Sunday, October 26, 2014

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Romans 3
21 But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ[a] for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement[b] by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; 26 it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

Believers will gather in places of worship across Canada today to consider a difficult week and attempt to put it in perspective. The common thread between these various traditions and faiths will be prayers for peace—prayers for a land without violence or hatred, and prayers for those touched by the events of the week.

And then religious leaders will stand to speak. Not surprizingly, this will be the moment that unity will give way to a diversity of thought. The messages will be as varied as the places of worship themselves, which (of course) is one of the freedoms that defines our nation.

Some preachers will remind their people to remind others that these young men do not represent Islam. Sadly, some preachers will take the opposite tack and suggest that the problem is Islam.

Some preachers will suggest that these young men were troubled or insane, and the media (along with most Canadians) got the story wrong.

In a few places, preachers will suggest this is the after-effect of colonialism and foreign wars. And some preachers—quite ironically—will suggest religion itself is the problem.

And all this, of course, will mirror the debate that will unfold in the weeks and months to come, the debate that will precede our nation’s response. And through it all we will struggle to remember the names that should remain top-of-mind: Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent.

Adding my voice to the din, I would argue that in the absence of further attacks, the debate will centre how we define the past weeks events, and the extent to which we alter our behaviour or laws in the face of them. We will hear familiar arguments from the left and the right, and I hope a consensus will emerge that deals with the problem of self-radicalization, young men and women who find meaning in hateful messages found mostly online.

And short of shutting down the Internet (which I’m sure someone will suggest) we need to create programs similar to those found in other countries that treat radicalized young people before they do the things they are being encouraged to do. By definition, home-grown terror is something we must confront at home, and our response must safeguard the very rights and freedoms some seek to destroy.

One of the stories that was overshadowed by events this week was the story of three Denver-area girls, who skipped class and flew to Germany en route to Syria. And, of course, they were busy tweeting their plans to the other kids in their high school, and so the FBI were able to arrest them before they reached their final destination.

It turns out they may have been seduced by messages from Syria that sound like something out of Disney’s Aladdin: young women promised homes and husbands and a meaningful life lived in an emerging caliphate. And it leads me to wonder how someone in an Internet cafe half a world away can convince three girls to leave lives of peace and security and head for one of the most troubled places in earth.

Part of the answer, I think, can be found in the research of Dr. Jocelyn Bélanger and his colleagues at the Universite du Quebec. Looking at extremists in Sri Lanka, Jordan and the Philippines, they “point to a single, overarching motivation, what the academics call the ‘quest for personal significance,’ leading them to join a community they believe gives their lives meaning, and adopting its ideology in an effort to be accepted.”

Prof. Belanger continues: “When, for instance, [they feel they are] not important, they don’t matter, they are a speck of dust in some kind of uncaring universe, it increases psychological pain,” he said. “One way of assuaging this negative feeling is connecting through a group.”*

Now here is the problem—listen to these words once more: they pursue “a quest for personal significance, leading them to join a community they believe gives their lives meaning, and adopting its ideology in a effort to be accepted.” If you’re thinking that that sounds like what we’re doing here in church, you would be right.

And this is where we need the work of Dr. Kendra Dean, who has spend the last few years trying to solve the opposite problem to Dr. Belanger and his colleagues: namely, why do so many young people leave church and never return. The answer, it turns out, is the same.

Studying both young people and their parents, she found that the common reaction to a life of faith for them could best be described as benign positive regard. In other words, these church-going young people and their parents agreed that church and the message shared within was ‘okay.’ Good, but nothing to get too excited about.

The common answer in both situations was passion: the type of passion that leads some down a dangerous path toward terror and an almost complete lack of passion that leads people away from church and on to anywhere else: maybe the mall, or maybe even some of those dangerous places online.

So how have we failed? This, of course, is the only appropriate question when our first instinct is to cast blame far and wide. What have we failed to provide that might stem the tide of meaninglessness and despair?

The answer, again, is passion. Rather than join the argument that some will make against passionate belief, we need to do the opposite and suggest that only passionate belief in a compassionate and forgiving God can save us. We need to help provide the meaning that seems to be in such short supply, and in doing so rescue people from the voices that offer a radical alternative. And without re-preaching my sermon of three weeks ago, when some children realize that they will not reach their life’s ambition of being rich and famous, they will need another plan that does not include the perversion of Islam called the Islamic State.

St. Paul said that ‘since we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, we are now justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement.’

Christ’s passion, the ‘life, death, and life beyond death’ that defines our community, is the passion that can give meaning in the face of so many alternatives. And this is not an argument against our sister religions, but rather an argument against those who would point to the marketplace or the arena or the field of battle as places to find meaning.

When God in Jesus chose to go to the cross, to experience the most painful part of the human experience—at that very moment—were were mysteriously reconciled to God, made one with God in suffering and forgiveness.

It was also at that very moment that Christ’s passion became our passion: that being reconciled to God we could be reconciled to each other, no longer seeing the things that divide us, but rather seeing only our common humanity. This, then, allows us to reach out to a weary world and offer hope. Not conversion, since only God can turn the heart to prayer, but hope—since hope alone is what will lead us to live together in peace.

May we never cease to pray for peace, and for a passionate vision that leads only to reconciliation. Amen.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 22
15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?”
18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

Roman emperors collected titles like kids collect hockey cards.

Maybe more though, since I have no idea if kids still collect hockey cards. So let’s take just one example, the Emperor Trajan, ruling from 98 to 117, number two of the famous group ‘the five good Emperors.’ He expanded the empire to its fullest extent, and can therefore legitimately claim a title or two.

Take a denarius from your pocket and read the obverse, as coin people say:

"The supreme commander of great dignity, Nerva Trajanus, the most perfect prince and sovereign, victor over the Germans, Dacians and Parthians."

Well, that’s impressive, so let’s turn it over:

"High priest, Tribune of the People, Consul for the sixth time, Father of the country, as recognized by Senate and the people of Rome."

Now you’re thinking ‘how big was this coin?’ About the size of nickel, so they had to write small. To be fair, Trajan was one of the best, and in fact all future emperors were blessed by the Senate with the wish “May you be as fortunate as Augustus and as good as Trajan.” Maybe just put that on your coin.

Or keep it simple, like Tiberius. When Jesus says ‘show me your coin,’ he is very likely handed a coin of Tiberius, emperor throughout the time of his earthly ministry. It seems the Emperor liked to keep things simple with the words "Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus.”

So what happens when the Son of God is handed a coin with a picture of someone claiming to be the son of god? That would be jumping ahead. We begin our story with some well-crafted flattery: “Good teacher,” the ones sent to Jesus say, “filled as you are with integrity, sharing only God’s truth, never tempted to follow the thought of the so-called great minds...tell us something.”

Never one for flattery, Jesus ignores their words and says “show me your coin.” Then he asks two important and very distinct questions: “Whose likeness is this?” and “what’s the inscription.”

By the time of Trajan the answer to the second question might have been “how much time have you got?” Instead, this is Tiberius, and the answer to this all important question would be that claim to the divine sonship of the great Augustus. So it may well be a theological debate, but first it is a political debate.

Remember Linus? He said something like this: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed...and all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.” Mary and Joseph, city of David, swaddling clothes, no room in the inn, shepherds abiding in the field, and, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them (and this is Carol’s favourite part) “and they were sore afraid.”

But some time later, they were just mad. After the star and the creche came the tax, a tax that became a fixture in the lives of these people. Like King George after him, Augustus believed that if you were going the enjoy the benefits of the Roman peace (pax romana) then you ought to help pay for it.

But the people disagreed. And rather than throwing perfectly good tea into Boston harbour, various groups began to organize a revolt against Rome under the name of Zealots. In the end, things would turn out badly for the Zealots, but they did succeed in troubling the Roman authorities and sparking a lively debate among the population about paying the hated tax.

Focusing then on the politics, they were framing a no-win question and Jesus knew it. Side with the Zealots and you were a outlaw. Side with those who paid the tax and you were a collaborator. So which would it be? Jesus, being neither outlaw nor collaborator, said simply “give me a coin.”

Then, in one of the most cryptic and frequently misunderstood moments said “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.”

Was he suggesting an early version of the eighteen-century idea of the separation between church and state? Was he introducing Paul’s later notion that Christians ought to respect earthly government since governments are put in place by God? Not very likely.

More likely, and certainly more compelling, is the idea found in the writings of the great Tertullian, who said “render the image of Caesar, which is on the coin, to Caesar, and the image of God, which is on [humanity], to God; so as to render to Caesar indeed money, to God yourself.”

In other words, in the world but not of the world. We were made in the image of God (Gen 1.27) and we belong to God, we are named sons and daughters of the Most High. So we give ourselves to God rather than Caesar: we render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and we give to God what belongs to God, and that would be all of ourselves.

Now what about that inscription? It’s all well and good for Jesus to sidestep the question of the tax and remind the people around him that they are made in the image of God. It is all well and good to avoid this ongoing confrontation with Rome, knowing as Jesus did that after Rome there would be another Rome all the way down that whoever to choose to label Rome today.

But the inscription says "Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus.” The Son of God holding a coin showing a man claiming to be the son of a god? Where will this lead?

First, Tertullian would say that’s just Romans being Romans. They were famous idolators, naming everthing a god. In the passage that follows the quote I shared a moment ago, Tertullian goes on to list all the household gods Romans pray to beginning at the front door: The god of the door (Forculus), the god of the threshold (Limentinus), the goddess of the hinges (Cardea), not to mention the god of the gate (Janus). So saying Tiberius is a god because he is the son of a god (Augustus) sounds like harmless formality or just good old-fashioned puffery.

Until you make a counter-claim, or your friends do. In Matthew Jesus says, “yes, but who do you say I am?” and Peter replies saying “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God. And Jesus says “tell no one.” And rightly so. In the Roman mind there may be many gods, but only one son of god, and that would be Caesar.

They took their titles seriously: titles that they took great pains to earn, titles they used to literally lord it over others, titles that spoke to earthly power. And when Jesus said “render unto Caesar” he was really saying ‘make a choice.’ To whom will you belong, to Caesar or to God? Who is the real son of God? Is it Tiberius? Jesus?

Many would choose to follow Jesus, and earn the same fate Jesus earned in his desire to live for God alone. The coin led to the cross, just as every choice for God requires some sacrifice, some sort of decision between the way of the world and the way of God.

May we be bold as we render our lives to God, surrendering to worldly powers what they need, but remaining children of the Most High, now and always, Amen.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Thanksgiving Sunday

2 Corinthians 9
6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written:
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever.”[a]
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

“Would you like to give two dollars to the I’m Embarrassing You at the Check-out fund?”

I think you know what I’m talking about. And I think my recollection is fairly accurate, since I have a hard time hearing everything after “would you like to give two dollars...”

I should say I’m not opposed to charitable giving. People in my position tend to encourage it, for obvious reasons. I guess what bothers me about the check-out ask is the way in which the check-out person is putting me on the spot. Maybe I worry there will be more.

“Would you like to give two dollars to save the children?”
“No, thank you.”
“What, you don’t like children? You don’t like my children? How do you feel about your children?”

Maybe I just have an over-active imagination, or a heightened sense of guilt. Either way, I’m unhappy about this new trend in charitable giving. And, of course, the last person I should be annoyed with is the person asking the question, since they are simply doing as they are told.

At first I wondered if companies like Shoppers and Loblaws were doing this to improve their own bottom-line, getting a break on corporate taxes by gathering all these small donations and getting a really big charitable receipt. I did some initial checking, and apparently this is not the case—the money is directly forwarded to the cause.

Still, even if these corporations have no ulterior motive, the practice has an element of public shaming. The person generally asks for the donation with a hopeful smile on their face, a smile which quickly disappears when I politely say ‘no.’ Again, maybe I’m reading too much, but the entire exchange is an unhelpful addition to the thing I am there to do—buy stuff and be in my way.

Now that you’re becoming convinced that I’m a miser or worse, I will tell you what I tell the people who come to the door asking for money, or the people who stop me in the street. I tell them that I give generously to my church’s mission fund, then I smile, and begin to close the door. Sometimes the person at the door will challenge me (“I doubt your church’s fund helps my cause”), but most often people accept my reason and move on.

The world of charities is fraught with peril. Some are too aggressive, some are outside my areas of concern, and some have a reputation for sharing too little of the money they collect. And through it all I have discovered that the best response to ‘the ask’ is to be well acquainted with the charities you do support. In this way, you will be more secure in saying ‘no’ to the ones you don’t want to give to.

And if you think we have charity issues, you should talk to St. Paul. It seems that the church in Jerusalem was struggling, and even at this early moment in the life of the Christian church there was a practice of sharing between churches for the good of all. Paul describes the practice (almost a policy) in the previous chapter to the one Kathy read:

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”

Clever Paul, he outlines the basis of the policy—equality—and suggests that what goes around comes around. Then he adds the kicker, an reference to the miracle of the omer we talked about a few weeks ago: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” Since God redistributed the manna in the desert, so too should the wealthy Corinthians support the poor Judeans.

But Paul doesn’t stop there. Being more-or-less continuously annoyed with the Corinthians, Paul applied additional layers to his appeal for equality. First, he says Titus is coming to get your collection. In what sounds more like a visit from Tony Soprano, Titus is coming (along with some backup) to ensure that a generous gift is received.

But Paul doesn’t stop there. He describes the generosity of the churches in Macedonia, how they were experiencing a famine but they still surpassed all of Paul’s expectations. He describes how they practically begged Paul to allow them to give more, and when they did, their joy was complete. This is no ordinary appeal for funds.

But Paul doesn’t stop there. Paul thanked the Macedonians and told them that the Corinthians would be deeply inspired by all this giving, and give even more! And then my favourite line in the passage: “For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to say anything about you—would be ashamed of having been so confident.” In other words, if you’re not as generous as I said you would be, I’ll be embarrassed, but not as embarrassed as you’ll be!

But Paul doesn’t stop there. He stops with a homily about generosity, an inspirational sermon about giving:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

I imagine the person who tore open the envelop and began to read this sermonette gave a loud guffaw and a “yah, right Paul.” We’re not going to give reluctantly or under compulsion when Paul has set out the principle of equality, set it in the context of God’s liberation, sent the Titus Collection Agency, told an inspiring story about the poor but wildly generous Macedonians, reminded them that have only themselves to embarrass, and then says “but God loves a cheerful giver.”

What Paul might have done, if he wasn’t already so annoyed with the Corinthians, is simply quote Psalm 112, and maybe add a line to his quote. He does give a snippet of the psalm in his little homily on giving, but the passage is overshadowed by the overall context of the letter. Extracted, maybe we can allow it to speak more clearly:

They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor,
their righteousness endures forever;
their horn[c] will be lifted high in honor.

The ‘they’ in the psalm are those who follow the Lord, those who delight in the Lord’s commands. They FREELY scattered their gifts to the poor, and their righteousness endures forever. The horn lifted high is meant to symbolize their dignity, although it isn’t clear if it’s the dignity of the giver or the dignity of the one receiving the gift. I hope it’s both.

Giving is its own reward, and by blessing others you will be blessed. This, of course, is what Paul meant to say all along, and he says it well after he has finished being annoyed with this friends in Corinth. So Paul says, “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.”

And at all times the gift must be freely given, not coerced, not the result of putting people on the spot or making them feel guilty. It should be an expression of thanks to God for God’s generosity, and then it will certainly generate more expressions of generosity.

May we be further prompted to give thanks to God, and may the gifts we freely give be an expression of the many gifts we have already received. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Philippians 3
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[a] 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.

Like all inventors, Terry and I just want to make the world a better place.

That’s why we invented Scalloped Potato Shepherd’s Pie. Yes, that’s right. A layer of ground beef, onions and peas, lightly seasoned, covered with a layer of scalloped potatoes. You’re not going to hear another word I say this morning, because all you can now think about is Scalloped Potato Shepherd’s Pie.

Most will know that Central provides a community meal each Tuesday, often serving 80 or so people, with volunteer cooks, servers, cleaners and the like, all pitching in to help. The basic ingredient each week is good old-fashioned ground beef, procured 300 pounds at a time from a nice shop on Dundas West.

The challenge, of course, is taking the basic ingredient and creating something unique each week. In effect, we have created our own reality-based television show minus the cameras and the lights. I’m not saying that cooking the Tuesday night meal is some sort of competition, but you should taste our Scalloped Potato Shepherd’s Pie.

For the intellectual property lawyers in the crowd, you are no doubt worried for Terry and me, worried that our Scalloped Potato Shepherd’s Pie will appear on next season’s Recipe to Riches or Master Chef Canada, and we won’t receive the acclaim that comes with a recipe like Scalloped Potato Shepherd’s Pie. Well, don’t worry: after this I’m going to print this sermon and mail it to myself, proving that we advanced humanity once and for all.

You might argue that we are simply a product of our time. In a recent poll of 16-year-olds in the UK revealed that 54% named “become a celebrity” as their number one career choice. I assume that includes celebrity chefs. In another survey, this one with children five to ten years of age, the number one career choice was “to be rich” followed by “to be famous” and then “police officer.”

In yet another survey, kids were asked to be more specific, with the top five careers listed as sports star, pop star, movie star, astronaut or lawyer. I think you see the overall theme. When they quizzed the parents of these kids, asking them what they wanted to be when they were younger, the result was a rather mundane top five list: teacher, banker, doctor, scientist or vet. It seems that helping others is just so 1975.

I would be fun and fascinating to get a group of psychologists and social scientists in to explain this recent desire to be rich and famous, but all we really need is a copy of TV Guide. With children watching countless hour of so-called reality-based television, the desire to see themselves on television becomes stronger, and the culture that comes with it more compelling. So a word of advice for parents or grandparents: tune the television to TVO or PBS and throw the remote in the garbage.

Yet, if we were going to develop a program called “Judah’s Best Pharisee” or “Who’s the Smartest Israelite?” we would certainly begin with Paul. Mirroring that great Canadian philosopher Eric Lindros (who said “it ain’t braggin’ if it’s true”) Paul gives us his c.v.:

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; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

Think of Paul as the original “most interesting man in the world,” a man among men, and someone who was pretty proud of his ability to torment the followers of Jesus. He was said to be in the crowd when the first Christian martyr died, added greater weight to his role as clever adversary of Christ.

And then, the Road to Damascus:

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 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 and be found in him.

Actually, the New International Bible we use is being polite here. The King James gives the more accurate translation, saying “I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” And I’m guessing that using the word ‘dung’ is the King James Version being polite too, so I leave to you to create your own colourful version of this verse.

“I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung (or whatever), that I may win Christ.”

For Paul, or rather pre-Paul fellow named Saul, it was a specific kind of zeal that ended when an encounter with the Risen Christ threw him off his high horse. But it would be disingenuous to say this is simply about a Pharisee who changed his ways and stopped persecuting Christians. This is about a person who strove for religious excellence, only to discover that the whole idea of religious excellence is little more than dung.

But it’s a lesson we refuse to learn. Throughout the church we are challenged to articulate the best mission, to have the best programs, to be the friendliest and the most effectively at welcoming, to have the best position on the great issues of our day, and to be led by the best consultants and bureaucrats.

100 years ago we were not better, when we are encouraged to drink, dance, and swear the least, pursue Christian perfection (sanctification), model holiness for the whole community, and avoid any imperfect examples of religion in our community including Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Baptists.

And we do this to ourselves. We are not the first generation of grown-ups who insist on telling children that “you are special” and “you can be the best.” These troublesome messages have been delivered in varied forms from the beginning of time. And the emergence of celebrity culture is just the latest manifestation of the twin messages of “you are special” and “you can be the best.” A generation ago these messages were used to reinforce divisions of class and race and 100 years before that it was about nations and religions.

But Paul said “I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”

Being the best is incompatible with dying and rising with Christ, because our religion is about surrendering excellence in favour of brokenness. It is about setting aside our own sense of righteousness in favour of the righteousness of God.

Paul concludes by saying “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

Our high calling is to be special to God alone, because that’s what truly matters. Our high calling is to be best at dying and rising with Christ, turning weakness into strength, and turning sacrifice in the salvation.

May God save this and every generation, first from ourselves—and always for the sake of Jesus the Christ, Amen.