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Posts Tagged ‘Phlippians 4:13’

Words from Paul in this time of pandemic….

We Can Do This Hard Thing

A Sermon on Philippians 4:4-14

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Paul was isolated not due to a virus, but because he was in detention. He could have been in an actual prison, but he also could have been under house arrest. We know that he experienced both these forms of imprisonment. It was a scary place to be. Paul had a possible death sentence hanging over his head. What’s more, he had to depend on other people to bring him food and supplies from the outside. He had reason to experience anxiety, and I am sure he did experience it and that he looked for ways to cope with it.

And Paul didn’t think only of himself. He was deeply touched by the expressions of support that he received from the church at Philippi, and he was deeply concerned about them. There they were, VERY out of step with the world around them. Philippi was a Roman colony, a place where being patriotic meant proclaiming that the emperor—caesar—is lord, something they could not do and still be true to their faith. The church proclaimed that Jesus Christ is Lord, and they longed for the day when every knee would bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord. Paul understood that the body of Christ at Philippi had their own struggles with worry and discouragement. He also knew that they wished they could support Paul even more than they had been able to so far. As he thought of this church with loving prayers, Paul wanted to write something that would lift them up and help them persevere.

Now that the COVID-19 virus is isolating us, I am amazed at all the ways people are reaching out to support one another. Musicians are recording at home and posting uplifting music. Last weekend Neil Diamond posted a video in which he urges people to sing. Then he plays a soft acoustic version of “Sweet Caroline,” and he changed the words to “hands washing hands,” adding some comic relief to the seriousness, too.

Good writers are posting their thoughts about how to stay safe and healthy in body, mind, and spirit. My cousin who is a school psychologist passed along a good list from one of her colleagues of mental health wellness tips, like keeping in touch with people, finding ways to be helpful, taking time every day to get outside if you can, limiting how much news you expose yourself to, and doing creative projects you enjoy. One of her tips is to, quote, “Find something you can control, and control the heck out of it,” like clean out that closet, or organize your toys.

Yesterday a colleague posted about being forgetful, and I get that. I’m having trouble remembering what day of the week it is. This is what stress and making big adjustments does to the brain. She speaks a word of grace about it. We should cut ourselves some slack when we need more rest and when we can’t get as much done as we do in normal times. (https://achurchforstarvingartists.blog/2020/03/28/trauma-brain/#comments)

Daily I am seeing people trying from a distance to help one another persevere, which is what Paul was trying to do for the Philippians from a distance. He did not have much to work with except parchment and a pen, but he made good use of them to put his thoughts into words. All the way through the letter you can hear how thankful Paul is for all of them, and for their faithfulness. They were gospel partners for Paul, and he didn’t take them for granted.

One thought that really struck me from the first chapter is this one. He says, “I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel.” Even under lockdown, Paul recognized that God was up to something, and that God could do something productive with this experience. I latched on to that because that is one of my biggest prayers and hopes for the situation that we are in, that in the end it will help spread the good news of Christ. I think it will if we are open to all that God can teach us through this; if we are willing to take what we learn forward into our future as a church. For example, what if there’s a way for us to continue to welcome people from afar into our worship remotely even after we are able to get back together at the church house. I also hope this COVID-19 season provides the push we need to make our culture, our ways of living more equitable and just for everyone. I hope God will use it to help mend some of our flaws as the song “America the Beautiful” says.

But the most important thing that Paul keeps coming back to all the way through the letter is to keep the focus on Christ. He got to the point where he felt safe with Christ regardless of how things turned out, but this didn’t come without a struggle. We can see that struggle in another letter, for example, when he writes about begging God to take the pain away, and finally being comforted by the word that God’s strength is enough. Paul rested in safety with Christ. Just give him Jesus. That is why early in the letter he said that living means Christ, but dying means Christ, too. And that is why our Brief Statement of Faith says right up front, “In life and in death we belong to God.” Period.

In the passage I just read, Paul reassures the church in Philippi that it is possible to change the focus from despair to joy, from fear to faith, from worry to prayer. “Turn your minds to prayer and thanksgiving” he wrote. “Turn your minds to all that is good and lovely. Focus on what is true, honest, just, and pure and worthy of praise.” All of these things are gifts from God. All of these beautiful things are gifts from the God who loves us. There is much to give thanks for, not the least of which is this community of faith. What Paul said of the Philippians, I say of you. I thank God every time I remember you. We give thanks every time we remember one another. Amen?

And, Paul adds, it is possible to persevere in all circumstances. “I’ve learned the secret to hang in there through plenty or want. I can do it through Christ who strengthens me,” he wrote. The strength comes from Christ. When we start to think, “I can’t cope,” we can join with Paul to say, “With Christ I can.” With Christ I can face what is happening. With Christ I can face tomorrow.

Carrie Newcomer’s song, “You Can Do This Hard Thing” has meant so much to me this week. Listen to it here:

You can do this hard thing. Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” In, with, and through Christ, I can do this hard thing, and you can, too.. Beloved, in, and with, and through Christ WE can do this hard thing!

AMEN.

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