As we travel this Lenten journey with Jesus towards the cross, it is good to look back to where we have been. For it is where we have been that determined where and who we are today. It is decisions we made earlier in our lives that have affected where we are in life today.
In a way, that is what Paul is doing in his letter to the Philippians in today’s reading. Most biblical scholars agree that Paul wrote this letter from prison around the year 63. The Church in Philippi was the western most Pauline Church and Paul had a deep connection with them. The letter is in response to the Church sending Epaphroditus to Paul with gifts and his safe return to Philippi.
Paul is looking back on where he was before he met Jesus on that life-changing day on the road to Damascus. He told the people of the Church what his life was like before that day. He was circumcised on the eighth day after he was born in accordance with Jewish law, He was a member of the Jewish people, the tribe of Benjamin, He was born to Hebrew parents and was a Pharisee. He was a persecutor of the Church and followed the Torah to the letter.
But he went on. All those things he could boast about at one time are gone, and while some may have felt a sense of loss had they been is his position, he didn’t. In fact he told the Church that he considered all he had loss as rubbish compared to the treasure of knowing Christ.
Maybe, we aren’t so different from Paul. We have probably all denied ourselves something because of our faith, yet we do not miss it, we do not crave it, we do not even think about it, because what we have instead is far more wonderful. I often look at other people, people who do not profess faith in God, and I don’t feel envious of what they have, but feel sorry for them because of what they are missing.
I want to tell them that material wealth is not the way to happiness, that putting others down to get ahead doesn’t lead to greatness, that hurting other people in order to get ahead is a hollow victory. I want to tell them that having a relationship with the living God is far more rewarding than all the treasures they have accumulated, and is something they can never have taken away from them by others.
Paul continued, telling the Church that he doesn’t look back but looks forward.
I believe this pertains to our individual lives as well as our communal life. Paul’s message seems to be to look forward to the future and what lies ahead instead of looking back at what we once had or were. I think it is important to know ones past, and to know where one came from. I think it is important to honor ones past by observing the traditions that have been passed down, one generation to another. But sometimes people get caught in the past, yearning for what used to be, and trying to create a future that is the same as what was once before.
Not everyone knows where their journey will lead them. Not everyone knows how they will get there, or whether or not they will like where they are going, perhaps no one really knows. But we know that if we follow Jesus, we will end up where God is calling us. But that surrender is so difficult. It is difficult to give up our security, or at least what we think is our security. It is hard to give up the past when things just seemed to go so much better then than they do now. It is hard to come out of our comfort zones and allow ourselves to be challenged, and changed.
As we follow Jesus during this Lenten season, we already know where we are going, and so does Jesus. We know we are going to the cross. We know our Lord is going to be crucified. When Jesus went to the home of Lazarus, he knew he was going to the cross, he had been telling this to the disciples for some time now.
Martha was busy preparing dinner and serving it. Lazarus was at the table with Jesus and at least one of his disciples, Judas, although I imagine other disciples were there also. And Mary was anointing Jesus with expensive perfume.
John is showing us two sides of the faith life. There is the doing side and the contemplative side. Both are necessary. They are the yin and yang of congregational life, spirituality, and our own maturity in the faith. They are not opposites; they instead compliment each other. We need people to maintain our buildings and grounds, to keep the infrastructure intact, such as Martha did. We also need people to go out and love and serve others as Mary did.
When we get to the cross in two weeks, we can either be observers or participants. We can watch as Jesus is crucified and lament about our loss, then wonder how we will get along without him, as I am sure his disciples did. Or because we know Jesus will be resurrected, we can join him on the cross and let our old selves be crucified, and our new selves be resurrected, looking forward to the future God wills for us.
We can follow Jesus with our minds, giving up some control of our lives and safeguarding other parts of our lives or we can follow Jesus with our entire being, giving up ourselves completely, giving up our fears, giving up our hold on the past, and giving up our earthly viewpoint, and look forward to the new thing God is doing.
It is not an easy thing, looking forward to a future that is unknown. It is not an easy thing, looking forward to a future we can’t control. It is not an easy thing, letting go of the comfortable known in which we live, and having faith that what God has in store for us is going to be even better. But that is what Jesus calls us to do, to come out of our comfort zones and to serve God by serving God’s people, to love God with our whole being, and to love each other as Jesus loves us.
Let us pray:
We confess that it is not easy to follow Jesus on this Lenten journey to the cross. We are reluctant to come face to face with our own human needs, our own fears, our own pain, and our own inaction in the face of suffering. And yet we find that the cross of Jesus becomes a place where we judge both our individual lives and our world.
We are reluctant to give up and leave behind a past way of life or point of view that has become comfortable for us. We try to find our security in such things as material possessions, money, social status, educational degrees or religious pedigrees. We are not so different, O God, from those persons so long ago who led our Lord to the cross. Even today people are crucified by those same forces that destroyed Jesus.
Help us to understand, loving God, that in Christ we really have all that we need to possess. Help us to understand that our real hope for new life and new beginnings begins with our faith and trust in you. Walk with us to the cross. Hold us up as we stumble and fall. Anoint us with your love and grace so that we might become an extension of your love to all we meet in the journey. Anoint us and prepare us to speak that kind word, to give the gift of our presence, to extend that helping hand to our neighbor in need, to embrace one another across lines of difference.
Continue to walk with us to the cross, O God, for in your presence we find light in our darkness, strength in our weakness, joy in our tears and new life out of death. For this we give thanks as we rededicate ourselves to accepting the cost and joy of discipleship to Jesus Christ, our faithful guide.