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, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. –Philippians 3:13-14
It’s pretty easy to get stuck in the past. We humans all too often step into the quicksand of old ways of doing things and outdated thinking. Why? I’m sure there are a host of logical (and illogical) reasons, but the illusion of security seems to be one of the bigger quagmires into which we oh so willingly step. I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard words like these: “Why should we change? We’ve been doing it this way since 1961? Oh, that’ll never work; our folks don’t like change. It’s too (fill in the blank with whatever rationalization comes to mind) to change.” The list could go on and on, but you get the picture. By blanketing ourselves with the vestiges of our sentimentalized or glorified pasts, we avoid stepping out into an uncertain and rapidly evolving future. Looking backward prevents us from seeing the things ahead that make us uncomfortable and that challenge our notions of how things ought to be. In short, and I’ll make a bold claim here, we open ourselves to the insidious nature of sin whenever we dig in our heels and circle our wagons.
Take a look at this week’s gospel lesson (John 12:1-8). Jesus is dining at the home of his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany. In less than a week, Jesus’ life and ministry will take a turn that changes both history and humankind forever, yet right now life is going on as usual. Life as usual, that is, until Mary steps out of the circle of acceptable community behavior and chooses to anoint Jesus’ feet with a pound of expensive perfume. Judas Iscariot just can’t stand the act he sees taking place before his eyes. How dare she “waste” something of so much value! What a prodigal show of devotion, this anointing. Jesus reminds Judas of the bigger picture, a picture he cannot fathom in the present moment.
Yes, fear stifles us and prevents us from moving forward in ministry and mission, from following the one who holds the cosmos in his hands. Succumbing to the “what ifs” keeps us bound and blinded to new possibility. This is not what God intends for God’s people. God desires good for us, but we must keep pressing on in faith and listening for the voice of the Spirit’s guiding. We must quiet our own hearts and minds and stifle our angry, fearful voices to even begin to discern God’s will for our lives individually, our congregations corporately, and the church universally. Listen to the words of the Lord as recorded through the prophet Isaiah: “Do not remember the former things,/or consider the things of old./I am about to do a new thing;/now it springs forth, do you not perceive it (Isaiah 43:18-19)?
Our God does new and wonderful things through ordinary people like you and me and calls us to look forward into kairos (divine) time. Yes, it is a step of immense faith, but do we really have any other palatable option? All of our fearful clinging to the past will get us nowhere but the future anyway. Wouldn’t it be better to press forward with purpose rather than cling to a pitiful illusion? We are all of us invited to join the great parade of the faithful who trust God enough to follow into the future, press on in the light of Christ, and sing good news with the psalmist:
Those who sowed with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed,
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves. (Psalm 126:5-6)
Note: This reflection originally appeared on the Stewardship of Life Website in 2010.
Photo Credits: © Warren Goldswain – Fotolia.com, © Chee-Onn Leong – Fotolia.com, and © Andy Dean – Fotolia.com.