July 27, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
God of every nation, Your law is right, Your rule is just, and even in this fallen world Your kingdom knows no boundaries. May the compassion, patience, and forgiveness You show us in Jesus Christ our Savior form the ministry of reconciliation we offer to all people in Jesus’ name. Amen.
What, in this life, gives you the greatest joy? What makes you giggle with glee? What puts a smile on your face that you simply cannot just “think” away?
Is it when the pizza is delivered in less than 20 minutes? When the price of gas was surprisingly 10 cents lower than you expected? Seeing your family after something that might have injured or taken someone away? Being first in line at the food counter in Costco? A giggling baby? A 9th inning, game saving homerun?
What is it that gives you joy?
This Summer our sermon series comes to us from Paul’s prison epistle to the fellowship in Philippi. We have already seen that even though Paul was under house-arrest and could have remembered how hard life had been in Philippi, he chose instead to be thankful for all the ways God works good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28). This letter is so filled with different forms of the word “joy” that it is often called the “Joy Epistle”. In fact, our hymnbook has almost 30 hymns in it using these verses as their joy-filled inspiration!
Today we read from Philippians 2, a piece of Paul’s letter that scholars believe contain the words of one of the very first Christian hymns, sort of an early Praise and Worship song (in fact, first song we sang this morning comes from this “song” in Philippians), & we’ll learn something about complete joy. Listen to God’s Word from Philippians 2:1-11…. —-
1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Paul closes chapter one challenging his readers to live faithfully: 1:27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…. striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you…. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him….
Chapter 2, 1 therefore …. Since you are going to behave in a way that declares your belief, since you are going to work together for Christ’s sake, and since you will suffer as a result … therefore, Paul gives four “if” statements – 1) if being united with Christ encourages you, 2) if Christ’s love comforts (strengthens) you, 3) if you experience the Holy Spirit, 4) if you know the fruit of the Spirit, kindness and concern….
We’ll stop there for a minute – do those “if”s apply in your life? Do they apply in our church’s life? Are we encouraged by Christ? Do we feel Christ’s strength in our bones? When was the last time the Holy Spirit’s presence was very real in our worship? Does kindness for one another and concern for the world around us give us direction and motivation?
If we say “NO”, then we have a whole lot of other questions to answer. But if we say “YES”, then there’s a THEREFORE to listen to.
If all of that is true, therefore, make my joy complete….
Apparently, a big part of “complete joy” for the Apostle Paul is in the Church faithfully being in community – one with each other.
He asks us to “be like-minded”. I do not think that means we need to agree on every topic of conversation. We can still have different favorite movies; some of us can still like watching golf on TV; and it’s OK for some to be more inclined to join a prayer ministry and others to volunteer at the soup kitchen.
But I also don’t think we simply need to compromise our values when we find ourselves in disagreement.
Paul goes on to say that we should be Christ-like in matters of humility, generosity, grace and truth.
So what do we do when we encounter “family” with whom we strongly disagree? At least according to this passage, it looks like we encourage mutual humility, considering others as more important than ourselves (Jesus said to take the log out of our own eyes before we take the speck out of someone else’s); we encourage mutual generosity, giving ourselves and our personal agendas away for the good of the whole; we encourage mutual grace, offering love and forgiveness even at great cost to ourselves; we encourage mutual seeking after biblical truth, remembering that Jesus never forsook His purpose or His relationship to His Father even when to do so might have seemed gentler and more compassionate.
Some of you are aware that our denomination, at its recent biennial national meeting, made a few decisions that have been long-waited-for by some in the denomination – and they are ecstatic; those same decisions have caused deep concern, regret, and heart-break for others who see the decisions as apostasy, maybe even heresy.
How do we continue to strive for unity, like-mindedness, when we are at such a drastic degree of difference? And it’s not just that some prefer a different color than others, we are talking about an entirely different set of standards for authority.
John 17 records what we know of as Christ’s High Priestly Prayer – much of which describes His petition that we, the Church, would be one even as Jesus and the Father are one. Jesus is not talking about institutional unity (organized unity, denominational unity); Jesus is praying that we would be “united together with Christ” in our missional, worshipful, focused, faithfilled lives.
I would be very happy to talk about what all this means with any/every-body who wants to know more. I can arrange for speakers who were present at the General Assembly meeting to come and answer questions. Our Presbytery has a whole system set up to assist congregations to discern their own role and partnership with the Presbytery and the denomination. Our Elders just finished a year-long study on the essential tenets of Reformed Theology and what it means to be Presbyterian in America in the 21st century.
Philippians 2 is a great guide in the process. Be like Christ – humble and generous, but faithful and steadfast. He came from heaven to earth, to show the Way;
From the earth to the cross, our debt to pay;
From the cross to the grave, from the grave to the sky,
Lord, we lift Your name on high!
Paul says, 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, (so we will listen to the Word of God first and foremost to discern our direction) 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, (and we choose to do that today!, rather than wait for the day when we will have no choice – Jesus, You ARE LORD and Savior right now!) 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Lord, we lift Your name on high!)
Complete joy is ours for the taking – not based on our life circumstances, but based solely on our relationship with God through the gift of His Son Jesus Christ our Savior – our only comfort in life and in death.
If you have lost the joy of the Lord, get it back this morning! Make a conscious decision that you are going to follow Christ. The only way to have complete joy is to turn what does not make you joyous over to the Lord.
Jesus says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)
We have to remain close to Jesus! I read a guy who says it this way, “Joy suckers do not like to be around Jesus, so stay close to Jesus! ‘Remain in me, and I will remain in you’, that is Jesus’ promise!”
Next Sunday, we have an opportunity to put this joy-making unity in action. Next Sunday, August 3, our church doors will not be open because we will join together with several other churches here in Northeast Spokane at Sharpley-Harmon Park to hold a unified worship service during the Hillyard Festival weekend. We will provide valet parking for anyone who wants it; they also will have golf-carts to help people get from their cars to the amphitheater in the park. Worship will be at 10am, I suggest coming early to get a closer parking spot and a better seat (in the shade), and to listen to some “warm-up” music before worship actually begins.
And since we won’t be here – we invite/encourage your August 3 tithes and offerings to be sent in during the week or on August 10.
May God bless us, every one.
Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 439.
Wheeler, Mark; “Being in CommUNITY”; Ledger; Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church; August 2014.