Sermon: Pressing On
Scripture: Philippians 3:4b-14
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Date: October 4, 2020; World Communion Sunday
Last week we spent time looking at the need for genuine humility in both our personal lives and in the life of the congregation. Humility is one of those ongoing virtues and ways of living that as soon as you realize you’re humble, you immediately become aware that you’re not! Humility is the perpetual goal we are to strive for but on this side of glory, we will never attain it because pride gets in the way. We realize, “Hey, I’m acting pretty humble!” and then wham! We acknowledge our progress and automatically go back to square one. Hopefully, we come to realize the spiritual life is about our growth and depth along the spiritual journey towards Christ-likeness. It’s about our evolution along the way as we shed our old self and put on the simplicity of Jesus’ life of love. What we once thought was important in our spiritual life changes over time and becomes more, shall I say, simple? Paul speaks of this simplicity today.
This morning we find Paul having just concluded a discussion about how some members of the church want to keep things like the good old, pure days of the faith where following Jesus was fine as long as you followed Jesus “my particular way.” For these folks, they were pushing the need for all males to be circumcised and follow the old Jewish rules. Paul would have none of this. The spiritual life is not about a pedigree or accomplishments; a spiritual life is finding our single, laser-focused love affair with Jesus and jettisoning anything and everything we have to embrace him. Listen to Paul in our text today from Philippians 3:4-14.
4 …Even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh. If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More 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 9 and 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. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not 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. 13 Beloved, 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, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Paul has simply stated that even though he grew up in the Mainline tradition and got his undergraduate degree from Harvard and his doctorate of religious studies at Yale, though he has been groomed from the day he was born to be a great spiritual teacher and leader himself, though he belongs to more spiritual societies and academies one could imagine, they are worth nothing and are as helpful as waste in the sewer if he not emptying himself and straining to become full of Christ. For Paul, it’s all about his passion to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and sharing in that rapturous resurrection experience himself.
In the ancient church, it was a custom that on Easter a person joining the church would strip off their clothes and literally enter into the baptism waters to be cleansed. They would emerge from the water naked and clean and then were redressed with new garments. This is what Paul is telling you and me. We are to strip away, do away with anything that hinders us from experiencing Christ.
Beloved, are you stuck in your religious and spiritual past or are you straining to reach what lies ahead? Are you and I smug enough to think we’ve spiritually arrived or are we humble enough to realize that as Christ’s pilgrims, we are slowly, steadily making our way under the strains of a world gone amuck with subversive politics, increased pride and bigotry, and illness that totally disregards the sanctity of our home address?
This morning, for the first time since early March, we are gathering to take communion together. You, this church, our nation, the world has leaned hard into the harness of this year called, 2020, and are straining to power through it and reach something different from what we are experiencing now. We may not know what “that” is yet but it doesn’t matter. We just know that we will know what it is because it’s not going to be what we’ve currently got! We are living in a liminal time between the already and the not yet and this “pressing on toward the goal” can be a tiring, exhausting and scary thing!
That’s why we are having supper this morning. That’s why we are taking communion in ways we normally would not with our little cups with prepackaged wafers or sipping from juice and bread at home while digitally worshipping today. Desperate times call for desperate measures and all of us are feeling the effects of COVID-fatigue in our spiritual lives, family lives, business lives, or school lives. We come because our legs are tired from carrying the burdens we have hauled. We come because we know the only way ahead is to move forward. We come because we need the strength of the Spirit through this simple meal to build new dreams and visions for what’s to come instead of trying to rebuild castles out of yesterday’s sand.
Ideally, Church, we would be together while sharing this meal. Ideally, I would hold the cup as you humbly come forward and dip your bread into the cup and eat of the meal. Ideally, we would come and serve you at home or at your bedside if you could not be here in person. Yet, these are not ideal times. We are on a difficult journey together. On the journey we learn to travel light. We learn to evolve our understanding of faith, of God, and what’s really important. We learn to jettison the spiritual baggage that weighs us down and return to Jesus’ side sitting at the dinner table.
Today my friends, let us acknowledge that this year has been hard on so many levels and ways; yet, let’s not walk into the future facing backwards! Let’s turn around and confidently press on toward the goal! It doesn’t mean things will get any easier; it simply means that with the nourishment from this meal and the Spirit of Jesus Christ, we will see the promises our Christ has waiting to be picked up and enjoyed. Let us come to the Table.
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
© 2020 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States.