Sermon for Sunday, October 14, 2012

Philippians 2:14-30

Growing Together: Creating, Nurturing, & Sustaining Relationships”

Today’s sermon is part of our congregation’s 40 Days Of Community emphasis.

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

To download the digital presentation of this sermon, click HERE: 12101440Days5

To hear the podcast of this sermon, click HERE:  121014SermonPodcast

To watch the video of this sermon, click HERE:

*We were meant to be in relationship!  If there is anything that I hope for you to get out of this 40 Days of Community series is that you and I, all of us, were designed, created, meant to be in community.  We were created in God’s image, and God yearned from the dawn of creation, through the incarnation of Jesus, to be in relationship.

*A writer and professor of Process Theology who I respect a great deal, Marjorie Hewitt Shuchocki, in her marvelous book The Whispered Word: A Theology Of Preaching, makes the case that we were created by God to be communal beings, that this must be a core facet of our theology.  She writes:

“It’s as if God has created us not as individuals unto ourselves, but as participants in a world; we are created for one another.  To this end, God works creatively deep within each one of us, but in such a way that our responsiveness to God is precisely to the extent that we act responsibly in the world toward our common good.  It’s as if God creates within the depths of each one of us, and also on the surface through each one of us…”

*And then goes on to quote one of the English reformers of the faith, John Wesley, a forbearer of Methodism, who preached:

“One of the principal rules of religion is to lose no occasion of serving God.  And since [God] is invisible to our eyes, we are to serve God in our neighbor, which [God] receives as if done to [God]self in person, standing visibly before us.”

As our small groups begin to plan and carry out their service projects, and as our entire congregation imagines what we will do as an all-church service project out in and for our community, this quote from Wesley should guide us well.  But Suchocki is building on the point Wesley makes in that there really is no way to truly serve, and therefore love, God than to love and serve our neighbor.  *She goes on to write:

“So the word from God does not necessarily direct us toward God; by God’s own design it directs us toward the world.  This being the case, we can also say that while God’s word is given to each of us individually, there is an inevitable communal dimension to that word.  The word given to us takes into account the multiple words given to our contemporaries; there is an interwovenness in this process…”

And then, as if to tie off the big, comfortable afghan she has knitted, Suchoki turns the discussion around to make the point that not only should we not look at God except through our neighbors, but that God does not look at us except in relation to our neighbors:

“We are never addressed by God as if we were the only creatures in the universe.  We are addressed by God as a living participant in the fullness of God’s creative work… The word is at once individual and communal.”

That “word” that Suchocki is referring to is at once the word God whispers into the hearts of every creature created, but also the word of God make manifest in Jesus Christ, the one whom the Gospel of John sings: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”

The Apostle Paul knew this very well.  The very fact that Paul did not write tomes of theological treatises, but wrote letters to churches and referenced individuals over and over again in his letters shows us in no uncertain terms that Paul understood relationships were at the heart of the Gospel, its very essence.  Paul founded churches by building relationships with people.

Not all of Paul’s letters are as nice and kind to their recipients as Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, but this one is practically a love fest… at least towards those in the church.  The entire book, but certainly the scripture I selected for today, is a snapshot of how important relationships were to the Apostle Paul, and, by extension, to the health and well-being of the early church.  The Philippians loved their “founding pastor” and he continued to be appreciated, respected, and even cherished years after his work in the community had been completed.

“And just as the Philippians loved Paul, he felt strong affection for them, as well. He loved them for their commitment to [Christ,] and for the way they had been his partners in gospel ministry.  They were his close friends, people whose fellowship he enjoyed and whose presence he missed. *Listen to the way he spoke to them in Philippians chapter 1 verses 4 through 8:

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now … I have you in my heart … I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:4-8)

In fact, in Philippians chapter 2 verse 12 and chapter 4 verse 1, Paul referred to the Philippians as his “dear friends,” using the *Greek word agapetos. Agapetos is the term Paul commonly used to described his closest coworkers and beloved friends, such as Tychicus, Epaphras, Philemon, Onesimus and Luke.  Paul’s love for the Philippian church appears to have been more particular and specific than his love for many other churches, and it was manifested not only in feelings of belonging and familiarity, but also in a continuing vibrant friendship.  [*It is variously translated beloved, esteemed, dear, favorite, worthy of love.”]

And this should not be surprising. After all, it isn’t hard to imagine that there would be a close bond between Paul and Lydia, his hostess; or between Paul and the jailor, whose life he saved; and perhaps even between Paul and the slave girl whom he rescued from demon possession. In all events, Paul had grown to love the believers in Philippi. And they had the same feelings toward him.” (1)

And not only did he create, nurture, and sustain relationships with communities, he understood that relationships with individuals were necessary also.  And so he mentored some young Christians, he related to some who were hosts for the communities of faith he founded, and he related with those who were funders and supporters of the work he and the churches did.

Paul was a mentor to Timothy…

Timothy: Acts 16:1-4

Paul went on also to Derbe and to Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek. 2He was well spoken of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium. 3Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and had him circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4As they went from town to town, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. 5So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily.

And to Phoebe…

“Phoebe was another faithful woman associated with the Apostle Paul. She was a deaconess from Cenchrae (the port of Corinth) whom Paul sent to the church in Rome with his Epistle to the Romans. In it he writes of her support for the work of the early Church (Rom 16:1).”

Phoebe: Romans 16:1-2

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, 2so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.

He partnered with Barnabas in several of his earliest missions, and then with Silas in some of his later missionary journies…

Barnabas: Acts 13:1-3, 42-43

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. 2While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ 3Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

42 As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people urged them to speak about these things again the next sabbath. 43When the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.

He relied upon the generosity and wealth of Lydia, a business woman…

Lydia: Acts 16: 11-15 & 40

11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us.

40After leaving the prison they went to Lydia’s home; and when they had seen and encouraged the brothers and sisters there, they departed.

And he celebrated his relationship with many who hosted him and the communities of faith he founded, such as Aquila and Priscilla…

Aquila & Priscilla

Acts 18:1-4 & Romans 16:3-5

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. 2There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, 3and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together—by trade they were tentmakers. 4Every sabbath he would argue in the synagogue and would try to convince Jews and Greeks.

3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, 4and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5Greet also the church in their house.

*And then there are the frequent salutations in his letters asking for his greetings to be passed on, such as this one in Romans 16.  It is literally a cacophony of relationships!

How did Paul develop, nurture, and sustain such vital relationships?  *He recognized first and foremost it began with himself.  All good relationships begin with ME!  *This is certainly what we’ve been looking at in 1 Corinthians 13 as it explores what true love is.  It’s premise, that love must be made real in the way in which we relate, reminds us that *Love is not something done in isolation.  Love’s essence, its definition, is relational.  Love means nothing if it is only directed at self.  Love is always communal.  But this premise that healthy relationships begin with looking inward is also in one of the scriptures we will be looking at in our small groups this week (and made famous in the musical Godspell), Matthew 7:3-5:

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

~ Matthew 7:3-5

*We like to spend a lot of time finger pointing, as if somehow the path to a great relationship begins with telling everybody else how to do it.  In fact, the path to a great relationship begins with me, with us, and doing the hard but necessary work of *Growing Together by Creating, Nurturing, & Sustaining Relationships.  Let us commit ourselves, and I include myself first and foremost, this week to focusing on the logs in our own eyes when it comes to healthy relationships, and not worry so much about the specks in others’ eyes.

So, our work is cut out for us.  Here’s a plan:

Daily Devotions: “We’re Connected To Grow Together”  Today is Day 21 FYI

Our Small Groups Session 5 Topic is: “Growing Together” – Matthew 7:3-5,

And our Memory Verse 1 Thessalonians 5:11 “Encourage one another and build each other up.”