The World Behind Me, The Church Before Me
Sermon Title: The World Behind Me, The Church Before Me
Good News Statement: Jesus encourages us to look toward the Church
Preached: Sunday, September 05, 2021 at Dogwood Prairie and Seed Chapel UMC
Pastor Daniel G. Skelton, M.Div.
Scripture (CEB): Philippians 3:9-16 – Today’s scripture reading comes from one of Paul’s many epistles, Philippians chapter 3 verses 9 thru 16. Although, we are reading several verses, we are going to give a lot of attention to verses 12-13. Listen to what the LORD is saying:
In Christ I have a righteousness that is not my own and that does not come from the Law but rather from the faithfulness of Christ. It is the righteousness of God that is based on faith. 10 The righteousness that I have comes from knowing Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings. It includes being conformed to his death 11 so that I may perhaps reach the goal of the resurrection of the dead.
12 It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. 13 Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. 14 The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus. 15 So all of us who are spiritually mature should think this way, and if anyone thinks differently, God will reveal it to him or her. 16 Only let’s live in a way that is consistent with whatever level we have reached.
Message Bible (MSG): Philippians 3:12-16 “I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but 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.
So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.”
I was just a couple of weeks away from completing my first season of Marching Band. As a band, we had three more rehearsals, one more half-time show performance, and one more competition. Over the course of the season, as a band, we become members of a greater family. But as a family, we sometimes had moments of failure.
I remember during one of our last rehearsals we were working on creating the Olympic Rings. I was towards the back of the football field, opposite of the home bleachers, with the rest of the drumline. I was carrying a bass drum which I couldn’t even see over. The drum major counted us off, I took my first step and noticed that something wasn’t right. I looked away from the drum major, turned my head towards the visitor bleachers, and that’s when it happened. I fell over: not only did I fall over, but I rolled over my bass drum and ran into the person next to me, who then fell into one of the props on the field. Let’s just say, “I was having an off-beat rehearsal!” Because I looked away, I lost sight of what was before me.
Have you ever looked away? Have you ever turned around because you were distracted? Have you ever lost sight of what was before you? If you have, there is still time to look forward. As a matter of fact Paul, when talking to those in Philippi, informs us that at one point in his life he chose to turn around—he chose to look away, to stumble and fall—but Jesus reminded him of what was before him, and Paul decided to follow Jesus.
Let us pray… Dear Lord, Jesus, I am sure that at some point in all of our lives we have turned away from your promises before us. We have been distracted and lost sight of what truly matters. Lord, help us to stay focused on you. I pray that my words fall to the ground as your words settle in the hearts of all those before me. In your name we pray, Amen.
In this particular section of Paul’s epistle, Paul is immersed in the teachings of Jesus Christ which challenge those in Philippi to question what they value and what they define as priority. Paul says, “Watch out for people who do evil things….We are the ones who serve by God’s Spirit and who boast in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:2-3). Later Paul writes, have respect to the devotion of faith and respect to the righteousness under the Law (Philippians 3:6). Paul knows that the people in Philippi have faulted; they have looked away from the faith and righteousness of Jesus Christ. Their values have been weakened by those people who do evil things and their priorities have not been Christ-centered. Paul knows this which is why he proclaims to the people, “I have lost everything for him…so that I might gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8). What Paul is saying is that “I have set aside what has caused me to turn back so that now I can turn forward and gain Christ in my life.” What does it mean to gain Christ in our lives as members of God’s Kingdom? What do we need to do to continually look forward? What do we need to do so that the world is behind us and the church and cross are before us?
For some of us answering any of these questions truthfully and faithfully may seem impossible. They seem impossible not because we don’t know how to answer them, but because our past is telling us that we can’t answer them. We can’t answer them because we don’t feel worthy; but we know that is not the truth because God has a plan for each of us. As we learned last week, Abraham was too old to have a family, but God had a plan (Hebrews 11:12-14); that Peter denied Christ three times, but God had a plan (Luke 22:54-62); and that the Disciples fell asleep while Jesus prayed, but had a plan (Matthew 26:40). No matter your past, God has a plan for you.
Sometimes we can’t answer these questions because we are afraid, but we know that is not the case because God repeatedly tells us to not be afraid and that he is with us (Exodus 3:12). Additionally, we can’t answer them because we aren’t perfect, but we know that is not the truth because God has made us in his image (Genesis 1:27).
Even Paul knew he wasn’t perfect. He states in verse 13, “Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached [perfection], but I do know this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me.” We may not feel worthy, we may be afraid, and we may not be perfect, but God knows that we have the ability to reach out to him. In doing so, we feel worthy, we gain confidence, and we seek to be made perfect.
As we seek to gain to be full members of Christ’s Church, we are called to forget about the things from our past that have caused us to stray from the Word of God and to look at the things before us. I know for some of us, that is easier said than done. However, we are being called to look forward and not behind us. Are you reaching out for the things ahead of you?
Now you may be asking how can I do this? With as many faults or failures or sins that I have, how can I truly forget about the past so that I can give my full attention to God in the present and reach out? My first answer is to pray: communicate with God, ask God for forgiveness. My second answer is to read scripture and know that God loves you and is with you. And my third answer is to remember your baptismal vows.
Before we can fully become members of any church, we are asked a series of questions that remind us of our faith commitment to God. These questions ask us to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, to accept freedom and power, to confess Jesus Christ as our Savior, to remain faithful members of Christ’s holy church, to be loyal to Christ, to be faithful to the church’s ministries, and to receive and profess the Christian faith. So today, I challenge you to remember these vows and know that you can be made perfect even though your past may say otherwise.
First, we are told to “renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of the world, and repent of [our] sin.” To be made full in Christ, we are to repent of our sins and to not be lead into temptation. We must acknowledge that the sins that we have committed or will commit can be forgiven in the name of Jesus Christ. We are to reject the evil powers of the world in such a way that motivates us to not look at the world behind us but instead look toward the cross and church before us. The cross and church, alone, have the power to overcome the spiritual wickedness that thrives and tempts us on a daily basis.
Second, in order to be made perfect in Christ, we must “accept the freedom and power God gives [us] to resist evil, injustice, and oppression.” As members of Christ’s church we must live into the realization that God has the power to overcome all the injustices in this world. And that God is giving us the freedom, the will power, to not work against God and the Church but to work with and for God and the Church to promote equality and acceptance. As members of Christ’s church we are called to spread love and serve each other in love. We are called to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Third, we must confess Jesus Christ as [our] Savior. To confess Jesus Christ as our Savior is to put our whole trust in his grace and promise to serve him as our Lord. Last week we talked about service. What service means as we think about serving our church. To serve in the eyes of God is to take a leap of faith and trust that your Lord and Savior will guide you to his “good works”: the very works that help grow the church. As we accept the good works of Christ we become faithful members and representatives of Christ’s church. As representatives, we are called to serve: to serve the church, the people, Christ, and the Kingdom of God. We are called to serve because God needs us to proclaim and confess the good news. As members and representatives of Christ’s church we must learn to look forward so that our service has room to grow. And as our service grows, so does our loyalty to Christ.
Fourth, being loyal to Christ means accepting the strength to continue his ministries here on earth. I remember in seminary I asked the question, what is the purpose of starting a ministry?, to which the professor gave a very theological and educational answer, but concluded by saying this, “To have a ministry is to show that one is loyal to the works of Christ as well as to the works of the church in the community.” Loyalty to Christ is what Christ seeks from each of us. When we are loyal we gain the acceptance of Christ because Christ has in turn trusted us with leading others to “Christian Perfection” (John Wesley) through our participation in ministries with Christ’s holy church.
In participating members of Christ’s holy church, we not only grow the church, but we learn to grow in our faith. Through faith our prayers become powerful; our Christian presence extends beyond the walls of this church; our gifts help grow God’s Kingdom here on earth; our service invites others to participate in the church; and our witness leads us to Christian Perfection. All of this adds up to the final commitment of being a member of Christ’s holy church.
Lastly, as members we are “to receive and profess the Christian faith as contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.” As Isaiah reminds us, we are to shout from the tops of the mountain (42:11). We are to shout and profess that Christ loves us; we are to shout and profess that Christ accepts us for who are; and we are to shout and profess that Christ is the one who encourages us to not look at the world behind us but to look at the church and cross before us. It is through Christ that we receive perfection, the gifts of grace, the hope of redemption, and the willingness to lean on his promises and everlasting comfort. Sure, we have a past. But Christ has used our past for promises in the future. These promises encourage us to look forward and upward.
Paul says it perfectly when he says, “From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9). Remember, Jesus encourages us to look forward to the church and upward to the cross in all the things that we do.
I would like to close with a reading from the Message Bible. It says, “I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but 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. So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it” (Philippians 3:12-16).
Knowing what it takes to be a member of Christ’s holy church—to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, to accept freedom and power, to confess Jesus Christ as Savior, to remain faithful members of Christ’s holy church, to be loyal to Christ, to be faithful to the church’s ministries, and to receive and profess the Christian faith—let us remember that even though we have a past that has made us fall down or gotten us off track or has distracted us from being in-step with God, we are still capable of becoming members of Christ’s holy church as we no longer look at the world behind us, but instead look at the cross and church before us.
No matter how many times you fall, God loves you. No matter how many sins you have committed, Christ loves you. And no matter how many times you think you are not perfect, remember the Holy Spirit is guiding you towards Christian Perfection. Are you reaching out towards God? In the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, go in peace as you serve the Lord. Amen, Amen, Amen.