St Peter’s Ladies Advent Dinner Talk

I had the great privilege last night of speaking to the wonderful women of St Peter’s Lutheran Church at the annual Advent Dinner. I talked about what has been saving my life in light of my recent visa issues and extended ‘sabbatical’ in Canada.

Ladies Advent Dinner
St Peter’s Lutheran Church
24/11/17

Hebrews 10:35-39
Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.
For yet, ‘in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay; but my righteous one will live by faith. My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back.’
But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.

What is saving your life right now?

I have been reading Barbara Brown-Taylor recently and she begins her book ‘An Altar in the World’ with that question. I think it’s a good one. I’ve asked myself – What does my life depend on right now?

I currently live in England – have done for the last 10 years. I have a life there, a home, friends, a job, I’m studying for a degree in theology, a car, a ministry as an ordained minister in the Church of England (Anglican).
What allows me to live there – aside from the call of God in this season – is a visa. My visa situation has been quite straightforward – I had a grandfather born in London which means that I can have an Ancestral Visa to live, work, travel freely and go to school – basically anything I want (as long as I pay!) It is a lovely thing to have! This visa expired in April of this year. I looked at what my options were and thought I was doing the right thing by applying for Citizenship in the UK and so I applied in March.                                               But this was the wrong thing to do!

I made a big mistake!

Not to bore you with the details – but there is another visa that I needed to apply for first – before Citizenship. This meant that my application was refused. I found this out at the beginning of August.

Total shock! Completely unexpected. Completely my fault! I didn’t seek any outside advice. I thought I knew what I was doing. I read what was on-line but clearly not all the right information. The refusal of this application meant that I did not have a valid visa to stay in the UK. I was an illegal immigrant!
I then contacted the HR department of the Church. This set off a whole series of events – such as having my license to officiate temporarily suspended, being fired (at least on paper), my degree course had to stop, I stopped getting paid and I couldn’t live in my house as it comes with the job.

Job, house, school, money all gone! Because I made a mistake!
This has been my life for the last few months.

Yet – despite having the contents of my life turned inside out – I have learned some valuable things that I will share with you… the things that have saved my life.

Confidence – I would describe myself as a confident woman. When something new comes my way – my first response isn’t ‘oh no – I can’t do that! Or I couldn’t possibly do that!’ and then list all the excuses and reasons why I can’t. My first response ‘do I want to do that?’ ‘does this interest me?’ I think about competency and commitment later!

I also like to think that I am organised, intelligent, know what I am doing – or so I like to think – most of the time. This confidence of mine took a hit in all of this. Confidence in myself, my abilities and particularly in my decision making.
Confidence is something that we all have to some degree. Confidence grows – I remember that I wasn’t the most confident little girl – I struggled in school – especially with Math, wasn’t a great athlete (still am not), was just okay musically (mostly because I didn’t like to practice), I don’t inhabit the body of a super-model. I’m not married, don’t have kids. I am not actually convinced that these things in and of themselves give confidence. I think that they help to grow confidence through the lived experience. They can also have the potential to rob us of confidence if we are not careful.

Fortunately growing up, I had parents who loved me very much and encouraged me – pushed and pulled me at times; set expectations that were achievable and then moved the bar. They weren’t afraid to let me suffer at times.

All of this helped to foster and grow my confidence and resilience.
I had my sister Jenn read the passage from Hebrews at the beginning because it has been important to me over the last few months. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews is begging them not to give away their confidence.

Little history – The Hebrews were likely a community of 1st century Jewish Christians that had been established for some time. This community had been persecuted, some members had been put into prison and they were generous to fellow Christians in need. Yet there is something wrong in this community. The writer is telling the people to imitate its former leaders and get along with the current ones. This suggests they were inclined to go their own way. They were following ‘strange’ teachings (13:9) and had stopped meeting together (10:25). But worse was that they had stopped growing as Christians (5:11-12) – the writer accused them of lazy discipleship (6:12). He begs them to persevere (10:36), to hold on to hope (10:23) and to not drift away (2:1) or shrink back (10:37-39) in their faith.

I heard the American writer and teacher Beth Moore talk about this passage a few years ago and it always stuck with me – We can give our confidence away. The translation I picked talks about abandoning it. We can let our confidence go or give it up. I think that women are more likely to do this than men.

Who did you give it to? Who did you let have it?

Like I said – confidence grows. You can grow more if you’ve lost it! Another person can’t give you confidence as though it were a thing to have. They can help you grow it – experiences, situations that test confidence are all part of life. Back to the reading – confidence doesn’t come with shrinking back!
Get it back! I have had to grow more confidence in this time. Through this experience I have also had to look at who and what my confidence is in.
I had to clean out the closet of self-confidence as other things had gotten in there – like: arrogance, self-sufficiency, laziness, pride. These things are not confidence! Nor are they confidence builders.

Life-saver number one has been coming to a better understanding of my confidence – how it works, what does or doesn’t feed it and what knocks it and how to protect it.

The second life-saving lesson was learning to graciously ask for and accept the help of others. This is not easy! I was a Registered Nurse before I was ordained – I am far more comfortable being the helper – not the helped.
Being the helper makes me useful and important, indispensable. Can also lead to an unhealthy sense of pride – and not to mention arrogance if unchecked.

We all need help at times – there is no shame in that despite what society tells us. I was offered an amazingly generous amount of help – the little old ladies of my churches offering me a bed to sleep in, tea, meals, loans. I’ve had to ask for financial help from the church – again not easy! But if I wanted to keep the lights on in my house, gas in the car. Whatever I needed I just had to ask and they would do it. It was hard! But it was a blessing both to them and to me to accept the help that was being offered.

What was surprising is that I didn’t feel like I was somehow weak or a failure – nor was I ever made to feel that way – despite the situation I was in was of my own making. This taught me a lot about how to respond to people when they ask for help! To do it in such a way as to not make them feel worse than they probably already do.

I also realized that some of the confidence that was re-growing was the confidence to accept help graciously. Confidence that despite my mistake – I am loved by my neighbours and worthy of help.

I also thank God that I work for the church! In the same letter that I was told about being fired – I was also given money from a clergy charity. This wouldn’t have likely happened in another organization. My position is waiting for me until I get back. I didn’t have to move out of my house but I had to look like I didn’t live there either just in case a Border Agent came knocking.

These were all acts of grace. My imperfections have been magnified – rather publicly – in these last few months. I needed confidence to accept help and acknowledge that I am loved by my neighbours.

Ultimately – my confidence is in Jesus. His love for me is so great that despite my mistakes, my wrongly placed confidence, my stubbornness to accept help, the general messiness of me – I am still worthy of His love.
I find the greatest security in His love – the courage to keep going, the courage to know that when (not if) I make mistakes He will give me the confidence get back up.

But I have needed more than that – because I know there are limits to human love and understanding however well-intentioned. I have needed to know the love of God the Father. Needed to now at a deeper level that I am not a complete mess up. This is what has saved my life!

So what does this have to do with Advent…

Advent means waiting, it is a season of expectation and preparation as the Church looks forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus. Advent also marks the start of the new Christian year.

Forget January 1st – December 3rd is where it is at!

I know many people for whom 2017 has been personally challenging and difficult to downright horrendous. They are counting the days until it passes. For others, 2017 has been great and filled my many blessings and excitement. Maybe 2017 was a fair mix of peaks and valleys. Wherever you find yourself this evening – God bless you! Know that you are loved.

I am waiting for a new start. My new visa is here but not effective until the beginning of December – I wait to go back and resume life in England. I wait to work out the greater purposes of this time, I wait to see what the ongoing consequences of my mistake are.

But I wait with expectation – with love, peace and joy of God. This is what Advent is about. These are really what will save my life.

All Saints Sunday – Why We Need to Remember

This is my Sermon for All Saints Sunday and was preached this morning at St Peter’s Lutheran Church in Cochrane. My home church in my home town! This was a great privilege but also a bit of a risk with not knowing many of the new people (lovely to see this amazing church growing). There are also a number of people with cancer diagnosis and other health issues as well as some newly bereaved people. Could only pray that it would land in the right place!

St Peter’s Lutheran – All Saints                                                                         November 5, 2017 

Revelation 7:2-17                                                                                                 1 John 3:1-3                                                                                                         Matthew 5:1-12

God of holiness, your glory is proclaimed in every age: as we rejoice in the faith of your saints, inspire us to follow their example with boldness and joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Today we are celebrating the festival of All Saints; and I am delighted that Pastor Bart invited me to deliver the sermon this morning. I was supposed to give the All Saints’ sermon at my church in England this evening. The Church of England – by my observation makes a bigger event of All Saints than the Lutherans do.

My church is holding a special service tonight where we invite church members and the friends and families of the people whose funerals we have officiated in the last 2-3 years to come to church. There is special music, readings, a sermon, we leave time for silent reflection, the names of those who have died are read, prayers of thanksgiving are offered and candles are lit.

This might seem weird or unnatural – or even un-Lutheran! Pastor Bart & Pastor Paul have been educating us these last few weeks about the Reformation and Luther’s issues with the Catholic church of his day. Praying to the Saints is definitely out! However, the festival of All Saints was retained by Luther after the Reformation and assumed the role of general commemoration to the dead in the Lutheran church. This has been extended to include living saints as well.

I want to be clear from the outset – we are not praying to the dead. To pray to the dead goes along the lines of ‘Dear Aunt Betty – thank you for this snowy day. Please do x, y or z. Could you ask Jesus to do… Amen.

Praying for the dead – again – might be troublesome for some. I like how Methodist theology puts it ‘All Saints Day resolves around giving God solemn thanks for the lives and deaths of his saints, including those who are famous or obscure.’

A Saint is a person of great holiness, or likeness or closeness to God who remains this way through life and into death. The lives of the Saints are set to be examples to the rest of us on the graciousness of God and what virtuous living can look like. Not all saints are famous. Most are everyday people.

My attempt this morning is to talk about why it is important to mark All Saints Day.

Firstly – The dead sit at the dinner table long after their gone.

All Saints stems from a belief that there is a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven (the Church triumphant) and the living (the Church militant).

We don’t tend to forget people once they have died – whether we loved or liked them – or not. The impact of our relationship with them, their life, the love, the moments that were shared do not cease to be important once they have bodily departed. This is true regardless if the relationship was positive or negative.

Does God shut his ears to prayers for them? If I am concerned about the soul of a person who has died – will God not hear that prayer? He knows far more than I do about them and their situation. Can I not seek his peace and reassurance? We have biblical evidence that indicates God cares about the dead. He created them, he loves them more than we do.

1 Thessalonians tells us that the dead in Christ will rise first and we will all meet together. The Apostles’ Creed – which we will say in a few minutes – ‘he will come again to judge the living and the dead.’

The Revelation reading tells us of the great gathering. This is a tricky chapter for some – the numbers of who is in or out can be a real hang-up. A total of 144,000 is for the 12 tribes of Israel (the Jewish people). This doesn’t have anything to do with us non-Jewish people. It makes the point that a faithful remnant of Israel will be saved; the number 144,000 should be regarded as symbolic.

Alongside the faithful remnant is the countless multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language – these are the Christians – whose sins have been purged by the saving death of Christ. This countless multitude will be taken care of – no more hunger, thirst, scorching heat – the Lamb (that being Jesus) will be their shepherd who guides them to the springs of the water of life, tears will be wiped away. Jesus will do for them in death what he did for them and does for us in life now.

Saints are with us and around us. We don’t forget the ones who have died, neither does God.

Secondly – we have limited experience of death in contemporary society.

It has been said that a 100 years ago people talked about death and avoided talking about sex. But today we talk way more about sex than death.

There are many reasons why we don’t talk about death. In the 20th & 21st centuries the advancement of medicine and hospitals took sickness and death out of the home. People now live much longer than they use to which means that some people don’t experience the death of a loved one until much later in life. Infant mortality and childhood deaths in the western world are lower too.

I would also argue that the rise of the professionalized funeral industry has taken death out of the church and community. Gone are the days of dying at home where the minister was more likely to be called than a doctor, being laid out in the parlour, taken to the church for a funeral and then buried in the cemetery. Usually in a very short period of time.

Today death is handled by paid professional (usually very nice) strangers (for the most part) to take us from the institution where death occurred to the funeral home for preparation. It is clean, no muss, no fuss. The advent of embalming and refrigeration has meant that body disposal isn’t as urgent as it once was.

Death still comes to us all but largely out of sight. As a result, we have lost some of the vocabulary to talk or write about death. Think of the language we use – we don’t even like to say that someone has died. They passed away. Hmmm– no I think they stopped. You pass an exam or a driving test. You prove your competency and carry on at a higher level.

Or how about ‘they slipped away’ – you slip out of a meeting or maybe out of this sermon – in a way that does not interrupt or interfere.

But the nature of death is just that – it interferes, it upsets, it destroys. Death is not subtle or considerate! Our person may have been unconscious or unaware when they died. But we weren’t. Many of the deaths I’ve experienced have struck like lightening. Even the ones that ‘were expected’ still have an element of shock to them.

Consider to how we write about death – a person ‘succumbed to…’ or ‘lost the battle’. This phrasing implies that maybe if they had just put a bit more effort in they wouldn’t have died. Battle is the language of war – battles are lost because of bad strategy, lack of preparedness, an enemy that overpowers. If someone ‘loses their battle to cancer’ – was it down to bad planning? What do we do with those who are diagnosed late and never get a chance to fight? Or those who choose not to?

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to attend the National Funeral Directors Exhibition for England as part of a conference I attended. What a fascinating event that was! It had everything you would expect – hearses and body removal vans with all the latest in comfort & technology, urns and caskets, headstones, embalming fluids, make-up, flowers and lots of digital options too – all on show.

What surprised me most was the company who – for a fee (of course) – would text your family and friends to notify them of your death! Yup – you provided the phone numbers, then your next of kin would contact them when you died and then they sent the mass group text! This company would also text the obituary and details of your service. And they would text reminders!

Really?! Have we become so removed from death that our thumbs now do the talking for us? What a shocking thought that I could become so busy that a death of someone I loved would require text reminders!

Have we lost that much vocabulary?

Jesus talked about death a lot. He spoke openly about his own death and what was to come for the disciples. John 14 – ‘In my Father’s House there are many dwelling-places’. God’s House has places prepared for us – this is clearly a God who loves his people! He was waiting for them. For us. We are not to be afraid.

Jesus also responds to the death. Jesus wept at the mouth of Lazarus’ tomb. Jesus was not afraid to confront death. In Jewish culture touching a dead body made one ritually unclean and it was quite a process to made clean again. But time and again we see Jesus cut through the rules to reach out to people.

Jesus cares for the dying, the dead and their families – Lazarus, the Widow of Nain, the daughter of Jairus. Jesus was firmly in control in these situations – he was the only one that did.

As we have been distanced from death and have lost some of the vocabulary and experience – we have also lost control (if we ever really had any) over death. Western culture would like to tell us we can control our lives and do what we like, when we want to. All we have to do is figure out how to get what we want. Death is the most uncomfortable reminder that we have so little control over what happens.

Back to the Funeral Exhibition – I reflected after that a lot of the products and services went some way to trying to restore some form of control – but not to the dead – this control is for the living. The distance that death brings could be reduced through the distraction of arranging the personalization of stuff.

Caskets could be personalised – Harley-Davidson logos, majestic mountain scapes, clouds, kittens, The Last Supper, wood, stainless steel, willow baskets – whatever you want! For a few thousand dollars you can be buried or burned in a customized box – made just for you.

Urns came in every shape and size to ‘reflect ones’ personality and design taste. I particularly liked the 6 or 8 pack mini urns that could be purchased! No kidding – handy if you hadn’t quite decided or told anyone where you would like you final resting place to be. Or maybe you have a family prone to fighting – now everyone can have a piece!

What is a Christian response to this? The Beatitudes are a good place to start as we are reminded that the world is not always going to be as it is. They speak of the past, the present and the future all at once.

The Beatitudes are the opening lines of Jesus’ The Sermon on the Mount – probably the most famous words that Jesus ever spoke. Jesus is setting out the main themes of his Good News.

Jesus is not simply telling people to behave properly and then all will be right with the world. This isn’t about trying harder to be better. Neither is Jesus suggesting the Beatitudes are some kind of timeless truths – because they are not. Mourners often go uncomforted, the meek don’t inherit the earth, and those who long for justice don’t often see it in their lifetimes.

In our world, most people think that wonderful news consists of success, wealth, long life and victory in battle. Jesus is offering wonderful news for the humble, poor in spirit and the peacemakers.

The world the Jesus is offering is upside down! Jesus is saying that with his work it’s starting to come true. Those who mourn will be comforted, the meek will inherit and the persecuted will get the kingdom.

So when do these promises come true? The great Christian temptation is to say in heaven, after death. And it can seem like that with the references to the ‘kingdom of heaven.’

Heaven is God’s space – where full reality exists, close by our ordinary ‘earthly’ reality and interlocking with it. It is not a place of fat babies playing harps on clouds. One-day heaven and earth will be unified forever and the true state of affairs, which are at present out of sight, will be unveiled. The life of heaven, the life of the realm where God is already king – is to become the life of the world. And those who follow Jesus are to begin to live by this rule here and now.

It may seem upside down, but we are called to believe, with great daring and imagination, that it is in fact the right way up.

Thirdly – All Saints is ultimately a celebration of Christ’s victory over death.

I used the words festival and celebration at the beginning – the festival of All Saints. We do well to remember that the Christian faith is built on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Let’s not forget that death came first – Good Friday before Easter Sunday. For those who die in Christ their physical death is not the end of the story. This is Good News!

I also appreciate that this can be cold comfort to those who live with grief. Christian or not. Grief can overwhelm and when allowed to can rob life from the living. The only solace I can offer is that those who mourn will be comforted. Jesus is the great comforter and friend to those who mourn. Go to Him with it. People, friends, family can be helpful but they can’t fix it.

One of my favourite saints is John. He lived a life and death closer to Jesus than anyone. John stood at the foot of the cross and watched Jesus die; his brother James and most of his closest friends were crucified. He was an old man when he wrote Revelation and the letters of John.

John – I believe – has distilled down a lifetime of experience to ‘See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.’ As he is coming to the end of his life, John writes about the love of God – because that is all there is at the end of the day. It is the only thing that will sustain us. The love of God is the only thing that stands up to the heart-breaking, interrupting, destruction of death.

God’s love will carry through the experience of death and give us our vocabulary back. It is through God’s love that we are even able to love and be loved. He first loved us!

I would encourage you this morning and in the coming days or weeks to remember and give thanks for the Saints in your life – both the living and the dead. They are around. Have a conversation about them. See what comes up – compare memories. They still sit at the dinner table!  If it’s hard or brings up any feelings of grief or love or guilt or joy – pray about them. Ask God for his peace and input. He is in this with you. He loves and cares for all his Saints. That means you to.

Amen.

Travelling Heavy/Travelling Light

Friday was a travelling day. I had been waiting for this day for a while. I needed to travel ‘home’ to apply for new UK visa so that I can travel ‘home’ again. I hadn’t been able to travel until that day – at least to leave the country as my passport has been with the Home Office since the end of March albeit for one day this summer. This is unsettling! Anyone who has lived in a different country knows this feeling. A passport is the one document – the only document that can get you ‘home’. I always know exactly where it is, it is the one thing I would grab if my house were on fire. There is a degree of certainty, security in that little navy-blue book.

It was brought to me airside at Gatwick by a very nice lady from the Home Office. She sat with me for a bit as she handed it back.

The return has not made me feel better. I don’t have any more certainty or settled-ness. It wasn’t the magic moment I was hoping it would be. I am travelling heavy.

This thought burns up almost immediately. Am I really? I ask myself. My visa issues are of my own making. I didn’t read the instructions properly, I overlooked some key information. Innocent – okay. Costly – hugely. I am not ready to begin to count the cost of this innocent, yet dumb and preventable mistake.

I travel on.

I travel lightly.

I travel lightly because I am not travelling in mud and shit and horror of the Rohingya Muslims amassing along the Myanmar/Bangladesh border. I travelled lightly in the moderate comfort of West Jet flight 23 to Vancouver and then on to Calgary. I am not in a boat or being trafficked. I did wish the girl in front of me would have put her seat up a bit. Jesu Mercy. I did not get shot on the tarmac in Vancouver. My family was not going to be driven from their homes for associating with me.

I travel lightly because my biggest agro on Friday was deciding which shoes to bring, which warm coat would be best. I am not walking for days on end, I am not going to give birth in a puddle on the side of the road, I am not starving.

I forgot my earphones at home. A house that will be there when I get back. I went to Curry’s and bought a new pair with my credit card. Without blinking.  Apparently, I need small pieces of plastic jammed into my ears to block out the noise of the other people around me. Block out the noise in my head. Distract myself with inane ‘entertainment’.  Christe Mercy.

I travel lightly because I travel in peace. My dear Peggy gave me a pin this on Thursday…

It is a dove of peace according to her. She has had it for a long time but thought I could use it right now. I am to wear it while in Canada.

I travel peacefully if not lightly.

Philippians Message to Today’s Church

I decided to go off-Gospel today. St John the Baptist is a small church in North Slough with a wonderfully diverse congregation, 2 decrepit buildings, a Vicar off on long-term sick leave and a massive building project coming up that doesn’t have quite the money that it needs. I wanted to use Philippians to remind and encourage this congregation of God’s promise to complete the good works He starts and stand firm in their faith. It starts with a history lesson on the beginnings of the Philippians church in Acts 16 before moving into the actual letter.

St John the Baptist – 10:00 

8/10/17

Isaiah 5:1-7

Philippians 3:4b-14

Matthew 21:33-46

I have decided to go in a slightly different direction this morning. You may have noticed over the last few weeks that the NT readings have all been from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. We haven’t given them much attention other than in their reading. I thought it might be a good idea to have a closer look at the Letter to the Philippians and what it might be saying to St John the Baptist and its fine people this morning.

Philippi was a city in North Eastern Greece – (it was then part of  Macedonia and now a ruin) that was a Roman colony and a leading city because it was rich in gold and silver mines and had good soil. It was named after the father of Alexander the Great – Philip II of Macedon around 356 BC.

Paul along with Silas founded the church in Philippi around 52 AD and it was the very first European church plant. Paul felt called there after he dreamed of a man from Macedonia pleading with him to come and help them. The story of Paul’s first journey to Philippi is in Acts 16.

Philippi had a small Jewish population – we know it was small because there wasn’t a synagogue – but Paul found women praying by the river. One of the woman that he met was Lydia – the dealer in purple cloth who listened to what Paul had to say and believed. She had her entire family baptism and Paul stayed with them.

Paul then gets into trouble when he cast out the demon from the slave-girl that was following him and Silas around. They wind up getting severely flogged and sent to prison. Then the great story of them singing and praying when an earthquake struck which opened the prison doors and their shackles fell off. I wonder how many prisoners know this story and have tried to escape from jail using this tactic?!

The poor prison guard is about to kill himself as he thought all his charges had escaped. But they hadn’t! Paul tells the man not to hurt himself. The man asks what he needs to do to be saved – so Paul shares the Good News with him and he is saved and his family is baptized without delay we are told.

This in a nutshell is the beginnings of the church of Philippi. We see a diverse church!

St John the Baptist – you are in a strategic location in Manor Park, you have a vision for your new building and you have people. Like Philippi – you have resources. It may not feel like you have much but you do. The building project ahead of you may seem daunting – but there is help around you!

There are people out there who need you – maybe some Lydia’s that need something more in their lives beyond the material. Maybe some like the slave-girl that are possessed by the wrong things and needs to be set free. Maybe some like the prison guard who are overwhelmed by their jobs with families to support. People who need a church family that you are in the right location to provide.

Paul writes the letter to the Philippians about 10-11 years after his first visit. He likely made 2 or 3 more visits to Philippi during his travels. But now Paul is writing to the Philippians from prison – probably in Rome as he writes that his death may be imminent. Think about that for a moment – he could be writing some of the last words his church would ever receive from him.

I’m not sure if you have ever received a last word or letter from someone who is dying. My Dad wrote to my Mom and sisters and I before his death. We have hung on to those words and those pages! They are so precious.

These words would have been so precious to the Philippians. Paul clearly loves them – no other church gave Paul as much joy as Philippi did; he held them in a special place. This is a letter of thanksgiving and confident love. No other letter of Paul’s reads like this one does.

This is the letter that gave us:

‘I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.’ (1:6)

‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain’ (1:21)

‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather in humility values others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’ (2:4)

‘Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and act in order to fulfill his good purposes.’ (2:12-13)

‘But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him’. (3:7-8)

‘Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.’ (3:12)

‘I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus’. (3:14)

**Read 4:4-9

These are some last words! But they are words to live and die by as Paul shows. Paul wants them to live a life worth living – a life that reflects the Gospel of Jesus.

The church at Philippi were facing three issues at the time Paul wrote to them.

Attacks on the Church – it appears that there was some pressure from the outside – maybe persecution or harassment from the neighbours. The Philippians will have to suffer for the Gospel Paul tells them. He also encourages them to stand firm and not be afraid of those who oppose them.

St John the Baptist – stand firm! Your pressure may come from planning permission, the neighbours who don’t want the construction noise/hassle, things running behind, money. But stand firm! God is with you in this!

Secondly – Paul was aware of tensions within the church. At the beginning of Ch 4 he names two women (Euodia & Syntyche) directly and pleads with them to get along. Something has happened between these two.

Paul does not take sides – which suggests it was not a theological dispute – rather he urges them both to take the initiative to reach an agreement and encourages those around them to help as well. He does not criticize but concentrates on their good points – they had helped him and their names were written in the Book of Life. Personality clashes happen – but they can cause damage and we need to be careful. I don’t know you well enough to know the different personalities here – so this is not directed at anyone. Just a friendly reminder!

Thirdly – Paul warns them about rival versions of the Gospel – ch 3. These ‘dog and evil workers’ are thought to be Jewish Christians who believed in Jesus as Messiah but insisted that proper Christians were circumcised and followed Jewish law.

This is what Paul had to loss to follow Jesus. All the old stuff that he had prided himself on doing and being was now the rubbish. Paul’s very self – he was the most Jewish of Jews! He had to lose it all to find Christ and gain the prize.

Keep your eyes on Jesus! He is the author and perfecter of our faith. The good work will be completed in you and in this church.

Stand firm on the word of God. Stand firm next to one another – bearing with each other, forgiving, loving each other. Stand firm in the knowledge and love of God. Finish the race well.

Amen

 

 

The Irreverent Reverend

I am not sure if I am ‘irreverent’ or not. I did not come up with this title for myself – as appropriate as it may seem at times. I am not sure if I am a ‘blogger’ or not either. I feel late to the game on that front. I don’t read other people’s blogs as a general rule. If I do it is because someone I respect or trust has suggested it via a social media platform – usually Facebook or Twitter (am a bit old school).

Irreverent means to have or show a lack of respect or seriousness for someone or something that is usually shown respect. I do not think that I show a lack of respect (at least I hope that I don’t!) very often to people or things or myself – so disagree with the title on that front.

Seriousness is another matter – I know that I am not always as serious as I could, should or need to be. Both outwardly and inwardly. I hold a lot of things loosely. This is not the same as to hold something or someone casually, carelessly or lightly. By loosely I mean to give space to, room to grow, change, morph. I appreciate a loose grip because I know that I am held tightly to God. Not a breath, cell or hair is unnoticed! I think I hold things loosely because I have been disappointed in people and things – some of these disappointments have cut deeply and left wounds (things left open) and scars (things that are now closed).

A loose hold allows these things to be taken away if needed. They may be returned or they might not be. A loose hold allows God to work. My tight holding has often suffocated and crushed that which I wanted (or thought I wanted). I also tend to take the wrong things far too seriously. Much to my shame and embarrassment a lot of the time.

Maybe I am irreverent then. But respectfully so. Less seriously but not unserious.