Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | October 9, 2011

2011.10.09 “Think On These Things” – Philippians 4: 1 – 14, 23

Central United Methodist Church
“Think On These Things”
Pastor David L. Haley
Philippians 4: 1 – 14, 23
October 9th, 2011

My 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.
I urge Euodia and Syntyche to iron out their differences and make up. God doesn’t want his children holding grudges.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Receive and experience the amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, deep, deep within yourselves.”
– Philippians 4: 1 – 14, 23 The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

Every now and then, someone asks me how I like being a pastor. Depending upon the week or even the day, I either respond that (a) “I really like it, because there’s no other job quite like it,” or (b) “I wish I had become a ditch digger or anything else instead.”

The truth is, there is no other job quite like being a pastor. It has a range of responsibilities – preaching, teaching, counseling, administration, visitation, and leadership – to name a few, many of which are more art than science.

Part of the reason for that is that not many understand what a pastor really does, often being characterized as “six days invisible, one day incomprehensible.” In fact, much of being a pastor is an invisible job: not many people see the preparation and research, the meetings, emails and phone calls, the visits to homes and hospitals, not to mention the time in prayer and reading, without which we pastors would be complete hypocrites, for asking you to do something we never do ourselves. I want you to know that what I preach to you I take seriously, and do try to practice myself.

What of course makes being a pastor most difficult, like most other jobs, is that it involves working with people. All of us who work with people, especially large numbers of them, likely have great sympathy with the person who once said, “The more I work with people, the better I like dogs.” Even if our job is solitary, we still know from our own experience with marriage, family, and friends that people can be kind, lovable, and endearing, but they can also at times be perplexing, annoying, even infuriating. Yes, including us pastors.

But there is here a deep truth to be both acknowledged and faced. One of the great things about Christianity is that it is incarnational; it occurs in the real world, among real people and real problems. When John, in his Gospel, says that Jesus became flesh and lived among us, he means it: that the Word who was with God and was God, actually became a person, Jesus, with a real body and a real life living among real people. When Christians met together to follow and attempt to live Jesus’ ideals, they did so in churches made up of real people, not some kind of marble saints. When people tried to live and practice the faith Jesus taught, they had to do so in a world which sometimes to belie everything he said, especially about a God of love, who cares for all people.

Once we understand this, and quit trying to live in some ideal world that exists only in our imagination, there is actually a great deal of relief, consolation, and inspiration to be found.

As an example of this, we might take today the words of admonishment, encouragement, and inspiration of a pastor writing to his parishioner, the fourth chapter of the Letter of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians. Let’s take a look.

Remember, not only was the church at Philippi not only one of the churches Paul had founded, it was one of his favorite churches. It didn’t have the problems of say, the church at Corinth, but it had its problems. Now, around the year 62 AD, while under house arrest in Rome, awaiting his trial and verdict, Paul had reminded them to live in such a way that they might be a credit to the Gospel (September 18th), to have the mind that was in Christ (September 25th), and to keep on track (October 2nd), not to be diverted by those who came flashing credentials, questioning Paul’s authority, bringing up trivial pursuits that Paul had also once considered important, but now counted no more important than “dog dung,” in comparison to the joy he had found in knowing Christ.

So Paul begins chapter 4 by being effusive, by telling the Philippians just how much he loved them: “My 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. ”

Well, most of them, that is. Some of them, who I have little doubt that he loved just as much as the others, were giving him headaches. The very next verse is, “I urge Euodia and Syntyche to iron out their differences and make up. God doesn’t want his children holding grudges.” He goes on to say, “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.” Which gives us interesting insight into first century Christians churches.

Nobody knows who these two women were, or what had happened, but evidently things were serious enough that Paul went on to say, “And, oh, yes, Syzygus, since you’re right there to help them work things out, do your best with them.”

I once heard about an old black preacher, who didn’t know how to pronounce these names better than any of us do, who called them, perhaps more descriptively, “Odious” and “Soon-touchy.” You may think you don’t know them, but Odious and Soon-touchy” are Christians, both men and women, laity and clergy, pastors and people, who are resident in every congregation which has ever, is, and will ever exist in the world. Because we are all human, all different with different personalities, all attempting to live high ideals which require us to work and play together with others, nicely. Get used to it. Work it out. Ask yourself this, which perhaps Paul should have cautioned these women: Is the fight you are having significant enough to be remembered for 2,000 years? It hardly seems fair: despite all they might have done, as Paul himself suggests, what they came to be remembered for was this? Who would want to be remembered in such a way?

E. Glenn Hinson is a pastor and teacher who was asked to serve as the interim pastor of a congregation that had forced out its previous pastor and experienced deep divisions. In seminary, he had taught courses on prayer, and thought prayer was needed in their circumstances. So in an early sermon he preached that there was hope for the congregation through love. After the sermon a woman said to him, “Dr. Hinson, in this church we love one another; we just don’t know how to show it.” She expressed a real truth: every congregation is really, a school of love, where we learn to practice faith and love in the real world, with real people. (Weavings, 26:4; quoted in the Christian Century, “Century Marks,” October 4, 2011, p. 8)

But St. Paul blasts past only admonishment, to share encouragement and inspiration. Indeed, as one person put it, Paul expresses about a thousand different significant theological concepts here, some of which are some of our most beloved Christian scriptures. Like, for example, Paul’s words which we just sang a little while ago: “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.”

Remember I told you that Paul is writing form Rome, under house arrest, awaiting trail and sentencing, not knowing whether it will go well or badly. And yet the most amazing thing is, joy is one of the most recurrent themes in this letter, with Paul using 16 times either verbs or nouns of joy or “Rejoice.” Even in the face of whatever difficulties he may be facing, or whatever the church in Philippi is facing, there is still this dominant note of joy, which keeps erupting forth.

What can keep us rejoicing, even in the face of troubles or difficulties? He shares that secret next:

“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.”

While Peterson is descriptive, we might miss something here. The New Revised Standard Version puts Philippians 4:7 this way: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Now think about that: “Here’s Paul, under house arrest, perhaps chained to a guard. What he saying is, this peace that we gain through prayer – God’s peace, is just like this guard I’m chained to, standing right there keeping watch over you.”

Like a good preacher, Paul begins to bring his letter to a close. I didn’t say he does, I said he begins to, like a good preacher, like he has several times before. But this one is the best, the most memorable:
“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.”

I always think of the story that someone once asked Adlai Stevenson, the former Governor of Illinois and the Democratic Presidential nominee in 1952 and 1956, what he thought of The Power of Positive Thinking, by Norman Vincent Peale, pastor of the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. Stevenson replied, memorably, “Yes, you can say that I find Paul appealing and Peale appalling.”

Once again, in a time when many – especially of the younger generation – are turned off to Christianity, because they find the tone of far too many Christians too political, too anti-gay, too anti-science, too judgmental, once again I agree with Adlai Stevenson:

“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.”

Not too many years later, Paul went with his master Christ on to martyrdom. Most scholars believe Paul arrived in Rome around AD 60, and spent two years under house arrest. Some believe that at his trial he was acquitted, which allowed him, like a good pastor, to spend several more years preaching the Gospel. Neither the Bible nor other history says how or when Paul died, but according to Christian tradition, Paul was beheaded in Rome during the reign of Nero around the mid-60s. As Christians, we will remember Paul for many things, but we will never forget his Letter to the Philippians, his epistle of joy.

That question, do I like being a pastor? What I like most is getting to be involved in the lives of so many people, who I dearly and deeply come to love, even if there are a few Odious and Soon-Touchy’s among us, which for the most part we alternate role playing.

Some day when I get the luxury of retiring, I’m going to have a good long cry for all the churches and people in them whom it has been my privilege to lead, follow, work with, argue with, suffer with, and in general, love – along the way. In the end, they – you – will be my joy and crown, what my life has been about.

I close with some of my favorite lines from the English poet and visionary, William Blake (1757 – 1827), from his poem, Auguries of Innocence:

“Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.
It is right it should be so:
Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know
Through the world we safely go.”

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