October 11, 2020
As Paul get near the end of this relatively short letter to the Philippians, he makes some personal notes to individuals. “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel.” We can only imagine what went on between these two women and why there was the need to help them be of one mind. In the daily devotional These Days, Tuesday's reading suggested what it might look like today. “Dee and Sharon are elders in the church. Dee teaches a Sunday School class and Sharon leads the (deacons). They both have been in the congregation a long time, but Dee was here first. Her children were raised here and her husband's memorial service was in the sanctuary last year. Sharon is single and has managed to adopt just about everybody in the church. They're all her family! All, that is, except Dee. No one knows why, but the friction between them is well documented. The problem between them is as old the Paul's letter to the Philippians.”
I don't want anyone throwing out names, but most of us have seen some level of conflict at some time in the church, men or women who couldn't see eye to eye on most anything. It happened 2000 years ago and it still happens.
But I don't think that division was the main point of Paul's letter. The paragraphs around this brief interlude tell us much more about the heart of Paul for the people of Philippi and his message for us going forward. “My brothers and sisters, stand firm in the Lord. Rejoice in the Lord always; Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God...
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.” He writes about our attitude, how we go about our daily lives, how we view the world. Paul tells us that if we can focus on the good, the grace and love of God, then, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
But if you listened to the gospel lesson today, that love and inclusion, this promise of peace, isn't so evident. The poor wedding guest who came unprepared was cast into the outer darkness. Not a message of grace, but of judgment. How do we keep from filling our minds with that message?
It can be a disturbing message to contemplate. And it makes no sense to our rational minds that this guest is treated so cruelly for wearing the wrong wedding clothes. Where is the grace in that? And this parable has been a struggle for every Reformed preacher because it seems to be teaching us that we must be acting correctly to be a part of God's feast. That's not grace and I can't explain this parable away. So I choose to fix my attention, not on the one rejected, but the many who are welcomed to the feast. Uninvited, unworthy, unable to make themselves worthy, they come to the feast. Just like us. We bring nothing to the cross of Christ except our need for grace. And grace is ours. That is promised over and over and over in the scriptures. Our works do matter, our preparation for the wedding feast does matter, but God see beyond all that to our hearts. And our hearts are made pure, our righteousness made real by the grace of God; God transforms our tattered garments into garments of grace, and we are welcomed.
Our welcome is free and open, but scriptures are also clear that we are expected to live out the grace we've been shown. And Paul encourages us here to relish the life we have been given. Julie and I re-rented a movie and watched it Wednesday night. We've been re-watching some movies that we rated 5 stars out of 5. But as I watched this one called About Time, I wondered why we'd ranked it so high. But the last 15 minutes made it clear. A little about the movie, it was about time travel. The men in this family could travel back in time-- but only in their lifetime. Tim was told about this power on his 21st birthday. And he used it rather wisely for much of the movie. But as he matured and his family grew, his dad shared what he thought the best use for this gift-- at the end of each day, go back and live it over. Tim discovered that the first time through, he would be overwhelmed with the stress and worries and irritations that are familiar to all of us. But the second time through, he was able to relax and recognize the blessings, large and small, that came his way even on the worst days. But at the end of the movie, he says he learned a lesson even his dad hadn't learned. This lesson caused him to quit traveling back in time completely. This wasn't a Christian movie per se, but what he learned fits with what Paul is teaching us. I use Tim's words from the movie and see if you can't hear Paul's advice in them. “I've learned my final lesson from my travel in time. I just try to live every day as if I've deliberately come to to this one day. I try to enjoy it as if it were the final day of my extraordinary, ordinary life.”
May we learn from Paul's words to be purposeful each day to live fully aware of the blessings around us. Don't worry so much. Pray about your issues, let God know what you are feeling and thinking and experiencing. Sure, God knows but the sharing is part of the relationship. Think about the things that are pleasing, pure, honorable, just, excellent. Don't fill your mind with negative thoughts. Think about good things. Strive to get along with each other. And then rejoice in the Lord. On our worst days, God is with us. On our best days, God is with us. Recognize that truth and rejoice. Because God loves you. God loves you so much that Jesus, God's son came to earth to demonstrate that love. So let's “enjoy every day as if it were the full, final day of our extraordinary, ordinary lives.” We are all traveling through time together. Don't waste any of it. Live, love, laugh, pray... And rejoice always. Amen.
Hymn: Rejoice Ye Pure in Heart