If you cook it, they will come.

Proper 23 (28) - October 11, 2020
- Isaiah 25:1-9
- Psalm 23
- Philippians 4:1-9
- Matthew 22:1-14
If you cook it, they will come.
    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

    Philippians 4 is hands down, one of my favorite chapters of scripture.  In particular, this passage, verses 1-9, is one that I come back to again and again when I need a little pick-me-up; when I need some encouragement.  This passage has it all: Paul’s view of women in the church, the importance of rejoice, peace, and a list of wholesome-Christian virtues (and they are not exclusive to Christianity...they were originally Roman values).  Seriously, what is there not to love about Philippians 4:1-9?!?!

    This final chapter is really the conclusion of Paul’s Letter and the conclusion of his life.  Think when you are writing a long email and you want to wrap everything up—sometimes you write in stand alone clauses that sort of make sense together but are best seen as these independent ideas.  Paul begins his concluding remarks by talking about two people:  Euodia and Syntyche.  He is essentially reminding the church that Euodia and Syntyche are the leaders that Paul left in-charge once he left town to continue on his missionary journey. These are two women are named co-workers in the gospel.  That use of of the word co-workers is important because Paul is saying that these two women share in his authority.  Paul calls them co-workers.  For anyone who questions whether women have a right or a duty to serve the church in the same capacity that I a male-pastor, share, I point you this passage.  Paul could have used a whole host of other Greek words to describe Euodia and Syntyche—he choose co-workers.  To anyone little girls, young women, middle age or mature women out there in the internet-land or even those sitting in the congregation today—you have a place in Christ’s church and you can serve as a co-workers with me just as Euodia and Syntyche served as a co-worker with Paul.  You can grow up and become a deacon, a pastor, or even a bishop. And I look forward to one day seeing a women stand in this pulpit as your duly called and elected Pastor.  I look forward to calling a woman a fellow co-worker in the body of Christ. Don’t let anyone ever tell you differently and if they do, tell them to read Philippians 4.

    After absolving the congregation to listen their female pastors, Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  And what powerful words for him to say.  Remember where Paul is sitting at his home under house arrest, awaiting his trail and ultimately his death.  Paul is in a very hopeless situation but yet he writes with such hope: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  Unfortunately, I have seen this passage of scripture misconstrue and mis-used so many times it is not even funny.  People assume that Paul is saying, “Oh just be happy.  Smile all the time.” You know, I have sat at many bed sides of people who are dying.  I have held a little girl in my arms who only lived for about an hour after she was born.  I have been very sick myself.  Many have lost their jobs.  Over 250,000 people have died from this virus.  Life will never go back to the way things use to be…Is Paul demanding that we just walk around smiling even though the world is falling in and around us?  No.  

    For Paul, the true meaning of his words are found in the grammar— In verse 4, Paul uses the Greek work xαίρετε which we translate as rejoice.  This present tense imperative shows ongoing action.  By using this tense, Paul is reminding the ENTIRE COMMUNITY, not just individuals, of the importance of rejoicing so that when a particular member cannot rejoice, the rest of the community can surround that individual (or individuals), remind them of the gospel and walk with them through their suffering.  Paul is by no means suggesting that it is wrong to grieve, but rather stresses the importance of the Christian community in times of sorrow and suffering.  When we think about the Christian community, the body of Christ, we must remember that one of our chief duties is to support one another.  One joins a church not to be entertained, but joins a family..  We support one another, pray for one another, rejoice when times are good, console when times are bad.  This community, the body of Christ, is not devoid of suffering, for suffering is a mark of a Christian community. 

    “We are too often focused on sin instead of celebrating that we are forgiven. We complain too often about the lack of holiness instead of remembering what we are as children of God. We are too often frustrated by feelings of weakness instead of being delighted about the strength of the Holy Spirit working in us. Yes, we too probably need a periodic reminder to “rejoice in the Lord.” “The joy Paul has in mind is not superficial; it has little in common with the obligatory laughter of invisible  audiences in TV sitcoms. There is a difference between something funny and deep joy, which has a lasting effect and the power to change us. Specifically, this joy is not the same as “fun,” and following Jesus is certainly not always “fun.” 

    So, what is there to rejoice? Real and lasting joy comes from the confidence that, no matter what happens, we are inseparably connected to God and saved. It has to do with where the focus of one’s life is or, to employ a famous phrase by Paul Tillich, with one’s “ultimate concern.” The Apostle Paul could rejoice because he did not fear death. A few years before penning his Letter to the Philippians, he wrote to the congregations in Rome: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Romans 8:35). The knowledge that Christ has overcome death gave Paul this certainty.” That is why we rejoice—because we can. We have this freedom which only comes to us through Jesus Christ.
    Paul goes on to offer some more concluding remarks:
  • Let your gentleness be known to everyone. 
  • The Lord is near. 
  • Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
    And then Paul writes this line:  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” εἰρήνη τοῦ θεοῦ in Greek and in Latin, Pax Domini.  The Peace of God.  If you go home and do a quick google search, you will find that this phrase occurs nowhere else in the Bible outside of Paul’s letters.  No where, yet it seems so very much a Christian idea—God gives us peace.  Being in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ offers peace.  It sounds like something you can cross-stitch onto a pillow and you know how I feel about that kind of stuff.  Most scholars believe that Paul is borrowing the phrase, “Peace of God” from the Roman phrase “Pax Romana” (Pax Domini).  Since Philippi was a Roman colony, this phrase would have been common among the people.  It is like the Army’s phrase today, “Be all you can be.”   Yet, Rome used the phrase Pax Romana as a way to silence insurrection and keep the peace.  Essentially, Pax Romano only became a reality for you if you did what you were told, never tried to upset things, and never demand that the elite care for the weak.  Upset the status quo and your world would know no peace.  Paul is borrowing this Roman theology and repurposing it for Christianity.  Essentially, Paul saying that real peace does not come from being a part of a Roman government but comes from God alone and this kind of peace surpasses all our human understanding and comes to us freely through our baptism in Jesus Christ.

    You know, these past few months have been filled with a lot of unknowns and stress.  A couple of weeks ago as I sat in the Barbers chair, my barber Jason says that my hair is a whole lot more gray than when I was in last—and he was right.  I have notice the scale starting to tick up slowly each day.  The more stressed I become, the more I over eat and the whiter my hair becomes.  I know many of you have experienced great turmoil and distressed these past seven months and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.  “The focus on God is the best remedy when no longer ultimate, but preliminary concerns start to dominate our agendas. It alone guarantees “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (4:7) and hence empowers us to overcome human differences.“  We often look to the world around us to offer peace in these most troubled times.  We put more faith in other institutions, in other people, in doctors, in experimental treatments, in sports even rather than in God.  Yet, who offers us peace?  Real peace? 

    I don’t know about you, but after the roller coster of these past 7 months, I could use some real peace because I am tired of being let down by others, but the world—nobody seems to be making my life better even though others promise they will make it better.  Do you feel that way too, my brothers and sisters?  Are you tired of being let down?  If you are, then:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

    In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  


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