Sunday Worship 4th October
Opening words: Philippians 3:12-14
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. 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 toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Reaching your goal
Image courtesy of Ohmega1982 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Perhaps the image above reminds us that our local team Leicester City will be playing this afternoon and we will be hoping for them to score more goals today to match their performance earlier in the week. But actually the theme of this service is of striving towards the goal of being with God and Paul's life doing just that.
Hymn 799 All I once held dear https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UOSX_iDRcY
Creator God, who calls us to follow, we are on journeys, individual journeys and shared journeys, experiences that are ours alone and ours together. Guide us on our journey this day and help us to keep our eyes on the goal. Amen.
Lord God, as we journey towards the goal you set before us, we see glimpses of who you are, often too deep and unimaginable to grasp fully the depth of your being. What we see and feel spurs us on in our journey to discover more of you. Amen.
Lord God, we are all so different, each our own being; and yet you love and care for us all, you nurture and protect us. How can we not be thankful to you for all that the journey with you offers! We thank you that you guide us, in unexpected ways, to find the right way in life. We thank you that when we wander, you draw us back to you, give us new direction and encourage us to follow where you lead. We thank you that you know our individual needs and quirks, and yearn for us to be on the journey of life with you. We thank you that the pains of life can be overshadowed by the joy of walking with you. For all these blessings and more, we give you thanks and praise. Amen.
Isaiah 5.1-7 Psalm 80.7-15 Matthew 21.33-46 Philippians 3.4b-14
Hymn 37 As the deer pants for the water https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBppKZ0eJlQ
Comments on Bible Readings:
We are perhaps all familiar with the Frank Sinatra song ‘I did it my way’ And there is no doubt that Paul certainly did it his way. But his way was a hard way, it was a long hard journey, at times he was beaten, imprisoned, whipped, starved and isolated, but at the end of it, here in Philippians he can still say I ran the race. I did what God wanted me to do, I stayed true to what I believed He wanted of me.
Paul was writing this letter to the Philippians from prison, and yet he did not give up or give in. That is the context in which he speaks of pressing on towards his goal. Covid19 has affected many people’s goals, in different ways, and it is important that we should be aware of this and respond with sensitivity. The Duchess of Cornwall talks of her loneliness and vulnerability when she self-isolated. Those people who live alone and who are elderly are sometimes very lonely. That is why we have tried to phone all those who live alone every week, just so that they can hear a voice and use their own. But it is not just the elderly, no one is immune from the impact of coronavirus, and this is a time when we need to see each other’s needs and work together, to support each other. Young people have lost their dreams and hopes, there is no work out there for many and those starting on the employment ladder face an almost impossible task of securing full time work. How can they follow their path if they no longer have a path to follow?
To take the path you have been given, in the manner that Paul touches upon (v.13), is to be a wholehearted and authentic Christian. World Mental Health Day falls this month, so the idea of taking what you’ve been given and making it your own for the sake of your mental health is pertinent. Take your situation, your path, and make it your own. Own it. It is true that too many people complain about the ‘lot’ that they have been gives, it’s always someone else's fault, the situation they are in, isn't of their own making , (and whilst that may be true) what Paul is saying here, is you are where you are, this is the life that you have been given and you have to make the most of that life.
The example of Paul can be helpful. He knew good and bad times, yet he pressed on single-mindedly. He was able to do so because he knew what his goal was; he knew who could help him achieve it; and he knew that his goal was in accordance with God’s plans and purposes – and he was inspired by the reward that he knew he would receive. The goal can be achieved by offering help to those who are struggling; seeking to encourage those on the point of giving up; and imaginatively using the resources which God has made available to help and support each other. We should be standing with those who suffer at this time of COVID and do all we can to alleviate pain, hardship, loneliness and fear.
Paul comes across as hungry for Christ and true knowledge of him (v.10). (We must decide for ourselves what true knowledge means; it will be different for each of us.) How desperately Paul wants to know Christ, while at the same time he confesses that he hasn’t managed it yet – and maybe never will. He even implies that he still doesn’t quite know what it means to really know Christ. But, he says, that’s okay. It is a lifelong ambition, something to work towards.
Sometimes we get a little despondent that we do not know our God or Saviour as well as we feel we ought. What can we do to keep that hunger for knowing more? Our Bible study on Wednesday looked at Psalm 27 and in that we see David having that same hunger to know God, he wanted to desperately, desperately seek Him and find Him and stay with Him and be with Him forever and that hunger for knowing Jesus is actually what we see here in Paul.
Paul is ‘pressing on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus’. That’s where he is headed, that is his destination. He is ‘straining forward to what lies ahead’. He sounds like a man desperate to get to where he’s going, putting every ounce of his strength into it – reminiscent, perhaps, of a horse straining against its harness as it pulls a heavy load. What is our goal in life? How much effort are we putting into it? Are we ‘straining’ towards it – or are we just ambling along?
The Greek word translated ‘my own’ and ‘his own’ (v.12) is the same, and the double use is intentional. We cannot reach the goal by our own efforts alone. Paul’s endurance of suffering, giving up everything he had previously called precious and striving for the goal, all take place under God’s grace. Paul’s progress to become more Christlike is the result of Christ reaching out for Paul, and Paul reaching for Christ. Paul has already been grasped (at his conversion), and what he has to do now is respond – which he is doing with his every breath.