Sermon for 19 Pentecost, Year A
Based on Phil. 3:13-14
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
"Focus on the Future"
Most likely you're familiar with the old proverb: "There's no sense in crying over spilled milk." Or, put another way: "What's done is done." Both of these sayings refer to the past and they remind us all that we cannot change our past~even though we might want to. Most, if not all of us have some regrets about our past. If we had similar opportunities today, a lot of us would handle things much differently~especially those foolish mistakes we made which caused others considerable pain, suffering and hurt.
On the other hand, I've met many people who love, relish, long for, even live in the past. These folks tend to idealize the past as "the golden-olden days." For some, the past is a safe and secure place with cozy, comfortable surroundings. For others, the past causes them to rest on their laurels and to coast through life in the present and the future because they develop the attitude that they've accomplished all they need to accomplish in life; they've learned all there is to learn; they've done all there is to do.
In today's second lesson, the Apostle Paul presents us with a different, healthier view of life. Paul, if he really wanted to, could have found much in his past to haunt him. After all, as one who persecuted Christ and his Church, Paul had blood on his hands. He could have been obsessed with his past; he might have spent the rest of his life crippled by his guilt and shame. Or, Paul might have lived in the golden-olden past by focusing on all of his accomplishments and being content with them. However, that is not how Paul looks at life. Rather, he says: "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."
The language Paul chooses here to speak of his life in Christ is the metaphor of an athlete. He is saying that his life in Christ is like an athlete running a race. If the runner is going to reach the finish line; if the runner is going to win the race; then he or she has to focus not on what's behind them; rather, they keep looking ahead. Many races have been lost because the athlete lost their focus and looked back.
Paul is saying that life is like that too. As Christians, he tells us, we are running in a race; we are not standing still. We therefore cannot always be living in the past and looking back into the past. Paul says we need to change our focus from past to the future if we're going to grow and mature in our Christian faith. Paul is saying that we need to focus on the one thing~we need to be single-minded; we need to set our priorities straight. If we fail to do so, we shall not finish the race or win the prize.
In A.A. Milne's poem, "The Old Sailor," the main character is shipwrecked and proceeds to think about several necessities of life like: water, clothing, chickens, a goat, shelter, fishing gear, and so forth.
He starts to make fishing hooks, however, the sun is so hot that he stops what he's doing and begins making a hat. The heat bothers him so much that he proceeds to look for spring water to cool himself off with. Suddenly, he thinks of his need for animals and goes searching for them. However, he then remembers his need of a sailboat~but he realizes that he needs needles to make the sail. When he proceeds to make needles, he then thinks of his need for shelter: "So, he thought of his hut and he thought of his boat/ And his hat and his breeks and his chickens and goat,/ And the hooks and the spring,/ But he never could think which he ought to do first."
We too have probably experienced situations like this in our lives, when we needed to prioritize things in order and focus on doing them, but instead, we thought of too many things and tried to do them all at once, without finishing them.
Paul is telling us that if we are going to run the race; if we're going to win the prize that God promises us; then we need to be single-minded about setting our priorities straight~that is equally true of us as individuals as it is of congregations.
As Albert Stauderman has observed: "Life's real satisfaction lies in setting and achieving a goal. How dull golf would be without the green, the theater without the final curtain, a sea voyage without a port, a poem without a last line, a sermon without "Amen!" Anything left incomplete is frustrating. It's the end, the final achievement, that makes it worthwhile. For days and months to create a statue or painting an artist labors for the sake of the great day when he or she can sign it and call it complete. A musician gladly practices for hours and hours to achieve a perfect performance. The achievement of the goal makes all the difference and the days spent working toward it become days of joy rather than days of drudgery."
So, don't live in the past; focus on the future; be encouraged, learn and grow and mature from the opportunities which God is giving you; set your priorities straight and, like Paul, you shall finish the race and win the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ.
Don't give up; remain faithful; journey into the future with joy, hope, and enthusiasm. We worship and serve a marvellous God! He gives us all that we need~and much, much more! Paul faced all kinds of troubles, persecutions, and trials~yet, through all of them, he grew and matured in his Christian journey. Learn from the apostle Paul, remember that God has great plans for you as individuals and as a congregation.
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