You have to believe in resurrection from the dead if you watched the UVA Final Four game last night. One last shot in with .6 seconds to go. We have a good example of the cycle of death to resurrection right in front of us! Just couldn’t preach without mentioning that!
The text in Philippians today reminds me of my sister, Sandy who travels a lot—she has gone over a million miles and is a Diamond level flyer. She sometimes takes short trips just to get the miles and always flies on the same airline, no matter what. If they don’t fly there, she doesn’t go. I get tickets on whatever airline is most direct and cheapest—I am not loyal to any particular airline. A few years ago, we took a trip to Poland to find our one-generation removed relatives and when we arrive in Warsaw, my bag arrived at baggage—but hers did not. She was incensed and complained and they said they would send it to the hotel by the end of the day. We went to the hotel and waited. After three days, she began yelling at the customer service agent on the phone, “You don’t understand. My sister is a nothing. She has no status at all! I am a Diamond! I should have my luggage and she shouldn’t!” Luckily, my sister and I get along very well and she has status, at least in the travel world.
St. Paul is also talking about his status—an impressive education (not stolen SAT scores,) from the best family, highest position in his job, most respected in his field, a reputation that precedes him. Head and shoulders above the rest. He has followed all the rules, met all the expectations, and is a religious success. He’s earned every line on his resumé.
What is this kind of pedigree or status about? Status protects us, we believe, from being average or unremarkable in the sea of humanity. We want to stand out so that we don’t get left behind or end up in living situations that aren’t to our liking. We want to be recognized as above average and deserving of good treatment. It hints at the fact that we think that without this status, we don’t deserve good things—that we will be disregarded. Worse yet, unremarkable.
I saw this at work when my Mom was in the hospital. One of my siblings brought in photos and copies of my Father’s accomplishments and my Mother’s awards. Every medical professional who visited us, got a run down of what my parent’s had done in their lives, which felt like a gigantic waste of the doctor’s time to me. When I asked why we need to do that, I was told so they would treat her well, pay attention to her pain, understand that she was worth saving.
I had another reminder of the way we believe we need to position ourselves to deserve care and help when we were in Honduras this past week. Last year when we were there, we met a little girl, a baby really, who was very small and fighting to live. Let’s call her Cindy. She was only 1 ½ pounds at 8 months and had been brought to the Episcopal girls home, Our Little Roses by a government agency who said that the mother had abandoned her. As soon as Cindy arrived, OLR begin the search for the mother, believing that all children need to know their history. On Friday, we were there to witness her reunion with her mother. She told a tale that was heartbreaking in its history but heartwarming at its conclusion. The mother, who was of Mestizo background, said that she was told that her baby had died, but she did not believe the hospital and went everyday to ask about her baby. After two months, they threw her out of the hospital, telling her she could not return. She never stopped looking for her little girl and knowing in her heart that she was alive. She could feel the baby’s presence in the world. When she saw Cindy for the first time, she hugged her tightly and the little girl, who generally doesn’t like to be hugged, very sweetly hung onto her mother as if they had always known each other’s arms. This little girl had no pedigree, no reason for anyone to care about her, she was in death’s grip and yet lived to meet her mother again. Will she ever be rich or famous or be more than one more little girl in a sea of Honduran children? Maybe not. But to her mother, who never gave up on her, she is everything. What did she need to do to be worthy of this love? Nothing. Exist so that her mother could eventually find her.
This is Paul’s point. Your list of accomplishments can get you a great education, or Diamond level Club status, or maybe a lower rate mortgage, but it cannot love you. This is the law. The law is a command—something that tells you what to do but does not give you the power to do it. God is like Cindy’s mother—who continues to pursue you no matter what your status in the world or your ability to accomplish anything. In fact, St. Paul calls everything he had accomplished before he met Jesus a rubbish—a lovely British word for trash, not worth the paper it’s printed on.
When we take this into our religious life, we can also thing we have special status. We come to church every Sunday—maybe Wednesdays, too. We volunteer at the Soup Kitchen or go on Mission trips like eight of us did this past week. When we get to the Pearly Gates, we hope to show this scorecard to St. Peter in order to get into the Fast track line, like Disney World. Although these are great ways to occupy our time and meet some amazing people, they have no value on our eternal scorecard. In fact, there isn’t one. It’s in the trash. Like my sisiter, we are incensed at this injustice but like little Cindy, we do not have to prove our worthiness to be loved. It is our inheritance as children of God, our inherent worth.
As Edward Pillar, a minister in Evesham UK reminds us, “Let’s be clear: Paul is affirming a new reality where followers of the Lord Jesus Christ accept a new and radical value system where background and heritage, education and training, religious and political convictions and activism, and lifestyle matter not one jot compared the value of knowing Christ as Lord.”
When we come to that final day, on the other end of the life than baby Cindy, when we will present ourselves to our heavenly parent, without all our stuff, and will be glad that all is trash because we won’t have to worry if it’s enough, if we have done enough. Jesus has done it all for us. Our death is over before it started because we will be raised with Christ, who, like Cindy’s Mom, searches for us daily because we exist in the world and are loved.