In the teaching Sunday we revisited Paul’s relentless insistence that joy is found as we live out the Jesus story in community with one another. Joy might be a strange word to us – an overly religious word with too little traction in the real world. Maybe we need to think of it in other terms. Maybe joy is mirrored in the deep-seated satisfaction that we taste when we’ve done something well. Maybe joy’s light shines through those moments of deep connection with a dear friend. Maybe joy makes itself known in the depth of pride we feel when someone close to us succeeds.
I’ve put a lot of “maybes” in that paragraph. I put them there because too closely identifying our joy with any one experience in this world has the power to turn those good things into false hopes. We experience the goodness of a relationship, or of success in our work, and we subtly begin to mold our stories such that their climactic moments become those fleeting moments of attainment.
Paul makes a bold move in Philippians 3. He takes our stories of attainment and ups them one. Not only was he the ultimate success, he was the ultimate success at doing the very things God told Israel, in scripture, that God wanted people to do.
And this great success left him blind to the work of God. It left him blind to the reality of the Jesus story. It left him playing the part of the crucifying Roman, as he persecuted the church, rather than the part of the self-giving Messiah.
The story of the empire has tremendous power to co-opt even the name and stories of God.
And so Paul reminds us to strive within the Jesus story. To strive for lives that flow from the knowledge that we are God’s children, and to bear this family name is to live the story of the cross.
He reminds us to strive within the Jesus story. To strive for lives that flow from the reality of our identity as it is made known in weekly worship by the Spirit whom we share.
He reminds us to strive within the Jesus story. To strive for lives that actively deny the narratives of scarcity that drive us to consume and compete.
Jesus let go of what was his. Paul let go of what was his. And God calls us to do the same. God calls us to let go, in full trust that giving life to the other, rather than hoarding it for myself, is the way to the life that we try to build for ourselves in so many other ways.