I am just enough Pelagian and therefore Anglican to appreciate Paul’s “ Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”
For my Lutheran friends this is seems a bit heretical because justification by faith alone is so much a part of their vocabulary. But I truly believe that salvation is not yet finished. It is faith in action that makes the whole endeavor meaningful. Am I saved? Of course! But I have work to do. I do press on because God isn’t finished with me yet. Paul understood life before Augustine. He knew himself in a race within himself to be all that Christ asked of him. And I would guess that many of us would know that feeling in faith. I want to be more than I am in the light of the Gospel. I need to be more than I am because my friendship with Christ calls it from me. The only problem is that there is part of me that rebels against reforming myself. Could that be SIN? (as the Church Lady used to say) Yes, it is. It isn’t some category of misdeeds. There is no list that dictates what sin is that I can check off before Confession and Absolution. It is merely that propensity toward being lazy in the face of my friendship with God. And it is this we address during Lent. It is why we give up something for a season or change some behavior. But the real clue is do we go back to eating our chocolate, or drinking our beer after Lent? Is giving up for a season what this ‘pressing on to make it our own’ is all about?
I would suggest to you that our Lenten fast is about change.
There is one thing that I do know is that whether we are Lutherans or Episcopalians, CHANGE does not fit well with us. If I am truly to gain victory over that which keeps me from Christ, then I cannot return to it after Lent. It isn’t chocolate or beer that keeps us from Christ, it is what chocolate and beer symbolize: our own flabbiness in our relationship with God, our own addictions to the easy life, our own self-centeredness before a Christ who laid down everything that we might know salvation, our own rebelliousness in the light of all that God has given us.
Paul got the hang of it: “3:13 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.”
It is God’s call that we press on toward that which is the goal of living. It is to become that which God has implanted in us. We use the passion that God has given us to live into the dream that God has shared with us of a world in peace, justice restored, a life restored to wholeness, whatever it is that is your vision of God’s kingdom.
In the reading from John that we have today we find Mary, the sister of Martha, the one who sat at Jesus’ feet and was told she had the better part, anointing Jesus’ feet. We are not sure if John confused this story with the anonymous woman who does the same thing in the other Gospels, but the story tells of a woman who does an extravagant thing. She uses expensive nard to anoint Jesus. This is a remarkable act: women did not touch people who were not family. It just wasn’t done. Yet Jesus does not flinch from Mary’s action. She is ‘pressing on to make Christ her own.’ She reaches out to heal that which was to be broken. She prepares him for what is to come.
All too often we afraid to reach out a healing hand when it is needed. Mary pressed on. She did what was necessary. She stepped beyond mere salvation into relationship. She did what was needed even though it would garner criticism. She stood up to local custom and did what was necessary. She did something new. She called out a kind of truth in human existence that needed to be raised. She called out that the society of her day did not provide the healing touch that was needed and she broached the customs in the name of truth and wholeness. She pressed on.
In Isaiah we hear “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Mary understood that the call to newness, to change, to reach out. To be more of what we are called to be is the work of what it means to be Christian. It is not the stuff that can be done “for a season”. It is the race that we are constantly running.
If what we have always done before is getting in the way of our being what Christ is calling us to be, then we need to be about the work of change. If what we have always been gets in the way of healing the problems of our lives, if our anger or our pride or our fear or whatever it is, makes for problems in moving on in our relationship with Christ, then we have the obligation to recognize it as sin and it needs to be put away—not for a season but for always. We cannot afford the baggage while racing the race of life.
“Is there a time when this race ends?” you may ask. I don’t know. I haven’t reached that place yet. There is no place where we can rest on our laurels, because it is God who makes things new. We don’t make it new—God does and there is always something wonderful in the newness.
And even in heaven the saints "move from glory to glory" we are told. It is part of our lives to press on. AMEN