Thoughts on The Word:
Philippians 3:14 - 4:1
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Let 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. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
This week I would like us to look to Paul's letter to the Philippian Christians which is provided as our New Testament reading for us in the lectionary. During this time of Lent, where we are called to focus on our relationship with God, and re-affirm our commitment to Christ through self examination and often the casting out (or 'giving up') of those things which are a hindrance to our spiritual relationship and growth as Christians. This portion of Philippians is especially important for us to read and focus on during this period of self examination.
Paul provides us with a focus, he tells us to seek to emulate him even as he seeks to emulate Christ - This is not a way of telling us to give up on our goal to emulate Jesus, but is rather given to us as a stepping stone, where we move slowly closer to emulating our saviour through the emulation of Christians who are walking a path closer to the Gospel than we are.
Many of us from various Christian traditions do hold particular saints of the church as models of faith and prayer which we try and emulate - however the danger for us in focussing only those Christians from long ago is that we tend to think of them as being very different to us, and it is true St Paul, and the others from Apostolic times lived in a very different world. Even more recent saints which the church often looks to such as Augustine of Hippo and Augustine of Canterbury, St Francis of Assisi, Luther, or Calvin, Cranmer or even C.S.Lewis are people we look to often for inspiration, but who all lived in very different worlds and circumstances to those which confront us as Christians today. The danger is that we allow this separation, of time and circumstance to let us be complacent, and choose to make excuses for our own shortcomings in faith, and action. It is easy to justify our shortcomings when comparing ourselves to the likes of giants of the faith such as St Paul or Augustine. After all they are celebrated by the church precisely because they were such stand outs.
I wonder though if it would be as easy for us to make such justification for our failings, if as well as looking to the great names of Christians past, we also looked to the not so great and famous names of Christians in our midst. What if as well as looking to the extreme sacrifice of self, and solidarity with the poor embodied in St Francis, we also looked to that member of our congregation who regularly gives of their time and treasure to support the churches ministry to the elderly in nursing homes, to encourage us. What if as well as looking to the transformation in the life of Paul, from persecutor to missionary of the Christian faith, we look to the transformation of that recovering drug addict or alcoholic whose life has been changed through the grace of God entering their life; or what about the lifelong atheist who has finally found faith? You see their are Christians living around us everywhere who are inspirational and the message of St Paul in this epistle is that we should seek to emulate those around us that we know to be living lives which are Gospel based.
Paul urges us to turn away from earthly desires and instead to focus on the Gospel of Christ and living as Christians who are not citizens of this world, but rather citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven. He refers to the god of the belly - a reference to placing earthly desires such as food, and comfort above our faith. I wonder if he were writing to the church of the western world today if he would declare that many have a god of 'me'? Our focus is increasingly on ourselves and what we can get out of life, rather than what we can give. This is completely against the Gospel message of giving ourselves completely over to the will of God.
The church today more than ever needs to be looking to emulate Christ, and our first steps on that journey can be as simple as looking to those around us who we know to be living a Godly life and seeking to emulate them. So this week I encourage you to consider your own faith journey - do you have false gods in your life such as the god of 'the belly' or perhaps the god of 'me', what about the god of consumerism? Are there any around you that you which you have observed living a more Godly life? What is it that they do which you admire? Can you change your life in a similar way? Is there someone that you could talk to about strategies for getting your focus back on Christ and His kingdom?
Of course no-one is perfect, and even those we admire for their Christian faith and life will have flaws - this is not about elevating people to super hero or demi god status. Remember our goal is to emulate the life, love and compassion of our saviour, incrementally through seeking to emulate those who we know are living a life in closer union to the Gospel than we are.
God bless you this week,