Sermon: October 8, 2017 – “A Good Work to Completion”

“A Good Work to Completion”

Text: Philippians 1: 3-6

I thank my God every time I remember you, 4 constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5 because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

In order for us to recognize the full significance of this text for today it is important for us to have a little background information regarding the story behind the text. This is a portion of a letter written by Paul to the church at Philippi. This particular church was one where Paul had a strong relationship and Paul had many friends and people he cared for who were a part of this church. The feeling was mutual as well, as the church in Philippi had been supporting Paul and his ministry in a lot of ways for many years. The church was a major financial supporter of the work that Paul was doing.

Many Bible scholars are a little surprised that we have only one letter in our New Testament from Paul to the Philippians. It is likely that Paul had lots of correspondence with this church and visited them in person quite often. The city of Philippi was centrally located, on many trade routes and was on the way to almost anywhere. When Paul traveled, which he did extensively, it is believed that he visited the church in Philippi quite often.

Many Bible scholars also believe that the letter we do have from Paul to the Philippians is probably what they call a redaction. This means that what we read in our New Testament today is probably fragments of at least three, if not more, different letters that Paul wrote over time to the church in Philippi. Someone, and probably not Paul, combined the letters into the form which eventually became part of our New Testament.

Armed with a bit of background information, I wanted to take another look at this text and fill in a few blanks. The opening sentence where Paul says that he thanks God every time he remembers them is an indication of their long term relationship. Other translations say it a little differently, and it is written that Paul gives thanks for every remembrance of you; I like that language because a remembrance is like a memory, and the indication is that there are a lot of memories for Paul to recall. The church and Paul have done many things together and he enjoys thinking back and reminiscing a little bit.

The opening sentence in our text also talks about the church in Philippi “sharing in the Gospel” from the first day until now. This also indicates the long term relationship, but I really like the concept of “sharing in the Gospel”. The scholarship around this text is that Paul is thanking the church for the financial support he has received over the years. But instead of just saying thanks for donations, Paul identifies the donations as sharing in the Gospel. This language communicates that while the church may have given money to Paul, the money didn’t stop with Paul. The money passed through Paul and was used in ways to impact other people and spread the Good News. In this way, the church in Philippi was sharing in the Gospel from the first day until now.

You might say that Paul had a few successful stories behind him and he was letting the church in Philippi know that they had played a major role in those successes. In a word, Paul was celebrating those successful ventures and wanted the church to share in the celebration.

That is what we are doing today. Like the church in Philippi, we too have a few successful stories behind us. We have lots to celebrate and lots to be thankful for. Today we are taking a look back at the last few years and celebrating what has been accomplished on behalf of this church. But as we look back and celebrate a success or two, I also think it’s appropriate for us to consider these successes as part of our sharing in the Gospel. We didn’t do all of these things just to keep ourselves busy. We have accomplished all that has been accomplished to create a stronger ministry and a stronger outreach to the LC Valley. We have accomplished what we have in order to make us more effective as a church. Everything we have done has been done for one reason; that one reason is to create a more effective ministry as we seek to share the Good News with this community. So, like the church in Philippi, with each and every project we have been sharing in the Gospel from the first day until now.

And I am here to say thank you for doing that. Without you, nothing happens. It is the church and the people of this church which has made our success thus far possible. You have much to be proud of and much to be thankful for.

But the text goes on. Paul tells the church that he is confident that the good work which has been started will be completed. A modern day translation might have Paul saying to the church; “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet”. In other words, there are still plans to accomplish even more, there are still plans to bring the good work which has been successfully started to completion. There is more yet to do.

We also still have much work yet to do. While we celebrate today, it is important for us to remember that we are celebrating the successful completion of phase one of our revitalization plan. There is more to do and more to accomplish. And, like Paul, I am also confident that the good work which has been started will come to completion one day in the not too distant future. Success has a way of building momentum and that forward motion will help us to accomplish even more in the days ahead. I believe we can look forward to more celebration Sundays in the years to come.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to share a little bit on a personal level and offer some personal observations. First of all, let me say it is an honor and a privilege to be your pastor. I am constantly reminding myself of how grateful I am to be here and leading you in this way. Just like Paul, I am also thanking God for every remembrance of our time together thus far.

I also know that for many of you the Methodist tradition of itinerancy has not always been a positive experience. There is a nagging suspicion that as soon as we really get going I’m going to move on to some place new and leave the work that has been started uncompleted. I’ve said this before, but I think it is worth repeating, as far as it is up to me, my plans are to remain here with you.  Heidi and I are putting down significant roots here in the valley and we will be around for as long as we remain effective in this ministry. So like Paul, I’m here for the long haul and look forward to our long term relationship.

But I want to make another related point. I may be the pastor here and I may even be the one out front leading the parade, but I’m not the parade. Our revitalization efforts thus far have been a collective success. This is not Chuck’s plan or Chuck’s project or Chuck’s revitalization; this is our plan, this is our project and this is our revitalization. One person can certainly make a difference, but this isn’t about one person or one idea. This is about all of us; and all of us are sharing in the Gospel from the first day until now. From this day forward we all share in the confidence that the good work which has begun among us will continue to completion and we will celebrate again together one day in the future.

Our good work is just beginning. We have gained a little bit of momentum and are moving forward. There is much to be thankful for and much has been accomplished; there is also much left to do. I invite you to active participation in what I see as a vibrant and exciting future in the years ahead. Today we celebrate, but tomorrow it is back to work.

Our celebration dinner awaits. I often close with a remark about food for thought. Today I will close by saying we will now have food with thought as we join together in Fellowship Hall and celebrate our collective sharing in the Gospel from the first day until now; to quote our recently published cookbook; “Amen. Let’s Eat!”

Sermon: October 1, 2017 – Connective Energy

Connective Energy

Text: Luke 19: 37-40

As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen,  saying,

“Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!”

 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”  He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

I find this text offers a very provocative thing to think about; what if Jesus was actually serious when he said the stones would shout out. What was he trying to tell us? Why would Jesus say something like this? Like I said, I think it is a very provocative thing to think about.

I also find this text in Luke to be unique in that only the Luke version of this story includes the comment about the stones shouting. So why would Luke include this in his Gospel? Is the idea of the stones sounding off just something that Luke thought of on his own, or is there a deeper thread of thinking that could be uncovered if we dig a little?

The story of Jesus entering Jerusalem is in all four Gospels and there are many similarities among the stories. People shouting and singing, Jesus on a colt or a donkey, people spreading their cloaks on the ground all of these things are in the majority of the stories. What we identify as an event that defines Palm Sunday, interestingly the mention of palm branches in only in one of the four stories.

But only Luke mentions the stones shouting out. I would like to explore this idea a little bit. If it is metaphor, what does it mean, or if Luke thought it could actually happen, what does that mean? It has to be one or the other.

Another point that I find interesting is this rather obscure text caught the interest of lyricist Tim Rice as he was creating the musical opera Jesus Christ Superstar. Andrew Lloyd Weber provided the musical score and together you have a very memorable recreation of what we consider to be Palm Sunday, but Luke’s comment about the stones is included. Let’s have a listen.

When I listen to this text as it was incorporated into Jesus Christ Superstar, it really comes alive for me. I think the concept of the “rocks and stones themselves would start to sing” is something worthwhile to explore and think about.

That being said, I’m not looking for a literal interpretation of this text. I don’t think the rocks are actually going to start singing or shouting. But the rock and stones in the written text and in the song we heard are symbolic of something else. What is the author of Luke trying to suggest to us?

I believe there is a hint about the spiritual understanding that Luke had about the Divine, or God if that works better for you, in the first chapter of Luke’s gospel. I believe that understanding of the spirit of God was far more universal and far more accessible than was common in that era. I think Luke believed that the Spirit of God was everywhere and in all things and in all people all the time. I think Luke had a very universal understanding of the Spirit of God – and his reference to the stones actually shouting or singing is a reflection of how he understood the Spirit of God.

So, why do I believe this to be true of Luke and maybe not some of the other gospel authors?

The answer to that question is something I found in the opening chapter of Luke. In Chapter one, verse 15, Luke is writing about the birth of John the Baptist. In that verse 15, Luke says that even before his birth, John the Baptist will be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Now wait a minute. John the Baptist preceded Jesus. The Holy Spirit arrived after the life and execution and resurrection of Jesus while the disciples were gathered together for the celebration of Pentecost. This event is recorded in the second chapter of Acts, which was also written by Luke, so it’s not like he didn’t know the story.

This is evidence to me, that Luke had a very open and pervasive view of the Spirit of God – because he declared John the Baptist to be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth, which was many years prior to the official arrival of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Acts. For most Jews and many other believers and by ancient tradition God resided only in the temple. Perhaps the spirit of God might be found in the Tora, but the actual dwelling place of God was called the Holy of Holies, and you could not enter the space or even look at it, unless protected by God.

For Luke to declare that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit prior to his birth is a fairly radical departure from the common understanding of the day. It is much more aligned with our modern day understanding of the universality of the Spirit of God. I think this also helps explain why he might have Jesus make a comment about the rocks bursting into song as well.

All of this background information about Luke’s spiritual understanding of the nature of God may be interesting, but there is a reason I wanted to call your attention to it. The reason is that this Sunday is World Communion Sunday – and today we celebrate the universality of the Spirit of God and all Christians everywhere come together through the common experience of communion. It is today that we recognize that we have a common bond, a common energy that encircles the entire planet.

While this may seem like an obvious thing for us to celebrate, it is an important step in our spiritual development and it’s worth remembering that it has not always been the case. Far too often and for far too long, different religions, even different Christian religions have been at odds with each other, not celebrating what we have in common. World Communion Sunday was originally started by the Presbyterians I believe in the 1940’s – so in the big picture, this is kind of a new thought.

I also find the idea of World Communion Sunday important to be recognized as a stepping stone to the day that I look forward to when we learn to honor all faith traditions and communicate that we have Divine connections that break the bonds of any singular faith tradition. I do know that Luke was of the opinion that Jews and Gentiles both were welcome and encouraged into the Christian communities. The universality of the Spirit of God that would cause even the stones to shout and sing is a goal for all of us to strive to attain. If the Spirit of God is present even in the stones, how much more present is the Divine Creator in the human lives of all God’s children in all places and in all faith traditions. World Communion Sunday is one small step that we celebrate that moves us ever closer to full inclusion of all people of all faiths everywhere.

With that connective energy we recognize that we are a part of something that circles the entire planet. Allow that connective energy, that Spirit of God, to rest upon you and soak into your very being as we celebrate the sacrament of communion this day. For today we recognize that we are connected to all people everywhere.