Something about being in seminary can take an interesting story and make it bizarre. While visiting seminaries, I will never forget listening to a group talk about their calls to ministry. A young man told this fantastical story about a hamburger that began to speak to him and told him to go to seminary. My initial thought was “isn’t that what Mylanta is for?” But it is really not my place to judge. Looking back, I question why the seminary had that as a formal part of their weekend. It was kind of a set-up.
Now I know, I cannot judge whether that happened or not, but having gone to seminary I now realize that there is a phenomenon that happens there where as stories are shared they become more and more remarkable. It is as if the more outlandish they are, the more they prove how good a Christian the candidate is going to be. But this is part of our humanity, no matter what field or position in life, think of the fishing stories we often hear!!!
In my own life, I could boast about being the perfect Christian. I do have the right pedigree. No matter which branch of our family tree you follow there are tons of pastors and priests, one branch even goes back to Ulrich Zwingli himself, a cornerstone of the reformed tradition. I cannot remember a week of my life where the church did not play a major role!
But, let’s be honest, while I have always been part of the church, and faith was always around me,` that does not make for a good Christian. I am the first to admit that I am far from the perfect Christian. Much of my life I took my faith for granted. As a child, the social side of church was important, the faith part was not. As an adult, I have let my own desires come between me and my relationship with God, something I always am working to reconcile. You see, to claim your own wants and desires over God’s is a faith about you and your wants.
I makes me think back to when I went through confirmation. At 14 years old, I was a typical junior higher, concerned with all that came with that age. Like getting braces on my teeth, it was expected -- not that I had much of a choice -- or so I thought. For me, and some of my friends, confirmation was a goal, a rite of passage, a mark of having put in the time at church and now would be our time of reward!
There was a group of us who grew very frustrated because all of a sudden there were people who we never saw before showing up for confirmation. This was OUR confirmation not theirs. We brought our frustration to our Youth Pastor. He listened intently to our concerns and said something interesting, something I did not think much about at that time, but have often thought about since. It went something like this:
“Confirmation is about being with God your whole life, not just as a kid. It’s a time to learn and grow and at the end commit yourself publicly to Christ. This is your choice and yours alone, as it is their choice and theirs alone. So why not welcome them and show them the love you have had for all these years?”
That went totally over our heads! But later in life I came to know what that meant in deep and profound ways. Where you come from or what you have done -- none of that matters once you have come to really let God into your heart.
This is the gist of what Paul is talking about in Philippians 3:4b-14. No matter how good or perfect he was, no matter the pedigree, learnings, or past; what is most important is the relationship with God. It is about helping others to understand and allowing them to make a choice of how they will embrace that relationship. It does not matter where they come from!
Now this does not make everything perfect from that point forward, but it does mean that when you truly let God into your heart that becomes the most important thing. It also means that when you fall, it is easier to find your way back. As we prepare for the final weeks of Lent we have before us a reminder from Paul:
“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, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” And you can too!
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen