St. Paul's Lutheran Church
2nd Sunday in Lent (Year C)
March 17th, 2019
“Walking Now in What is to Come”
Our text for today’s message is the epistle lesson, Philippians 3:17-4:1.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
I recently went to Calvary High School to participate in a “Witness Workshop” they put on every year. The goal is to give the students practice talking about their faith and being witnesses to Christ for people that they encounter in their lives and will encounter in the near future. Like in a college dorm room! Calvary invited several pastors from the area to help. We were given assignments of “characters” that we were to imitate—likely types that students will see. Mine was a non-denominational mega-church guy. Now, we had license to present the character anyway we thought would engage the students. We were encouraged to use props to help them start a conversation.
I used my phone, and played a guy who is plugged into a mega-church by simply watching sermons “on line” on You-Tube. But I morphed into an altered form of the character—one who uses the accessibility of the internet to “worship” however and whenever he wanted. The main focus to my portrayal was that worship was about me. What suits me, what makes me feel good. What is convenient for me. In doing this, the students were quite appalled at just how selfish I really was. They could barely hide their disdain! “My relationship with God was my business,” I told them. I showed that I cared about no one else. Freedom was my rallying cry. “La Libertie”. Live and let live.
Truth is, it was quite easy to play a self-centered, egotistical jerk. Like putting on an old shoe. Comfortable and cozy. What I was doing, though, was simply imitating. Imitating what I’ve seen, what I’ve heard, what I’ve read.
Comparison, Part One: Imitation of Paul vs. the World
This is where we find Paul in our reading. Imitation. But not to teach by mocking. Imitation as example against the world. “Be co-imitators of me”. What is he up to? Imitate what? His shipwrecks, imprisonment, and impending martyrdom? No, I think he is up to something bigger. To be sure, suffering is entailed in imitation of Paul, but what he wants the Philippians to imitate is the power of the resurrection that has been given to him.
See, Paul has been talking about his progress. Whatever gain he had in the Jewish world he counted as rubbish. He is now found in Christ, and has been given His righteousness from God. What he is onto now is the power of the resurrection and attaining it. Not that he has already obtained it. He says he has forgot what lies behind and strains forward to what lies ahead. He says this is maturity. He says now to imitate this example that you have in us and walk accordingly.
What Paul offers next, is a counter-example; another kind of imitation. And this is similar to what I was doing for the Calvary students. Paul gives a snapshot of ones that the Philippians knew all to well. Ones who walk as enemies to the cross of Christ. And while Paul’s goal is the resurrection and transformation like the glorious body of Jesus, what the world shows is something quite different. Their end, their goal is destruction. Destruction. Sounds dire! But that is the walk that Paul offers as counter-example. The highway to certain ruin.
Example of a Theologian of Glory
In my presentation at Calvary, channeling mega-church guy and his totally self-centered view of faith, I emphasized to the students my complete disregard of any need for forgiveness. They would talk of sin, and would ask, “What’s that? You do you! Live and let live! What I want is a personal relationship with Jesus where He helps me live my life! I want positivity, not negativity. I just want Jesus. Give me some of that amazing grace. Unlock the power of the words of faith and let me live and prosper.” But this, my friends, is a true enemy of the cross of Christ.
Why did Paul put it that way—the cross of Christ? Because, anybody can say that they have faith, or they believe in God, or know Jesus. But the cross is the locus of all that Paul preaches—the Gospel. The forgiveness of sins in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone. And Paul says that he weeps tears for those who oppose that action. That Jesus dies for their sins…on the cross.
The gods of Bellies
So, Paul unpacks what these enemies do. How they live. He says that their gods are their bellies. Oooohh. That one hits a little close to home! But there is a clear distinction drawn. Two roads to travel. Two ways to walk. The counter-example is a people that live strictly for themselves. A decadent delight in the path to ruin. Who value choices and variety of choice above all else. Folks—this is our entire way of life! We want the world to be a giant drive through window at Taco Bell! “Give me the number six…cause it’s what I want.” And next week, we can order something else. Give me options. I pick and choose.
One of the ways I talked about my character’s “church”, was that he could worship anywhere and anytime he wanted. If he wanted to play golf on Sunday morning, then that’s what he would do! When challenged by one of the students about this, saying, “But don’t you want to be around other people?”, my character said, “No! I don’t like other people!” What I want is to serve myself, and be filled up with Jesus…when and where I choose.
The other way to think of a modern version of what Paul talks about (minds set on earthly things) is our phones. For many of us, the phone is the god of our existence. What we look to for help in all times of need. Even having it in our presence is a distraction. What our entire life is centered around! Parents…you ever tried to take your phone away from your teen? Parents, you ever tried to take your phone away from yourself? “…Their god is their phones…” And while some of you smugly say, “I don’t even have a phone…”, don’t make me find the gods in your life! The things your mind is set on!
Comparison, Part Two: the Pattern of the Resurrection
But positively, after these negative counter-examples, Paul points to a future for Christ-followers who still are waiting here on earth. He says, “Our citizenship is in heaven…” The KJV translates this “conversation” …signaling something shared. The Greek can be rendered “commonwealth” or “common society”. Paul points to an important reality to the Philippian Christians, who were surrounded by suffering, but also valued their life-together and status as Romans citizens. This is reality as not of the world, not self-centered, but a shared existence. One which the gift of forgiveness has been given and the righteousness of God has been bestowed to all together. And while waiting in the now-present state, the commonwealth awaits a Savior. One who will transform us. There is another, a better existence, that Paul will press on towards. Transformed bodies. The resurrection.
And this is the walk of Paul. This is why he says “join in imitating me.” For amidst the sufferings of this world, the disappointments, the brokenness of sin, Paul embodies the joy and hope given him in Christ now to His body the Church. He is a co-participant in the reality of the Gospel. He has been given the promise of the glory of Jesus. Paul’s pattern is a hard one to follow if we look at his present circumstances when he wrote this letter. He was in prison. This was his last letter. He’s looking at death—beheading—in just a few years. But he puts it this way earlier in the letter: only let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ…for it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now still have.
But the imitation Paul points to is not just suffering, but a future glory where the prize of the upward call is found only in Christ Jesus. It is a certain prize given by the grace of God, but it is still what he strains forward to. It is his progress and goal. Paul’s pattern is a resurrection walk; walking…living now in what is to come. This is to put off and away foolish, sin-filled distractions, and instead of opposing Christ’s cross, to actually try to live under its shadow of forgiveness. For that is to be covered with His righteousness and mercy.
Resurrection walking points to a physical and spiritual reality where all pain and suffering are finally gone, and we are left in holy citizenship, common purpose and conversation with God and one another. This is the future of an every day Easter! So, we practice now. Like the students at Calvary, practicing conversations. Imitating responses heard and shared. And so we gather as church, in repentance and faith, and gathering together to receive the foretaste of the feast to come. We practice our resurrection walk with Paul and all the saints…until we obtain the perfection of the resurrection of Christ Jesus, our Savior. Amen.