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Sunday Message for 3 April 2022: “Beyond Privilege”

Today’s message concerns Paul reinterpreting his elitist background (Philippians 3:4-14). Paul summarized his impressive Jewishness and high social status, including what today might be called an upper-middleclass ivy-league education, nestled in a strict and privileged religiosity.

Paul placed himself in perspective, writing that his previous persona was a loss compared with his new Christian identity. Paul demoted his former righteousness as a pious Jew and instead emphasized his personal redemption, via Jesus’ teachings.

Paul’s writing suggests that he didn’t want to exploit his past in order to obtain present gain based on his past. Paul knew that he had inherited a glorious past from his ancestors but he seemed to decline carrying this too far. In encouraging other Christians, Paul advocated for spiritual status over social status. Key for Paul was his membership within one human family.

Paul’s words remain a testament to positivity: “[F]orgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal . . . ” (Philippians 3:13b). You will do well like Paul as you unchain yourself from the past. You can choose to develop a life-renewing perspective for a vibrant spiritual life. By letting go of failures and defeatism you can focus on creating a glorious future. Your joy will be complete as you share God’s blessings overcoming obstacles.

Many inspiring words come from people like Paul who, despite suffering, have bequeathed enduring examples of forgiveness and reconciliation. Ultimately, God can set all of us free to become who we’re called to be. It is solely our choice to do our part by making wise choices, even in the face of hostility. Life is intrinsically and undeniably difficult. Those who have departed this life are no longer imprisoned within bodies annihilated by affliction or punished by perpetrators. And as for the example of peoples’ ancestors, it is always good to learn from the past while not blaming and shaming. We must break the cruel chains that bind children to the sins of their fathers and mothers. Once forgiven by God, yesterday’s bitter ashes must remain buried. For followers of God, it is a new way for a new day.

Paul was likely imprisoned while he wrote the book of Philippians and he might have chosen to curse his persecutors. Paul could have fed a negative, entitlement mindset, complaining and blaming. Instead Paul chose the better path, which is to receive and share God’s redemption even with enemies. Paul placed events in a superior perspective, one that encouraged responsibility and ownership.

Your earthly journey is too short and precious to live in the shadows of others’ sins. Dwelling on yesterday is seldom productive, save for a brief, definitive reflection upon lessons learned. As the once imprisoned South African leader Nelson Mandela suggested, feeding resentment is like swallowing poison and hoping it will kill your enemies.

As a follower of God you may avoid relying on the pride of worldly on ethnic heritage and social status. With God’s help you can rise against those who strike you with words or fists. You can challenge perpetrators in a way that doesn’t threaten your inner-peace or render the world blind through an eye-for-an-eye mentality.

As God’s beloved child you can stand or fall on your own merits rather than by real or imagined ghosts of the past. Injustices must not be ignored or dismissed but like all problems they can be managed in a manner that doesn’t abdicate your personal responsibility. You choose light or darkness every instance and it’s up to you to either move forward or be stuck.

Paul reminds us that it’s not about ethnic origins, race, color or creed as much as it is where you are now. Paul set his eyes firmly on this prize of divine intimacy and he didn’t allow his complex past to deter him. Achieving a closer walk with God will enhance your life no matter your roots or present circumstances. Move on, and don’t let anything or anyone undermine your membership in God’s one human family.

–Reverend Larry Hoxey

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