“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!”