Press On

The message I shared at tonight’s winter meeting of the Riverbend Ministerial Alliance–at least according to my notes. So this is probably close.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things.

Philippians 3.7-15

We are here to practice reconciliation and not merely to talk about it or to hope that someone else accomplishes it for us. We are here to commit ourselves to God and to one another to be reconciled, and then to become ambassadors of reconciliation in the community. In this passage Paul gives us an example to imitate and I believe the Lord has some specific things he’s calling us to.

1. Renounce Privilege

Paul says that whatever he used to profit from he now considers loss for the sake of Christ. And his list was pretty impressive, even more so than those who were making the Philippians feel inferior: a Hebrew of Hebrews, a notable Pharisee, zealous to the point of persecuting others, faultless before the law. But all that set him apart he now considers rubbish.

You might say Paul was giving up his Jewish privilege.

He says it a little differently, that he puts no confidence in the flesh. He no longer values whatever advantage flesh confers. And still in our day there are advantages that flesh confers: lighter flesh over darker flesh, male flesh over female flesh, rich flesh over poor flesh, American flesh over immigrant flesh.

We are called to follow Paul’s example in putting no confidence in the flesh by renouncing privilege. Not that we pretend there are no differences between us, but that Christ’s call to reconciliation marks us more deeply than the flesh. All who would be reconcilers commit themselves to being the ones to cross the boundaries that divide privileged and despised flesh so that we might have renewed relationship with our neighbor. Renouncing privilege means doing what it says in Hebrews, that we go outside the city gate to the place where Christ was crucified, that we leave comfort and go to the place of shame and stand in solidarity with the other.

2. Prepare to Suffer

This means we have to be prepared to suffer. For Paul suffering was a part of knowing Christ. He says he wants to know Christ, and then the two and’s that follow really are a both/and: “I want to know Christ both in the power of his resurrection and also in the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings.” Then he turns it around to show the connection: “becoming like him in his death so that somehow I may also attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Paul understood that suffering was an essential part of knowing Christ.

In our day we want glory without suffering, we want a crown without a cross, we want a payday without a work day, we want the resurrection without the grave.

True reconciliation will require suffering. What will you have to risk preaching? Where will you have to risk going? Who will you have to risk associating with? What opinions will you have to risk changing?

Maybe talk of suffering sounds heroic and almost appealing. It’s easy to say we’re ready to die for the sake of reconciliation. But how can we say that we’re ready to die for something we won’t even work for? Or to put it more positively (because I hear it’s a good idea to do that now and again), if it’s worth dying for, it’s worth living for.

3. Press On

What’s necessary for us right now is that we press on. Paul says there’s one thing he’s doing: forgetting what’s behind and straining toward what is ahead, he’s pressing on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus has taken hold of him.

Forgetting what’s behind means renouncing privilege and leaving behind false confidence, which we’ve already talked about. Forgetting what’s behind doesn’t mean pretending like the past didn’t happen. Forgetting what’s behind is not the welcome answer to those who are asking, “Can’t we just be done with all of this?” We must reckon with the past in redemptive ways. Reconciliation requires that we tell the truth about what happened and what the past has to do with the present.

What we have to leave behind is a divided, silent, and complacent church. We have to leave behind the myth that we’ve made it, or the myth that if we haven’t made it yet we will soon because time will inevitably take care of it all. That’s a lie. There is no redemption without suffering. Or to quote Hebrews again, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

And we strain toward what is ahead. We strain toward a vision of peace that our culture can’t quite conceive of. We strain toward the vision of the beloved community flourishing here in this place in our day. Because we believe absolutely that reconciliation will work. We have such confidence that we say with the Psalmist, My eyes will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

I believe that we get to have the city we want. But if we won’t work for it, we’ll get the city we deserve.

We just have to press on. We have to press on to take hold of peace. We have to press on to receive it as the possession of the church for the sake of the world. We have to press on to make it our own. I love how in one translation instead of saying, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus has taken hold of me,” it says, “I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” I love that. We are his own.

So we’re emboldened to press on past complacency, to press on past small-mindedness, to press on past small kingdoms of men and women and denominations. And we prepare to press on through discouragement, through opposition, and through fatigue.

Our culture is so fatigued, especially when it comes to racial reconciliation. We are out of strength and out of patience and we just want to be done. But we should be the people the world points to and asks, “Why is it that in the church they run and not grow weary? Why do they walk and not faint? Where does their strength come from? How is it that even though outwardly they are wasting away, yet somehow they seem to be inwardly renewed day by day? How do they do it?”

And we can answer that it’s because Christ has taken hold of us. The Spirit that raised Christ from the dead has taken hold of us. Paul experienced it. He was arrested on the road to Damascus. Christ took hold of him to show him what he must suffer. And he surrendered all his privilege and advantage and confidence in the flesh when he was arrested.

It is my prayer that the church would get arrested, that the Spirit would take hold of us so we can be reconciled to God and to one another, and that we might press on to take hold of that promised peace for our sake and for the world’s.