A person can safely say we live in a society that is very concerned with enjoyment, comfort, and convenience. Sometimes our casualness is subject for humor when people share photos of other people you find shopping at Walmart. Sometimes a very self centered view is shown when after a hurricane some people sue a Cruise ship company for not canceling their trip so late they were stuck in Florida a few days. In the midst of people losing their homes and work places they want money for inconvenience. Several years ago a cereal company would show people enjoying various outdoor, more thrill oriented activities and went so far as to claim “That’s what live is all about.”
This sounds like the beginning of a diatribe against having desires for ease of pleasure. That is not the case. Rather the Epistle lesson reminds us we do not aim high enough for enjoyment and reward. St. Paul would agree with C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, “(I)f we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because we cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Philippians 3-14 tells of a more intense desire rooted in the benefits provided by God in Jesus. Paul tells the wonder of the benefit by describing how far he is willing to go to receive it, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his suffering by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection of the dead. He acknowledges his difficulty, “Not that I have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus made me his own. I do not consider that I have made it my own, but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Downplaying the rewards from baptism to heaven we often lose openness to ‘the peace that passes all understanding.” Paul understands the poor trade off. He argues if anyone can be content with a present status it was he. “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; at to the Law, a Pharisee, as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the Law, blameless.” He could have added secular security being both a teacher and capable tradesman. For status outside the Jewish world he could have added, as to the empire, a Roman citizen.
All that is nothing compared to what Jesus Christ offered with companionship in the present and the ultimate union in heaven. He bore tremendous fruit taking the message about God’s love through Christ to non Jewish Greeks and Romans, who worshipped multiple gods or not at all. Paul taught, advised and encouraged Christian communities and individuals in the Empire.. Paul did things and saw places he never would have encountered his wildest dreams. Jesus was with him through the applauses and the assaults to his body and spirit. He makes the obvious immediate shift in having as much fervor for Jesus Christ as he had animosity. Over time his character grows. He who persecuted could sing hymns and save his jailer when persecuted. He is able to take in fresh evidence and change his evaluation of other persons. He comes to teach as much by example as by words.
It is true most of us are not called to move through the world where Christ has not been proclaimed or is not allowed to be proclaimed. Jesus Christ provides a better path through responding to the grace he provides and his demonstrated and promised rewards.
In the here and now we can learn to forgive and replace the prison of resentments with the freedom of a life not constricted by the past. Just a few weeks ago I found myself thinking of fellow attorneys who I did not respect at the time, and praying that I hoped things were going well for them and they had recognized grace experiences.
Imagine the world if the goal was being Christ to my neighbor. I doubt we would live in a world that expects the world to bend to removing what offends me or fortune is made by not meeting a desire with a good product but rather the goal is return to share holder even if it means a poorer product and fewer choices. I remember Boeing making the decision to shift from something that separated them from other manufacturers of aircraft, providing the most responsive service, to ‘raising the value of Boeing stock.” A customer called about a part and was told to go out in the desert where the not in service planes were kept and get a spare part there. It would be more like film ‘the Robe’ when the leader of the Christian community prevents people from overcharging and underpaying a Centurion pretending to be a merchant. He calls the folk to be like our Lord. They return the money. When questioned by the Roman he replies, “They were really cheating themselves.”
In small ways I learn of changes in me since conscientiously being more open and aware of Christ’s current presence and ultimate rewards. My posture is not the greatest but it did improve significantly for a time. In high school and college people would stop me and give me rides because they recognized me, even from behind, because I walked as if I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. After grace filled rough stretch in the first year of my U.S. Naval service, when off duty people would wonder if I was on the LAPD because of my more erect bearing. The primary burden was moved from my shoulders to Jesus Christ’s shoulders. The primary reason for that was recognizing his divine companionship and trust in his promises becoming more ingrained.
Having a focus on God’s rewards is powerful. Unlike our various revolutionary and rights movements, where 40 to 50 years later as some things are implanted and aims grow murkier with changing contexts, Jesus provides an eternal constant. His rewards are not limited to particular issues of a particular time. As long as there are people there is a need for persons who live in response to God’s grace. As long as there are people to have Hope with a capital “H” there is a need to know “this is not all there is.” Jesus gives great gifts. Reclaim the real prizes for life. Be pleased with nothing less than being more Christ like each day and your own resurrection of eternal life before God. Amen.