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Daily Encouragement - October 6

Philippians 3:12-14 (NRSV)

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal,but I press on to take holdof 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 behindand 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.

Quoting the Scriptures can be a tricky business.

Especially when what’s being quoted doesn’t actually come from the Scriptures. (My favorite example is “God helps those who help themselves”...which lots of folks attribute to the Bible, though it actually comes from the pen of Benjamin Franklin. Sorry, Ben.) Or when the quote isn’t quite correct; even St. Paul sometimes does this, quoting the Hebrew scriptures from memory, and doing a bit of redacting and conflating in the process. (Of course, anyone writing from a prison cell without a Bible Gateway app handy, might easily do such a thing.) Or when the quote is being ripped out of context, and thereby being stripped of its original meaning -or, worse yet, being given a meaning that’s diametrically opposed to what the context clearly indicates. But it happens, fairly frequently.

In fact, it happened yesterday. For the first time in seven months, we worshipped inside a sanctuary - masked and six feet apart, but nonetheless, inside a sanctuary. I was reflecting upon the joys of worshipping in person, with other persons, in a space specifically designed for that purpose, when I heard another departing worshiper comment, “It was great to hear that epistle read today. One of my favorite quotes from St. Paul: keep facing forward!”  Uh oh, I thought. Walt Disney might be surprised to hear his words accredited to the Greatest Apostle. Well, mostly his words; the actual Disney quote is, “Keep Moving Forward.”  

But St. Paul does say something somewhat similar in the third chapter of Philippians. (It happens to be one of my favorite passages of Scripture.) I’m not there yet, he says. I haven’t fully made my own that for which Jesus made me his own. I’m not yet crossing the finish line. “But this one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” I’m beginning to think that this verse ought to become our mantra in the time of pandemic. The temptation to dwell in a past we’ve embellished and glorified in our own memories is mighty strong; the desire for a “return to normalcy” is more than just a quote from Warren G. Harding’s presidential campaign of 100 years ago (he won). I keep hearing people talking about getting “back“ to normal, when in point of fact, that’s never what happens after an upheaval, be it global or personal. And it’s not what should happen, either, at least not for followers of Jesus. There are days when discipleship seems like a long haul, but at least we’re not rowing backwards. We’re meant to be on the way to heaven, as St. Paul put it; or on the way to perfection, as John Wesley put it. We’re meant to keep straining forward toward the upward call of God in Jesus Christ. 

Which is something we can do any day, even if it’s not the day - or year! - we would have chosen. We can be kind to the person in line at the grocery store who’s just begging to be punched in the smacker. (Nothing is more fun than surprising someone who was expecting to get back what he dished out.) We can write an encouraging email to a neighbor who’s elected not to emerge from her home since mid-March, or (better yet) make a “through the glass door” visit. We can give generously to a para-church agency that’s knocking itself out to feed the hungry and the food insecure. There’s more than one way to skin a virus! It might take a little “straining forward” in terms of creativity and ingenuity, but it can be done. We can do it because of what God has already done for us. We can keep pressing on to make Christlikeness our own, because Jesus has already make us his own.

We can remain forward moving instead of backward sliding because God has a hold of us. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Forward Through The Ages, #555, UMH,

Forward through the ages, in unbroken line,

Move the faithful spirits at the call divine;

Gifts in differing measure, hearts of one accord,

Manifold the service, one the sure reward.

Forward through the ages, in unbroken line,

Move the faithful spirits at the call divine.

Not alone we conquer, not alone we fall;

In each loss or triumph lose or triumph all.

Bound by God's far purpose in one living whole,

Move we on together to the shining goal.

Forward through the ages, in unbroken line,

move the faithful spirits at the call divine.

Eternal God, thank you for taking hold of us in Christ Jesus, and for making us your own. Help us to live heavenward, remembering that your Spirit is our companion on the uphill journey.

We ask this in the name of Christ. Amen. 

Pastor Susan Pate Greenwood

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