What should we do?”

Philippians 4:1-9, December 12th, 2021

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


Read Statement of Faith

3rd Advent (year C) – third candle “Joy”

Philippians 4: 1-9

“Hear now these words as written by the Apostle Paul while in prison, as he writes in the letter to the Philippians, chapter four, verses one thru nine.”

1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. 

2 I urge (e- uo – dia) Euodia I urge (syn-ty-che) Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 

3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.  

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 

5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone.  

The Lord is near. 

6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 

7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  

9 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.

“Having hear the words of the Apostle Paul, let us consider how they speak to us in our lives, in this present time.”

What should we do?”

Our writing today is a simple, yet profound message for us in our lives today.  Paul starts by referencing two women of the church who have struggled with their work together.  He urges the whole community to come together to help those who struggle as they are all blessed; blessed because they share the same God.  He goes on to say in verse four that they are to “Rejoice in the Lord always;” and he repeats himself to be sure everyone hears the message; “Rejoice I say!”  He goes on to urge the folks of that new community to share what they have with others.  Especially their gentleness; their kindness and peacefulness.  Why, because he wants to reassure them, reassure us that the Love of God is close at hand!  This is a vital message.  Do you remember how we spoke of all the noise, the chatter that goes on in our heads and all around us?  Well, we need help quieting down that constant chatter, quieting the restlessness which keeps us awake at night.  Consequently, we need the reassuring touch, now and then, of God’s peacefulness and tenderness!  

Why the repeated message to Rejoice?  Because when we do not feel the joy of God’s love, we especially need to pause and consider all that God, God through Christ, means to us and has done for us.  Therefore, when we pause even for a moment, we can then ask God to reignite our spirits, thereby rekindling the flaming Spirit of God within us!  Paul is seeking to instill in the hearts and minds of those who heed his words to just pause, in prayer.  Through prayer, even a little one, we can feel a shift which will bring about the beginning of release from all that irritates us.     Prayer is our speaking out to God; Meditation is our listening for God’s response.  When we enter-into relationship with God, God’s Spirit, we shall feel the beginning of a true release from that uneasy feeling of discontent which sometimes slips into our lives.  We shall feel peace and new hope as we quietly find the God centered silence deep in our hearts.  As we acknowledge the presence of God, something profoundly mystical seems to take place.  The stillness can have a profound impact on our connection to the ever-present essence of God – when we stay open to it – with a willingness to receive God in.  It is then that we shall touch that elusive state of joy we all seek after.

So often people come to me and ask, after dumping their burden at my feet, “What should I do!?”  My answer is in line with that of Paul’s – trust God!  Be at peace, God has gotten your back in the past and will do so again, if you are willing to receive God’s guidance!  Many do not receive my advice, even though they hear it.  With that in mind lets reflect on the words and teachings of William Loader, of Murdoch University, within the Uniting Church in Australia. Professor Loader tells us that “Paul is not just advocating the power of positive thinking. This is about more than technique and persuasion. It is about filling one’s mind with what Paul sees as the signs of God’s life – not so that we will feel good, but because this is another way of filling oneself with God’s life and so allowing God’s life to flow through us to the world around us.”  Positive thinking in of itself is a good thing, Reverend Loader is not telling us to give up on the art of having a cheerful outlook, rather, he expands this thought so that we can expand how we receive the Living Spirit into our lives.  Saddly, so many struggle with this thought, consequently, professors, preachers, and pastors all seek creative ways to get this crucial point to resonate and echo within us.  For until, we experience for ourselves, the joy of feeling God’s loving, caring and reliable, generosity, and kindness in our personal lives, we shall struggle.  In our struggles we may even find ourselves quibbling with those we ought to be working in concert with to further the will of God in our lives and the community we seek to serve.    

We can only speculate as to exactly what that first small struggling church in Philippi was asking of Paul.   However, it caused him to reply as he did.  And it seems, ‘needless to say’ but it does need saying from time to time.  Nevertheless, his writings became important documents and a great many generations of Christian communities have strived to reflect upon these writings – these letters.  Seems that many Christian communities stumble upon similar roadblocks or detours as we endeavor to trudge the roadway which Jesus seems to have mapped out for us.  Thankfully, we have Paul’s letters, which are often referred to as – epistles.  Paul was always striving to bring communities together, but with integrity.  Meaning of course weeding out any falsehoods that may have arisen along the way.   Not everything said in even a good health faith community – passes the test of ‘authenticity’ as the teachings of Christ – as written in the gospels.  We are not speaking of quibbles, trivial objections over the color or texture of a hymn book.  Rather, we are speaking of what it means to be a true follower of Jesus and how we are to live the life of a practicing Christian’s, as authentic disciple of Christ.

Paul is reminding us that Jesus wanted us to be joyful and filled with peace.  What is the point of seeking out a savior if we cannot experience a little happiness and a few enjoyable moments?  No, we cannot expect to be Happy, Happy, all the time!  An old friend of mine, whom I met about forty plus years ago, told me to avoid folks who are “Happy” Happy” all the time, as that just is not the case for us mortal humans!  But to not have times of true enjoyment, happiness and even satisfaction about our lives – well who would want to follow the path of faith if such rewards were not awaiting those that follow the right pathways.  The quagmire of course is this… What is it we ought to do?  Paul endeavors to tell us just that.  After clearly telling us to rejoice in having come to know God through Christ, /Philippians 4:4/ Paul continues on saying: “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.  The ‘Holy One’ is near.” /Philippians 4:5/ What does Paul mean by ‘gentleness?’  Kindness surely, ‘as-well-as’ peacefulness.  When we carefully, study the gospels and reflect on who Jesus was and how he lived his life these characteristics ‘stick out’ – they are prominent and obvious as we consider them.  In contrast his sternness comes only as he addresses ‘hardened, cynical hearts and ‘evil’ itself.  And yes, we must also respond to immorality and situations where there is a void, an absence of good.  Following in the pathways of Jesus is not always easy, yet they shine a light on the need for brotherly and sisterly love, with plentiful acts of goodness and kindness.

The Apostle Paul was not naive nor inexperienced; and neither ought we be.  We need to turn to those who may help us deal with any areas of gullible or immature actions on our part.  When something just is not right and it is affecting us, we need to respond.  It is like going to a restaurant with friends and someone is served an ill cooked meal, we need to ask for it to be redone correctly.  Likewise, if someone in your sphere of influence is wronged by another’s bigotry or unjust or undue behavior, we do have a moral responsibility to respond in some manner.  Hate does not need to be responded with hate, yet to take an action in response is justified and appropriate.  Consider the contrast in the Good Semaritan story found in Luke’s gospel account, chapter ten.  A man is beaten and left along the road by robbers.  Three different men pass by, one a Levite, a Priest and a Semaritan.  Saddly the trained Priest offers not even a kind word or a helping hand to the man.  Nor does the Levite, who is also entrusted with responsibilities for assisting in worship at the Temple.  Yet, a common untrained man offers kindness, compassion, and mercy to the man.  If we are to be true followers of Christ, we must be more like the Samaritan then haughty, arrogant, and ‘seemingly’ unfeeling men, such as described in the Parable Jesus offers in his teachings.   

To experience the joy that we are lifting-up on this third week of Advent, as is our custom, our tradition during this time of preparation for our annual Christmas celebration, we need not to fear our walk through the valleys which our real human life journey requires of us – at times.  Rather, we need to trust in the grace and mercy of God to be with us throughout all our journey.  When darkness comes, we must ask God to guide us again to the light.  When opportunities arise to help our fellows, we need to be willing to set aside our selfishness, setting aside our pride if necessary and do what we can for the man or the woman who needs an assist.  Earlier today, as I write this thought a man at the gas station approached me realizing he had left his wallet at home.  He pleads his case to me, and I gladly bought him three gallons of gas so he could get home and retrieve it.  He thanked me.  I said to him “pass it forward.”  He looked at me and promised he would do just that.  As we seek out this joy which the Apostle suggests we embrace, the joy of giving and lift it up do that all can see!

Joy is walking with someone you love, on a crisp cool morning – just after the sun has risen from the horizon; and listening to the birds sing, hand in hand with God.  You need not worry, because the Living Spirit of God is always with you.  When in doubt, pause and pray; it works.  Allow the peace of God to touch you in times of prayer and meditation; it works.  Strive to be in the presence of God; and you will be.  In closing: let us, be-reminded, that we truly ought to do for others those things worthy of praise; as God has done for us. /Philippians 4:6-8, adapted/

Amen.

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