August 7, 2016
This is Paul’s letter to the church in the city of Philippi. As we look at this letter, it’s safe to say that the church in Philippi was one of Paul’s most beloved congregations! This is a letter written as from a mentor to a beloved student. And It’s a letter written to tell them of the glory of God and the strength we have in Jesus.
In some Bibles, there is a little commentary at the beginning of each book. And those can be helpful little tools in understanding what the book is all about. The one in my Bible says, “this entire letter breathes Paul’s radiant joy and serene happiness in Christ, even while in prison and in danger of death.” Isn’t that great?
The other thing it says has to do with when the letter was written. And this one is interesting, and I’ll tell you why. It says that some scholars place this letter near the end of Paul’s life. That was the time when he was is in prison in Rome, awaiting his final trial. Others say it was from an earlier time. But what’s interesting about that, and the reason I bring it up, is that Paul was in prison a lot during his ministry!
Think about that! Paul was in prison so many times that it’s hard to determine in which of he actually wrote this letter! And as you think about that, it almost stands in contrast to the fact that this is a letter filled with joy, with the amazement about God’s grace, and with Paul’s love for the congregation at Philippi. Paul is living out the words he wrote in the fourth chapter.
“Not that I complain of want, for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content.” (Phil. 4:11) “In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:12)
As I read this letter, I think this it represents the height of Paul’s personal maturity, and is joy in living the christian life. He has indeed been through a lot! And he has indeed learned to be content, and even joyful!
If you’re not sure, listen to his own description of his life in Second Corinthians. He wrote, “Five times I received from the Jews forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with a rod. Once I received a stoning. Three times I suffered shipwreck. A night and a day I spent adrift in the open sea. I have been on journeys many times, in dangers from rivers, in dangers from robbers, in dangers from my own countrymen, in dangers from Gentiles, in dangers in the city, in dangers in the wilderness, in dangers at sea, in dangers from false brothers, in hard work and toil, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, many times without food, in cold and without enough clothing. Apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxious concern for all the churches.” (II Cor. 11:24-28) (And Gee, I only have one!)
Paul has indeed learned to be content in all circumstances! Now here he is – again! – in his prison cell, which by the way, was not a very nice place to be! And here he expresses, so wonderfully, his love for these people! “It is right for me to feel thus about you, because I hold you in my heart,” and then these words, “For you are all partakers with me of grace…” (Phil 1:7)
I want you to think about that phrase today. We are all “Partakers of Grace.” And as you think about that, I want to remind you that Grace is not something we feel. Because we never really feel like we deserve to have Grace. We never really feel like we deserve to be forgiven. Otherwise, Grace is not Grace. Because Grace is the forgiveness from God undeserved.
Sometimes I feel we harbor within us those thoughts of “working our way into heaven.” We think “If only I can be good enough, God will accept me. If only I believe the right things!” Well, I’m here to say again, that we cannot be good enough, and we cannot know enough, “and we see in a mirror dimly!”
That’s why we have this sacrament! Here we know that God loves us, even though we don’t deserve it, and can’t deserve it! Think about it. We don’t love our children because they’re perfect, do we? We love them because they’re our children! I like to think about God as father or parent. Because that’s a good way for me to understand his love.
Grace is amazing. As an Assurance of Pardon I often say the words, “God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins.” That’s actually from I John 1:9. And I for one am glad both those words are in there. Because if God were only a “just” God, my record of wrong doing would stand against me, and he would have no choice but to judge me accordingly. But because he is faithful, because he indeed has that Old Testament word “Hesed” meaning “Steadfast Love,” I can know that he is more interested in forgiving me than judging me! And notice I said, “I can know.” Not “I feel.” Because it’s hard to feel I deserve any of this. Knowing is knowing his promises and relying on them! Not feelings!
This is really big! Grace is amazing! Because God forgives us. And thank God his forgiveness is different than our forgiveness for others. We often have a hard time with that, and often it’s because we don’t feel like the other person deserves it! Thank God he’s not like that! He gives us grace we don’t deserve. But then he calls us to be people who have Grace toward others. That’s the other part of this, isn’t it?
Now, maybe you’ve heard all of this before. But then again, maybe you haven’t! Either way, this is why we share this sacrament regularly. Because we humans need regular reminders of things! And we need to celebrate what we have. That’s why we do this regularly. And for that matter, that’s why we have birthdays every year! That’s why there’s Christmas every year, or Anniversaries, or the Fourth of July.
And so we come to this table – again! We are reminded of God’s promises. We may not feel like it. We may not feel like we’re forgiven. But here we remember the promises of God. Here we know we are “partakers of Grace.” Here we celebrate, here we revel in God’s love for us and our relationship with him. Here we remember Jesus’ promise to be with us always, even to the close of the age.
Eternal God, prepare our hearts once again to receive this sacrament, a reminder of your promises and your Grace. Help us to be people empowered by your love for us, not relying on our feelings about deserving that love. Teach us to know we are loved by you, and to share your love with others, whether we feel like they deserve it or not.. For we pray these things in our Savior’s name, Amen.