4If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More than that, 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.
9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith [or faithfulness of] in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Prayer Song: Knowing You, Jesus
All I once held dear, built my life upon
All this world reveres, and wars to own
All I once thought gain I have counted loss
Spent and worthless now, compared to this
Knowing you, Jesus
Knowing you, there is no greater thing
You're my all, you're the best
You're my joy, my righteousness
And I love you, Lord
Now my heart's desire is to know you more
To be found in you and known as yours
To possess by faith what I could not earn
All-surpassing gift of righteousness
Oh, to know the power of your risen life
And to know you in your sufferings
To become like you in your death, my Lord
So with you to live and never die
Graham Kendrick – Copyright 1993 Make Way Music
Philippi and Philippians
Today we read from Apostle Paul's letter to the church at Philippi. As their founding pastor and mission developer, he writes from prison (house arrest?) and describes his identity in Jesus Christ's death and resurrection as central, despite his incredibly splendid cultural and religious Jewish résumé. Today's passage starts out with one of Paul's famous lists; this list of his credentials includes seven (the number of perfection) elements. Paul possibly wrote this captivity (imprisonment) letter either from Ephesus around 52-56, or more probably from Rome around 61-62. Captivity letter? Philippians has been called the Epistle of Joy and reveals Paul captured by and captive to Jesus Christ. In this reading he reminds the Philippian Christians "what's really important." Paul reminds us our identity in Christ is central.
Philippi was a long-time Roman colony, so like the apostle Paul himself, the people Paul addressed in this letter were Roman citizens, yet still colonials. They received a lot of freedom and privilege in return for loyalty to the empire. Philippi was the first church on European soil.
First Church Philippi may have serendipitously started the way Acts 16:13-15 describes:
On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. "If you consider me a believer in the Lord," she said, "come and stay at my house." And she persuaded us.
Paul and his sidekick Timothy went to Philippi in Macedonia, then down to the river on the sabbath hoping to find an ad hoc synagogue; if there was no local synagogue, Jews would gather at the river to form a minyan or at least to pray together. They met Lydia by the riverbank, and eventually baptized Lydia and her entire family. Commentaries from writers familiar with that culture differ on whether Lydia was very rich from selling purple goods or if she was quite poor and barely scraping by.
• I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:10-11
• In Graham Kendrick's paraphrase, to know the power of your risen life, and to know you in your sufferings. To become like you in your death, my Lord, so with you to live and never die.
For Paul, the good news of the gospel is death and resurrection. We have been baptized into Jesus' death and resurrection. Just as for us, anti-imperial heavenly citizenship at Philippi began with baptism; the Holy Sprit creates the church out of the assembly of the baptized gathered around Word and Sacrament.
Note on 3:9 – the faithfulness of Christ is a more accurate interpretation than faith in Christ. The faithfulness of Christ is God's own fidelity to us, to all creation, made visible and tangible in human flesh in Jesus of Nazareth.
During the endless pandemic that has wrecked schedules and ruined expectations, this scripture reminds us our foundation is not what we accomplish but about what God in Christ has accomplished in us and for us. In his letters Paul is huge on everyone's participation in the ongoing life of the church; he is very clear about the extremely high value of everyone's particular gifts to the wholeness and integrity of the body of Christ. God absolutely calls us to be doers of the Word and not simply hearers. We talk about God's Work / Our Hands. Regarding Jesus' promise we'd do greater works than he did, a while ago I heard a preacher ask, "Where were you born? St Mary's? Presbyterian General? Where did you graduate? Concordia? Notre Dame?" He cited health care and education as only two of the countless ways Christians have contributed to the greater good. Individual Christians also fill for-profit and not-for-profit non-church-related entities as employees, clients, and customers. You can make a very long list.
All of us are urban, if not exactly cliff dwellers, and we've observed enough to know fields and forests are not active to the same degree all of the time. Although trees, vegetation, and houseplants constantly provide oxygen, there are times and seasons of more spectacularly visible giving with veggies, fruits, and flowers, especially at harvest time. Humans, their organizations and institutions likewise have seasons of high activity and seasons of simply being and passively receiving. Just as it was for Paul, the most important part of our identity is who God has recreated us to be in Jesus Christ. Essential workers aside, it's probably accurate to assume most of us are working some and producing some during lockdown, but maybe not what we're used to doing or what we wish we were doing. Just as Paul describes a life in process and continuing to change and grow in 3:12 – Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal… COVID-19 is one of many seasons or stages along the way for us.