Philippians 3:4b-14
5th Sunday of Lent
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Bless us, O Christ, with a reverent sense of your presence that we may worship you with all our body, soul, mind, and spirit.

Would you be happier if you spent more time discussing the state of the world and the meaning of life — and less time talking about the weather? It may sound counterintuitive, but people who spend more of their day having deep discussions and less time engaging in small talk seem to be happier, said Matthias Mehl, a psychologist at the University of Arizona who published a recent study on the subject. (NYT March 17, 2010, Talk Deeply, Be Happy? by Roni Caryn Rabin)

Okay, so from now on, Peace people, try to shift it up to a higher level of authentic relating. You’ll not only be more interesting, but you’ll be happier. It’s okay to break the ice with weather and tv and sports, but don’t stay in the same gear. Move on and talk about what really matters. Paul knew how to talk about what really matters. He did not waste time on the rubbish of small talk because of the inestimable value of knowing Christ. Gretchen Frueh knows how to talk about what matters, and even more so now, because she doesn’t have much time to dwell on the insignificant.

Paul wants the Philippians to think about the inestimable value of knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection and I am standing here before you because I want all of us to know more deeply the surpassing value of knowing Christ. I want you to leave today convinced that the most important thing you ever do, you ever have done or ever will do is worship God. Revere God. Celebrate the goodness of God.

Think a few minutes about things that make you special. Your good lucks, your knowledge or sheer intelligence, your athletic ability, your wonderful family, your lucrative career, your family heritage, your professional expertise, your entrepreneurial acumen, your caring heart, your financial stability, your conversational skill, your knack for home decorating, your strong or energetic body, your pragmatic judgment, your kindness, your musical or artistic talent. Think of two or three things which define you, in which you are confident.

Now hear Paul put those things in perspective. Regarding his special talents, privileges, heritage, and accomplishments, he declares them rubbish, even worse dung, poop. I could name some other crass words that rhyme with rap and it. And the point is – everything Paul counted on for his personal value became worthless when compared with the greater value of knowing Christ. Hear what he has to say about revering the Lord, putting Christ first, pressing forward to the high calling of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

NRS Philippians 3:4.If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5 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; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 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 9 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. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own; but this one, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 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, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Forget the past. Live rightly in the present, so you can be properly focused on the future. We usually do one of two things with the past. Revel in it, clinging to all our accomplishments, longing for all the power and freedom we enjoyed in it. Or we can regret our past, re-living it over and over again, wishing that we did things differently or that life could have taken a different course. If only... Neither of those pleases God. One keeps you prideful and the other makes you despairing. There’s no future with hope if you’re stuck in your past. Learn from the past, but don’t dwell in it. You have a future with hope. Don’t get stuck in the past. Live in the present, but not for the present.

In the present, you can live in shallow or deep thoughts. In the present you can live for yourself or for God and others. You can try to juggle many things which you consider of equal value or you can set priorities, putting Christ in his rightful first place. You can live for immediate gratification or live for the joy and peace which will carry you into your future with Christ. In the present, you can sit back on your laurels, thinking you have reached the goal, or that you deserve to relax. You have a righteousness given in Christ, not imparted to you through your good works, but you are still called to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Forget the past. Live rightly in the present, so you can be focused on the future.

Paul says to the them, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death.” Like him in his death? We don’t like to think about death but we know that it is in the future for each of us. Those who face it with courage in the present, like Gretchen, help us to face up too. When she and I got together on Monday to talk about her memorial service, I asked her to reflect on these verses and she sent me this quote from Henri Nouwen’s book, The Inner Voice of Love, his private journal published after his death.

Nouwen says, “... Maybe the death at the end of your life won’t be so fearful if you can die well now. Yes, the real death — the passage from time into eternity, from the transient beauty of this world to the lasting beauty of the next, from darkness into light — has to be made now. And you do not have to make it alone. God has sent people to be very close to you as you gradually let go of the world that holds you captive. ...The more you trust in the love of those God has sent to you, the more you will be able to lose your life and so gain it.

Success, notoriety, affection, future plans, entertainment, satisfying work, health, intellectual stimulation, emotional support — yes, even spiritual progress — none of these can be clung to as if they are essential for survival. Only as you let go of them can you discover the true freedom your heart most desires. That is dying, moving into the life beyond life. You must make that passage now, not just at the end of your earthly life... (Henri J. M. Nouwen (1932-1996) The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom, pp. 107-108. Nouwen’s “secret journal,” written to himself during the most difficult period of his life.)

One way to stay focused on our heavenly calling to pray more often. Gia has challenged me to join her in praying on the hour, every hour, every hour on my knees. She claims it has been transformative. I’m going to try it this week. How about you? Just try it for a day – pray every hour on the hour. Say the Jesus prayer – Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Pray the Serenity prayer or the Lord’s prayer or St Patrick’s Prayer, which we sang at the beginning of the service. Pray a sentence each of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication, Intercession. You can remember those with the acronym – Acts I. Renew your life with reverent prayer.

To revere God is to let our past, present, and future be shaped by a focused desire to know Christ and the power of his resurrection. Forgetting what lies behind and pressing on toward the goal of the heavenly call of the God in Christ Jesus at all costs. Next Sunday we press on with Jesus as he rides into Jerusalem toward death. But without death, there is no resurrection. So we die with Christ and live with Christ. That is our future. That is our now.
(Let us revere God in silence)