We are continuing our series, Empty & Filled: Discovering the Meaning and Power of Lent. The idea of Lent is
taking stock of our relationship with God. It involves emptying ourselves of distracting comforts maybe physical,
maybe mental, maybe ways of thinking, and allowing us to be filled by the good gifts of God.
Last week, we looked at where the separation between God and humanity began in Genesis 3. This was a break
that not only affected humanity but the whole creation including the very Earth itself.
Both we and the world need rescuing from our brokenness. We can and should contemplate this all the time, but
the struggle of life due to that brokenness has many of us focused on surviving day to day rather than pursuing a
relationship with God. We turn to every conceivable thing with these issues. We rely on our own inner strength.
In other words, we don’t think we need God. We don’t consider God’s assessments or directives. We think we
know best or can at least figure it out. We may depend on the people or things in our lives as a savior or crutch.
In effect, we turn ourselves or these things into gods and idols. Lent gives us an opportunity to hit the reset
button. Examine where we might have fallen into these traps, perhaps without realizing it. Then we can get our
relationship with God on the right track and realize how much we need God to live the good life.
This week we look at this idea from the perspective of the Apostle Paul. Paul is writing to the Church of Philippi.
From the tone of the letter you can tell that he had a warm and close relationship with the people of this church.
In this section, he is warning the Philippians that they don’t need to do anything extra to be followers of Christ.
In places like Galatia, Jewish Christians followed after Paul left saying that Gentile Christians had to effectively
become Jewish by following the law up to and including that the males be circumcised. Paul is emphatic that
their salvation does not come from these rituals and practices. Salvation comes through their faith in Christ.
Philippians 3:4b-14 NIV
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5
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; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for
righteousness based on the law, faultless.
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more,
I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,
for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be
found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is
through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want
to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings,
becoming like him in his death, 11 and so,somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
12 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. 13 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, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me
heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Have you ever thought of what Paul gave up when he started following Jesus? He had been a prominent Pharisee.
He was so zealous that he wanted to stamp out whatever seemed to mock the faith. At that time, it meant going
after the followers of The Way, the Way of Jesus Christ. He was the definition of the type “A” personality. He went
to the Sanhedrin for permission and warrants to arrest Christians in Damascus, to bring them back to Jerusalem
for trial. (cf. Acts 9:1-2) He came from a family of Pharisees, and he was a Roman citizen. (cf. Acts 22:22- 29)
It was unusual for a Jewish person to also be a Roman citizen. Along with that would often come money and
power. We know that Paul was a tentmaker. (cf. Acts 18:1-4) It is likely that he lost family and wealth when he
followed Christ. In the beginning of this passage we see a résumé that would be the envy of many the Jewish
person at the time. He took that zealousness and put that energy into spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.
All of those things in which he took such pride in securing his own salvation before his encounter with Christ
became a liability. Paul actually uses accounting terms here, a listing of assets and liabilities. NT Wright tells an
account of an Anglican Pastor, poet, and theologian, John Kobe. While working at Oxford as a tutor in the early
19th century, he was given the additional responsibility of keeping the accounts of the students’ tuition. Clergy
are not known for training and accounting procedures, but Kobe’s accounts got terribly out of balance, by almost
£2,000, which would be millions of dollars in today’s money. There was no financial impropriety or other
creative accounting. It turns out that he dated the top of the page with the year 1820 and added it into his column
of figures. (Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, 18)
Paul also uses an unusual method in his ledger. He lists all these things as credits, his heritage, his
understanding of the law, his dedication to having the Jewish people follow it, and his keeping of it. He crosses
it all out and puts it in the loss column when compared with something, someone, Jesus. That is all the credit he
needs. All else is garbage. In fact, garbage is not really a strong enough word for the Greek word Paul uses. Think
of anything that must be disposed of by people who do not have garbage service, a sewer, or a septic system. So,
Paul is making a very definitive statement here.
When Paul realized that all these things he was so proud of as a Pharisee were a way of self-satisfaction and
self-glorification, a source of pride that superseded God, it all became a liability. Morna Hooker suggests that
when we, like Paul, put our full “trust in God, [we] must abandon all other props.” (New Interpreter’s Bible,
“Philippians”) Paul had to abandon all of those things that had been part of his identity, Israelite, Pharisee, law
keeper. When we become a Christ follower, we need to abandon all other things in which we have put our trust,
consider part of our identity. We belong to Christ, and he belongs to us!
Paul tells us that he wants to become “like Christ.” (Philippians 3:10) We often say that in Christian circles. As
disciples, our goal is to become more Christ-like. Paul adds specifically that he wants to participate in Christ’s
sufferings as well as his resurrection. (vs. 10) Many of us don’t consider sharing his suffering when we say that
we want to be Christ-like, but Paul has no trepidation. He is writing to the Philippians from prison, and he
considers it a blessing because he can share the gospel both with his guards and his fellow prisoners.
This idea of sharing in the suffering with Christ is part of the traditional practice of Lent. One of the inspirations
for the 40 days of Lent came from Jesus 40 days in the desert. The passage we heard earlier from the Gospel of
Mark takes us from Jesus’ baptism through his time of fasting and testing in the desert to his public ministry.
Even for Jesus, Lent was a time of preparation.
We could call our own preparation “detox.” We talked about Paul abandoning those areas in which he took pride.
We can take an inventory of the comforts in our lives that have become addictions. Some of these things may be
inherently harmful, but with many there may be nothing wrong with them. They may even be good. Remember,
Paul refers to his things as garbage! They only become dangerous or harmful because of the place they take in
our lives. What are some things that we go to for comfort and come to be a substitute from our ultimate
Comforter? (cf John 14:16) (e.g. food, drugs, alcohol, shopping, gambling, possessions. For example boats,
cars antiques, Kewpie dolls, golf, TV, movies, sex, extreme sports, risky behavior (in other words adrenaline
junkies), sports, study, work, relationships, etc.)
Many of these things can have an appropriate even helpful place in our lives, but they can also become substitutes
for our greatest Comfort, as Paul puts it, “The surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (vs.8)
I will always remember my seventh grade social studies teacher, Mr. Khoray. I will remember him for two things.
First, was his reply to a student if they had a question, “If you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you.” I found that
to be singularly unhelpful. In actuality he was trying to encourage us to do our own research and read our textbook.
If we did that, we would probably have the answer instead of relying on the crutch of just asking him. The other
thing that he stressed was having a working knowledge of current events. At that time it meant reading the daily
paper and watching the evening news. The message was that it is good to know what is going on in the world,
and it is.
I have this friend that I will call George. He has taken this message to heart, but as we all know there are a lot
more resource available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to keep up on current events than there were 30 or 40
years ago. He listens to all news all the time. He listens to NPR in the car. He watches a variety of cable news
channels at home. You could say that he is non-denominational in his viewing, tuning into MSNBC, Fox, CNN,
Bloomberg, the BBC, and Al Jazeera. He is so busy consuming the news that he has little time for anything else.
He is anxious, angry, and disturbed most of the time because 99% of what he hears is how bad everything is in
the world. He is unable to take the time to enjoy the blue sky, the green grass, or even the beauty of freshly fallen
snow. He can’t experience the hush that happens in the neighbor while it is snowing because the volume on his
TV set is too high.
George has excellent motives. He wants to know what is going on in the world, but he’s taken it to the obsession
level. He is in a constant state of anxiety because of all he knows, and of course, EVERYTHING is presented as a
crisis whether it really should be or not. It has become an addiction for him, and he would do well with some
detox. Is there anything in your life like that, something that started out good but you might do well to take a
step back from? Simplify, get back to basics. Remembering who you are … and whose you are.
Originally, Lent was practiced by people preparing for baptism, usually on Easter. At that time it could be
dangerous to claim the Christian identity. There were many periods during the Roman Empire when Christians
were actively persecuted and murdered. The people of the church wanted the candidates to be sure they knew
what they were becoming. Therefore, baptism could hold more social significance than it does in today in the
west. However, there are many places in the world where it is still dangerous to be a Christian, everything from
being disowned by his or her family, shunning within the community, to torture and imprisonment. During Lent,
worship became a time when the whole congregation committed itself to live up to the calling of baptism. (John
Witvliet, Reformed Worship 55, March 2000) What a beautiful thing for the community to come together to
surround the candidates as they finish their preparation to declare their faith in the Lord and to be born anew
When we empty ourselves in this way, of the things we rely on to prove our self-righteousness or our comfort,
we can be filled by “the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” (vs. 9) Paul goes on to say that
he wants to know Christ. (vs. 10) In order to do that it means that we have to sacrifice smaller things for greater
things. Through this process of detox, cleansing, and assessment, we can find that even the good can become
the enemy of the best.
Can you imagine or even remember yourself as a child making mud pies at the park or in the backyard? I
remember the ditch across the street from my house. It didn’t seem like a roadside ditch to me. As I remember
about 30 yards uphill a little stream drained into it. There was always water flowing. There were tadpoles, little
toads, while wild flowers, rocks, and a little mud on the bank. I could spend hours there playing, just watching
the life, making mud pies, or whatever.
Then I remember when I was offered a free trip to Maui. It was an opportunity of a lifetime. A friend had won
the free trip for two as a reward from their company, and I was offered the second slot. We stayed at the Four
Seasons Hotel on Maui. The room had a view of the beach, of course. Beautiful sand. Beautiful weather. We took
a bike trip that started at the top of the volcano on Maui, at over 10,000 feet. The trip starts at the top at dawn in
frigid temperatures, and we rode all the way down. We traveled through all of these different climates as we
decreased in altitude. At one point, we were passing cattle ranches. One does not normally associate cattle
ranches with Hawaii. Maybe if you’re in the business you do, but the rest of us do not. However, one of the
biggest cattle ranches in the United States at about 250,000 acres is located on the Big Island of Hawaii.
So eventually, after seeing all of these incredible things on our ride down the mountain… There are some plants
near the top of the volcano that are other worldly… we eventually could feel the tropical breezes once again. The
azure blue water, perfect temperature all the time. Don’t want to swim in the ocean, there was a beautiful pool.
Beverages delivered garnished with little orchids.
Imagine being invited to an all-expense-paid trip to Hawaii, but you answer, “No! I’m having too much fun making
mud pies.” Lent is intended as a time of preparation where we realize that our life separated from God is like our
determination to continue with our mud pies not even able to realize that we could be spending time with the Lord
in Paradise, the Kingdom of God!