Pressing On   Philippians 3:4b-14     October 5, 2008

Consider this: Since the end of the 20th C,Internet companies have shocked the stock market, and America Online is now worth as much as ABC, CBS and NBC combined.  Yahoo.com is now worth more than the New York Times. Amazon.com is worth more than rival booksellers Barnes & Noble and Borders combined. In a very real sense, Virtual Businesses are worth an astonishing amount of Actual Dollars.

Are silicon and fiber the stuff of stock market magic? "So it appears," writes
RichKarlgaard in The Wall Street Journal. "They take gossamer wings of thought and brain power and speed and turn them into equity billions.

At the same time, they transform many old bankable assets, like real estate and storefronts and inventory, into 'legacy problems' -- albatrosses of land and concrete and steel" (Rich Karlgaard, "The Web Is Recession-Proof," The Wall Street Journal, July 14, 1998).

Are Internet industries real and valuable? Apparently so! Although Internet stocks took a hit last spring and are subject to market variables like other stocks, the fact is, high-tech stocks are hot. They are very real and very valuable, although they don't have much in the way of real estate and storefronts and inventory.
 
In fact, one of the reasons they have such value is that they don't have big stores to maintain, with heating bills and peeling paint and dirty carpets. There is a whole new set of values in the market today, and it seems that the businesses worth big bucks are the Internet industries -- enterprises that are not dragged down by "albatrosses of land, concrete and steel."

We have witnessed a stunning value shift at the end of the second millennium, just as the apostle
Paul did at the beginning of the first. What the pre-Christian Saul thought of as valuable (marketable), the transformed ChristianPaul regards as rubbish.
 
His human merits are now divine demerits, his stunning gains are now staggering losses. He wants only to know Christ, forget the past and press on for "the prize of the heavenly call of God in ChristJesus" (v.14). As a Christian, Paul has a new value system in place, one that gives him a righteousness from God based on faith.

However, here is the million-dollar question: What is our value system?
Are we playing it safe, or are we willing to risk all for the sake of knowing
Jesus Christ?
What are we investing in?
Are we investing in law or grace?
Is our value system virtual or eternal?

You really ought to talk to a professional about where to put your IRAs and 401k's, someone who can decipher the Dow Jones and negotiate the NASDAQ.

However, there is no one more knowledgeable on eternal values than the apostle
Paul is. His advice: There is nothing like the surpassing value of knowing Christ as Lord. That investment grows and pays dividends forever, with a value that is far more than virtual.

Paul's confession that he has no righteousness based on the law strikes a remarkably radical pose for a former Pharisee to take. In his religious network, you padded your righteousness portfolio by dipping into a variety of legalistic bonds. Now, as a new-creation Christian, Paul abandons that strategy for a risk-taking flight of faith. His contemporaries see this as foolish and ill advised, but the payoff is huge: "gain[ing] Christ and be[ing] found in him."

In the Christian value system, righteousness is always relational. "
Jesus is my friend," says JamesForbes, senior minister at New York's RiversideChurch. "I like Jesus .... I like his willingness to suffer for things he believed in. I like the evidence I get that the God of the universe honored him because he was faithful to what he was about." There is certainly surpassing value in knowing -- really knowing -- Christ as Lord.

With
Jesus as a friend, we can be right with God, and with each other. Forbes continues, "Jesus is also the one in whom I find the invitation to wholeness." "a clue to forgiveness for my sins, as well as the promise that I can live a life that increasingly honors God and loves community and serves the world -- rather than being a person who continues to spoil the dream of the Creator."  (JamesForbes, "Who is Jesus?" Questions of Faith [Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1990], 48).

Another new value discovered by
Paul is that of knowing the power of Christ's resurrection, and the sharing of his sufferings (v.10). When we know Jesus to be risen and living -- not dead and gone -- we are given power to suffer like him and for him, and are given hope that we will rise and live with him forever.

Paul's words, "sharing of his sufferings," can be translated "the fellowship of his sufferings." Fellowship in Christ's sufferings is a communal -- not simply a personal -- event. Paul emphasizes the spirit of a community that would and could suffer together for Christ's sake and in Christ's name.
Here the apostle offers far more than the popular "bad things happen to good people" perspective on suffering: For Paul, all our suffering is Christ's, and Christ is present with us in our sufferings. The body and all its members are united in suffering, death and resurrection.

The
Rev. BarbaraSloop, a midlife graduate of Louisville Seminary, has served as an associate pastor at Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, the largest Presbyterian Church in Indiana. A retired captain in the U.S. Public Health Service, she worked 20 years as a physical therapist, administrator and educator.
 
Her own sense of vocation came from working with persons suffering from leprosy and then AIDS, alongside Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. "I began to see," she says, "that for some persons, healing could come only through a relationship with God and a life beyond this one."

Sloop's medical career certainly gave her valuable skills for helping people in need, but her education in church and seminary enabled her to see that complete healing requires a relationship with God and a caring community. Drugs and therapy alone cannot relieve all human suffering -- also needed are the support and empathy of a community that can and will suffer together for
Christ's sake and in Christ's name.
 
Since we are, together, the body of Christ, then it follows that our own suffering is Jesus' suffering. Likewise, our resurrection hope is grounded in the resurrection of Christ himself.

An investment of faith in
Jesus Christ also inspires us to "press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in ChristJesus" (v.14). Although it is true that our faith alone gains us the gift of a right relationship with God, an attitude of trust is not the end of our religious responsibility.
With Paul, we are to join the race and push hard toward the goal of sharing God's glory -- sharing it ourselves, and sharing it with others. Maybe the race we join is not so much a footrace as it is the HUMAN race, with our efforts always directed toward carrying the value of Jesus Christ to others.

"Look outward," advises
CharlesKrauthammer in Time magazine. "You have been rightly taught Socrates' dictum that the unexamined life is not worth living. I would add: The too-examined life is not worth living either.
 
"Perhaps previous ages suffered from a lack of self-examination. The Age of Oprah does not. One of the defining features of post-modernity is self-consciousness: psychological self-consciousness as popularized by Freud; historical self-consciousness as introduced by Hegel and Marx; literary self-consciousness as practiced in the interior, self-referential, self-absorbed world of modern fiction" (Charles Krauthammer in Time, June 28, 1993, cited in Christianity Today, June 15, 1998, 59).
 
Look outward.
 
Strain forward.

Press on toward the goal. Realize that you have received the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ, and let that great gift free you from the shackles of self-consciousness and self-absorption. Jesus is with you, as Lord and friend, sharing not only his sufferings but also the power of his resurrection.
 
With Christ at your side, you can

--Love others as God has loved you, even the neighbors who are downright obnoxious.
--Work hard -- and even suffer -- for things you believe in.
--Build a community of support for the distressed and the crying, the ill and the dying.
--Pray every day, as a way of communicating with your Creator.
--Speak of your faith, not as a structured religion but as a saving relationship.
--Invite a friend to worship.
--Recommend the values of Christ -- and the value of knowing Christ -- to others through your words and your actions.
--Live in such a way that you honor your God, love your community and serve your world.

Together, let's be knowledgeable on Paul's new value: the surpassing value of knowing Christ as Lord. This venture requires no cash or stocks, concrete or steel, fiber or silicon -- only a trusting heart and a willing spirit. It is an investment that will grow and pay big dividends, in this market and in the next. Amen.
 
Rev. Rosemary Stelz
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