March 16th, 2016, Philippians 4
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Christ, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
So we have come to the end of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, with Paul wrapping up his thoughts and sending his last greetings. At the time, personal greetings or instructions to specific people were included at the end of letters, and here Paul gives a shout out to two women leaders in the church of Philippi, Euodia and Syntyche. Unfortunately these two women seem to be having some sort of disagreement, at least important enough for Paul to address in his letter, and he does not let this opportunity pass him by to reiterate the theme of unity in Christ.
These two women leaders had worked alongside Paul in the past, and he urges them now to put into practice the unity they have in Christ by working out whatever differences they have. That Paul calls them by name as co-workers in the Gospel is worth mentioning. At a time that women were seen as 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 Priscilla. Some women led house churches, while other women financially supported them, like Junia, Lydia, and Phoebe.
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 saying 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.
And we are not just to rejoice always, but to pray always too. Paul reminds us in verse 6 when we pray about anything, we pray with thanksgiving for all that God has given us. The word that we translate as “thanksgiving” in Greek is “Eucharistia.”: Eucharist. The same word we use for Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper.
You may have noticed on Sundays as you follow along in your red hymnals as we begin the Eucharist liturgy, the back-and-forth part after the offering prayer is called the Great Thanksgiving. Ever week, you hear these words, “It is indeed right, our duty and our joy that we should at all times and in all places give thanks and praise to you, almighty and merciful God, through our savior Jesus Christ.” Sound a little familiar? We give thanks for the gift that Jesus has given us: his body. His blood. His death. AND his resurrection to new life.
When THIS is the gift of life we receive from God, what can mortals do unto us, that we should be afraid? What is worry, what is fear, what is death in the face of such a gift that is ours forever and ever?
THIS is where true peace of mind comes from, says Paul. That in Jesus, a peace penetrates us beyond our understanding or knowledge, surrounding our hearts to guard us against all that life throws at us. This is why Paul is able to say in verse 13 “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” When I was in my church’s youth group, I learned a really handy way to remember this verse. Like, literally handy! All you need are your two hands. Ten words. Ten fingers. Pretty simple.
“I can do all things… through Christ who strengthens me.” Let’s all try that together. “I can do all things… through Christ who strengthens me. One more time, so we can get it nice and lodged in your brain…
Thanks, Paul, and to whoever invented this little memory aid. It’s a good reminder of Paul’s secret for the reason he can rejoice in the Lord always, which is really no secret at all. It is a secret we can learn too, and share, and practice, because it certainly doesn’t come to us naturally. Not with all the messages that the media bombarding us with on a daily basis, saying: Want more. Do more. More stuff and success will make you happy. We try not to, but some days we want to believe these messages more than in the peace that Jesus promises us.
This temptation is not new, and Paul encourages his people to instead to think about other things, the long list you see in verses 8 and 9. It is quite a list, a bit of a tall order, really. Just what IS true, what is honorable, what is just, pleasing, commendable, and worthy of praise? There is only one I can think of that completely fits that description, and that is Jesus.
What is worthy for us to think about as this Lent draws to a close and we are about to enter Holy Week?
Paul might suggest 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, in order to show the glory of God and claim you as his own (2:11). Amen.