Now, you might think that I am going to go on a rant about us being greedy and our need to let go of things.
No. I’m not. You’ve probably already heard enough folks saying that many of us have way more than we need. You’ve probably already heard enough folks tell you that a refusal to let go of things can lead to you being trapped by those things. You’ve already heard enough sermons in your life about discarding all of the external things. In fact, our second lesson this morning from Philippians would have led in that direction had I left it as suggested by the folks who put together the Revised Common Lectionary. But, like any good preacher, I did a bit more homework when I was reading through these texts. Generally, every week, I read the passages just before the suggested texts and those right after.
When I read this week’s second lesson, I noticed that the folks who put together the Lectionary, omitted verses 15 and 16–even though those two verses are a part of the paragraph in the New Revised Standard Version. My curiosity was piqued. I wondered why they would have been omitted. Of course, it’s purely guess work. I don’t know the hearts and minds of the people who suggested the readings for today. I don’t know their motivations. I can’t begin to fathom their reasons without directly speaking to them and asking them why such things were omitted. I just don’t know.
But here is something I do know. I do know that in my time serving as a pastor, I have heard and read a lot of pundits talking about the state of the Lutheran Church in America. I’ve heard and read a lot of folks talking about the decline of mainline denominations. No matter how they package their talks and books, the theme is always the same. They repeat ad nauseam, "The Church must change or die." In fact, I believe this tenet has been repeated so often, that to question it would be tantamount to questioning whether or not the Texans who were killed at the Alamo were heroes. You’d get more than a few strange looks, and some might even label you an out and out heretic!
And more often than not, when folks talk about the change that needs to occur in our churches and congregations, they aren’t shy about offering their laundry list about what needs to take place. Here’s a little list I composed off the top of my head:
The church needs more traditional music.
The church needs to stop being so judgmental.
The church needs to stop emphasizing doctrine.
The church needs to be more welcoming.
The church needs to be more ethnically diverse.
The church needs to use more technology.
The church needs to listen to young people more.
The church needs to care more about the poor.
Paul expressly says that he regards everything as loss compared to the value of knowing Jesus Christ. In fact, Paul says that losing all things isn’t bad. He calls everything else rubbish, trash, not only worthy of being discarded, but that it should be discarded. "Jesus is most important! Change everything–get rid of everything except for Him!"
Who would argue with this? Certainly, I wouldn’t. For knowing Christ Jesus is the crux of Christianity. Believing that Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead is central to salvation. Yet, as I have oftentimes said in my sermons, Christianity isn’t just about belief. Christianity isn’t just about intellectually saying, "I believe that this stuff is true." No. Christianity goes far beyond that as it affects every aspect of our very lives. Christianity is about our continued transformation until we are transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus Himself. Yes, this means we are called to act like Jesus, talk like Jesus, and be like Jesus. Quite an impossible task, is it not.
Paul recognized this as well. He continues, "10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if 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, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, 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, 14I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus."
You see, Paul himself knew that he hadn’t attained the goal of knowing Jesus fully and being like Him. Paul knew he hadn’t reached that point in his life, and we know that neither have we. We know we haven’t become like Jesus fully. We know we have not reached the place where our hearts and minds are in line with Christ’s heart and mind. But Paul isn’t complacent. He doesn’t worry that he’s not there yet. He has a goal. "I press on to make it my own because Jesus has made me His own." Think about that for a moment.
Do you know why we strive for perfection even if we know we can’t make it? Do you know why we strive to be like Jesus when we constantly fall on our faces time and again? Do you know why we struggle to be sinless even though we keep sinning? Because Christ has made us His own. We do so out of respect, out of love, out of our desire to please God–not because we will be punished or that we have to so that we may somehow attain salvation. But we press on because of what Christ has first done for us.
It is after this important tenet that Paul adds those last two sentences. "15Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. 16Only let us hold fast to what we have attained." Paul knows that as time goes by, different thoughts will possess us. Paul knows that new ideas and understandings will be revealed. Paul knows that things do not stay the same forever. It is the nature of humankind. We need change in order to keep us stimulated and motivated and–dare I say it–alive. But there are certain things we need to hold fast to. There are certain things which we shouldn’t let go of. There are certain principles and beliefs that we cannot offer any compromises on.
"Hold fast to what we have attained," Paul says. And what have we attained? What is so valuable to hold onto that we may become trapped by it, like those monkeys holding onto that food?
Just this, you are saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. Your salvation has been secured by Him and through Him. No one can ever take that from you, and you should never, ever seek to compromise this belief. Hold fast to what you have attained. Amen.