Sermon: “Pressing On Toward The Goal”             

LSB Series A; Proper 21

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 4, 2020

Epistle Reading: Philippians 3:4b-14

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:12-14).

What is our goal as Christians? What is our goal as members of Zion Lutheran Church and School? What do we all hope will be the end result?

Our mission statement here at Zion is Sharing Hope, Teaching Christ through Word and Sacrament liturgical living.

Our vision is to be disciples by following Jesus Christ to the poor…the meek…the destitute…the lonely…the burdened…the sick…to sinners…to the cross…and to the empty tomb.

Our strategy is to be the Royal Priesthood by sharing what we have been given to share through cradle to grave Christian education.

Our tactics to carry out this mission, vision, and strategy are Caring Conversations, Biblical Devotions, Rituals and Traditions, and Service.

That is what this congregation is all about. But what is our overall goal? These days, our goal has been in many ways been thwarted by a desire to return to what is normal. With all of the unrest and chaos in our daily lives, we long for things to be…well…normal again. But was normal always that good?

Pastor Tim Appel, in a recent article he posted wrote the following about “Normal”. He writes:

“There’s a new idol in town these days. His name is Normal. I suppose he’s not new, technically speaking. He’s been around for so long that you probably didn’t even realize he was there until about five months ago, about the time “social distancing” entered your vocabulary. Normal didn’t like his sudden exit from the scene. That’s why he’s been particularly busy since March, trying to regain his foothold. Here’s how he attempts his ascent to your idol of choice. He tells you life will be okay again once he’s back in place. Once the kids are back in school without masks. Once you can go to the grocery store without wondering how close you are to someone else. Once football stadiums are packed to the brim again. Once everything is back to Normal, life will be okay.

I beg you: don’t fall for his lie. Normal will not make everything okay again, for normal was not okay from the start. Running here and there and everywhere with no real reason other than that’s what everyone else was doing was Normal, but it wasn’t okay. You can think of examples from your own life: the things that were Normal, but weren’t really okay. Don’t fall for Normal’s lies again. The Christian response coming out of this pandemic must not be a return to Normal. The Christian response coming out of this pandemic must be a return to Jesus and His Word.”

When it comes to goals, and pressing forward toward those goals, how might we as individuals and as a congregation not make the goal a return to normal, but instead press forward to that which Paul directed us?

St. Paul tells us that the goal for us is the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. The goal for any and every Christian is the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting.

Is a return to Normal going to attain that goal? Well, not if Normal had our priorities set apart from Christ being at the center. 

So, as crazy as it sounds, perhaps, there is a silver lining in the midst of this pandemic. This is an opportunity for all of us to pause and reboot…to align our goal with the goal of St. Paul.

What is it that will help us to get there, to remain faithful to the point of death and so receive the crown of everlasting life (Revelation 2:10)?

St. Paul makes it very clear that we can’t make it there by our own doing. He writes: If anyone else thinks he has reason for 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; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to Zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless (Philippians 3:4b-6).

Paul made clear that worldly accomplishments or accolades of any kind will not help us to attain our goal. In fact, this is what he had to say about anything he had achieved in this world.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count 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 that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead (Philippians 3:7-11).

St. Paul considered his worldly works and efforts to be rubbish, to literally be synonymous with dung. They are of no worth in comparison to knowing Christ and being found in him. What matters most to him is to share in Jesus’ sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and in the end, attain the resurrection of the dead.

If our goal is a return to normal, then we need to ask if that normal was beneficial to our attaining the resurrection of the dead. Were our priorities centralized around Christ? Were we more apt to skip church for the extracurriculars that consumed our lives? What about our devotional life and prayer life? Was it at the top of our daily list, or did we just have too much going on? Why would we make it our goal to return to Normal if Normal was not beneficial for our relationship with Christ?

So, let’s ask ourselves: As we are given an opportunity to set the stage for our a new normal in our lives, what is our goal as we seek to Share Hope and Teach Christ as our mission statement so clearly states? Will our goal be a return to all things that this world pushes for…pride, power, wealth, gain, and glory…or will our goal be to forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead, to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus?

If it is the latter, I need to tell you something: It is not going to be easy. It will be an adventure with all sorts of twists and turns and we can’t do it without help…a lot of help. In fact, we can’t do it on our own at all. 

You see, where in this world, all the glory is based upon our merits, our works, our achievements…when it comes to the resurrection of the dead, your works and mine mean nothing. And that is hard for us to hear. We don’t like our merits meaning nothing. We like the pats on the backs and the atta-boys and atta-girls. We like the trophies and plaques on the wall that have our names on them.

But, if the goal is the resurrection, it is time to forget a life that seeks self-glorification. It is time to lay down those trophies at the foot of the cross and humbly confess that without Jesus we are nothing. Without Jesus, we can’t make it…we can’t make it to the finish line. We need help. We need someone to carry us to get there.

In the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, British sprinter, Derek Redmond had qualified for the semifinal of the 400m with the fastest time in his heat. He was looking strong when suddenly he pulled up—his hamstring had torn. 

          Rather than crumble to the ground, Redmond continued hobbling toward the finish line. Surprisingly, he didn’t have to finish the race alone. Redmond’s father, Jim, ran from the stands and brushed off security to join his son. With tears in both eyes, the Redmonds finished the race together.

          You and I are simply too weak and wounded in our sin to get to the resurrection of the dead. But, there is One, Jesus Christ, who has pressed on toward the goal for the prize, and the prize was you. He carried His cross to Calvary through the crowds who were ridiculing Him, and spitting Him, and hitting Him. He was nailed to that cross as the soldiers treated Him with utmost cruelty. Yet, He kept going, and He did not stop until it was finished. It is finished.

          Then three days later, it truly was done when He rose from the grave. Then at that very moment, the resurrection of the dead became yours as He swallowed up death once and for all in victory.

          That victory is now yours as Jesus has literally joined you in the race. Matthew, chapter eleven tells us: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

          Jesus has yoked Himself to you so that you may make it to the finish line, and press on toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. You didn’t have to earn it. It is solely a gift won for you by Christ, and given to you by Christ as well. So relish the victory that has been given to you by the One who pressed on toward the goal and achieved it all for you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

          The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.