Text: Philippians 4:4
The Rev. Ann Stevenson
October 15, 2017
Christians are party people, but we don’t celebrate to forget our troubles or the world’s, of which we are well aware. We celebrate despite our troubles, and the world’s.
The apostle, Paul, who could be quite stern and definitely pedagogical, wrote his letter to the Christians at Philippi in Macedonia/Northern Greece, when he was in prison and staring death in the face.
His first concern is to urge Euodia and to urge Synche, women who are in disagreement with each other, to reconcile.
Paul’s desire is that they be of the same mind in the Lord. They have worked and struggled alongside of Paul and he values their ministry. He believes, though that argument and dissention among the leadership will lead to disunity in the church, and he asks an un-named faithful companion in the church to “help these women”.
He then goes on to give the church in Philippi instruction on how to cope and deal with life when times are hard, as they were under the Roman occupation.
There was no reason for him to be preaching, teaching, and writing about peace and joy, except that the Lord was near to him, in prison, and he was compelled to let his Christian brothers and sisters know that the Lord was near to them, as well.
When I was preparing this sermon, I was thinking about all that has happened in the last two or three weeks and it seemed to me that our world was in quite a precarious state of late, and there is significant division. This led me to questioning Paul about all that he was exhorting the Philippians to do when he was in dire straights. So here we go.
Paul begins by saying, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I’m exhorting you to rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone, the Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything”
Ann: What do you mean don’t worry about anything? You are in prison, there’s a very good chance you won’t get out alive. You’ve got plenty to be worried about.
And what does Paul say? In everything, pray with thanksgiving and let your requests be made known to God. Tell God what you need; and if/when you do that, the peace of God which really surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.
Ann: How can we have peace of mind in the midst of chaos, uncertainty, economic insecurity, national divisiveness, world instability and human suffering?
What does Paul have to say? That is precisely why God’s peace is called the peace that passes all understanding. We are given a peace that the world cannot give. Only God can imbue us with this peace because it is God’s gift to give. We have a God of peace, we have a prince of peace, not a world of peace.
Ann: Which brings me to the observation that the world, our country, our cities, our institutions, our businesses, and even some authorities seem to be scaling higher and higher levels of greed, violence, corruption, and discord.
We get bombarded by all sorts of negative messages and images from newspapers, television, and movies which highlight the seamier, tawdry, violent side of life, as if we didn’t know enough about it, already
What about that, Paul?
Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, think about these things.
Ann: That’s very nice, but do you know that we live under a threat of war?
Ann: Do you know that one of our own citizens went on a homicidal rampage and let loose a rainstorm of bullets killing 58 unsuspecting men and women who were out celebrating life at a concert in Las Vegas and he wounded hundreds of others? This has caused a deep wave of grief to sweep over thousands of families members, friends and colleagues of the victims and also the first responders to this massacre.
Paul: Yes. In my time human cruelty was alive, as well. It was common to see people hanging on crosses in the streets for perceived wrongdoing, not even actual wrong-doing. This was considered a deterrent. Some people were stoned.
Human cruelty grieves God’s heart. God is love.
Ann: I believe and know that God is love. Do you know that we have had hurricanes and wildfires that have left thousands homeless, destroying their fragile economic life? Some have died, especially the elderly who are most vulnerable in such an upheaval to life as we know it?
What can we do about these terrible things that demoralize us, frighten us and threaten to bring us down?
Paul: Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. The things the Lord taught us….about loving God and our neighbor as ourselves, about prayer and supplication, about seeking justice for all, about being a peacemaker, about compassion, about mercy, about patience, about understanding, about courage, about generosity and coming to the aid of those who suffer, especially those on the margins of society.
Keep on doing the things you’ve leaned. Keep the faith, abound in hope. Keep hope alive, and the God of Peace will be with you. The Lord is near.
Ann: I believe that, too.
There is a portion of this scripture reading that was omitted, by the committee that chooses lectionary passages, but, I think it bears hearing.
Paul continues, from his prison cell, the following:
“I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty.
In any and all circumstances, I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.”
Ann: And what is that secret, Paul?
Paul: I can do all things through Him who strengthens me, beloved.
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me, Beloved.
As I think about what the Apostle, Paul says to us this morning, I ask myself what are all these things, which we are strengthened to do by the power of the Holy Spirit, the God, who strengthens us.
I believe that what we are strengthened to do is live our lives.
We are strengthened to bear our lives, which create a tapestry of joy and sorrow, success and failure, abundance and scarcity, loss and gain, grief and unbridled delight, responsibility and care-free fun, ignorance and understanding.
We are strengthened to overcome worry with faith that God is with us and God is for us.
Strengthened to overcome disappointment with hope in a better tomorrow,
Strengthened to overcome anger with forgiveness of ourselves and others,
We are strengthened to overcome tight-fistedness with generosity.
We are strengthened to overcome self-absorption with compassion and mercy for others.
We are strengthened to rise above fear with the courage to face the reality of our situation, as individuals, and as communities, because we are in the hands of a loving and living God.
Are we strengthened to withstand betrayal, divorce, loss of a job, recovery from alcohol or drug addiction, cancer?
Are we strengthened to withstand the death of our loved ones…grandparents, parents, spouses, siblings, friends, even the loss of a child or grandchild? Jesus had a specialty in binding up broken hearts.
Are we strengthened to withstand the indignities and ravages of old age?
For me, it is only through the knowledge and belief that the Holy Spirit of God is with me, and that with God, all, in some way, will be well.
St. Paul was beheaded during the Emperor Nero’s reign in the year 64, most scholars believe, in the city of Rome. He wrote this letter sometime between the years 61-63. He knew sin, repentance, suffering and death, yet he was able to say “rejoice in the Lord always” and “I can do all things through, God, who strengthens me”.
This is a prayer for resilience, the ability to withstand all that life may hand us with grace, humor, hope courage and the knowledge that whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. Therefore, whether we live or die, all, in some way, will be well.
“I can do all things through God, who strengthens me, Beloved, and so can you.”