A sermon delivered by Michael Cheuk, Pastor, Farmville Baptist Church, Farmville, Va., on October 2, 2011.
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
How many of you have had to create a resume as part of a job search? I had to do that when the search committee here at Farmville Baptist asked me to apply for the pastor’s position. When you’re writing a resume, you try to put yourself in the best light, highlighting your past accomplishments and successes. Of course, some people do this better than others. This past week, I found a website that posted items found on actual resumes written by real people.
For reasons for leaving the last job, some resumes had this:
Being in trouble with the law, I moved quite frequently.
My last employer insisted that all employees get to work by 8:45 every morning. I couldn’t work under those conditions.
I was working for my mom until she decided to move. (Didn’t she tell him where she was moving)
For Qualifications, Skills and Accomplishments, these were listed:
I am able to say the ABCs backwards in under five seconds.
I never take anything for granite.
I am creative, dependable, and housebroken.
I have excellent memory, strong math aptitude, and excellent memory.
I am quick at typing, about 25 word per minute, 35 when I’ve had caffeine.
Wow. Compare those entries with the resume of the apostle Paul in this morning’s Epistle’s Lesson. Paul “brags” about his impeccable Jewish credentials, much of which relates to his past ancestry. Paul writes: If anyone else thinks he has 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 legalistic righteousness, faultless. It is hard for us to truly understand how impressive Paul’s resume was, but if Paul were here today, his resume might resemble that of Dr. Christopher Howard, President of Hampden Sydney College. Dr. Howard was the President of his class at the Air Force Academy, a Rhodes Scholar, an Oxford Ph.D., a Harvard MBA, a Vice President at General Electric, and the head of the honors college at the University of Oklahoma. Now that’s impressive! That will get people’s attention!
And that’s exactly what the apostle Paul was trying to do. Paul was trying to get the attention of his fellow Jews in Philippi to show that he had credibility. It would be like a Republican presidential candidate telling the crowds at a primary rally: “I’m a gun-toting, beer drinking, meat eating, tax-reducing, pickup driving, American patriot!” It would be like a Democratic candidate telling supporters at a fundraising party: “I’m a peace-loving, wine tasting, vegan eating, tax-equalizing, Prius driving, world citizen!” Paul considered his past and gave the crowds his impeccable Jewish credentials. But just as the crowd went into a frenzy, Paul lowered the boom: “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” In the NIV, Paul uses the words, “loss” and “rubbish.” In Republican jargon, that translates to: “That’s all horse manure!” In Democratic terminology, that translates to: “That’s all compost!” However you want to phrase it, the point is that whatever advantages Paul might have had because of his past, whatever privileges Paul might have gained because of his pedigree, he considered them all insignificant compared to gaining Christ, being found in Christ, having faith in Christ, knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection. Paul did not place his confidence in his high pedigree or his impressive past accomplishments; instead, he placed his confidence in the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord.
Where do you place your confidence? What are you most proud of? Is it in your family, whose members are deeply rooted in this community for years? Is it in your past accomplishments? Your education? Your abilities? Your business success? Your social circles? I’m not trying to denigrate those good things. But if the apostle Paul were here with us today, he might ask: “How do all those good things compare to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord?”
As a church, where do we place our confidence? What are we most proud of? Is it our beautiful sanctuary? Our location on Main Street? Our longevity as a church? In the past several weeks, in preparation for our 175th anniversary celebration, Jay Lynn has been conducting video interviews with various groups within the church. He’s interviewed a sampling of our median adults, our senior adults, our college students, and this morning, he interviewed some of our youth. After the worship service, Jay will be in the parlor to interview anyone who wants to share their thoughts and their memories of the church. The people interviewed talked about how various members invited them to church and how friendly they found the church members to be. Many senior adults shared stories about how wonderful their mission circles were and how Farmville Baptist was the center of their social life. Some talked about how impressed they were with our sanctuary choir and the music. Others remembered how certain people ministered to them during the hard times in their life. Based on the responses of those interviews, it is becoming clear that some of our past and present strengths include our friendliness, our music in worship, our collegiate ministry, and our staff. As we’re about to celebrate our 175th anniversary, it is wonderful and natural to look back on our history and celebrate the good things about Farmville Baptist Church. And we definitely should. But if the apostle Paul were here with us today, he might ask: “How do all those good things compare to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord?”
For Paul, all those good things pale in comparison to the greatness of Christ. At this point in the sermon, you might say to yourself, “But Michael, as I look back on my past, there’s nothing of which I’m particularly proud. My life has been rough, and I don’t have much to show for it. If I were to write a resume, mine would probably be more like the ones you read at the beginning of the sermon.” If those sentiments describe you this morning, I’ve got good news for you. Just as all those good things pale in comparison to the greatness of Christ, all the bad things cannot diminish the greatness of Christ. In fact, the greatness of Christ can overcome our failures, our sin, our struggles and all the things in our past that we are not proud of. That’s partly what it means to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.
Brittany Crowe, one of our college students, posted this quote from Robert Flatt on her facebook page yesterday: “The resurrection gives my life meaning and direction and the opportunity to start over no matter what my circumstances.” The resurrection of Christ also means that we are no longer enslaved to our past. As the popular Bill and Gloria Gaither song says so eloquently, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know, He holds the future, and life is worth the living, just because He lives.” It isn’t that we are living the full resurrection life now, but because of Christ and his resurrection, we can begin to live that resurrection life today, knowing that one day, we will fully live into that resurrection life. Paul says, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
So that is the proper value of our past? When it comes to our successes and accomplishments, we can acknowledge them and celebrate them knowing that it is God who made those successes and accomplishments a reality in the first place. But we also realize that our greatest successes pale in comparison to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ. When it comes to our failures, we can acknowledge them and learn from them knowing that our worth and our dignity ultimately do not come from what we do or what we achieve. In either case, there is one thing we do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, we press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Last month, on September 17, Lana Powe was to receive the Army Wife of the Month Award from the Veterans of Madison County in Central Indiana. She was receiving the award in part because of her service here stateside while her husband Corporal Dave Powe was deployed in Afghanistan. After receiving her award, as she walked back to her seat, she turned and saw her husband standing in the front of the room. Shocked and surprised, she walked toward him, reached out and then melted into his arms for a long embrace. As nice as it was to win that Army Wife award, that prize paled in comparison to having her husband home. That video and many others of our military personnel returning home to surprise their family members can be found on the Welcome Home Blog site. There are many heartwarming and tear-inducing videos, kids shocked to see their mom or dad on the sidelines of a ballgame, moms overwhelmed by the surprise return of their children – even loyal dogs clearly overjoyed at the return of their master. It’s especially heartwarming when you can see the look of disbelief on a family member’s face that quickly turns into tearful joy. When they see their loved one who had been so far away for so long right in their midst, at that moment, they forget where they are and what they’ve been doing. They might have had an amazing day or a crummy day. They could have been a Phi Beta Kappa and the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or a high school dropout in between jobs. It doesn’t matter. At that moment, they forget what is behind and they drop everything to strain forward and they keep moving ahead until they are in the embrace of their loved one.
I think that is a good picture of what Paul is trying to tell us about the proper value of our past. Our past makes up who we are, for better or for worse. But our past does not have to determine our future. Christ is inviting us to press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward. The goal is Jesus who was deployed to earth to free us from the tyranny of sin. The prize is Jesus who defeated sin and death, and has now returned home to prepare a place for us. Because of the power of his resurrection, we can press on heavenward until we too are welcomed home and in the loving embrace of our Lord. Amen.