A homily by Quauhtli Olivieri on Philippians 4:1 from Sunday, August 5.
“Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” (Phil. 4:1)
I don’t think I am that old, even though I realize that I should stretch more after doing cardio and lifting weights; however, the older I get the better I can confirm that one of my greatest idols is the pursuit of merit, which we can define as the quality of being considered good or worthy, and deserving of praise. Looking back throughout my life, I really want to always align with Paul’s joy and crown, but it is my confession tonight that I often feel far away from Paul’s statement here.
I know that my neighbor’s and my brethren’s pursuit of Christ and His Kingdom should be my joy and crown, but I can’t help but feel that I am often fixated on that which is life-consuming instead of that which is life-giving and coming up with creative ways to justify my thousands of idols.
I need to confess this evening that Paul’s words here near the end of this letter, are extremely convicting, because his joy and crown are neither mankind’s recognition for his work nor how his effort advances his place in society.
Regardless of the faults and the shortcomings of the Philippians, which he highlights in the letter, Paul considers their journey and their spiritual growth alongside Jesus to be his greatest achievement—his joy and his crown representing victory, accomplishment, completion, and reward.
So, understanding Paul’s joy and crown is critical and convicting to me, because even though I have good and bad days, I can’t really say that my thoughts and actions align with Paul’s joy and crown—at least not often. Standing before the full presence of God, I would have to admit that my joy and my crown are the pursuit of recognition and acceptance from mankind, often out of a sense that it is what I deserve and what I am owed.
So, as I continue with his homily, I would encourage you to ask yourself this evening: what is your joy and your crown? And once you’ve identified it, how does your concept of joy and crown align with Paul’s in his letter to the Philippians?
It is easy to justify the pursuit of glory and recognition from others and society, when you feel that society owes you something, when you feel that something has been denied to you. Whether growing up in Puerto Rico or in North Carolina, I was never part of the majority or the in-group, and like most human cultures and societies, there is often a high price to pay for being on the outside. Throughout my youth and adulthood, I can’t measure how tirelessly I’ve “worked” to earn my place among equals and gaining a sense of belonging, even though I felt that I was dealt by society a bad hand, and that everyone’s else starting line was far ahead of mine.
Among Puerto Ricans, I was often not Puerto Rican enough. Among North Carolinians, I was a generic Hispanic, representative of hundreds of millions of people and of dozens upon dozens of cultures, my name often reduced to a letter of the alphabet. As an adult, I can identify that I’ve developed a sort of guilt within when I ask people to call me by my name, because I’m making their lives more difficult.
In the military, refreshingly, I found a community that valued personal sacrifice and the collective and unit over our individual differences; however, the drive to always be the best soldier I could become left me with a lifelong anxiety that surges whenever my efforts yield anything less than excellence.
There is no denying that such experience, which can often feel like rejection or the inability to ever measure up, can be a very powerful driving force, and I must confess that it has been exactly that for a great part of my life. It is an idolatry that leads to many other idols and the worship of flawed heroes. The relentless desire to succeed and to be recognized and to be accepted and to measure can be a very powerful driving-force, and yet, it is life-consuming and NOT life-giving. So that being said, reflecting on Paul’s words here has been a brutal wake-up call, and one that I’ve sadly heard at multiple times throughout my life.
We have been in Arlington and the Washington, D.C. area for a little longer than a year. We moved up from North Carolina in June of 2017, and you will be surprised when I tell you that this city has not helped conquer my idolatry. If anything, it has fed it, and rewards it. I find myself at times perfecting tactics of introducing myself to strangers and orchestrating ways to dominate meetings and master discussions. I find myself often more interested in how I can impress my neighbors with my life experiences and accomplishments rather than trying to better understand the needs of their hearts. And sadly, and I really mean this, the realization saddens me, I have recently caught myself pondering if new people that I meet at work or through networking opportunities will serve to help me advance and fulfill my own goals or whether they will become obstacles. The alarming problem with seeing human beings as obstacles and not as people in need of grace, is that whereas people are made in the image of God, obstacles are meant to be taken down or conquered. That isn’t Paul’s joy and crown. It is quite far from it.
I love my brothers and sisters in Christ, I love my family, I love my neighbor, and I love the stranger and I want to believe that, in a moment of need, I would gladly sacrifice my life for any of them. I talk with the Holy Spirit every day; some days are better than others. I am quite aware of my sin that God has revealed to me and yet I know that His grace and mercies are new every morning. However, I can’t help but feel that if we miss or ignore the focus of our joy and the object of our crown in daily lives, that we may just miss out on a lot of what God has in store for each of us and as a community.
I am open to be proven wrong, but it is my understanding that as we walk with the Holy Spirit each day we should ask him to instill a Godly sense of joy and pursuit of His crown in our hearts and minds. It is my hope that as we look ahead and pursue what is to come, that we take time throughout our day to check ourselves. Check yourself!
“Lord, what is my joy and crown at this moment? This day? This week? This season? Lord, create a new heart within me if You must! Crack the shell that engulfs my soul, and
let me breathe in your Spirit!”
We are a little less than a month away from fully inaugurating Incarnation Anglican, and I don’t have to remind Liz, Amy, Morgan and all of you here of the amount work ahead in the weeks, months, and years to come. So, that being said and being aware of the mission for this Christ-community and the communities that God has placed within our reach to bless and love, let us learn and pursue His joy and His crown, because His crown gives life, life that is everlasting; and his joy is hope, hope that delivers.