The Goal | 5th in Lent

Philippians 3:4b-14

4b If anyone else has reason to put their confidence in physical advantages, I have even more: 5 I was circumcised on the eighth day. I am from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin. I am a Hebrew of the Hebrews. With respect to observing the Law, I’m a Pharisee. 6 With respect to devotion to the faith, I harassed the church. With respect to righteousness under the Law, I’m blameless. 7 These things were my assets, but I wrote them off as a loss for the sake of Christ. 8 But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have lost everything for him, but what I lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ 9 and be found in him. In Christ I have a righteousness that is not my own and that does not come from the Law but rather from the faithfulness of Christ. It is the righteousness of God that is based on faith. 10 The righteousness that I have comes from knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings. It includes being conformed to his death 11 so that I may perhaps reach the goal of the resurrection of the dead.

12 It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. 13 Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. 14 The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.

The Goal

We live in a credentialed world. When my wife was working toward her credentials as a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, she had to get a Bachelor of Science degree, complete required internships, and pass a test. Only after she met the right criteria could she put the letters CTRS behind her name to show that she had the right credentials in Therapeutic Recreation.

Many fields require credentialing. The credentials are why we believe people when they talk about their area of expertise. The credentials are why we trust people like doctors, nurses, lawyers, therapists, pastors, teachers, meteorologists (sometimes), firefighters, police officers, and so many others. When they have the right credentials, we can trust that they more-than-likely know what they’re talking about in their particular field.

You might not know this, but one of the steps for a person who’s seeking ordination in the United Methodist Church is that we are certified. We are certified as a candidate for ordained ministry. I think it’s an accurate term—despite the negative connotation—because you almost have to be crazy to go into ordained ministry. But they check that too through psychological examinations to make sure that, while we’re certified, we aren’t certified.

There are many autobiographical passages found in Paul’s letters. I think they’re powerful because Paul takes the little story about his life and makes it meaningful by showing us how his story connects to the bigger story of God’s activity of salvation. In this text, Paul lists some of his credentials.

Yet, for us, the idea moves beyond credentials. Because, if we’re properly credentialed, we should become a success. How do we judge our lives as successful? Maybe we can hold up our list of personal accomplishments and achievements. How do we judge others as successful? We probably hold up their list of personal accomplishments and achievements. We might also look at what kind of car they drive, how well they dress, or how big their house is.

This practice of judging successfulness is most visible in the world of professional sports. Before the Colts won the Superbowl in 2007, the commentators all said that Peyton Manning, as great as he was, needed to win the big one in order to be considered one of the elite quarterbacks ever to play the game. After he won, the commentators started to say that he needed to win two Superbowls to be considered “elite.” Even winning it all is never enough. What do all sports commentators still say about Dan Marino? He’s the greatest quarterback who never won a Superbowl. For all the things Dan Marino accomplished, his successes are all tempered by this one lacking achievement.

Let me tell you about myself. How would you judge me?

I grew up at Central United Methodist Church where all the Romains worshipped as a family.

I was baptized by the Rev. Dr. Web Garrison, the former Dean of Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

As to zeal, I hardly ever missed a Sunday of worship or Youth Group unless I was too sick to go. God called me to ministry when I was a child so young that I didn’t understand what it meant, and God continued to call until I was old enough to answer.

I graduated from Evansville North High School in 1995, which was the year Redbook Magazine ranked my high school as the #3 academic high school in the United States of America.

I was accepted as a Certified Candidate for Ordained Ministry by the Evansville District of the South Indiana Conference in 1998.

I attended The University of Findlay and graduated in 1999 with a Bachelor of Science degree. I majored in Environmental and Hazardous Materials Management with an emphasis in Environmental Policy and Compliance, and I had two minors: one in Political Science, and one in Religion. I was even voted the 1998 Homecoming King by the student body. (I have the crown to prove it).

I continued my education at Duke University: The Divinity School, and I graduated in 2003 with a Master of Divinity degree.

I am a United Methodist of United Methodists.

I was Commissioned as a Probationary Elder by Bishop Woody White at the 35th Session of the South Indiana Annual Conference at Bloomington, Indiana on June 06, 2003.

I was ordained as an Elder in Full Connection at the 38th Session of the South Indiana Annual Conference at Bloomington, Indiana on June 09, 2006. Two bishops laid hands on me at my ordination: Bishop Michael Coyner of Indiana, and Bishop Hans Vaxby of the Eurasia Area. Others who laid hands on me were Rev. Craig Duke of the United Methodist Church, and Pastor Will Miller of The University of Findlay who is ordained in the Churches of God, General Conference.

I have served in ministry at a North Carolina state institution, a mission agency of the Southeastern Jurisdiction, and multiple local churches, large and small across North Carolina and Indiana.

I’m 42 years old. I have 3 amazing children, an intelligent and capable wife (which is, of course, the singularly most important thing on my resume).

As a family, we have always given the full 10% tithe to our churches, and we give to other charities as well.

So, what do you think of my résumé? Would you judge me as successful? Or would you say that I’ve not really been successful until I become a bishop?

The thing is, everyone here could give a story of your own grand successes—much grander than mine—be it in business, or farming, or education, or the medical field, or parenting, or volunteer work, or whatever else. We all have something on our résumé that speaks of our success.

Paul says, “If anyone else has reason to put their confidence in physical advantages, I have even more: I was circumcised on the eighth day. I am from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin. I am a Hebrew of the Hebrews. With respect to observing the Law, I’m a Pharisee. With respect to devotion to the faith, I harassed the church. With respect to righteousness under the Law, I’m blameless” Philippians 3:4b-6 CEB).

If it is all about success, Paul has it made! He’s got every important detail on his résumé. He has all the right credentials. We know that he was educated by Gamaliel, the son Hillel, who of one of the two most influential teachers in the last 2000 years of Jewish history. His heritage and religious achievements are unparalleled!

But then Paul gives us a reevaluation of his life in light of knowing Jesus Christ. He says, “These things were my assets, but I wrote them off as a loss for the sake of Christ. But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have lost everything for him, but what I lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ and be found in him. In Christ I have a righteousness that is not my own and that does not come from the Law but rather from the faithfulness of Christ. It is the righteousness of God that is based on faith. The righteousness that I have comes from knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings. It includes being conformed to his death so that I may perhaps reach the goal of the resurrection of the dead” (Philippians 3:7-11 CEB).

Let me give you a reevaluation of my résumé. Compared to knowing Jesus Christ, it is all rubbish. My education, my ordination, my financial situation, everything in my life is counted as loss compared to gaining Christ.

Will my education save me? How about my ordination? Won’t my ordination save me? I mean I’m a pastor, for Pete’s sake! No. No. No. In the light of Christ, what the world sees as important becomes unimportant. My life, my achievements, mean nothing without the presence of Jesus Christ in my life. And I can say with all certainty that I would never have achieved a thing in my life had God not provided the way and the means for me to achieve it. Everything I have done has its root, its beginning, in God. Rather than what I have done, any accomplishments I might claim are what God has done in me, what God has accomplished in me, and what I expect God to yet accomplish in me.

In coming to know Jesus Christ, Paul gained a new lens through which he viewed life differently. Paul uses the commercial terms of “gain” and “loss.” Knowing Jesus Christ, to mix the metaphor a little, rearranges the price tags of life in such a way that items we previously thought of as valuable are recognized as worthless, and items once regarded as having little importance are cherished.

The surpassing value of knowing Christ means having a relationship to God that is based on faith in Christ. No credentials of success in life or religion will determine our status before God other than that of knowing Jesus Christ and following his example in faith. We are accepted by God not because of our achievements, but because of the faith we have in—and the obedience we show to—Christ.

You see, knowing Christ is spelled out in terms of participation with Christ, of knowing the power of his resurrection and sharing his sufferings by being conformed to his death. The way Paul writes this is arresting. I would have thought a different order was more appropriate—of suffering and then resurrection, of Good Friday and then Easter, of anguish endured and then resolution. Instead, the reverse is suggested: that the power of Christ’s resurrection leads to and is known in the obedience of our faith and the inevitable strife it brings.

Karl Barth puts it this way, “To know Easter means, for the person knowing it, as stringently as may be: to be implicated in the events of Good Friday…The way in which the power of Christ’s resurrection works powerfully in the apostle is, that he is clothed with the shame of the cross” (Cousar, Texts for Preaching, Year C, p.234).

So a question for us to consider is: do we see ourselves as being clothed in the shame of the cross?

Paul then tells us his intentions for how he’ll live the rest of his life because he knows Jesus Christ. He says that he hasn’t reached the goal or ben perfected, but he strives to grab hold of Christ because Christ grabbed hold of Paul for a purpose that is bigger than Paul. He said, “Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14 CEB).

Like my story, and like your story, Paul’s story is—at the time he wrote this—unfinished. God’s future beckons to us to press on and strain forward to what lies ahead. We have not yet arrived, but we are on our way. God has accepted us, and this acceptance by God can energize us to continue to press forward, to pursue the vocation to which God has called us. Our motivation comes from God’s grace and the promise of our participation in the resurrection. Paul’s story provides a paradigm of the Gospel. It shows us how the Gospel works to powerfully change our view of life and create in us a renewed sense of expectation for the future.

God’s plan for us is not to make us successful according to the way the world views success. God’s plan is to make us faithful, to make us holy, to reveal the power of the resurrection in a fragile body which is subject to death. Whether any of us are successful according to the judgment of the world, or not, it doesn’t matter. In light of Christ; in light of knowing Christ; in light of participating in Christ; our worldly successes and accomplishments are all rubbish anyway.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!

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