The following is a reflection on Philippians 3:4b-14, the Epistle lesson appointed for October 2nd, 2011 according to the New Revised Common Lectionary. (Proper 22, Year A) On this site there is also
• a reflection on the Gospel lesson for the same day, and
• a version of the Prayers of the People, based on the lessons of the day.
“I have suffered the loss of all things.”
Oftentimes I sit in my office, or I sit in the living room of someone–and we sit there in the midst of loss. We sit together and talk, and cry, and rage over things that have been lost.
Now, sometimes, of course, those conversations are about the loss of life. But, just as often, I sit with people who have lost dreams. They’ve lost the promise of hope. They’ve lost the “way that things were supposed to be.”
They’ve lost a job. A role. A home. A way of life. They’ve lost a facade, or a lie, or an opportunity that just slipped through their fingers so quickly.
Everything seems like it’s just come tumbling down.
I’ve lost a few things in my life too. I’ve had spectacular plans that were ground into dust.
Right after college I got a job in England. I was truly on my own. I had my own life an ocean away from everyone I knew. The feeling of independence and self-reliance was exhilarating.
I had dreamed of pursuing seminary there. I dreamed of living the rest of my life there–or at the very least a sizable chunk of it.
And then I got the call that my request for an extension of my work visa was denied.
In one phone call a dream died. And then I moved back home, into my old bedroom in my parent’s house.
Loss, and the feelings associated with loss are huge. Loss can be debilitating.
In the third chapter of Philippians, Paul speaks of losing all things. And he speaks of the loss as actually becoming a gain.
Because of Jesus.
He says, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish.” There’s a well-worm homiletical path, which reminds listening congregants that the word that Paul uses here for “rubbish” actually means “excrement.” And, really, it’s harsher than that. It’s the impolite word for excrement.
Paul regards everything he’s lost as shit.
Paul said it. Not me. We just pretty it up when we translate.
And, knowing something of Paul’s life, we get a glimmer into exactly what he’s talking about. He was a Pharisee. He had an entire way of life as a Pharisee. He had friends, and teachers, and students, a routine, and an idea of what the rest of his life was going to look like. He had his hopes, and he had the hopes that his family and friends had pinned on him.
And then Jesus came into his life. And the Life that Jesus brought changed Paul forever, and in so many ways. AND, that Life fractured the life he once knew, and the life he once dreamed about.
The ability to look at the weight of things lost–relationships, dreams, ways of life, treasures–and regard them as excrement, is remarkable. It’s shocking. Paul didn’t just get Jesus–he got a whole new way of looking at the world WITH Jesus.
This new perspective takes regarding Jesus as sufficient. For everything. For all.
And that’s hard. That’s a journey. And, it’s easier some days than others.
But, the way of faith keeps on the journey. So that “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, [we] press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly calling of God in Christ. Jesus.”