Philippians 1:3-5, 21-30
Philippians is one of my favorite books in the bible. It’s a letter from a pastor to a community he loves – a community that despite social and legal challenges as a religious and cultural minority is keeping the faith and living out the gospel. A community like South Congregational Church in this time of pandemic, protest, climate change, and growing sense among youth that most Christians are anti-science, anti-intellectual, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-diversity.
We are leaning toward our 225th year, and we can embrace Paul’s promise to the church at Philippi, probably no larger than our own, that the good work God has done in our lives, God will bring to fullness , and it will be a harvest of righteousness. God is doing good work at Philippi and God is doing a good work here at South Church and we can trust that God will continue to inspire us as God as God inspired others in the founding of our congregation, its transport to Main Street, challenges over abolitionism, the Spanish flu, World Wars, social upheavals, fair housing, internal congregational conflicts, and the incivility and pandemic of our time.
I feel a bit like Paul addressing the Philippians. Paul is looking toward the heavens and yet he has work to do here on earth for the greater good. I am not that eager for the heavens, but I am of an age to retire. Like Paul, I am committed to stay where I am as long as it is right to do so – to help sustain our spirits during the long six months of physical separation and the uncertainties in the year ahead, and to help us take the next steps toward sustainability and mission over the long haul. Like Paul, I see the future as uncertain. I also believe that we have of a future of doing good work together as a community that learns, loves, and lives the word of God. I trust God even in our struggles, that this is the realm where we are called out to live our personal and congregational vocations by God’s grace.
Paul has a good word to the Philippians – through all life’s challenges, God is at work in your lives, God is inspiring you, God is sustaining you, and as a congregation you still have work to do as God’s companions in healing the world – and these words are also addressed to us. Keep looking toward the horizon, look beyond pandemic, and let your hopes guide your day to day life.
Live worthy of the Gospel, Paul counsels. That is my prayer for myself each day. That my life blesses the world, that amid my imperfections, I have personal and professional integrity and can speak words of truthful inspiration, that I add beauty and love to the world I touch. That is God’s word to you as well and to us as a community. Be worthy of God’s love in thought, word, and deed.
We are still in pandemic and must act like it – denial means death to persons and to the nation we love, and if we take Dr. Fauci seriously, we won’t return to a new normal for another year. Still our hopes beyond pandemic can guide our daily steps. The pandemic has revealed a lot that needs healing in our nation related to race, economic injustice, isolated individualism, greed, environmental destruction, and nation first ideologies. But it has also given us a vision of what we can be in God’s realm of Shalom, God’s beloved community that can guide each day’s efforts and our church’s decision-making. God has a horizon for us personally and as a church and nation. We can recognize that we matter to one another, that justice for all is essential, that loving our grandchildren means loving the planet and behaving accordingly at home and as a nation.
Here are some affirmations from Paul’s letter that will shape our lives if we embody them one step at a time:
- Everyone matters – we need to honor our gifts with humility, notice the gifts of others, and support each other’s growth.
- We are all in this together – let us care for each other.
- We are really all in this together – our concerns take us beyond our self-interest to healing the world.
- We can make a difference – the future is open, and not preordained, and our actions add to or subtract from God’s work in the world.
- God needs us – we are God’s hands and feet. With all humility, we stand in Christ’s place, sharing his life and ministry, embodying his love. We are not all-powerful, but our loving acts moment by moment change the world; a small church can change the world.
As we come together, leaning toward our 225th anniversary, let us give thanks, roll up our sleeves, use this time as holy, and share the grace we’ve received. As the hymn says:
Through many dangers, toils, and cares, we have already come.
Tis grace has brought us safe thus far, and grace will bring us home.