28th Sunday in Ordinary Time October 15, 2017
Philippians 4:1-9 Rev. Rona Kinsley
It feels as if the end of our time together is coming very quickly. I am very aware that I will be with you for just four more Sundays, after today. As I read the lectionary readings for this week, I decided to take a break from Matthew, and his love of judgment, to focus on the kinder, gentler words of Paul, in his letter to the church at Philippi.
Paul is writing to the Philippians from prison, addressing a church he clearly loves. He writes to thank them for their gifts and prayers, which have supported him while he is imprisoned. And he writes to warn them about the divisiveness caused by other missionaries who are preaching a righteousness based on law rather than on grace. He urges the Philippians to “be of one mind,” putting aside differences and working together for the spread of the gospel, trusting that God is present and active in the midst of difficult circumstances.
Even though he is in prison, the tone of Paul’s letter is surprisingly joyful. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice, he tells them. Remember that God is near. Don’t worry. With prayer and 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. Notice that he doesn’t say that God will give you everything you ask for. What God gives, instead, to those who trust in God, is a peace which surpasses all understanding. Our reading ends with Paul’s encouragement to the Philippians to stay their minds on whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, and on those things that are excellent and worthy of praise. And then he writes, Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me.
As I read this passage, I began to think about the things I would encourage you to keep on doing when our time together ends. I realize that there are many things I hope you will keep on doing, and I suspect that each of us could make our own list. But here, in no particular order, are some of the things that are on mine.
First, keep on worshiping together. The life of the gathered community is centered in this hour of worship. This is where we come for rest and restoration, to have a quiet moment to reflect in the midst of our busy lives, to hear the promise that God is with us in joy and in sorrow, and to learn what it means to be a follower of Jesus, loving one another as he loved us. Here we are touched by word and sacrament, by the music of organ and choir, by listening to each other’s joys and concerns, and by lifting our voices in prayer and praise to the One who has brought us here. Keep on worshiping together.
Keep on being friendly and welcoming. I was warmly welcomed when I arrived two years ago, and I know you will extend a warm welcome to Ed and Patti. Hospitality is valued here. I’ve seen how you greet newcomers, introduce them round at Coffee Hour, and invite them to be a part of the life of the congregation. I also encourage you to extend your hospitality out into the community, inviting friends and neighbors to come and see what you love about this church. Keep on being friendly and welcoming.
Keep on being joyful. When we did that “value words” exercise, in which you chose words that you hoped would describe your church in the future, “joyful” was the most frequently circled word. I believe that joy is one of the gifts of the Spirit, one we open ourselves to when we trust in God and in each other. I have felt springs of joy welling up among you, and I encourage you to let them bubble and flow. Keep on being joyful.
Keep on being open to new ideas. Not everything I suggested met with enthusiasm, but, on the whole, you have been remarkably willing to try new things. You’ve responded positively to different ways of worshiping, different ways of ordering the work of the church, and new initiatives in mission and outreach, and I’m seeing fresh ideas and creativity springing up among you. There is value to tradition, but there is also a sense of new life that arises when we dare to do new things. I encourage you to embrace this sense of new life as you explore the new ideas Ed will bring. Keep on being open to new ideas.
Keep on learning together. Doing book studies with you has been one of the great joys of my time in Greensboro. You prepare, you come, you participate. I’ve never had to work to keep the conversation going. You respond to the issues I raise in sermons, and I’ve heard you discussing them afterwards. To pastor a congregation that engages with ideas and with learning is a great gift. Keep on learning together.
Keep on working for justice. Ed will be a strong partner in this effort. I had a conversation with Ed, this past week, in which he told me that he was drawn to the United Church of Christ by our commitment to justice. In a time when many of the rights we have struggled for are under attack, I encourage you to find ways to witness and to act. Keep on working for justice.
Keep on reaching out to the local community. Your partnership with the Lakeview School continues to grow, and I give thanks to our volunteers, who continue to grow in number. I hope that you will look for opportunities to hear the stories of those in this community who struggle in ways we can’t begin to imagine, and to meet local needs through programs that are truly helpful. Keep on reaching out to the local community.
Keep on being generous. This congregation has a tremendous record of generosity— in support of this church, in special offerings, in mission projects like the cleanup buckets, and in the time you give to the church, the school, and other community organizations. You also give generous support the Discretionary Fund which helps local people in need, including the children at the school. You provide meals for people who are ill or recovering from a hospitalization. You have a big heart for those who are hurting. Keep on being generous.
Keep on caring for one another. While the care that a church gives beyond its walls is called outreach, the care it gives to its own members and friends is sometimes called inreach. Inreach means that we support one another in tough times. Sometimes it’s as simple as a hug, a phone call, a “how are you doing” email, sometimes it’s as complex as arranging meals, transportation, or company, when someone is in crisis. Each gesture of loving concern for each other helps to weave the fabric of the community. Keep on caring for one another.
Keep on having fun together. I’ve heard laughter and seen smiles when a joy is shared in worship, during coffee and conversation after church, at Board and committee meetings, during choir practice, among those working hard on the parsonage renovation, at soup and bread lunches before our lenten book study, at the Ladies’ Christmas Luncheon, at the Cabin Fever Follies, on the steps of the church, and in the parking lot. There is nothing about “being the church” that says it can’t be fun. In fact, I suspect that having fun helps us to be the church. So keep on having fun together.
That’s my list, for now. I’d be really interested to know what’s on yours. I’m so interested that I’ve had the ushers give you each a slip of blank paper. Please take a moment, now, to jot down one thing you would like to see this church keep on doing. And then, if you are willing to share it, please put your paper in the offering plate.
I know that some of you share the anxiety that the church is aging and in danger of dying. We wonder what will happen to small churches, like this one, if our numbers continue to dwindle. And yet, like the church in Philippi, we are called to keep on keeping on. In a recent UCC Daily Devotional posting (“Another Way,” September 3, 2017), the Rev. Tony Robinson, UCC minister, speaker, and writer, writes about the power of small churches to be faithful and effective members of the Body of Christ:
I started my ministry in small rural churches. I did my pastoral work standing in dairy barns and over coffee at kitchen tables. I even wrote my seminary master’s thesis on small churches and their strengths and challenges. Many of our churches have gotten smaller. Even our larger churches aren’t all that big compared to mega-churches.
But there’s no relationship between church size and faithfulness. And besides, we have it on good authority that what the world counts grand and glorious may not be so to God; and what the world counts unimportant and insignificant may, in God’s eyes, be precious and extraordinary.
Writing to one of the seven small church in his care, Philadelphia, John of Patmos said, “You don’t have much strength, I know that” And yet . . . Small churches, small projects, small communities too, from most perspectives, don’t have a great deal of power and importance. And yet . . . and yet. The first century church of Philadelphia kept God’s word, persevering when times were tough.
We live in a time and place that is fairly drunk on bigness, on money, power and celebrity. Bombast trumps the quiet voice of conscience— or so it seems. “More of Everything,” the slogan of a major retailer, could be our culture’s credo.
Scripture reminds us that God sees things very differently, that small can be beautiful, that ordinary things can be extraordinary, that those the world calls “losers” may be great, and that a small community of faith can be so faithful that its name is not only written in Scripture, but in heaven.
To close with the words of Paul,
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen . . . and the God of peace will be with you.