Pursuing Christ

2019-04-07 – Year C – Lent 5 – The Rev. Carrie Klukas
Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:7-16; Luke 20:9-19

Lord Jesus help us to run to you, help us to crave you, and to not cease drawing close to you. Help us to hunger for you in a way that leaves us pressing forward for more of you. Help us not to become complacent in our walk with you but always seeking more of you. In Jesus Name we pray. Amen.

Have you ever trained or struggled to learn something new? When I was in high school I tried out for the color guard in the marching band. My local high school had a very successful marching band program in which we competed on a national level.

Miraculously I was chosen to be on the color guard team. I say miraculously because the majority of girls that we chosen for this had trained in the area of dance for many years. They were flexible, nibble, and athletic. I was none of those things, and yet they saw something in me.

Upon being chosen for the color guard practices started immediately. Our team of instructors; former professional flag twirlers, dancers, and choreographers went to work. We met after school and practiced until it was dark; doing thousands of sit-ups, drills of controlled spins, and extensive ballet moves.

It was extremely hard for me. They pushed us until each of us got frustrated, and wanted to give up. There were many times when giving up seemed like the best option. However as I pressed on I could feel myself becoming stronger, I saw our team become better, and when we marched out onto the football field we could feel the difference all that training and work had made.

When it came time to competitions we won most if not all of the awards. Had I given up when it was hard I never would have experienced the joy that came from all the hard work, training, and self sacrifice. After every performance we would all sit and watch our show and pull apart how things went. There was never a sense of being done or having reached a place of perfection but rather always a focus of pushing forward and trying again.

In the epistle reading from Philipians today Paul is teaching about the power and impact that knowing Christ has had on his life. Before Paul was a Christian he had what the world would call a great, successful, and powerful life. He had wealth, comfort, a job he excelled in, and large amount of power even to end the lives of people. Paul was at the height of his career.

From a worldly stand point we would say he had made it, his life was comfortable, and he had made it. Despite what we and others at this time would have thought Paul opens this passage saying, “whatever gain I had I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”

Because of Paul’s conversion to Christ he lost the comfort, power, and success he experienced in the world. Which he deems as a joy to knowing and being known by Christ. Paul views all the things he relied on before as loss. The things of the world that held him up and helped him to feel sure about himself were loss.

When I was a young college student and was feeling insecure about my life I would walk through my shared apartment and look at all the things I owned. I would justify my okaness by the physical things that I could say that I owned. I used a worldly standard to justify my existence.

I knew Jesus at this point but did not realize how far off I was from what truly mattered. As my relationship with Jesus deepened I became more aware of the things that I leaned upon in my life for assurance and justification.

What worldly standards do you hang onto to justify who you are and what you are about? Is it your car, boat, house, or community you live in? Is it your clothes, preference in style, or standard of living? Each and everyone of us are tempted to cling onto physical things that we can see to justify who we are.

Paul is our guide today in how we perceive ourselves and what truly matters. He tells us to remember that it is all loss in comparison with knowing the Lord. You can not make enough money, buy enough clothes, or purchase enough cars to outdo the amazing reality it is to have a relationship with Christ. Being known by the maker of heaven and earth and being loved by him will far out do anything else we might find in this world.

Yesterday we had the privilege to have Fr. Hunter Van Wagenen with us at the Missionary Breakfast. He and his wife Stephanie are raising support to go be missionaries in Spain on the El Camino, which is an ancient pilgrimage route which thousands of people travel a year. On this trail many people hiking it are from Europe and not believers. They typically are successful in the sense that they have all that they need; clothes, food, and a good income. However these people are seeking out meaning in their lives. They are craving deeper meaning and are often not finding it. Paul’s story or his life could truly open wind these people’s lives to receive God’s love.

Paul speaks today about the reality that righteousness does not come from anything that he can do but rather from the goodness and mercy from God. Paul says that righteousness does not come from the law alone but from faith in Christ.

Keeping the law perfectly can not be done and is not for us to worry or fret about. Faith in Christ is our way to the Father. We can not win our way or choose the perfect response every time but rather we must rely on a belief that Jesus is the Lord and loves us very much.

Faith is the assurance of what is hoped for and not seen. Faith is the belief or understanding that God loves us, cares for us, and longs to give us a good life.

Paul longs to know Jesus in the power of the resurrection, not just as a great teacher or leader but rather as one who has the power to stomp down death and to set the captives free.

As we will see and focus upon in a few weeks the resurrection changed everything and radically offered us a way to freedom and life. Paul longs to share in Christ’s sufferings and to become like him in his death.  This means knowing the power of his resurrection in daily experience and sharing his sufferings by dying to the self-centred life that is natural to us and being willing to face difficulty and hardship that the gospel of salvation may go out to all people.

We are naturally prone towards selfish motives and lives. Much in our day is oriented around what is easy or taking the easy way. We are told if you are working too hard then you must not be doing it right, or you make things too hard for yourself.  

Difficulty and hardship are viewed as a problem then needs a quick and simple fix. This typically involves turning away from people who become “too much work”. Or running away from situations that take up “too much time”. The world tells us to make our lives easier, less complicated, and not too difficult typically cutting off any care of others or any emotionally challenging situations.

The Christian life however is one that is turned towards the work God has provided for us, which often involves difficulty and struggle. The christian life seeks to turn one’s self outward and back towards others and back towards difficult things.

All throughout church history we see time and time again Christians standing in hard places and showing love and care for the least and the lost. And when Christians care for those no one else will then the world can’t help but turn and see the Gospel in action.

In our world today maybe this is people in our community who are in a time and season of need. Offering practical and prayerful help and assistance can reach the hearts of people and care for their real needs.

Or maybe it is a situation closer to home; perhaps a child who really needs your time and attention. An elderly parent or spouse who needs care. Paul reminds us today that when we suffer for the Gospel we share in Christ’s suffering and death. Our difficulties and daily struggles are opportunities for us to draw near to the cross of Christ.

There are so many days when I am tempted to give up the work that I do. Let’s face it homeschooling is hard and challenging, loving lots of kids is challenging, and being kind and thoughtful to another human being as your spouse is hard. However, my life would be so very sad and empty without them. My work is beautiful, gives me purpose every day, and when I remember it draws me close to the heart of Jesus.

Suffering and self-denial are meant to be ways to identify ourselves as Christians and ways that orient ourselves towards others. These two realities must always belong together in any genuine Christian life. If you wonder if your life looks like a Christian life ask yourself where you stretch, struggle, or giving back.  

Paul goes on to say, “not that I have only obtained this or am already perfect but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own.” There were those in the Philippi church would believed that they had already reached a state of perfection and needed not to grow or change, they thought they had “arrived”.

Paul recognized the call to Christians to aspire to the highest standards (cf. 2:15; Eph. 4:13–16), as Jesus himself said ‘Be perfect … as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Mt. 5:48), but he never claimed to have reached that perfection.

Paul was careful to “keep his head on” as I like to say. We need to remind ourselves that we have never arrived on this side of the cross. We will be forever needing to grow and change towards Christ.

The word that Paul uses means literally ‘pursue’, the word by which he described his persecuting of the early church (6). He wanted to take hold of that great purpose for which Christ had taken hold of him when he confronted him on the Damascus road years before.

Before Paul was converted he was pursuing Christians and hunting them down and hurting them. After encountering Christ Paul throws his love and longing towards pursuing holiness. Paul never thought of himself reaching a state of perfection but rather pursuing his relationship with Jesus.

He wanted to be found straining towards what lay ahead, and to express this he uses another very strong word, applicable to an athletic context or a chariot race; every fibre of his being was set on the goal and purpose of his Christian life.

There was a prize to be won, though we cannot be sure whether Paul saw the prize as Christ himself (cf. v 8), ‘God’s call to the life above’ (NEB), or the ‘crown of life’ (Jas. 1:12; cf. 1 Cor. 9:25), the gift of God’s grace to those who faithfully persevere in their calling to the end. Paul knew he could never love God perfectly but he found freedom in his relationship with Christ.

He longed and strained forward towards God even if it meant opposition, struggle, or difficulty. His single focus allowed him to endure many of the sufferings that he did in his ministry.

Paul did not allow his past life to define his current life. Paul did not allow his sinfulness and past brokenness to weigh him down and identify him. He allowed the freedom of Christ to break the bonds of death and oppression found in a life with Christ.

Paul allowed Christ to do the work of setting him free, and Christ to do the work of showing him what his life was to be about. In a life given over to the Lord you are not defined by your brokened, bad, sinful decisions but rather set free to pursue the Lord in holiness.

As we turn from our broken pasts and press forward in a single focus of pursuing and serving God our lives are changed and made new. No longer are we identified by our previous ways but we begin to change, to grow, to struggle, and to find ourselves moving towards Christ.

Struggling is not bad, it is not something to be avoided but rather something to be embraced. When we struggle we truly are on the brink of change and growth.

When you see someone struggling to teach their kids to be in church, don’t glare or try to distract the kids from listening but rather pray for them. When you see your brother or sister in Christ struggling to not yell, swear, or speak poorly of another person encourage them and pray for them. Straining towards Christ involves struggle just like an athlete struggles to gain balance, focus, or better performance. Christians need to be in the work of struggling to live a life worthy of the calling that we have received.

Paul encourages us to grow in maturity and to think in this way of growth and struggle. It is important for us to take stock in our lives and to ask the hard questions of am I growing in the ways of the Lord? If you can’t see how you have changed or drawn closer to him then challenge yourself to find a way to listen to him more. Perhaps coming to church on Wednesday nights is a way in which you can grow? Learn more about following him. Perhaps coming to Fr. Chris, myself, or Deacon Steven for advice on how to walk more closely with God is in order.

We are about to enter Holy Week and it is an incredible time to draw near to God. One of the ways that has been helpful for many Christians to engage Holy Week is through confession. You can make an appointment with Fr. Chris or I and walk through a formal or informal session of confession.

In our tradition you are not required but given an opportunity to confess to your priests. It can be very freeing as it is hard to hold onto our sin and run towards God. And yes you can confess them to God yourself it just takes on a more powerful note in your life to say them out loud to another person and to hear words of freedom spoken over you.

So maturity in Christ is the goal of our Christian life. We will never fully arrive on this side of the cross but we are called to live lives that strain towards Christ seeking to do His will in the world. While struggle, pain, and discomfort are never fun they can be powerfully shaping our lives. Don’t run from the hard moments in your lives but rather invite Christ into them to grow and shape you. And allow the Jesus who conquered death and rose again to conquer your sin and broken past. So may you enter Holy week next week with a longing for Christ. May you strain forward as an athlete strains forward in pursuit of Jesus, and may you know His powerful and merciful love for you.

To God be the glory, now and forever. Amen

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