Today’s message arises from Philippians 3:4-14, where Paul reflects on his former persona as a blameless, rigorous Jew. If Paul had stopped here and flaunted his privileged ethnic heritage, his education, or more ego-fueled pride then we could dismiss him as a fatally-flawed spokesman. But Paul does not disappoint. Paul perceives his heritage as loss compared with his Christian faith. Paul demotes the righteousness he gained as a pious Jew and instead emphasizes redemption through Jesus.
Paul becomes a compelling role model in the way he lives in the present and moves forward. “[F]orgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal . . . ” (Philippians 3:13b). We do well if we, like Paul, unchain ourselves from the past. We must choose to develop the perspective for a vibrant spiritual life. By letting go of failures and persecutions we can focus on creating a glorious future. As people of faith, we anticipate a lifetime of living and learning. Our joy will be complete if we share God’s blessings despite injustices and other evils.
What about elevating aspects of our origins to demand special treatment? If anyone is justified in this, Paul was (but he rightly declined). Sure, there are glorious traits we inherit from our ancestors. We should not dismiss their struggles; we must continue their pursuit of justice and equality. We emulate their courage under fire. We also become stronger like those whose spirits endured as hatred consumed their bodies. Yesterday’s most inspiring voices are from those who, despite suffering, have bequeathed us the more enduring example of forgiveness and reconciliation. Departed souls are no longer imprisoned within bodies annihilated by affliction or punished by persecution. And as for our ancestors’ travails, wisdom instructs us to let those ashes stay buried and transcended. For us, it is a new way for a new day.
Paul was in prison when he wrote Philippians and he might have chosen to curse his persecutors and condemn them. He might as easily fed a negative, entitlement mindset, complaining or playing the blame game. Instead, Paul chose the better path, which is to receive and share God’s magnificent mercies. Paul placed events in a superior perspective, one that encourages light and life. Our earthly journey is too short and unpredictable to live in the past. Dwelling on yesterday is seldom productive, save for a brief, definitive reflection upon lessons learned. As Nelson Mandela suggested, feeding resentment or vendettas is like swallowing poison and hoping it will kill your enemies.
Love and truth encourage us to be rooted in our present hope as we partner with God toward our destinies. As God’s representatives, we avoid relying on the pride of worldly ancestry or contrived privileges. We realize that we cannot advance by asserting victimhood. We challenge what in the world would threatens us but we do so without losing our peace or making the world blind through an eye-for-an-eye. Affirm that as God’s beloved children we stand or fall on our own merits, right here and right now. We stumble when we endlessly conjure or cite historical wrongs as excuses for abdicating personal responsibility. We can choose light or darkness every instance. People who invite us to remain chained to the past would infect our spirits with a hell more consuming than Dante’s Inferno.
God invites us to actively manage each segment of our life. It is tempting to just let life take on a slow bleed, to feed laziness and soul sleep as we blithely let one moment slip into the next. We must persevere lest we face the abyss ill-prepared and profoundly unfulfilled. The better way is awakening, when we embrace a proactive spiritual journey through which we ascend toward greater love and truth. Paul reminds us that it’s not about origins, but it is about where we’re going. Paul set his eyes firmly on this prize and he didn’t allow fear, ignorance or anger to deter him. Achieving a closer walk with God can also become our destination. Develop the content of your character, move on, and don’t let what was determine who you’re becoming.
–Reverend Larry Hoxey