By Leanette P. Sunsum
Lectionary reading for 4/3/2022: Psalm 126; Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:4b-14; John 12:1-8
Selected passage for reflection: Philippians 3:4-14
Philippians 3:4-14 NRSV
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ[b] and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
12 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. 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, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
In seminary this semester, I'm learning a lot about Paul's historical and cultural context. As seen in this passage and from my learnings, Paul was undoubtedly the zealous pharisee. He was the one on the streets preaching and teaching and showed such hostility toward early Christians. Then he has this incredible mystical, spiritual experience that he couldn't help but tell the world about, and it's no different in this letter. He shares his story of transformation. He shares it with such great hope and enthusiasm to a church that can't seem to find hope for itself. And rightly so! This is a time of hardship and turmoil for the church in Philippi. The intense political strife and the economic injustice against the poorest of the poor. I can understand the hopelessness, fear, chaos they must feel with the Roman Empire at its height, asserting its dominance and power even with their subliminal messages of ideological superiority. This new church is also experiencing a lot of hostility for breaking the status quo, not living into the Roman Empire establishment.
So, it is not a surprise that Paul attempts to reassure them not to lose faith or courage: "We're almost to the finish line" about to "press towards the goal." That's what this pandemic and this current social and political climate feel like. I feel like we are almost at the finish with this pandemic, and we've been challenged in many ways about how we see race in this country, and we are rethinking how we correctly implement public health precautions because COVID-19, which ultimately helps us best love our neighbors both near and far.
Overall, from Paul's letter, he inspires us to keep pressing towards creating the Beloved Community we wish to see in our world. I also believe that we need to grieve the things that we've lost. Like the church in Phillip, we've suffered quite a bit as a community because of the social and economic injustices of this pandemic. We can acknowledge our fears and doubts and hold all of that with compassion knowing that this was a hard couple of years. We are not alone.
Take a few moments to get in a comfortable seated position. Gently close your eyes. Inhale four seconds, hold for four seconds and exhale. Do this for a couple of times and when you are ready, name how you are feeling right now? Describe in some detail and why. Name what are the ways you can resonate with the Church of Phillipi’s struggle? In what ways are seeing hope both small and large?
God of hope and of breath, we thank for the times we get to slow down and breathe. To reorient ourselves in the present and to reflect on where we see hope and where we see pain. Embrace us with love and compassion in those moments. Amen.
About the Author
Leanette Pokuwaah Sunsum is a Chicago native but is a first generation Ghanaian-American. She is passionate about curating communal healing spaces through faith, social justice initiatives, and community building. She is a writer, teacher, coach and musician who is pursuing her Masters of Divinity and Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She hopes to continue to bridge spirituality, mental health, and the Enneagram within LGBTQ communities and communities of color. To learn more check out her website at www.enneastories.com.