Grace to you and peace from God our creator and from our lord and savior Jesus the Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, amen.
This week a card to the church (not from any of you), addressed to the family of Cora Lindquest, a former member who recently died and had her funeral service here. The card was sent to Family of God at OUR address though… We couldn’t open it to see what it was, but we could only send it on to one of her surviving family members.
But did you know that reading most of the New Testament is like reading someone else’s mail? Most of those titles with the strange names are actually names of the towns and cities where early Christian communities sprang. Apostles like Paul, Peter, and others wrote to these growing communities to share wisdom, correct wayward teaching, express thanks, and sometimes chew them out of something was going really off the rails. For the last few weeks we have been hearing one of Paul’s letters to the church in Philippi in modern day Greece. Paul was not writing to just one individual, as we tend to do now, but he wrote to the whole community, expecting it to be read out loud to the whole church. And the church at Philippi saved his letter, copied and shared it, and handed it down through the ages, so that WE get to benefit from someone else’s mail.
Today we hear from the end of Paul’s letter, as he sends his personal greetings or instructions to specific people. Paul gives a shout out to two women leaders in the church of Philippi, Euodia and Syntyche, who were having some sort of significant disagreement.
|Mary: Listen up, guys...|
These two women leaders had worked alongside Paul in the past, and he urges them now to put into practice their unity in Christ. That Paul calls them by name as co-workers in the Gospel is worth mentioning. At a time that women were viewed and treated as property, having no voice and few rights, these small gatherings of Jesus-followers were calling women to prominent leadership roles. Some were fellow-missionaries with their husbands, like Aquila and his wife Priscilla. Some women led house churches, while other women financially supported them, like Junia, Lydia, and Phoebe. After all, it was Mary Magdalene who first preached the good news of the resurrection of Jesus to the rest of the disciples.
The presence of Euodia and Syntyche in this letter, though brief, reveals the early church’s dedication to Jesus’ message of radical unity, hospitality, and inclusion. All people have value, including women. All are welcome to be co-workers in the Gospel with Paul along his journey – men, women, slaves, Jews and Gentiles.
Paul then picks up on another theme that he has repeated over and other again many times in this letter -rejoicing in the Lord. Rejoice ALWAYS, he says to the Philippians, and also to us. Rejoice in the Lord. Not just when things are going well. Not just when the sun is shining and you’re having a good day. But ALWAYS.
Really Paul? Always? Are you sure? Surely this guy must have an awesome life to be able to say such things. But then we remember that over the course of his ministry, Paul was often chased out of town, beaten, arrested, and as he writes this letter he is currently facing jail time for preaching the gospel. This man has very little in his life to give thanks for. And yet, he still does. Constantly. Perhaps even somewhat annoyingly.
Hmm, maybe digging into Paul is not giving us the easy way out from thinking about hard things this morning. Paul is making us ask some hard questions - Just what IS true, what IS honorable, what is just, pleasing, commendable, and worthy of praise? that he is mentioning in his letter? There is only one I can think of who completely fits that description, and that is Jesus.
All through his letter, Paul suggests these things: Think about how Christ is life, and death is gain (1.:21). Think about living your life in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ (1:27). Think about how to make the call of Christ your own, just as Jesus has made you his own (3:13). Think about the way that Jesus emptied himself and became obedient even to the point of death, even death on a cross, to show the glory of God and claim you as his own (2:11).
Now after you have thought about all these things, Paul adds: now “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me…” In other words, it’s not enough to hear the words, sing the hymns, and think about Jesus occasionally on days that aren’t Sunday. Like Euodia and Syntyche, it is now time for us to put into practice having the mind of Christ by living into our baptismal call as children of God, brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. And, as Euodia and Syntyche found, this is not always easy and almost never fun.
In my last congregation, as the myself or my pastor colleague hoisted the newly baptized youngster around the sanctuary –which my former colleague would do “Lion King Style” – we would sing “you have put on Christ, in him you have been baptized.” When many of us were baptized, we were wearing a white gown to represent that we are now clothed in the grace, eternal life, and love that Jesus has promised to give us. In fact, in THIS congregation, it is our tradition to give a little white garment to the newly baptized just for this reason. In baptism, we are welcomed to God’s victory feast over death and the grave, which we receive a foretaste of whenever we celebrate Holy Communion. In our baptisms, we are now invited to that feast, the biggest party in the universe, and there is a special place for us waiting for us at the Lord’s Table. But with that special place also comes that special garb that we wear.
You might be familiar with the TV series “What Not to Wear.” I admit, it’s a guilty pleasure of mine. Or you might watch award shows like the Emmys and the Grammys and hear the female actors be constantly bombarded with the question, “Who are you wearing?” When really, they should also be asked about, you know, their actual acting careers.
|Don't be this guy.|
You’ve all seen those black t-shirts that LOOK like the cartoon character version of a tuxedo? Imagine showing up for a wedding wearing on of those shirts. Yeah, that’s probably not going to go over very well.
In the parable for today, that feast in described as a wedding feast, or a wedding reception. God is described as a king with a son – presumably Jesus - who is getting married. But nothing is said about who the bride is. Many scholars over the centuries have written that the bride of Christ is the us, the church. Martin Luther took this idea and ran with is. You know that old joke about marriage that says, “what’s yours in mine, and what’s mine is ours”?
So what do WE bring to the relationship? Honestly, not much at all. Sin, brokenness, pettiness, fear, hate, selfishness, and shame – not what we would exactly consider assets.
What does Jesus bring to the relationship? Everything. Life, resurrection, freedom, love, joy…. Jesus gets all that WE have and all that HE has becomes ours in our baptisms, when we “put on Christ” and all that he has given us. Maybe not in a literal white garment, but in the way we carry ourselves in the world. The world is watching.
This morning while scrolling through Facebook during breakfast, I came across this article on NBS news about a girl in Indiana who was denied her first communion… because of what she wanted to wear. Instead of a fancy white dress, she wanted to wear a nice, classy white suit. The administrators at her Catholic school in Indiana told her she had a choice – wear a dress, or to receive her first communion separate from her the rest of her classmates and friends. This girl and her family ended up leaving the school, hurt and confused. But I highly doubt that Jesus would have turned her away just because she wanted to wear white pants to her first communion. Why should we?
Scholar and professor Karoline Lewis writes “What not to wear? Complacency, conformity, and any kind of garb that is content with the way things are. What should we wear, so that the whole of the world can see who we are and what we are about? The kind of compassion, birthed by God’s own righteousness, that cannot, anymore, leave things the way they are.”
What NOT to wear? Hate, fear, prejudice, a spirit of scarcity.
What SHOULD we wear? Love. Kindness. Gentleness. Acceptance. Generosity.
In short, we should be “wearing” everything that Jesus has so generously given to all of us. Amen.