Fifth Sunday of Lent 2019: The Epistle Passage – Looking backward and forward for your faith life – does it shine?

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 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; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 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 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.” ( Philippians 3:4b – 9)

Back in my youth, when gathering with others, people would ask who your parents and grandparents are/were. It was called “The Mennonite Game” and the purpose was to find out if you are related through cousins or marriage etc. Or whether the other person was related to someone you knew. It usually did not take going back too many generations to find a commonality. But to those new to the Mennonite/Anabaptist faith it was rather off-putting – as if your faith was not genuine unless you could trace it back to a common and/or well-known ancestor or spiritual fore-bearer.

Paul is saying quite clearly that such faith background and lineage counts as nothing. It is not who you are related to, who you know, or even what faith tradition you spring from. It is what you believe and how you live out that belief.

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 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.” (Verses 10 – 12)

If you think about it, the early Christians – who exemplified tremendous faith – did not have lineage or faith traditions to recommend them. They simply lived out their faith.

“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, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Verses 13 – 14)

From an early age I recognized that it did not matter who my family was – that is, whether they were from a “strong” branch of Anabaptist faith or grafted on by conversion. I knew my faith and the strength of it was totally up to me. Indeed, discovering that my fore-bearers and spiritual fore-bearer were worthy of note came as a surprise to me. And upon learning that I considered that it only confirmed why it sought a relationship to the Divine – because those around me modeled it.

Now maybe that does gain me some “brownie” points by having such good examples of Christian living in the manner that Paul lists his “attributes” – but I do not claim those just as Paul does not. Generation after generation of people have been raised in “good” Christian homes (or other faith traditions) and that has never meant that faith beliefs (true authentic faith beliefs) were bestowed upon them like the family silverware. To play out that analogy, many, many people have the allowed the “faith life family silverware” to become tarnished and break. If you have ever seen old tarnished sterling silverware that has been neglected you will know what I mean.

Maybe the season of Lent could be seen as taking out that “tarnished” faith and cleaning it and polishing it so that it gleams and glows as it did when it was new. I like that analogy very much! So I will close with that! Shalom and selah!

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