Studying homiletics at Virginia Theological Seminary in the early aughts was a distinct challenge. As middlers, we were required to take three-quarters of a year of homiletics, split between a semester with one professor and a third quarter class with another. At that time, the two different professors were nearly diametrically opposed in their understanding of the task of preaching. One was focused on argument and rhetoric, giving a list of preaching rules which shall not be violated and assigning a book suggesting a hard and fast way to organize a sermon. The other was interested in the art of preaching, focusing on presentation and at times, bordering on theatrical. The preaching gods smiled upon my type-a personality, and gave me a semester with the former. I can’t say I remember all the rules, and I certainly don’t organize my sermon in “Four Pages,” but I am keenly aware of the Rev. Dr. Judith McDaniel’s deep dislike of pronouns. If there wasn’t a direct and very obvious antecedent, you had better just repeat the noun because “this” and “that” just weren’t going to cut it.
I wish Paul had taken a class from Judith McDaniel because, like Meatloaf in his classic rock anthem “I would do anything for love,” Paul was pretty bad at having a direct antecedent for every pronoun. Couple that with a real hack job by the RCL, and we have a lesson from the Philippians on Sunday that ends with a powerful line that makes little, if any, real sense. Paul completes his thoughts on the goal of discipleship with these words “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.” To which, many who hear the lesson read and don’t know the larger framework of Philippians will ask “in what way?”
If we take into account the whole section from 3:12 to 4:1, which would make sense and one has to wonder why the RCL decided to skip the first six verses, then we find two occurrences of the same word I wrote about on Monday, teleios, to be made perfect. The goal, the “in this way,” then is striving after God’s will for our lives, the perfection of our creation, which, if we go back just few verses further, is summed up in 3:10-11, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” The teleios of the Christian life, at least according to Paul in his letter to the Philippians, is to share in Christ’s suffering so that we might share in his resurrection. It is taking up our cross by choosing to care for the poor, the lost, and the hopeless more than we care about our own comforts and desires. In so doing, by standing firm and living lives of agape love, we share in the resurrection of Jesus in the joy of abundant life and the peace that passes all understanding not in some far off time and place after we die, but right here and right now as the Kingdom comes to earth.