1 octobre 2017 CCC Philippians : 2 :1-13
I love the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church in Philippi, probably because it is the most relational. It is really a letter from a pastor to a congregation he is very close to. Having pastored now for over 30 years, I can identify with him. It was around 60 C.E, while Paul was in prison, that he wrote, like a pastor might write to a former congregation, a loving pastoral letter. So if you have been part of the church for a while, think of a previous loved pastor you have had. Imagine, he/she is writing to you and the church. That is what we have here.
In this passage, Paul wants to build up the unity of the Church, something every pastor desires. It was not that there were any specific problems in Philippi. It was just a pastor’s concern that things continue that way. He says if Christ is present, if the Spirit is amongst you, if there is love, compassion or sympathy, make me happy, be united. He knows these things are there so he encourages them. Be of the same mind, having the same love. He wants them to get along, to be united!
He goes on and says: Put aside any selfish ambition or conceit. Put on rather humility. Don’t think of yourself better than others, rather think of others as better than you. Don’t look for your own interests but look out for the interests of others first.
What was Paul dealing with? Roman society was built on social rank and the direction people would want to go was up, trying to climb the social ladder. Paul is saying, the Church is not to be like that. He is really turning things upside down. You don’t try to be the top dog in Church and get your way.
Church unity, I think, is often an issue in the Church. It was then, and still is today. People have their ideas about what must be done and how things should be done.
Paul’s message is still relevant. It is for all of us. What attitude do we have vis à vis each other? Do we think and act as if we have the whole truth? Is it my way or the highway? Do I stay open to the truth that the other may have a Word I need to hear?
This is a hard lesson for us to learn, individually, and corporately, as churches and denominations. The Church has for 2000 years split over all kinds of reasons because everyone believed they had the whole truth. They have also killed each other because they had the truth, and the others didn’t. Catholics, Anglicans, Anabaptists, all seemed to be the victims of the executioners at some point, depending on who was in power.
Fortunately, as far as Churches are concerned, we have come a long way. There is a lot more humility and openness to other groups in most denominations.
Coming back to our own situation at Christ Church Cathedral, remembering Paul’s words, since the Spirit is present, since there is love, compassion, sympathy, in our midst, let’s remain humble knowing we do not have the whole truth. Let us be of the same mind. Let us get along!
Going back to Paul’s words to a congregation he loved, he invited them to be of the same mind as Christ Jesus, in other words, to think like Jesus. To describe what that would mean, Paul quotes an old hymn that would have been known by his readers in Philippi. It describes how Christ gave up his pre-existence with God to become human, humble, and obedient to the point of death on the cross. Because of that, God exalted him and has made him Lord of the universe.
Keep in mind that Paul is using this familiar hymn to make a point. Jesus Christ made choices. He gave up his pre-existence, he chose to be obedient. He chose to humble himself. As people wonder what it means for them to get along, they are to look to Christ and make choices that come from that same humility and obedience. Be of the same mind as Jesus Christ, think and make choices like he did.
Now that having been said. This is an inhouse message to people in a Church, a Christian community, guiding them on how they are to relate to each other. It is not a message that says, ‘shut up and never speak up’. Jesus did speak up, Jesus did confront evil. As Christians, we do need to speak up as we face what is wrong and unjust.
That having been said, we can go back to Paul’s words to the church gathered in Philippi.
He is writing to a Church he loves, and is inviting them, to be humble & to get along!
He encourages them to make choices that come from the same humility and obedience as Jesus Christ. Be of the same mind as Jesus Christ, think and make choices like he did.
Today’s section closes with a final word of encouragement. Paul tells them to work out their salvation. Now that might not sound like encouragement but rather intimidating. What if I don’t work hard enough, will I not be saved? What it actually means is, since you are saved, live accordingly, live and love like Christ Jesus.
He adds, what might seem like an impossible task, being humble, looking out for others before ourselves, thinking like Christ, is possible because God is working in them. God is working in us. God gives us the desire and the energy to do it!
I read in the Lay Readers newsletter a lovely testimony by Anne Claude Geoffrion. Lay readers are people who have been called by a congregation and licensed by the diocese to serve in various capacities of worship. Marion, as a Lay reader, for example is assisting today, as well Vivian will be at communion. Anne wrote the following. “All through my life, the Holy Spirit has challenged me out my comfort zone and when I listen, the blessings always outweighed the difficulties. I have learnt that I should not miss out on an opportunity to stretch myself because of fear.
Though I may be reluctant at first, I have learnt to step out in faith … and trust the Lord to equip me for the task at hand. …Answering the call to ministry as a LR took courage and faith… knowing we have God on our side, we can confidently answer His call”.
As Anne has learned, God gives us the will and the energy to live as Christ Jesus.
Sisters and brothers, the apostle Paul loved the people in the Church in Philippi. He wished them only love and joy.
In this pastoral letter, knowing how human nature often gets in the way of the unity of the Church, Paul writes to a Church he loves, and invites them to get along by being humble & thinking first of the other.
He encourages them to make choices that come from the same humility and obedience as Jesus Christ.
Finally, he told them all this is possible since God’s Spirit is working already in them.
The message is the same today.
Let’s get along.
Let us strive to be like Christ Jesus in humility and obedience.
And we can rest assured, God is working in us giving us the desire & energy to do so.