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Epistle: Philippians 3:4b-14

[Paul writes:] 4bIf anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised 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; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.   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.   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.

In Philippians 3, Paul reveals how he had regarded his life as a good-living Jew. He could point to all his good credentials with truthfulness and pride. Surely God must be pleased with him!

He was circumcised when he was a week old, as every Jewish boy was supposed to be. His parents had been careful about this beginning part of his upbringing and about all that should follow... He was an Israelite by birth, of the tribe of Benjamin, a pure-blooded Hebrew.

Following the great persecution of Jews in the time of the Maccabees in which many devout Jews lost their lives, a number of people from other races began to take a great interest in the Jewish religion - there must be something in it if people are prepared to die for it. Some of these people attended the synagogue services as "God-fearers". Others became "proselytes" - undergoing instruction, circumcision and baptism and being permitted to offer sacrifices in the Temple. Paul was not one of these "half-Jews" - he was a "Hebrew of the Hebrews", as the KJV put it.

Little wonder that the Pharisee sect arose with a strong determination to ensure that the whole Law be kept, no matter what. So Paul is saying, I had a strong and very particular concern to observe all the Law. And I was so zealous that I persecuted the church. His persecution of Christians arose from this background. After all that we have gone through, we don't want anyone bringing in new doctrines to lead us away from a strict observance of the Law.

Paul could even claim that, as far as a person can be righteous by obeying the commands of the Law, I was without fault. That is a rather bold claim to make!

But, he says, all those things that I might count as profit I now reckon as loss for Christ's sake... I reckon everything as complete loss for the sake of what is so much more valuable, the knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord.

So what is important for Paul? Knowing Christ, gaining Christ and being completely united to him, having a right relationship (or righteousness) with God on the sole basis of faith in Christ...

All of it is rubbish.

After Katrina hit New Orleans, I went with a group from our church to help with some relief work. We were asked to send a contingent group to spend a day at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Chalmette, Louisiana. Our job was to pitch the stuff that had been ruined by the seven-foot-high waters that filled the building when the storm hit.

It was about three months after the storm. The building hadn’t been touched. Pews were stacked on top of each other. A layer of dried mud about four inches deep coated the floors. All the books, hymnals, Bibles, paraments, furniture and more had to be pitched. It was all ruined. Rubbish.

We were in the middle of a building expansion at the church I served at the time. As I carried item after item from the church that had once been a brand-new addition to this place of worship to the curb to be hauled away, I couldn’t help but think about the church back home. I cried a few times that day.

I will never forget that lesson. I will never forget that day.

What is it we cherish? What is it that is of great value?

That cross on your brow placed there on the day you were baptized is, in my humble opinion, a prized possession.

By the way, I am happy to report that Gethsemane Lutheran Church continues to do great ministry in the suburbs of New Orleans. The firm foundation of Jesus Christ is the rock on which they stand. All other ground is sinking sand.

Let us Pray. Thank you, God for all that we have and all that we are. Help us to keep our priorities straight, and value what you value. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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