Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; 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. --Phil 3: 13-14
When we last left our blogging adventure, I was considering the phrase in the collect about running after the promises of God. In the reading from St. Paul's letter to the Phillipians, I find myself reflecting on the notion that part of the race after God is the commitment to shedding the baggage we don't need. The sprint, even when it slows to a stroll, along the path toward God requires keeping the eyes fixed forward and not searching constantly behind at what is being left or looking over here or over there to see what other people are getting or not getting as the case may be. The mission for each of us is to journey forward in peace "to love and serve the Lord." Thanks be to God!
Nothing could be more appropriate for this inauspicious date in the life of my congregation at St. John's Episcopal Church. It was on this very date--Sunday, October 2, 2005--that the then-rector ascended into the pulpit and did the unthinkable: he announced he was leaving and taking the vestry and others with him to start a new "Anglican" church. Anyone who stayed behind, or wasn't invited to leave, was apparently labeled "unorthodox". Needless to say, it caused a number of the St. John's faithful much pain and anguish. Friendships ended, and in some cases, families were split.
But as with all things, out of what seemed like a death came new life. There were many, including me, who had stayed away from the building because we did not believe we would be welcomed in (certainly, the headlines St. John's was making during those dark years before "the split" made it abundantly clear that we queer people were not invited into the church.) With the "Anglican" departure, a new normal could take root. And over these past six years, many fresh faces have entered into St. John's... and stayed... and become involved. From the many tears shed has come laughter. New friendships have formed. Baptisms and confirmations and reaffirmations take place to continue growing the good works that are meant to be. Because, at the end of the day, St. John's like any church is not about the priests, or the fine linens or even the amazing choir. It's about God and the ongoing story of the people of God as it is lived through each of us. And again we say, "Thanks be to God."
The baggage that came with the St. John's of those years can be left at the curb. The weight of it was too much for the trip and certainly prevented people from "running" after the promises of a God who has pledged an unconditional love for each of us. As I like to tell people, "When driving, it's best to keep your eyes on the road as seen through the windshield and not the rearview mirror."
That's much of what Paul seems to be telling the Gentiles who make up the Church at Phillipi. Paul is in prison, and the Phillipians (who seem to be one his favorite groups), are understandably concerned about what's happened to him. But Paul encourages them to not let the baggage of worry about him keep them down. Instead, he pushes them to remain in joy... and reminds himself in the process... that the real "goal of the prize" is about following in the ways of Christ Jesus, even when that means facing a hostile crowd that wants to kill you. Those ways of Christ are summed up in the Hebrew Scriptures assigned for today with the recounting of the Ten Commandments from Exodus; ten instructions which Jesus would later boil down into a condensed version: Love God with all your heart, all your mind and all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself.
That is plenty to carry on the spiritual journey, and is really the only baggage we need.