Press on Towards the Goal – 4th February 2024

Philippians 3:4-14

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, 14 I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.

Friends, in any journey, any long effort, any calling, job, career path, study path and in life itself, it is really important to keep the goal in mind. Keeping the goal of what you are doing in mind helps you deal with anything that comes at you along the way toward that goal.

Paul expresses this truth in these words of our home text for 2024.

I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.

Paul is in prison. In his words, he is ‘being poured out like a drink offering” to the Lord (Philippians 2:7). He has encountered and suffered much in his calling to be God’s sent witness (Apostle) to the non-Jewish world. I think Paul might say that it is in the hard stuff the goal becomes the real stuff. He calls us back to the goal today.

We have had some hard stuff these last few years. It is never really not hard for Christians and for communities of them (churches). There are always challenges within: this wayward wondering self-centred heart of ours, and of course, from various voices and forces without urging us to fulfil our own or someone else’s goals.

The Spirit is calling us to “Press On”. 2024 is the year we “press on” toward the goal.

After these disrupted covid years, in this rapidly changing community in terms of population, belief, values, needs and expectation in which the church as it has been plays very little part for so many, but where the questions, the suffering, the need and the reaching for meaning are stronger than ever, we press on toward the goal.

We need to be clear on the goal. Like you need to be when you are on a long road trip with kids.

On crossings of the Nullarbor with two young kids, then with three young kids and then even four teenage kids, it is really important to keep the goal of the trip in mind, especially when it gets hard. In the hard stuff the goal becomes the real stuff.

When it is 4.00pm and you’re driving into the Western sun and you have been driving all day, the goal becomes crucial. The kids have had enough muesli bars, stories, games and sitting in this tin can, and just want to get out. But you still have an hour to go until the place you will stop for the night, and another two days of this to come, it is time to remember the goal!

Outward bound it is seeing family, reconnecting with friends, having fun with Aunty so and so, catching up with that friend you used to have… Inbound it is coming home. Back home, to friends, your own bed, the place you know and love….

From the suffering of a Roman prison, Paul says he will press on. But press on to what? What is the goal? What is the goal of his work, this family, this church life, this suffering, the goal of this church with all of its challenges?

10 I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

“Attaining to the resurrection from the dead”. “Being found in him” at the last and at today.

In other words, the goal is one word: resurrection. Resurrection joy pulls us forward and helps us get through with faith, hope and love in Jesus in tact.

But ‘resurrection’ seems a long way off, especially if you are younger, and especially in our culture where we have such a magnificent health system, transport capabilities, fine housing, some money in the bank, great food available all the time, abundant drinking water, and etc… “Resurrection, you say, Pastor? Well, I am not dead yet!”

And resurrection can seem like a fairy tale in a culture where there is this belief that we all have this eternal soul that departs the physical body at death to go to ‘heaven’ or ‘the stars’ or ‘a better place’ somewhere, as if we are not actually bodily, physically resurrected in a new heaven AND earth, as Paul surely trusts when he uses that word,’ resurrection’.

But friends, it is in the suffering that the goal becomes the real stuff.  With Jesus with us in the suffering, the resurrection hope rises up from the road to lead you through. You can see that resurrection is what has got Paul this far and sustains him still.

He gets us to THE goal:

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him,

The goal: Being found in him at the last and today. We press on to resurrection life every day because resurrection in Jesus in the new creation fulfilled will be our last day.

Resurrection is everything for Christians. It is our confidence as we often have to drive into the blazing sun;

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.

I have no confidence in my flesh. It is weak, broken, full of chasing after the wind, easily led away and always wanting to keep the law, perform, earn, win, achieve MY GOALS, not necessarily God’s goal.

But, as Paul beautifully says, Jesus has taken hold of me. He did this when I could not take hold of him. He still does every day. This is grace!

Jesus has taken hold of you, friend. His life is running through your veins and your death is safe in his keeping until the last great day of resurrection achieved by the Resurrection and the Life.

Resurrection faith is how we press on in 2024. Resurrection joy in Jesus already achieved by him at our baptism where we were buried and raised with Jesus already, is now the difference between just laying bricks in drudgery and contributing to a magnificent cathedral with a zing in your step.

The story is well known: One day in 1671, Christopher Wren, the architect of the great St Paul’s Cathedral in London observed three bricklayers on a scaffold, one crouched, one half-standing and one standing tall, working very hard and fast. To the first bricklayer, Christopher Wren asked the question, “What are you doing?” to which the bricklayer replied, “I’m a bricklayer. I’m working hard laying bricks to feed my family.” The second bricklayer, responded, “I’m a builder. I’m building a wall.” But the third brick layer, the most productive of the three and the future leader of the group, when asked the question, “What are you doing?” replied with a gleam in his eye, “I’m a cathedral builder. I’m building a great cathedral to The Almighty.”

Resurrection life now and future will give us that last vision when all we have today might be the first or second. Your raised life in Christ will make laying bricks and building walls cathedral building for the Lord – his Kingdom building.

Resurrection in Jesus says today that you are not laying brick after brick for no great reason or benefit. Neither are you merely building a wall: only seeing your work, family, serving, loving, forgiving as a small part of something unknown. You are, as a baptised resurrected believing and following person of Jesus are actually building a magnificent cathedral for his glory and praise, one brick at a time, one person at a time.

Paul knows that this resurrection promise and hope will get you to this lofty vision every day, especially on the bad ones.

Press on, people of God. Press on toward the goal, St Petri.

Let the goal rise up from the road now:

… be found in him, not having a righteousness of your own that comes from keeping the law, but that which is given to you through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

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