In my recollection, late February or beginning of March of 2019 was when we realized that we had a virus that was sweeping over us. Since then for 3 years we have been living in, through, and with the pandemic of coronavirus. Are you tired yet? Are you tired yet of wearing masks, keeping safe distances, and taking precaution whenever you go to even slightly crowded places? As I write this message, I am in South Korea. Numbers here have not stabilized, but people are ready for the pandemic restrictions to be loosened. Probably you are observing something similar in the U.S., I would imagine. People seem ready to be done with the pandemic. But the pandemic doesn’t listen to what we are ready for. It has a mind of its own! To our tired and weary souls, I hope this message brings you rest and lighten your burden.
18Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
19I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18-19)
In this Isaiah passage, God is telling us not to remember the former things or things of old, because God is about to do a new thing. Are we waiting for the anticipation of God doing a new thing? God says now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? Is God doing a new thing in your life? Are we not able to perceive it or to receive the new thing because we are focused and hung up on old things and not able to see the new thing that is springing forth in us and around us in our communities?
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 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. (Philippians 3:7-11)
In the letter to the Philippians, Apostle Paul writes about rubbish. He has come to see everything as a loss because of the value of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. He has come to see everything as a loss because of the value of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord surpasses the value of knowing anything else! To gain Christ is to regard the value knowing Christ as the utmost highest value in comparison to everything else. So, in order to gain Christ and be found in him, Apostle Paul regards everything else as rubbish, as garbage, as mere nothings, as things not-worthy. And he tells us that he has no righteousness of his own even though there is no Jew who followed the laws as well as Apostle Paul was able to follow. Only through faith in Christ does he claim to righteousness, this righteousness not of himself, but from God based on faith.
Do we regard everything else as having no value in comparison to the value of knowing Christ our Lord? It’s a complicated question, perhaps? Is there something you value more? If, so what or who is it and what does that mean to you? We are not called to make light of our lives or our vocation or our loved ones. We value our work, our lives, and people with whom we share our lives. But the point Apostle Paul is making is, when we compare the value of something to the value of knowing Christ, that the value of knowing Christ is far, far-greater so that the value of anything else seems to dwindle in contrast.
Apostle Paul wants to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his suffering by becoming like him in his death, so that he may attain the resurrection from the dead. To become like him in Jesus’s death in our lives is to let go of things in our lives, to remove them, and to set them aside all things that does not lead us closer to God. If we want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, especially as Easter is approaching, we must also join in sufferings of Christ in our own lives and let go of the past to join Christ in the power of Christ’s resurrection.
But how? By keeping our eyes on the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
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. (Philippians 3:12-14)
Have we or Apostle Paul attained this already? Yes, already and not yet. Apostle Paul has not already obtained this or already reached the goal, the goal of knowing Christ fully in his death and resurrection. But he presses on. He is striving to make it his own with the confidence that Christ Jesus has already made him, and us, Christ’s own. While he is pressing on, one thing that we can do, that Apostle Paul did is to forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead.
For us this might mean forgetting the disappointments we had in our lives and the plans we had hoped for that didn’t come to be realized, we press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. We are going to have disappointments and struggles. We are going to suffer at times. But we are encouraged to press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. What is this heavenly call of God in your life? For our Church? We can’t strive forward with our heads and hearts turned and focused in the past and what lies behind us. It’s hard to run forward with your head turned backwards dwelling on the past!
3Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. … 7Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” (John 12:3, 7-8)
As Mary took a pound of costly perfume and anointed Jesus’s feet and wiped them with her hair, filling the house with the fragrance of the perfume, there was nothing else in her life, nothing she had was more valuable than being with Christ. Pouring the expensive perfume that probably cost her all of her life savings is an example of how much Christ meant to her. Jesus speaks of his burial. He points us to his death and resurrection. Jesus the Christ. He is what we have faith in, what our prize is, and our help for striving towards the prize.
When Jesus says you will always have the poor with you, but not always have Jesus, he isn’t saying don’t take care of the poor. In that instance, prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus, taking care of the poor is not more important than knowing Christ in his death and resurrection. However, even though everything is a loss and rubbish in comparison to knowing Christ, and nothing has higher value for each of us than the value of knowing God as Christ has called us his own, for us, now, taking care of the poor, the widows, and the orphans, and loving our neighbors and loving the refugees, is our loving God.
Our two greatest commandments, to love God and to love our neighbors are not two independent commandments. Loving God moves us to love our neighbors. And loving our neighbors, is to love God. We are empowered and moved first by God and by the love we receive from God moves us to demonstrate the love, grace, and justice of God. We must first know who we are, that we are God’s and that it is because of God’s grace and love that we ourselves are saved. And then we can move to help others and to share this good news with others. May it be so.
The world is filled with challenges and dangers. People of color, including Asian women, are targets of hate crimes. Russia’s invasion in Ukraine has produced refugees of innocent citizens of Ukraine. All the while, we are tired of the race to an end point because the end does not seem to be in sight. Life is not a short distance race. It’s not even a race. But if it must be compared to a race, it is a long-distance race, like a marathon. How can we not run out of patience and energy, not to speak of motivation? Might keeping our eyes on the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus inspire us to keep going? We are not only exhausted physically, but emotionally, and most importantly spiritually. No matter how rushed you are, if you are running out of gas in your car, you have to add fuel to your gas tank. Otherwise, you won’t be able to get to where you are in such a rush to reach. So, pause. Stop. Do nothing. Take a rest. Take a Sabbath rest in Christ Jesus in order to re-fuel, renew, and be restored spiritually. I know I can’t run on an empty tank. Let us rest, in our creator, our savior, and our advocate.