SERVICE FOR THE LORD’S DAY
October 11, 2020
WELCOME AND ANNOUNCEMENTS
Let me remind you quickly of our protocols for everyone’s safety.
Attendance was taken by ushers as you entered
Offerings may be placed in the plate by the doors.
The bulletins were placed specifically for social distancing, one household per pew. Please sit exactly where you found your bulletin.
Please keep your masks on and remain seated through the whole service.
There will be no singing, and no physical contact.
You may read along silently,
The office is reopened
Church Service 9:30 am
Joint Meeting with 1st Congregational church at 12:00 pm on October
25th at the 1st Congregational church
WORDS OF WORSHIP
“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel the Lord Maker; 7for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.” Psalm 96:6-7
We ask, o Lord, as we gather to worship You, we might put other things aside. We want to bring ourselves to You so we can be more what You want us to be. We want to put aside the things that distract us so easily and focus on You. Help us to do that. Amen.
CONFESSION AND PARDON.
Almighty Father; we enter your presence confessing the things we try to conceal from you and the things we try to conceal from others. We confess the heartbreak, worry, and sorrow we have caused, that make it difficult for others to forgive us, the times we have made it easy for others to do wrong, the harm we have done that makes it hard for us to forgive ourselves. Lord have mercy and forgive us through Christ. Amen.
ASSSURANCE OF PARDON
Psalm 103:8-12 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
In the name and power of Christ we have been forgiven and are children of God amen.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to You, o God, our Lord and King. amen
4in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!5your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. the peace of God, transcends all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. You have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. the God of peace be with you.
SERMON “Keep on keeping on”
The house church at Philippi and Paul have a very special relationship. Philippi was one of the very first Christian fellowships developed by Paul. We all know we feel something different about our first child. We love all our children, but there is something extra in the relationship with the first child. Philippi was one of Paul’s earliest children and so there was a special place in his heart for them. In addition, Paul had received many gifts from that particular church while he was on his many journeys. While Paul may not have thought of Philippi as his “favorite” church, but there was no question they were special to him.
The section we read today was written while he was in prison and there was a very real possibility he might be put to death because he was proclaiming Jesus as lord and the Romans did not look with favor upon any lord other than Caesar. Besides that, there was some unrest caused when Paul had established these house churches and the resulting tensions among families had no doubt come to the attention of the Romans. Despite all these factors, the message we hear in this section is one of hope and encouragement.
The opening words of today’s lesson seem particularly strange for a person who is in jail with the real possibility of death facing them. “rejoice in the lord always, again I say rejoice.” It is indeed strange if we focus on the word rejoice but if we, like Paul, focus on what the rejoicing is about, the words do not sound so strange. Paul is not suggesting we should rejoice blindly, like the words of the popular movie, The Lion King, those words go like this: “Hakuna Matata! What a wonderful phrase. Hakuna Matata! Ain’t no passing craze. it means no worries for the rest of your days”
This is not what Paul was advising. He was not the cock-eyed optimist from the musical “Oklahoma” his rejoicing was very clearly focused on one thing and one thing only: rejoice in the lord. Rejoice in the act of Christ’s sacrifice for us, rejoice in the fact that we now have access to eternal life. Rejoice in the fact that we now can be admitted to the kingdom of heaven. Paul’s rejoicing was very focused, it was rejoicing because of what all Christians have gained because of what God has done for us in the act of Christ’s death and resurrection.
He goes on to say, “do not worry about anything, but in prayer and supplication let your requests be known to God”. Again, we ask ourselves, how can a person in prison, with the possibility of death possibly say do not worry? We say to ourselves; how can we NOT worry about things around us? we can lift up a multitude of reasons for Paul to worry and we can easily see as many things for us to worry about. How can we not worry?
Again, we need to keep ourselves focused on the whole message, not just one part. He reminds us to “let our requests be known to God”. He says this with the assurance of one who is speaking of a loving parent. He does not say every request will be granted any more than a truly loving parent will grant every request of their children. If that were the case, every child who “really, really, really wants a pony” would have one. The loving parent will respond with the things that are beneficial and helpful for the child so they are well and safe.
Paul is one who knows very well that things do not always go the way you would like them to. He has often been rejected, particularly by his own people, the Jews he truly hoped would accept the message Christ has brought. He has been jailed several times, he has been beaten as a result of the message he delivered to the people, more than once, he has been run out of town by people who truly did not want to have anything to do with what he was saying. Yet, in the face of all that he could tell people to rejoice always. Clearly, either he was demented or he knew something worth knowing. We need to listen carefully to the things Paul says to the Philippians so we can see how it is possible to have this attitude especially in difficult times.
In the 8th verse he gives a litany of the things we should focus on. “finally, brothers, whatever is t rue, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things.” He has made a big shift, instead of the things we can find to worry about, he gives his listeners things which are uplifting, things which are positive and things which can give a person hope. If, instead of worrying, a person can focus on these sorts of things, the world will, indeed, look brighter and you will feel better.
At the end of the reading he says, “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 is doing a very dangerous thing, he is holding himself up as a role model, someone to look at and imitate. He is saying, you have seen me and heard me. You know the things I have taught and the things I stand for. Keep those things in your mind and work toward being like that.
When it is said in that way, we tend to shy away because it sounds very egotistical. It can sound as if Paul is telling people that if they are just like him, then all will be well. Everything will work out to the good. There are not many of us who would advise people to be just like us. we know our weaknesses and our shortcomings and would be reluctant to advise people to copy us. what, then, is Paul really saying?
The reason Paul can give this advice is based on the way he saw himself. In Romans, he calls himself a servant, other times, he refers to himself as an apostle. Neither of these words are words indicating a leader, but someone in a secondary position. A servant is under the orders of their master. The needs and considerations of the servant are not as important as the needs and consideration of the master. A servant is charged to carry out the wishes of the master fully and without question. The master, in their society, literally had the power of life and death over as servant. The word apostle is sometimes also translated as follower, or disciple. One who is dedicated themselves to the teaching of another person. The teacher has set the pathway and the task of the apostle is to follow.
Therefore, if the people of Philippi are doing the things Paul is doing, they are acting not as followers of Paul, but as followers, and servants, of the same Christ Paul is following. Paul, then, is not really saying they are to be like him, but rather they are to put themselves forward as servants, as followers of Christ, rather than being egotistical, Paul is telling the people to look past him and see the Christ he is following.
The hope and the joy Paul holds forth in this letter are not based on the things Paul can do. They are based on the things people have seen God do. These things rise from the stories of the OT where God rescued his people again and again even though they were often rebellious and totally disregarded the things God asked of them. It is a hope based on the things Jesus lifted up before them. It is the hope of salvation and the promise of the kingdom of God. It is a hope that can, indeed, rejoice always.
As I read the scripture lessons for this Sunday, this particular one seemed to speak to me about the things surrounding us in our world today. there were many reasons Paul could have rightfully been worried, there were many reasons Paul rightly could have been downhearted and yet he was able to hold forth this note of hope. He was in prison; he was far away from all his friends and supporters. He had no idea what the outcome of this time in prison might be. Communication from his friends was slow and undependable and would take a long time to reach him. Despite all this, he held forth this note of hope.
As I reflected on this, I began to see all the reasons we can easily be worried about things going on around us. we are in the midst of one of the worst health care situations all over the world since the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. We are approaching ¼ million deaths in our country alone. Every time we begin to think things might be getting better, it seems they take another nosedive. We can easily give ourselves over to worry about the epidemic and its impact on our lives.
One of the side effects of the epidemic is its impact on our economy. Everywhere we look businesses are either shut down or operating on a very limited basis. The unemployment rate is at historic numbers. Many businesses we once looked upon as leaders are furloughing employees or flat shutting down parts of their operation. Along with these things we are in the midst of one of the most disruptive political seasons most of us can remember. Almost every political ad we see tells us how crooked the other person is. I have a really difficult time remembering the last time I have seen an ad telling me why I should vote for a particular candidate. It is far easier to recall the ads that tell me why I should NOT vote for a particular candidate. Conversations between friends can become very strained if one lifts up a particular candidate. To be in favor of the other candidate can easily be an invitation for some nasty remark rather than an invitation for healthy debate or discussion. It is really easy to find reasons to worry
Along comes Paul and tells me, “rejoice in the lord, always, again I say rejoice” and I want to scream “CAN’T YOU SEE WHAT’S GOING ON RIGHT AROUND US? HOW CAN YOU TELL ME TO REJOICE?” when I catch my breath, I remember all that he said rather than just the word rejoice. His call was “Rejoice in the lord”. Then I can calm down a bit. Perhaps I can get my head straight and remember Paul is NOT telling me to rejoice in the things that are happening around me, but to rejoice in the good news of the gospel. He is calling me to rejoice in the blessings I have received because of the grace and love offered through Christ’s sacrifice. Then, indeed, there is reason to rejoice.
When I can see these things, it is easier to recall the words of the old hymn, “on Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand” I can rejoice. Not because of the pandemic, not because of the shaky economy, not because of the hostile political situation, but because of the promises offered to those who call on the name of the lord. As long as I can keep this clear in my head then I can, indeed, echo Paul, “rejoice in the Lord”
Paul then tells me to present my requests before God. Not as some magic Genii who will grant three wishes because I possess the magic lamp, but as a loving parent who will respond in a loving way. Paul did not want to go to jail. He certainly did not want to be rejected by his fellow Jews. He did not want to be run out of town. He did not want to be beaten. None of those things were on his wish list. As these things happened, I have no doubt he prayed to God they might be changed. Instead, God took those things and used them as ways for Paul to be able to present the gospel message in many different ways. God used those times as ways for the churches he had founded to express their care and concern for him with letters and other gifts. The requests Paul made were not honored, instead, God used these situations for both Paul and his fledgling churches to grow in understanding what it really meant to be a servant.
When we present our requests before God, we may not get the answer we expect. Instead, we may get something that seems like a bad answer at the time but as things develop, we discover the answer we got was a great deal richer than what we had asked for. Some writer once said God has 3 answers to prayer: there is yes, there is no, and there is, I have a better idea. This is what Paul is telling us as he says to let our requests be known, Paul wants us to know God will answer as a loving parent, not always giving us what we ask for, but giving us that which is good for us.
The list of things on which Paul wants us to focus is there to help us when we get caught in the trap of worrying. Instead of the worry, lift up the things around you that are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise. If we can get ourselves to lift these sorts of things, then we are not worrying.
The evening news we watch usually ends with a short uplifting story. Someone who has done something to help another person, someone who took a bad situation and turned it to something good. It is an attempt to end the broadcast on a positive note rather than all the bad things we have just heard during the news.
This is not what Paul is advising. He does not want us to take 5 minutes at the end of the day to lift up these things. He wants us to develop the habit of keeping ourselves focused on those attributes all during the day. The more we can get ourselves to focus on these uplifting things, the less time we will have to worry. It is really difficult to focus intently on more than one thing at a time. And so, Paul wants us to lift up the things which contribute to our peace, our sense of well being and those things which will benefit those around us as well.
At the end of our reading he tells the Philippians, and us, “keep on doing the things you have learned and received and heard and seen.” In other words, keep on keeping on. That doesn’t sound very exciting. We get very tired of the same old same old. We want to go on to something new and exciting. Paul’s advice to stay with that which has been beneficial in the past is sound advice.
Whether it is an exercise program, a diet or something else, we gain more from them when we continue to do them over a period of time. None of these sorts of things will be any real benefit to us if we only do them for a week or two. For the benefits to really begin to show up, we need to establish them as a regular part of our life.
In the same way, as we go through this time of pandemic, as we go through this time of political tension, as we go through this time of uncertain economy, we need to keep on doing the things we have been doing before. As individuals, we need to keep our time of prayer and bible study. We need to participate in worship, either in person or by means of the video sermons that are available. As a congregation, we need to continue finding ways we can minister to those around us. the congregation where I attend has reached out to the local school to ask how the teachers and students can be helped. Other churches have found ways to be involved in food pantries and other things which will help people during this time.
Other churches have asked their deacons to make phone calls to those who live alone, just to check in on them, see if they need anything and express the love and concern of the congregation. While the events do bring us to do things in different ways, there are still many ways we can continue to show the love of Christ to our neighbors. We need to find ways to keep on doing the things we have always done.
There is no question that doing these things makes us feel good. We are happy when we have found ways to feed those who are hungry, to lift up those who are lonely, to do something for people we will probably never meet. At the same time, we know we are fulfilling the mandate we have about caring for those around us. we may not be able to do the acts of mission in person, but when we find ways to do the things we have always done, we are strengthened as a congregation.
When we have been part of the Christian fellowship for a while, we have seen people lift up their needs as well as celebrate answers to prayer. we have rejoiced with those who rejoice and mourned with those who mourn. In these days, when everything is different, we need to find ways to do the things we have learned. We can’t visit in person, but we can call. We are called to do the things we have done so the fellowship is maintained between us and so each of us can find ways to express our care for one another.
We are called to rejoice always, not because everything around us is light and clear skies, but because we know the love and power of God. We are called to bring our requests to God because we know God cares for His children and will respond in ways that are good for us. we are called to focus on the good around us because we are the people of the good news of the gospel, finally, we are called to keep on doing the things we have learned and seen and heard because we have seen over time the benefits of these things and we want others to understand their power. Indeed, we are called to keep on keeping on.
AFFIRMATION Apostle’s Creed, Ecumenical Version
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
CHARGE & BLESSING
we are charged to continue the acts of love we are now doing and to constantly search for ways to minister. Now, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the holy spirit be with you all, Amen