Sermons That Work

I Regard Everything…, Lent 5 (C) – 2004

March 28, 2004

“I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” These are very autobiographical lines from Paul, who once thought he had all the answers, but found out differently on the road to Damascus.

Listen to this passage as paraphrased by Eugene Patterson in his book, The Message: “Yes, all things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ as my Master firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him.”

Now Paul is not really saying that the good things of life are not good, but it’s the comparison—all else pales in significance when you look at what knowing Christ, gaining Christ, gives us. This is the goal of life. Other things—the beauties of nature, good food, family, friends—can be a part of that, can even contribute to that goal. Insofar as they do, then we should enjoy them as gifts from God. But insofar as they get in the way, distract us, even take the place of Christ in our life, then we must count them as loss—dump them in the trash, so to speak.

Also, as we all we know well, even the good things of life, gifts of God for our enjoyment, are perishable. Natural disasters, death, or even loss of family and loved ones, our own physical frailties and impending deaths are inevitable. As the Jesuit philosopher and theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote in The Divine Milieu: “…there still remains that slow, essential deterioration which we cannot escape: old age little by little robbing us of ourselves and pushing us towards the end.” It is indeed true that only Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

What is it that really matters? “I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death,” writes St. Paul.

Note that the power is in the resurrection of Christ. During Holy Week we will be focusing on Jesus’ passion and death, and that is a necessary part of our journey to Easter. But even in the heart of Lent, we must not lose sight of the fact that we are Easter people. It has been said, truly, that you can’t have Easter without Good Friday. But Good Friday wouldn’t be “good” if it weren’t for Easter. If Jesus had simply suffered and died, and that was the end of the story, why would we want to share in his suffering? In fact, if we were putting our trust in a Christ who was not raised from the dead, we would be, as Paul tells us in another passage, “of all people most to be pitied.”

How are we to “share in his sufferings?” Perhaps during Lent we have practiced some kind of “fasting”: in the kinds or quantities of food we eat, or in our enjoyment of some other pleasures. Or perhaps we have chosen instead to take on some spiritual discipline for this holy season. This is a very small way to share in Christ’s suffering, to become like him in his death. Perhaps we need simply to “die” a little to ourselves—to focus on others and not just on our own concerns and the concerns of those near and dear to us. Jesus said that whatever we do to the least of his brothers and sisters we do to, or for, him. How might we enter into the suffering of those brothers and sisters—the sick, the poor, the homeless or hungry, those who are alone? It’s not too late to make that a part of our Lenten practice. In fact, we can and should do it anytime, no matter what the season.

Finally, Paul tells us, “This one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

What lies behind is done. Maybe we’ve done some really good things in our life. Maybe we’ve done some really good things this Lent. If so, that is fine and appropriate, but now is no time to stop and say, “There! I’ve done it. Now I can relax.” In fact, there is no good time to do that. Our call to gain Christ and to know Christ and the power of his resurrection is a lifelong call; we must “press on.”

Or, maybe we haven’t done such a good job this Lent. Maybe we had good intentions but didn’t follow through with them. Maybe, in fact, we fell flat on our faces. Maybe there are sins in our past lives that are dragging us down. Well, nevertheless, there’s Good News: we can put all that behind us, too. If we repent and confess our sins, then we know that God is ever ready to forgive us.

So, whatever we’ve done or failed to do this Lent, whatever we’ve done or failed to do our whole lives long, there’s just one thing we need to do now: forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead. Hear Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase on Luke once again: “…I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” And we’re not turning back, either! Amen.

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Christopher Sikkema


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