Third Wednesday in Lent
Philip. 3:17-4:1 (ESV)
“ Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.  For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,  who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
[4:1] Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. “
For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things, but our citizenship ins in heaven and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.
Our citizenship is in heaven.
This is a good epistle lesson for lent, in the midst of fasting we are told that enemies of the cross of Christ have their belly as a go, and their end is destruction. And if you are me you begin to examine yourself. Who is our god? Who is first in our lives? Oh we say God, we say Jesus, it comes easily to us. But then is it true? Do our actions reflect that? Only you know. Well you and God.
Our citizenship is in heaven.
It is you know. This world passing away as it is, this body of ours destined for the grave, destined to perish, decay and become worm food, that is if the worms can stomach all the formaldehyde, and titanium hips and knees replacing the organic material with which God originally formed our bodies. And don’t we worship it?
Perhaps that is the point of fasting during lent, subjugating our bodies, ourselves as a testimony that some things are more important to us than our bodies, that we have a God who is more important to us than ourselves. Lutherans don’t always do a good job with this. I know I don’t. But perhaps we do a better job in our church than in some churches where fasting is a mere matter of custom, tradition, and law. You have to fast? Christianity is not into making up laws. I don’t know that fish on Friday even makes for a fast. I like fish. What is fasting for me may not be to you. But the idea is that you subject your body to yourself that you may devote yourself to God. It is putting away the false idol of your belly, to our appetites. Whatever those appetites may be. It is putting away those things we enjoy in life, realizing that our Lord and Savior denied himself all the joys of heaven so that we might enjoy them.
Yes, our Lord and Savior Jesus denied himself the joys of heaven that we might one day enjoy them. So we deny ourselves joys of the flesh in a testimony to our faith that we know someday we will enjoy the blessings of heaven in the flesh.
Paul tells us to imitate him, and to keep our eyes on those who walk according to the example we have in him. This from the guy who penned Romans Seven. You know, the guy who wrote,” the good that I would I do not, the bad that I would not, that I do. “That sums up the Christian life for me. So perhaps it is well that he is the one who sets himself as an example.
I ponder that. Somedays I wish I was a bit closer to that example, that I might know a little better what it means to imitate him. Much of it though has to do with suffering. Read the letters of Paul and you read of suffering. There is no “victorious living” where Paul is concerned. Paul would not have talked about “you best life now.” He wouldn’t equate sealing business deals as “stepping out in faith.” Paul perhaps had more faith than anyone after Christ. And it was all in Christ. He says imitate me. He wouldn’t forsake Christ for the world.
No he didn’t go out and try to avoid suffering by choosing a cross that suited him. He didn’t do what I did this lent, and decide to give up fasting and replace it with something more to my liking like the gym. I don’t know what Paul’s fasting habits were, if he even had any. I do know though that he didn’t expect God to honor his choice of crosses. People do that you know. They think that they can avoid some hardship by choosing another. Many people fasting do just that. Choose a cross to their liking. But that isn’t it. Our crosses come to us elsewhere, most often they come to us in our vocations. They come to us from our families. Doing the right thing even when it is hard. It is showing love to our neighbors when it is hardest to do so. It is suffering the scorn of the world.
There is suffering for doing what is right in this world. Paul suffered. And in his suffering he knew that should he just deny Christ, live for himself as he once did before he was called to be an apostle, that things would change. Yes, before Paul became a Christian he lived for himself, by being zealous in his Judaism. It is true. He used his Judaism, his fasting, his study, his whole life revolved around a rather ascetic lifestyle. And he was doing nothing but worshiping himself his own belly, even in persecuting the church of God.
But when he was called, things changed. No more. Now he no longer lived for himself. He lived for Christ by living for others. He preached Christ. No, he didn’t live the perfect life that Christ lived for us. That is the thing perhaps that I ponder most. He doesn’t say imitate Christ, but imitate me. That is strange.
Today there are so many who think Christianity is about being Christ like. Christ is set up to be an example to follow. And Paul a sinner like you and me, but an apostle of Christ has the audacity to say imitate me. Imitate me in not doing the good that I would? Imitate me in doing the bad that I would not? Imitate me he says. Yes, and that doesn’t mean that we have to go bald, or where bracelets that ask what would Paul do? Or use foul language when we are giving spiritual council, as he does in this very letter, in the 8th verse of this very chapter. But imitate him in standing firm in the Lord, the lord Jesus Christ, who suffered this world, who denied himself the joys of heaven that we would one day enjoy them. Imitate Paul therefore, in standing firm thus in the Lord.
Imitate him in his conviction that our citizenship is not in this world that will consume our flesh even as we try to consume it. Imitate him in his conviction that our citizenship is in heaven, and our bellies are not worth losing that citizenship. Imitate him in his conviction that our citizenship is in heaven from which we await our lord Jesus Christ who will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body, even after there is nothing left of our body but some dust and left over titanium hips and knees, by the same power that enables him to subject all things to himself. Because the Christian life isn’t about living the perfect life, but living the same forgiven life Paul lived, living in the same forgiveness of sins that kept him standing firm until the end, because the Christian life isn’t living the perfect life, but living in Christ who forgives us our sins, and gives us heaven.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen