Sermon For Sunday, October 21, 2012

Philippians 4:10-20 

 “We’re Called To Serve Together: Sharing In One Another’s Distress”

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

Sermon For Sunday, October 21, 2012

Philippians 4:10-20 

 “We’re Called To Serve Together: Sharing In One Another’s Distress”

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

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ http://www.FranklinCircleChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, pastor and preacher

To hear a podcast of this sermon, click HERE:  121021SermonPodcast

To download the digital presentation of this sermon, click HERE:  12102140Days5

To watch a video of this sermon, click HERE:  http://youtu.be/NOw_UMzhzeo

Today we will look at one of the underlying purposes for the Apostle Paul’s letter, or letters depending upon which scholar you to whom you might give credence, to the church gathered at Philippi.  *Paul, as you have heard me say, is in Prison.  It is unclear as to which imprisonment this is, as the apostle was seen by civil authorities in several cities as a rabble-rouser and unsympathetic to the ruling regime in Rome.  It is generally assumed this was penned from his jail cell in Rome, but in any case, Paul writes to express his deepest appreciation to the young Christian community in Philippi for their care for him while he was in prison.  They had both prayed passionately for his release, but also had worked to raise money to help him with his daily necessities while behind bars.  Their envoy, Epaphroitus, had become ill while delivering the prayers and money, but improved enough to go back home and take Pauls’ letter of gratitude with him.

So Paul writes (*Philippians 4:10-20):

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

 

You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account. I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

 

To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

I just love the Apostle Paul.  That is, when I’m not angry as all get out at him.  But for the most part, I appreciate his honesty and candor, and the way in which his understanding of the Christian faith acknowledges and works in and through the human condition.  *In this particular text, I am impressed at how Paul’s theology shows the need to balance two of the most difficult human traits: the need for self-sufficiency and the need for interdependence.  How do we both “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” while at the same time conceding that “no one is an island unto himself or herself?”  So, on one hand Paul offers what is no less than a poem to self-reliance when he declares

*I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.

And then, practically in the same breath, he recognizes that he simply could not do his ministry alone when he sings of his dependence upon Christ and his interdependence with the Philippians:

*I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

*There is no shame, nor any particular glory, in either self-suffiency nor interdependence.  They are both necessary and good, as are all the wondrous levels in-between.  What Paul makes clear is that in our Christian faith, there is a natural and healthy interaction between growing in the use of our gifts and graces as full functioning humans and people of faith, and an honest recognition that no one of us can do either life nor faith alone.  This is an essential truth of healthy community, and why we are looking at it in the midst of our 40 Days Of Community.

I think to illustrate this I will turn to a 16thcentury saint, St. Teresa of Avila.

*Teresa of Avila (1515–1582) was born in Spain, and entered a Carmelite convent when she was eighteen.  She later earned a reputation as a mystic, reformer, and writer who experienced divine visions. She founded a convent, and wrote the book The Way of Perfection for her nuns. Other important books by her include her Autobiography and The Interior Castle.  Most of us today, however, know her by a prayer or poem she wrote titled “Christ Has No Body.”  *First let me read it to you:

Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

Compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

compassion on this world.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours. (1)

But I don’t think just reading this poem does justice to what the Apostle Paul and I are trying to get across this day.  So let me offer Teresa’s prayer in a visual form:

*(2) [VIDEO]

The dance between self-sufficiency and interdependence is played out in many ways, but in the church it is played out in the service to our sisters and brothers in need, or in the word Paul uses, in “distress.”  We offer gifts of service when we are feeling more self-sufficient and can help those in distress.  We receive gifts of service when we are in distress and understand ourselves to be more interdependent.

*Service comes in many forms.  For those of us here at Franklin Circle Christian Church we have many ways of both offering and receiving gifts of service.  Right now downstairs volunteers are preparing to serve our community and us a warm, nutritious meal as part of our Third Sunday Meal Program.  We will also serve meals on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.  We also have other traditional service opportunities here in our facilities: the Disciples Closet clothing room open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 1-3; a Food Bag Ministry offered on the last Sunday of the month to participants in our congregation in need.  We have a Community Youth Program on Saturdays and Sundays from 2-5 p.m. offered in partnership with the Children & Family Services, Art House, and A Cultural Exchange.

*There are service projects that are innovative and responsive to community needs, such as our summer sprouts program done in partnership with the Ohio State University Extension office.  This is an attempt to bring both gardening skills and healthy food into urban communities that might not otherwise have access to such important sources of nourishment and nutrition, both for the soul and the body.  Our children and youth participate, as well as the women of the Women’s outreach center.  And often the food we grow is served in our own Third Sunday Meal Program.  Throughout the history of this church we have partnered with other agencies and organizations to capitalize on our mutual strengths to serve God’s people more fully.

*But we also offer other less “classic” forms of service but nonetheless important.  There is the service that comes from sharing in planning, administering, and leading the programs and facilities of the church.  There are all the teams, boards, and individual events, activities, groups, and work projects that need both participants and leaders.

*But we don’t stop at the walls of our church or the boundaries of our perspectives.  Service also involves going out into the world and living our faith, such as when we take what we learn from our Bible Studies and Widening The Circle Forums, our fellowship groups, our service within the church and utilize it as wisdom for living life in our civic duties, our places of employment, our neighborhoods, and our recreation.

*Service in all its forms is at the heart of our 40 Days of Community.  This ebb and flow between understanding ourselves as working towards self-sufficiency, while always knowing that we are dependent upon God as known to us in Jesus Christ and interdependent with our neighbors, is at the heart of the Gospel of Christ and our faith.  It is now time in out 40 Days of Community to begin to decide in our small groups what service project you are going to do, and then begin to do them.  As a congregation, we need to get more ideas for our Big Congregational Community Service Project.  Here are some specific things you can do:

1.    Write down your joys and celebrations of community on the special paper provided and put it in the wishing well up front.

2.    We have begun collecting ideas for a big communal service project.  In the chapel you will find post-it notes and sharpie markers to write your ideas down and post them on the newsprint pad.

 

Today is Day 29 in our Daily Devotions.  This week we will look at the theme: “We’re Called To Serve Together.  Those of you who are in Small Groups we begin session #5 and our topic is: “Serving Together” looking at Ephesians 4:16 as well as continuing to explore 1 Corinthians 13.  The Memory Verse for all of us is Galatians 6:2 “By helping each other with your troubles, you truly obey the law of Christ”

Beloved, we were designed to be in community and our faith compels us to be in service.  Jesus, and the Apostle Paul, remind us that this service is sometimes given to us and sometimes given by us, but always is a gift from God above, within, and around us.

Amen.

(1) From: http://www.journeywithjesus.net/PoemsAndPrayers/Teresa_Of_Avila_Christ_Has_No_Body.shtml

(2) Purchased from The Work Of The People

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