Western a few days; yet I am convinced you members and friends of this community of faith have a ton of amazingness in your future. What I see is that you are not content to rest on your Christian laurels. You are not going to forget your proud heritage, but you are going to build on it – straining forward to what lies ahead. You will press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
To this I say: Thanks be to God.
[i] Maxie D. Dunnam and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Galatians / Ephesians / Philippians / Colossians / Philemon, vol. 31, The Preacher’s Commentary Series (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982), 286–298.
[ii] Romans 4:1-12
[iii] Fred B. Craddock, Philippians, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta, GA: J. Knox Press, 1985), 54–64.