Sermon, October 15, 2017

Sermon.10.15.17

St. Paul’s – Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

Exodus 32.1-14; Psalm 106.1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4.1-9; Matthew 22.1-14

 

Living Well in Community

 

In Philippians 4, Paul reiterates a few points he has previously addressed. Again, we see his affection for this church: “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved” (Vs. 1; NRSV). In that I love you and I love St. Paul’s, I think I have some sense of how St. Paul must have felt. He wants what is best for the Church of Philippi, so he gives them an action program for standing firm in the Lord. Let’s examine the elements of his plan.

First, he urges Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. When we are of the same mind in the Lord, there is no room for envy and rivalry; to the contrary, we are to empty ourselves so as to serve a higher call. Many commentators assume that Euodia and Syntyche were at odds with one another. That may or may not have been the case. Paul may be commending them for having worked well together and may be encouraging them to continue to work in this manner. It was not uncommon then, nor is it today, to encourage behavior that was already happening. We see this in Philippians 2.12-13: “Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me . . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (NRSV). (Fredrickson, David E. http://www.workingpreacher.org/profile/default.aspx?uid=4c8caee164e61aa1a35372e211f4251cdb657eb9e8319f41d2e5a4cb70f088bf).

Some of you may remember Dr. Kenneth Blanchard’s book The One Minute Manager. Blanchard spoke of a “one-minute praising” in which the manager encounters someone doing what is truly important and briefly praises them for doing so. This practice reinforces the behavior.

Second, having spoken of the leadership roles of these women, Euodia and Syntyche, Paul asks that they help them in their ministry. Paul notes how they have struggled beside him in the work of the gospel, along with Clement and other coworkers whose names are in the book of life. The maintenance of a Christian community, or for that matter, of any community, requires a lot of work. Think of the coffee hours, the soup suppers, potluck dinners (all forms of breaking bread with one another); the preparation of bulletins and programs; publication of the Messenger; property maintenance; weeding the flower beds; arranging flowers; church school; altar guild; funeral luncheons; the Hobo-Day sale; nursery; calling people to see how they are doing; making visitations; etc. I am sure I have overlooked some things we do, but the point is we do these things as a community. Know that I greatly appreciate all you do to support our life in community!

Third, Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4.4; NRSV). We have previously noted Paul’s emphasis in Philippians on joy and rejoicing. When problems exist, they need to be addressed in a positive manner. But I believe that Paul is onto something here – a spirit of joy and rejoicing keeps at bay our tendency to think or to look upon things negatively. We are far from perfect – whether we choose to focus on the minor annoyances we present to each other or on our good traits is our choice. But rejoicing, especially in the Lord, always bears better fruit. Let’s protect our joy and share it with others.

Fourth, Paul says, “Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near” (Philippians 4. 5; NRSV). Paul believed that Christ’s return was imminent. Perhaps that was his reason for stressing the need to be gentle to all – endure a little longer. We now know Paul was mistaken, but the Bible commends a gentle spirit in numerous places. In 1 Peter 3.4, wives are exhorted to let their “adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight” (NRSV). In Proverbs 15.1, we read, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (NRSV)

Fifth, Paul says, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4. 6-7; NRSV). Have you ever expressed prayers of thanksgiving and experienced joy? If not, I encourage you to begin this practice. As we express our gratitude, joy seems to well up within us like a hidden spring. Likewise, in prayer, we come to know God’s peace. In Galatians 5.22, Paul writes, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (NRSV). Note how Paul’s plan is touching on the fruits of the Spirit. When we live in the Spirit, the peace of God guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Sixth, we are to think about virtuous things – “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable” – and of whatever is excellent and worthy of praise. But what about doing these things? Hold on, we are coming to that.

Seventh, Paul says, “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4.9; NRSV).

As one who has taught Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics for several years, I can’t help but hear some echoes from Aristotle – it is not enough to think on virtuous things; we need to practice them until they become habitual, until they become part and parcel of our character. When we practice the virtues, especially the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, the peace of God rests upon us.

Will Paul’s plan, a plan grounded in his love for the Church of Philippi, remove all danger of conflict. Certainly not; every community experiences conflict. If it does not, it dies. A certain level of conflict is necessary i9f a community is to remain viable and healthy. But a community which lives out of this plan is prepared to handle conflict in constructive ways, for ultimately, its members are of one mind in Christ Jesus our Lord and they seek the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.

Amen

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