“When I grow up…” From an early age we learn to look forward to the future. We dream, we hope, we make plans, we do things that we think will move us along on our road to wherever we are trying to get. None of this is bad, in and of itself. It is good to plan and dream and hope; it is good to have goals. But what happens when we finally “arrive?” Does a time ever come when we have accomplished all of our goals and fulfilled our dreams for the future? What happens then? For many of us, we keep revising our future goals and keep striving, or we work at maintaining what we have accomplished. What kind of effect does that have on our present?
And what about the past? How does the past inform, enable or disable our present and future? For many the past is like a ghost that continuously hovers over our present and future, sometimes disabling our present and impairing our future. What can we do about this? How can we free ourselves from the haunting of the past?
All of these questions are questions raised by Paul today in the Epistle passage from the 3rd chapter of his letter to the Philippians. Paul in no uncertain terms tells his readers, “Look, you are struggling to achieve “it;” to be righteous and holy and let me tell you, that I have been there and done that! I was a pharisee’s pharisee; I was the most promising Jewish scholar of my time; and I was incredibly successful. My future was secure! And as far as past – well, I persecuted Christians and directly participated in the execution and imprisonment of other Christian believers. So, I have a past that haunts me as well. How do I deal with all of this? Christ! My call to follow Christ led me to leave all of that position and success behind, not because it was bad, but because that is what I was called to do. And my shady, violent, “claw my way to the top” past – that is in Christ as well. Because of Christ, I can move forward, forgiven and accepted by God’s grace through Christ.
What about us? We are very future-focused in our society. Everything about our society looks forward to the future. But at the same time for many of us we are haunted by the past and our present and future is sometimes disabled by the past. We plan; we reminisce; we plan; we reminisce…. What is missing? For many of us what is missing is a sense of the present. Our text today calls for us first to recognize that we are in Christ – it is the love and grace of God in Christ that gives our present its grounding. From there we can accept our past, learn from it, accept God’s forgiveness, forgive ourselves and move on; and from there we know that the future dreams and hopes we have also are grounded in our faith in Christ. This will hopefully allow us to pause, and appreciate and accept the present – as a gift from a loving and gracious God. The present is not just a way station on the way to somewhere else, nor is it a hospital for recovering from the past; think of the present as a garden of grace.
This weekend Peace will re-dedicate the sanctuary that has been in use since 1936. That is our past. A future of ministry and mission is in front of us. But today we will praise God, we will thank God for the past, ask God’s guidance for the future and experience the life-giving presence of God in the present through song, prayer, scripture and bread and wine.
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