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Proper 20A, Tr 1 (13 Trinity,
Exod 16.2-15: the feeding with manna
Ps 105.1-6, 37-45: God’a care in the wilderness
Phil. 1.21-30: do not lose heart now I am not with you
Matt 20.1-16: Grace is abundant; all shall have a fair share, the first and the last (11th hour labourers) (817)
Almighty God, you search us and know us: may we
rely on you in strength and rest on you in weakness, now and in all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
(We, like the Philippians, are called to joy, not happiness.)
We have just
had the 10th anniversary observances of the events of 9/11 in which
2,977 lives were lost. And today we
are starting to read the letter to the Philippians.
Both the 9/11 commemorations and the letter to the Philippians have one
concern in common, namely, how do we handle the death of a loved one.
Today I want to
tell you a story. I personally am
convinced that it is a true story, but certainly not all scholars would agree
Let us begin by
assuming that you are a leader in a Christian community.
What would you do if you received a report that the person who had
brought you and your fellow Christians to joyous life in Christ had been put to
death by the authorities? How would
you handle the shock of it, knowing how deeply it was going to hit the members
of your community?
As we know from
the Book of Acts, Paul had been taken to
There are many
reasons, of a statistical or stylistic nature, or even of contents, for
concluding that Philippians is not written by Paul himself, and I won’t go
into those now, but pseudonymity, that is, writing in another person’s name,
is a well-attested phenomenon in the first century AD.
writes as though he were Paul during his imprisonment in
‘It is my
eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that
by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my
body, whether by life or by death. For
to me living is Christ and dying is gain. If
I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me; and I do not know
which I prefer. I am hard pressed
between the two; my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far
better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.’ (1.20-24).
In those words
you can hear Paul’s desire to die and be with the Lord but not to desert the
Philippians. In the face of this, if
there is one word which characterises this letter, it is ‘joy’.
Paul is joyful and rejoices. The
Philippians are called to rejoice and to rejoice together with Paul.
The word ‘joy’, chara, occurs five times; ‘to rejoice’, chairein,
occurs seven times, and ‘to rejoice together’, sunchairein, is used
two times, once of Paul rejoicing together with the Philippians and once of the
Philippians being called to rejoice together with Paul.
In the midst of
all the advice and encouragement in the letter, the mood of the letter is summed
up in one verse: ‘rejoice in the Lord always, And again I say rejoice’
(4.1). We are called, as were the
Philippians, to always rejoice in the Lord, no matter what happens.
This is what is happening in Zimbabwe, where the Anglicans are being persecuted, evicted from their churches, etc.,
by Mugabe’s henchmen, and yet people are flocking to become Christians in the
face of this.
There are those
who say that on the basis of present statistical trends the Church of England
will have disappeared in another twenty years, that is, it will have died.
We certainly are in a period of retrenchment and the Church of England is
hard pushed to maintain the ancient parochial system.
We see this for ourselves in now being in a united benefice where from
today Edward Street and St John’s
are merging to form a new St Michael and St John’s.
In the midst of
this uncertainty we hear Philippians calling us to rejoice.
As far as I am concerned, there is a qualitative difference between
happiness and joy. Happiness is when
everything is going along nicely. Joy
on the other hand and at its deepest level, may be felt in the midst of sorrow,
pain and tragedy when we are able to support one another deeply in the midst of
all of it. In short to use Paul’s
own words, ‘Bear one another’s burden and thereby fulfil the law of
Christ’. And let us rejoice that
held by God’s love in Christ we are able to do so.
you and I are called, like the Philippians, to joy, not happiness.
The ultimate outcome we leave to God.