Philippians 3:17-4:1 February 26, 2013

by The Rev. Delbert Anderson
program director for East Asia from 1970-1997 for the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

How boldly Paul expresses himself at the beginning of this text----

  "Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me"

  Today's English translation has it----"Keep on imitating me, my brothers---

        Pay attention to those who follow in the right example, that we have set for you."

I expect there aren't many among us, who would dare stand in this pulpit, or any other,

and repeat these words as if they were our own!


Fortunately we have a very handy point of reference to put Paul's bold words

into a Gospel context------ for only 9 or 10 verses previous, in this very chapter

of his letter to believers in Philippi, Paul couldn't have put things more clearly

or emphatically,regarding the intrinsic fault lines that he knew were deep within

his own inner self, deep within his soul-----

For in these sentences, Paul had said this of himself---

  that though he was a Hebrew, though even a Pharisee, and, as to righteousness

  under the law,blameless----"yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard

  as loss, because of Christ"

And then this statement-----"not having a righteousness of my own that comes

from the law, but one that comes from faith in Christ."

And so Paul's bold words in today's text----calling to be imitated---

would not have been misunderstood by those to whom he was writing,

nor will they by us.

But I have to admit, that Paul's references to 'righteousness'----righteousness

based on faith, not on the law----words which we who are Lutherans know

for a certainty to be the 'lode-star', the 'touch-stone' of our theology---

these are words which, I have to admit, thinking back to my OWN seminary days,

sometimes felt more like a motto, like a banner we held up (so to speak) 

to announce that we were Lutherans, than something I personally

deeply and emotionally understood------that nagging question, what IS

righteousness, anyway?

Then, by the grace of God, and the call of the Overseas Mission Board 

of the ELCA predecessor church to which I belonged (and also after 9 months

of solid mentoring, both academically and spiritually, by Professor Jim Scherer

and colleagues at the School of Mission in Maywood), Betty and I arrived in Hong Kong, August 1959, invited for ministry within the (then) very recently established

Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hong Kong.

But one of the first things I learned, was that the name the members of this church

gave for their church, in their own Chinese language, was NOT 'Lutheran' Church

but the 'Hong Kong Righteousness by Faith' Church------(I just have to believe

that Luther himself HAD to be cheering mightily when Lutheran Christians first came

to China at the end of the 19th/early years of the 20th centuries, and adopted THIS

name for their ministry among the Chinese people---The 'Righteousness by Faith' Church---)

Within a few months of our arrival in Hong Kong, Dr P'eng Fu, the first president of

this newly organized 'Hong Kong Hsin Yi Wui', led a meeting of pastors, evangelists, and lay leaders of this church. I was barely into Chinese language study, so knew I

would be badly in need of translation assistance---but surprised to find it more under-standable that I had imagined----for as Dr P'eng addressed the meeting, he was

using a blackboard, and writing out the characters, the ideograms, for Hsin and Yi (Faith and Righteousness), and speaking very simply of what each of them meant.

Hsin---an ideogram in two parts---

   ---to the left, the symbol for 'man' or 'human being' (a gender neutral symbol)

---and on it's right side, the symbol for 'oral speech'--for words, in effect---

     meaning, we can say, 'someone who stands by their words', who is trustworthy,

     who is faithful------


Second ideogram---'Yi'----again an ideogram in two parts---not side by side this time, but top and bottom----

  ----at the bottom----the very common symbol for the 1st person singular pronoun me/I

  ----and above it, the Chinese ideogram for sheep, or lamb-----

Righteousness----very graphically expressed in Chinese as "Lamb over Me"----

   Hsin Yi----Righteousness by Faith----Deeply Believing, Faithfully Believing

   in the Lamb over Me--

And so, in the Chinese-speaking world, Lutherans are constantly reminded, in this 'picture' from their name-----reminded

  WHO they are, and WHOSE they are----

And when you really think of it, our Chinese friends, (and those who first came as 

  missionaries among them)--they didn't, out of the blue, INVENT these ideograms---

Rather, earlier the translators, putting Holy Scripture into the Chinese language--

  in effect 'baptized' these classic ideograms---using them in their translation of 

        Philippians chapter 3-----thus providing this pictorial image for

          the MEANING of Paul's words "righteousness by faith'-------

         And early Lutherans were inspired by Luther, to adopt THESE ideograms

         as their 'family' name----to thus remind themselves, constantly,

        that to be 'people of faith' means deeply believing in the Lamb, who covers us

        with His presence, with His forgiveness and love----

                     and to use this pictorial image to help them,

                     in sharing their faith with those around them------

Just as we are being challenged, I believe, to find NEW ways of communicating

the Gospel, which is meaningful within our OWN local, national, and global community

     which is now multi-cultural, in ways we couldn't have imagined, say, 50 years ago.

And what this suggests to me, is that we will do well to be learning from each other---

to be open to letting God's Word come among us in new ways, with new 'ideograms',

new symbols, and even new forms of musicality.

I love it that the hymns and liturgical music in our latest hymnal---Evangelical

Lutheran Worship (ELW) includes much which is new to us---

  -----   New in some cases because they were written in very recent decades

  -----   And some hymns are new to us because they come to us from fellow

            Christians in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

The OLD red hymnal, the SBH, which was published the year I completed seminary-- 

(1958)-------each and EVERY hymn came from Europe, Scandinavia, or No. America---

20 years later the green LBW came out, and had THREE hymns from the non-Western

world (and only because of late intervention by two of my colleagues in the

LCA Division for World Mission &  Ecumenism, with the hymnal preparation committee)

Thankfully, our new ELW has a few times that number------By my count,

   at least 9 from Asia, 17 from Africa, and 27 from Latin America-----

So then, in our life and ministry on ahead----

   Let us be open to let God's Word come among us in new ways----

           in all kinds of new ways----

That we might be open to receive the Gifts of God from the People of God----

      WHEREVER they are, and WHENEVER they are!!            Amen.



Philippians 3:17-4:1

Back to top