Here's a sermon I preached last night. I don't think I made any irresponsible exegetical jumps...
Advent is a time of looking back at the difficulty in our lives and in our world. It is a time when we should realistically take stock of our world, the injustice, pain, and suffering going on in all corners of this globe. Advent is a time when we realize humanities need to be saved. And yet, Advent, and especially Christmastide is the time when we celebrate the incarnation of the second person of the triune God into this world of injustice, pain and suffering. Jesus did not avoid those aspects of life, but embraced them and experienced the worst of them. God took on flesh and entered into our need for a savior, by suffering intensely God in human flesh conquered sin, suffering and evil. And here we are, taking stock of a world still in need of saving and living lives that are still in need of redemption. And yet, even as are amidst the brokenness and pain of our world we are also amidst the beauty of God’s creation, the beauty of God’s image being lived out in every human being.
This is the life circumstance of every human being who has ever lived, it is the grand story of the entire bible. Humanity is in desperate need of saving, a continued saving.
And yet we are people who have been created in the image of God, able to see the goodness and beauty of creation
Paul was in need of saving when he wrote the letter to the Philippians. As we’ve learned already Paul was in prison needing the generosity and care from others just to sustain his life. Paul was in the midst of suffering and had every reason to focus on his negative situation, those who had done him wrong. And yet, even while he is honest about his situation and the negative situations in his churches, he is able to rejoice and find peace in Jesus Christ. A major theme in Philippians is the theme of rejoicing in Christ Jesus no matter what our circumstances might be.
Our passage today begins in a way that reminds us that we’re not reading a book, we’re reading somebody else’s mail. And the portion that we begin with today makes it clear that the Philippian church is in need of continued saving.
Have you ever been forwarded an e-mail, somebody wants to keep you informed of something, but you can tell you only have one e-mail of a long e-mail conversation? You’re lacking the background to a story, issue at work, or relationship problem necessary to having a complete understanding of that problem. That’s what we have here.
Read Phil 4: 2 - 3
In Phil. 4:2, 3 we’re reading someone else’s mail, and we’re not privy to the whole story. Euodia and Syntyche were leaders in the Philippian church, they were fellow ministers of the Gospel with Paul. And yet they are now at odds with one another and threatening the entire unity of the church. This is the stuff that makes churches split today, you have two pastors or two groups from within the leadership who disagree with one another and end up dividing the congregation. This is just one example of how the Philippian church is in need of a savior. Usually we think of the leaders of the church bringing God’s healing and restoration to the hurting within a congregation. Here we learn that Paul has a beautiful and profound faith in the Philippian church congregation to bring healing and restoration back to their leaders. In verse three Paul actually address an individual, his “loyal yokefellow,” and asks that person to see to it that these two women leaders in the church make things right. So our passage today begins by making it clear that things are not “all good” in the Philippian church, they are in need of continued saving.
Paul then goes on to make one of the scripture’s quintesetial, Advent defining, statements.
READ 4: 4 – 7
This is what it’s all about – our needs are real, felt, needs. Our needs are relational, physical, emotional, psychological… and the reality is they are not going away. The needs of Euodia and Syntheche were real needs, conflicts that had the potential to tear apart a church.
Paul says, we are to make our needs known to God. And why are we to do that? Because God doesn’t know our needs? Because if we ask we’ll get everything we want? Our suffering will end and our saving will be complete?
No, Paul says “The Lord is Near”. And this is his reason for us to rejoice in the Lord at all times, regardless of our situation in this world. We’re to let all the world see our gentleness because the Lord is near. I want to look at this word Gentleness for a second. The Greek word here is epieikes, a word that does not really have a simple and exact translation. The word basically means “gentle ability to reason.” Paul is connecting with what he had just said before to Euodia and Syntyche and specifically to the congregation about helping them find unity. He’s instructing them to stop bickering, rejoice in the Lord, and let the world see your gentle ability to reason with one another.
Paul then goes on to say that when we present our requests to God we will be filled with the peace of Jesus Christ. Did you get that? This is hugely important… Paul does not say anything here about God answering our requests, rather he says that God will grant us a kind of peace that transcends all understanding, peace that transcends the injustice, pain and suffering of our lives and of this world. This is what we are in need of, the peace, in Greek Eirene, and in Hebrew Shalom of God.
The stories of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament tell of the people of God who even in their suffering rejoice in the Lord, make their gentleness known to all, and in the end experience the Peace, Eirene, Shalom of God – something which transcends their circumstances and ability to understand. Abraham and Sarah, way past the age of having children, have faith and bare a son. David, while being pursued by Saul through the Judean deserts continues to worship God and Isaiah in his book is realistic about the destruction around him and yet has the courage to foretell of the eschatologic shalom of God’s Kingdom in Isaiah 65. God’s people tell God’s story through their unrelenting faith in the God of peace, who has granted salvation and who promises a complete salvation through the inbreaking of his kingdom.
Our scripture then continues with Paul encouraging the congregation to not focus on the negative realities of life, but to focus on the beauty of humanity and God’s created world. I started out focusing on the reality of the world we live, and the importance of that during advent. But while we must be realistic, we must also believe in and have eyes to see the reality of the incarnation.
Read 4: 8, 9. These are not really Paul’s words, some of them are not used by Paul anywhere else in scripture, some of these words are not used anywhere else in the bible! According to one scholar, Fred Craddock, what Paul is encouraging the congregation to think about are the ideals of the Greek ethical philosophers. Why is this? Well, I think it’s because, even amidst the bleak difficulties of our world are the beautiful reflections of God’s image found throughout creation and throughout and within all of humanity.
I think what Paul is getting at here is that the Philippian congregation has become too insular, picking fights with one another, worrying about who will bring peace back to the leaders of the congregation, while God’s world is ripe with the beautiful presence of God awaiting God’s people to marvel in it and bare witness to the creator of all that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.
The Philippian congregation, it seems according to this passage, was missing out on the culture around them and God’s work in the culture. Does the church today miss out on God’s action in the world today? Every time we as followers of Jesus miss what Jesus is doing in the world we miss an opportunity to bare witness, to point toward the risen Christ.
Another interesting Greek word here sheds light on this passage. Paul writes the things that we are THINK on. What does the word think mean to you? In Greek the word is Logizesthe, the root is Logos - As in word, deed or reason. Paul is using a word here that implies a grappling, reasoning, and engaging of all that contains the characteristics listed here. This passage might, for some of us, bring up visions of nature and what God has created that is beautiful, maybe art, music, film… it might bring up thoughts of children and babies. Maybe science, space, the universe, maybe quantum physics. What ever it brings to mind, those are the things we as Chrsitians are to engage, and reason with. Remember the word Logos in Greek has an active sense, it’s not a static, “think” about something word. Paul finishes by saying
9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
What we should focus on here is the word Practice, put into practice. Paul, I believe, served as an example on how to engage God’s world. He must have been an amazing missional leader, planting dozens of churches, always engaging culture. Paul is saying here, “Reason with, and practice the things of God’s creation that contain truth, nobility, righteousness, etc. and I want you to join me in that.”
Our lives and our world are broken, even God’s church is broken. And yet, God is revealing himself through the church and through all that he has created. It is our task as Christians to see the beauty in all that God is doing, and has done, all that people are doing and have done, and bare witness to the risen Christ in those things. And the result? God’s peace will be with us. As we engage, think about, reason through all that is true, right, noble, lovely, etc., we are revealing the nature and goodness of God. As I said in the beginning, Advent is a time of looking back at the difficulty in our lives and in our world. It is a time when we should realistically take stock of our world, the injustice, pain, and suffering going on in all corners of this globe. And Advent is also the time when we receive from God a renewed faith in the incarnation of Jesus. The salvation that the incarnation bestows on this world is oozing from thing, every living thing, every rock, every cell, every atom that exists, the birth of Jesus allows us to see God’s goodness all around us.
Cornerstone Story, hearing Latter Days for the first time, play Latter Days:
The action we must take and have the courage to put into action is simply to put the name of Jesus on all that is good in this world. As a teenager at Cornerstone music festival I was open to experiencing beauty, what must we do to be more open to the experience of God’s beauty around us, not taking life for granted? By living like Paul, missional lifestyles pointing out Christ’s continued incarnation in this world, we can diffuse our own pithy arguments, unnecessary and unimportant church problems, and focus on the reality of Jesus’ salvation in our world. This Christmas, enjoy the goodness of God’s presence all around you, and point out the presence to others every chance you get.
7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.