First Congregational Church
May 25, 2014
Sixth Sunday after Easter
“Keeping on Track”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
First things first: It’s here - finally. Memorial Weekend. I pronounce winter done! And I pronounce summer, well, almost. And in so proclaiming, instead of wrapping ourselves in coats and scarves, this morning we are “wrapped” in joy - the entire book of Philippians.
For those who have been away, May has been Philippians months here. It was convenient that there are four chapters to the little letter the apostle Paul wrote to those who lived in Philippi, and that there are four Sundays in this year’s May. It also seemed to fit so well, an epistle on joy that followed Easter and Holy Humor Sundays.
Paul wrote this letter after a long, convoluted course of events that got him two years of house arrest in Herod’s palace. This imprisonment was not like the one he would later serve, in the inner prison of a jail below the Roman Forum, complete with leg shackles and lack of “facilities,” windows or any kind of air ventilation. It was good that Paul was able to write this letter before his second imprisonment, his first “prison” having good air and food and room, because there’s nothing like saying something and then having to live it - regardless of the circumstances.
Anyway, before we get to the reading of this last chapter, it may help the listening to know that there are four names that will come up that have a real part in the passage. Epaphroditus was a good friend of Paul’s, who was sent by the Philippian church with a “gift”. We don’t know what the gift was, but Paul liked it.
Then there is Syzygus. Great name. Don’t really know who it was. Actually, it may have been another name for a person. Everyone thinks his name is Andrew Mollema, but it’s really Wallace Andre Mollema. So maybe Syzygus is like Andy.
And then there is Euodia and Syntyche. The common thought is that they were sisters, but there is not universal agreement that they were both female, much less sisters. Whoever they were to each other, they were part of the early Philippian church, and they were “not playing well together.” In fact, their discontent was causing others to fall off the track of following Christ.
Philippians 4 The Message
1My dear, dear friends! I love you so much. I do want the very best for you. You make me feel such joy, fill me with such pride. Don’t waver. Stay on track, steady in God.
Pray About Everything
2 I urge Euodia and Syntyche to iron out their differences and make up. God doesn’t want his children holding grudges.
3 And, oh, yes, Syzygus, since you’re right there to help them work things out, do your best with them. These women worked for the Message hand in hand with Clement and me, and with the other veterans—worked as hard as any of us. Remember, their names are also in the Book of Life.
4-5 Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!
6-7 Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
8-9 Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.
Content Whatever the Circumstances
10-14 I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—happy that you’re again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it. Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. I don’t mean that your help didn’t mean a lot to me—it did. It was a beautiful thing that you came alongside me in my troubles.
15-17 You Philippians well know, and you can be sure I’ll never forget it, that when I first left Macedonia province, venturing out with the Message, not one church helped out in the give-and-take of this work except you. You were the only one. Even while I was in Thessalonica, you helped out—and not only once, but twice. Not that I’m looking for handouts, but I do want you to experience the blessing that issues from generosity.
18-20 And now I have it all—and keep getting more! The gifts you sent with Epaphroditus were more than enough, like a sweet-smelling sacrifice roasting on the altar, filling the air with fragrance, pleasing God no end. You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, his generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus. Our God and Father abounds in glory that just pours out into eternity. Yes.
21-22 Give our regards to every follower of Jesus you meet. Our friends here say hello. All the Christians here, especially the believers who work in the palace of Caesar, want to be remembered to you. 23 Receive and experience the amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, deep, deep within yourselves.
Thank you, Wallace Andre. One of my favorite things is seeing how God works behind the scenes, beyond our efforts, to bring things together for good. Little did I think, all those weeks back, that Philippians 4 is the perfect passage for Memorial Day weekend. I’m also figuring that some of you may have missed those references.
Near the beginning of the chapter, Paul wrote, “These women worked for the Message hand in hand with Clement and me, and with the other veterans.” And then near the end, Paul wrote that the gifts the Philippians had sent were like a sweet-smelling sacrifice roasting on the altar, filling the air with fragrance, pleasing God no end.” Most of us have probably never made the link between that statement and grilling. One of the best surprises is when you catch the scent of someone grilling, and that scent wafting up to God. And after (seriously) remembering veterans, what’s more Memorial Weekend than grilling?
In the first chapter of Philippians the thief of circumstances can rob us of joy. In the second chapter, people can rob us of joy. In the third chapter, things can rob us of joy. When we get to the fourth chapter, Paul deals with the worst thief of them all - the thief of worry. The funny thing about joy is that we tend to think happiness equals joy. We get happiness from circumstances. We get joy from God.
One of the things I appreciate in this chapter, while Paul tells us that worry is a thief, he doesn’t leave us to put up a security system all by ourselves. So he reminds us that we have praise, because when we talk about how good God is - even in the quiet of our minds, we don’t have as much room for worry. And we have prayer, with the same result. When we are praying - especially for someone else, our focus turns from us and our worry, if even for a little bit, which is immensely better than 100% of our mind on worry. Sometimes people forget that God also answers all our prayers. Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes no, sometimes not now, but all our redirection of worry into prayer gets answered.
Another piece of our spiritual surveillance systems is gratitude. Even while under house arrest, Paul was genuinely grateful for people and gifts and God’s own self. We often get the gratitude groove on at Thanksgiving, but we push aside worry when we realize our blessings - any time of year. So at the idea of some preacher or teacher I ran across this week, go ahead and write down your list of 100 Things for Which To Be Grateful. You may not be able to do it in one sitting, but I’m convinced that we all have at least that many things for which we can thank God. When we find the worry wart beginning to grow in our minds, if nothing else, we can pull out this sheet to remind us of what God desires for us, sort of like our own Philippians 4, written to ourselves.
When we started this series, I mentioned that of the whole Bible, my favorite passage is Philippians 4:7. In the pew version of that verse, it says, “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guards your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” I was once on a retreat where that was the theme for the weekend, and while it was a nice thought, I finally realized that I didn’t know what came before the “And.” It’s joy. Not the jump-up-and-down sort of joy that comes when we hear that we’re winning the lottery. And it’s not the joy that we hear when we’re told that we don’t have to pay next year’s taxes.
It’s the deep-down understanding that even if we don’t like it, God really does have our best interest at heart. And it’s the trust that even if we don’t completely understand why God allows thus or such, that God is wiser than we are, and that has to be good enough for us mere humans. And it’s knowing that God surrounds us with not only joy, but love and grace and mercy and all else that is good, even when it doesn’t look that way. Which seems like a thought to be followed by prayer.
Good and Great God of Joy, we thank you for loving us and blessing us and wanting us to be joy-full. And we are grateful for the “things” of the world, like the ability to serve others, being served, those giving of themselves, even through-out history. We are so blessed, and yet sometimes we forget that. So help us, in the week ahead, to walk in the joy you desire for each of us, even if it is hard for us to find the track. And from the depths of our hearts, we thank you for your son, who came not to be served, but to serve. So all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.