Sermon for Sunday, October 28, 2012

Philippians 4:4-9

“Living A Generous Life Leads To Abundant Praise”

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

Richard Hinkelman, pianist

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Today’s scripture text brings to a poetic and fitting end the letter of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians.  It is both a song and a prayer, an exhortation and a promise.  In it, the apostle reassures those in the church he founded, and all of us who have followed after them, that God is with us, shall abide with us, wherever we go and with whomever we serve.

*He offers this final word of encouragement in two acts.  In Act I he sings:

*Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone.  The Lord is near.  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with 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.

*In this act Paul reminds us that living a generous life leads to abundant praise, a deep Christian spirituality, and unabashed worship of God.  Reminding us of the angelic message in Luke 2 he enjoins us to rejoice, not once, but twice!  Bringing to mind Jesus’ own words in Matthew 11 Paul commends us to be gentle and humble of heart.  Hearkening to Matthew 6 Paul urges us to not be anxious.  The apostle advises us to pray, bringing to mind the prayer Jesus taught us also in Matthew 6.  And echoing almost exactly John 14 Paul then assures us that if we do these things, God’s peace, not the world’s peace, will be ours to receive and enjoy.

*A generous, abundant, supple, grace-filled life can be found if one *praises God, is *humble and gentle, rests in the *reassurance of God’s presence, and offers to God our *hearts in prayer.  While not a formula, per se, this path most assuredly will lead us to a *peace of heart, of mind, of body, and of soul; a *peace for which most of us long, crave, hope, yearn.

*And then in Act II, Paul provides a methodology, a process, a helpful hint at how we can follow this path of praise, humility, reassurance, prayer, and ultimately peace:

*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 in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

*Paul offers us a series of words that he says we are to think upon: whatever is true, honorable, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.  Again, not a simple equation – “do this and get that” – but a tried and true practice that has helped him, and others, to develop into generous people who naturally, easily, and gladly give praise to the One from whom all blessings flow.

I would like to invite us to take a moment or two to reflect upon these words.  And by “reflect,” I mean to use them to take into account who you are and what you do and say and think in the world; to deliberate upon their meaning and application in your life; to consider, meditate upon, judge, and decide who you are in relation to these words.  As Mary, the mother of Jesus, pondered the words of the Angel Gabriel in her heart upon hearing the words of assurance and calling to her, ponder these words in your heart:

*Whatever is true, genuine, accurate, real, authentic, sincere, faithful in your life…

*Whatever is honorable, decent, moral, noble, admirable, worthy, worthwhile, righteous, ethical, respectable in your life…

*Whatever is just, unprejudiced, fair, reasonable, balanced, sound, justified, well-grounded in your life…

*Whatever is pure, untainted, wholesome, innocent, sinless, virtuous, clear, vivid, deep in your life…

*Whatever is pleasing, beautiful, lovely, enjoyable, pleasant, satisfying, delightful, agreeable in your life…

*Whatever is commendable, admirable, laudable, creditable, valuable, prized, esteemed, helpful in your life…

*Whatever is excellent, outstanding, exceptional, marvelous, superb, magnificent, terrific, groovy, far-out, and fine in your life…

*Whatever is worthy of praise, deserving of our undivided and worshipful attention, awesome, breathtaking, splendid, grand, overwhelming, fearsome, and astonishing in your life…

*Let us ponder these things in our hearts, in our minds, through our bodies, and deep and wide throughout our souls.

Now let me tell you a story that author and Baptist preacher Tony Compolo tells about a trip he had made to Haiti as part of an organization that ran schools in that impoverished country.  The schools were run in an attempt to provide something meaningful for the children of that country that would both lift them out of their abject poverty and offer them dignity and hope.

Well on a certain trip he was headed back to his hotel in Port-au-Prince.  Outside the front door were three girls, and they could not have been older than 15 years of age.  One of them, the one in the middle, said to Tony, “Mister, for ten dollars you can have me for all night long!”  Sick to his stomach at the thought of why these girls had to sell their bodies to make enough money for them and their families to live, he almost walked on by.  But something made him stop.  He turned to the girl on the left and said, “If I gave you ten dollars also, could I have you, too?”  She nodded yes.  And then to the girl on the right, who had a look of contempt in her eyes that was hard to hide to her customer, he asked the same question, and she nodded in agreement, also.

“Fine!  Thirty dollars it is!” he said.  “So, in thirty minutes all three of you will come up to Room 210?” They agreed and he walked into the hotel lobby.  First he went to the desk and arranged for every Disney video they had to be sent up to his room immediately.  Then he went to the dining room and ordered room service to deliver food, including not three, but four banana splits with everything on them, and extra whipped cream, chocolate syrup, and cherries on them!  Then he scurried to his room, Room 210.

First the animated videos arrived.  Then the three curious girls arrived, quickly followed by the cart of food and banana splits.  The girls lay on the bed watching as many of the Disney movies as they could that night, enjoying the feast and the dessert till they were full, and sleepy.  After the third girl fell asleep on the bed, with Tony comfortably in the big easy chair, he began to ponder his evening.

At first he was angry, and thought to himself, “Nothing’s changed!!!  Nothing’s changed!  Tomorrow they will be back on the streets.  Tomorrow they will be selling their little bodies for ten dollars a throw, because there will always be rotten ugly men who will destroy the dignity of little girls for ten dollars a night!  Nothing’s changed!”

But as he pondered a while longer, and, as he says it, the Holy Spirit spoke to him, he realized, “But for one night, Tony, you allowed three little girls to be little girls again.  For one night you let them be kids.  You didn’t change their lives, but you treated them with dignity and for one night gave them back their childhood.”  And before Tony fell asleep in the chair, he recommitted himself to the good work of the mission organization he had come to Haiti for, and the schools they served which offered one way to change the system that kept those three girls imprisoned in such a tragic life. (1)

*My beloved, we are rejoicing in God a lot and pondering many things during these Forty Days of Community.  I don’t expect your life, my life, and the life of this congregation to be miraculously changed.  But I do expect us to change because I, too, believe that if we offer to God our hearts in praise and worship, and we concentrate on that which is good and worthy in our church community and in our neighboring community, then I believe we will life lives that are abundant, full, rich, deep, and supple.

*We are nearing the end of our 40 Days Of Community Program.  There are several things I ask of you:

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 are finalizing 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.

3.      Consider if you would like to lead or participate in a small group in the future!

But now, and most importantly, come next Sunday to the Festival and the Feast!  Invite your friends and family to it.  It will be a magnificent celebration, and one will flow into the other.  We will have special guests and lots of fun.  You will hear reports back from our small groups, our community, and all the ways in which this congregation and its facilities help to create, nurture, and sustain community in God’s name and through Christ’s grace.

And, finally, please continue faithfully in your daily devotions, your small group work, and your memory verse.  And as we worship and meditate, let us receive the abundant and generous life God has promised for those who love God and love neighbor as we love ourselves.


(1) Tony Compolo,  Party In Room 210, Let Me Tell You A Story: Life Lessons From Unexpected Places And Unlikely People (St. Louis; Thomas Nelson, 2000) pp. 46-48