Sunday Message for 7 April 2019 (5th Sunday of Lent): “Beyond Who You Were”

Today’s message launches from Philippians 3:4-14, where Paul reinterpreted his former elitist background. Paul did not flaunt his privileged ethnic heritage, and neither did he brag about following the religious law or receiving the equivalent of an ivy league education. Instead, Paul placed himself in perspective, writing that his previous persona was a loss compared with his new Christian identity.

Paul demoted the righteousness he gained as a pious Jew and instead emphasized his personal redemption through God’s love. Paul’s writing suggests that he didn’t exploit privileges based on his past. Sure, there are glorious traits people inherit from their ancestors but Paul didn’t want to carry this too far. In encouraging other Christians Paul advocated for spiritual status over social status. Key for Paul was his spiritual membership within one human family.

Paul stands as a faith hero in the way he projected 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 persecutions you can focus on creating a glorious future. As a person of faith, you may anticipate a lifetime of living and learning. Your joy will be complete as you share God’s blessings despite many obstacles.

Many inspiring words come from people like Paul who, despite suffering, have bequeathed to us enduring examples of forgiveness and reconciliation. Ultimately, God can set all of us free to become who we’re called to be when we do our part by making wise choices, even in the face of hostility. For the living, life is difficult; departed souls are no longer imprisoned within bodies annihilated by affliction or punished by perpetrators. And as for your ancestors’ travails, wisdom instructs you to learn from the past while also not blaming and shaming. You must break the cruel chain that binds children to the sins of their parents or the evils of past persecution. Once forgiven by God, yesterday’s bitter ashes best remain buried. For people of faith, it is a new way for a new day.

Paul was imprisoned when he wrote the book of Philippians and he might have chosen to curse his persecutors and condemn them. He could have 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 redemption even with those who afflicted him. Paul placed events in a superior perspective, one that encouraged light and life. Similarly, 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.

Love and truth encourage you to be rooted in your present hope as you partner with God toward your destiny. As God’s representative, you may avoid relying on the pride of worldly ancestry or even ethnic heritage. It’s also not productive to assert victimhood or identity politics. 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 reprisal mentality.

Affirm that as God’s beloved child you can stand or fall on your own merits and not be dragged down by cynics or skeptics. Past wrongs must not be dismissed but like all problems they can be embraced in a manner that doesn’t lead to excuses or in abdicating your personal responsibility to forge a better future. You choose light or darkness every instance. People who invite you to remain captive to the past would infect your spirit with a hell more destructive than that which burns the flesh. Keep resolute and don’t allow your soul to be consumed by fear, ignorance or anger.

Paul reminds us that it’s not about ethnic origins, race, color or creed as much as it is where you are now, and most of all it’s about your personal relationship with God. Paul set his eyes firmly on this prize of divine intimacy and he didn’t allow others’ poor judgments 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 faith family.

–Reverend Larry Hoxey

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