I Want to Know Christ
Preached: August 11, 2013, Martin Luther King Christian Church, Reston, VA
I always knew when I was younger that one day I’d want to be married. I would want to have a life partner—someone in whom I could share in all of life’s most memorable moments with and one day grow old beside.
By my teenaged years, I had expectations on how this might happen—mostly coming from the stories I’d heard from how my parents met.
From the time that I was small, when my sister and I would ask my mom about how she met my dad, she’d tell us about the day that she stood in registration line on her first day at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. As she waited her turn to sign up for her classes, her last name was Duncan and my father to-be was Evans, so naturally they found themselves in the same line—the D-E’s. And there they struck up a conversation and the beginnings of a friendship that led to a marriage began.
So, I too thought if I wanted to get married, all I’d have to do was go to college. And there on the first week would I meet the man who would make me his Mrs.
I’d arrive at college and bam! I’d walk on campus and say “Hello fine young men!” And, he’d be there.
Well— you can imagine how great this “bright” plan of mine worked out!
I was shy at the time and really didn’t like going out of my comfort zone of who invited me to tag along with them. I saturated myself in an all-girlfriend kind of community—eating, studying and going to the movies with girlfriends, not boys. I guess it kept me out of trouble, but that was about it.
Even still, I thought without any work, effort or sacrifice Mr. Right would make himself known to me: the man I most wanted to know and marry one day. In my head, I imagined he’d just knock on my door one day, introduce himself, we’d date and then we could just get on with our really happy lives.
Yes, I said I wanted to be in a relationship. But, no, I didn’t try to get to know any new young men.
Well—you know how that went. I didn’t really date anyone for the next four years.
When many of us think of our relationship with Christ, we approach it in a similar way that I did with dating in college. We say that we want to grow.
We say that we want to have a relationship with Christ that is vibrant.
But, we get stuck.
We get stuck in a version of faith that closely models what we were taught in children’s Sunday School back in 2nd grade children’s church.
We get stuck on the faith we observed in our grandparents but never truly made our own.
We get stuck when the most difficult life situations find us—throwing in all our cards and say, “Well, there must not really be a God. Because if there was a God this bad situation would not be happening to me!”
We get stuck even though most all of us understand this basic truth:
To be a Christian is to what? Follow Christ.
But we equate knowing Christ with church membership—showing up regularly on Sundays.
We equate knowing Christ with having hope of eternal life—resting on the fact that we know where we’ll go one day when we die.
We equate knowing Christ with doing unto others as we would have it done unto us—being a good person because that is how Jesus showed us to live when he was on earth.
And, while all of this is well and good and there’s noting wrong with any of these things, faith of that depends only on these sort of things becomes a sideline only type of faith. Yes, we say with our lips that we are a Christian but there’s no movement in our lives toward the direction of who Jesus actually was.
We say we are following Jesus but our life looks nothing like His did.
The apostle Paul has a few words to share with us about this found in his letter to the Philippian church. It’s a book of Paul clearly laying his feelings about how much this congregation meant to him and what he wanted Christ to be in his life.
It’s a book that Paul wrote from jail—during what was most likely the end of his life, a time when we was saying the things that he most wanted to say.
In fact, scholars feel that the book of Philippians is in fact that the book the one they are most sure that Paul wrote by hand. Put simply, Philippians is Paul’s heart put to paper.
And within this context we hear the Apostle Paul say, “But whatever was to my profit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” And then he goes on to say in verse 10: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his suffering, becoming like him in his death.”
These are familiar words. If we’ve been around church awhile, we’ve heard them a lot. We may just gloss over them with our ears thinking we understand already what they mean. Following Jesus is about death and resurrection . . . Ok, preacher, I’ve got that.
But pause with me for a moment.
Paul is elevating the supremacy of Christ by saying “whatever was to his profit (as we know from his life story that he used to be a very righteous law-abiding Jew), he now considers loss for the sake of Christ.”
But not only this, Paul says that he wants to know Christ in two particular ways.
The first is that he wants to know the power of Christ’s resurrection. And the second, is that Paul wants the fellowship of sharing in his suffering.
(Have congregation REPEAT).
Do you hear what we just said?
Paul says to know Christ is not what most of us think knowing Christ is about.
I heard nothing about joining a church. I heard nothing about having correct theology. I heard nothing about reading the Bible and praying so many hours a week. Or any sort of easy or straight forward task that any of us could just snap our fingers and achieve.
Paul says, “I want to know the power of Christ’s resurrection” and “ I want the fellowship of sharing in Christ’s sufferings.”
I’ve been struck by the simplicity and the profound nature of these two qualifiers over the past couple of weeks.
Paul tells us it is only about two things: resurrection and suffering. But, these aren’t small things . . .
Let’s start with resurrection. Resurrection is the word that most of us associate with the Easter season, isn’t it?
On Easter Sunday morning we sing, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and “Up from the Grave He Arose” and we talk about how almost and amazing it is that Christ defeated the powers of sin and death and so we too can live forever more. It’s a happy day isn’t it? Full of bright flower dresses and new hats and lots of joy . . .
So following Jesus about resurrection—that might sound easy enough, right? We just have to show up in our Sunday best! Huh? Wrong!
Do we not remember all the stories that followed that bright Easter morning?
The stories of the men afraid in their scandals hiding in the upper room not believing the news that the women brought them about the empty tomb.
The stories of women like Mary finding Jesus in the garden outside the tomb holding so tightly on to Jesus that Jesus had to reprimand her saying: “Don’t cling to me.”
The stories of the disciples like Peter, filled with shame and grief having to have a conversation over and over again with Jesus about what he needed to do going forward at the seashore.
Resurrection is not about instant beauty or perfect circumstances. Resurrection is a process. Resurrection is a slow transformative process.
And while yes, resurrection is about new life and hope; its birth is not an easy process. Resurrection rattles of the foundations of what is normal, what is comfortable and most certainly what we might have expected before it comes.
It’s the power that dismantles every other power in our life that controls us, keeps us in bondage, or has any pull at all over our lives.
To want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection is much like a story that author Annie Dillard tells.
When speaking of the resurrection power of our Lord, she gives this advice:
“It is madness [for} ladies’ [to wear] straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. [Instead of passing out bulletins,] Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.”
To say that you want to know Christ is to be ready for resurrection power to shake your life upside down.
And in the same way, Paul also says that he wants to share in the fellowship of his Christ’s sufferings. To know Christ is to know Christ’s sufferings.
Sufferings . . . if you are like me, it’s never good when a sentence starts with this word is it? I hate suffering, what about you?
Suffering involves change not only in the way that resurrection is about change, but it is about pain and how pain changes us. Blood, sweat and tears as the saying goes. . . .
To know Christ, Paul says, we have to be ready to suffer.
To follow Christ is not to sign up for a ticket to life happiness (as some tv preachers—you know who they are might tell you) but it is to accept that in life, no matter how good we think we are, difficult situations are going to find us.
And in fact, the particular the MORE we begin to align our lives in the direction of Christ’s teachings, then the more we are going to get push back from the world.
It is as if Paul is saying, start following Christ and then get ready, because pain is going to come!
It’s going to be pain you or I didn’t ask for, didn’t make happen, or even is not the fault of our poor choices.
May I just take liberty to say that following Jesus sometimes means somebody is going to tell lies about us, somebody whom we love might leave us, or maybe even one day we are going to wake up and realize that our life has to take a completely different life path with some really hard choices.
And it’s going to hurt!
Even more so, people might just steal our clothes, spit on us, speak all kinds of ill against us, and our stands for Jesus might even cost us our very lives. If it happened to Jesus, then why do we think it won’t happen to us?
Suffering is just part of the commitment.
I ask you church, do you still want to know Christ?
I began my sermon with this morning telling you that as a child I dreamed of getting married one day.
Well when I was in seminary, God answer such a prayer and brought into my life an amazing life partner named Kevin Hagan who would be God’s instrument of love, challenge and encouragement to me for all that lied ahead.
And all was well and great and all—you know things were going fine. A year and a half ago, Kevin was working on the leadership team of a non-profit in Alexandria and I was happy over there at Washington Plaza—until Kevin got a call one day that would lead to another call and then a visit and then another visit where he would be named the President of Feed The Children that just so happened to be in Oklahoma.
And you can imagine as excited as I was for this opportunity for Kevin, how I felt about that—Oklahoma.
I told Kevin, “They don’t like my kind of outspoken female pastor-ness out there.” His optimist self said, “Give it a try.”
And now after I’ve been out there part-time for 6 months I can say indeed my assumptions were right. They don’t like my kind. And Oklahoma is a 22 hour drive away from here. It can feel very lonely. And there have been many tears in our household as much as there have been celebratory moments of all the new experiences.
We have to be careful what we pray for.
Sometimes God’s biggest blessings to us can also come with pain. Sometimes God’s biggest blessings can involve resurrection that forces our world-view upside down.
And it is a process.
Notice with me that Paul said, “I want to know Christ.”
NOT, “I know Christ” or “I know Christ already.”
Paul is exhorting us by example to A PROCESS of knowing the power of the resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings.
Even for Paul it was never something he achieved or arrived at, it was about a relationship of wanting to know Christ more every day.
The last time I did a class preparing persons for baptism. I started the session by asking them if they were ready to die? “Have you lost your mind, Pastor?” their eyes said back to me in response.
And no, it wasn’t some sort of “hell fire and brimstone” are you sure you are saved sort of line of questioning. And no I had not lost my mind. I was serious. Were they ready to die?
Because as baptized believers who are desiring to know Christ, what we believe being immersed under the water and then coming back up symbolize the fact that we are dying to ourselves and being raised to a new kind of life.
The Christian life—at least as the Apostle Paul saw it was about death to our normal human experience. It was about the power of resurrection and sharing in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings.
So I ask you church today, do you want to know Christ?
Do you want to walk in Jesus’ footsteps?
If you answer is yes, then I say, hold on for the ride of your life—for it will be a journey filled with the power of the resurrection AND the fellowship of sharing in Christ’s sufferings.
For those who commit afresh today to this way of dying to self and living for Christ, let the church say (AMEN).