+ Lectionary 28 (Proper 23) A
TEXT: Philippians 4:1-9
October 15, 2017
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Dallas PA
Martin Luther was a very busy teacher,
a passionate preacher,
and a prolific writer.
But he also suffered
regular bouts of depression and melancholy.
His advice to those who suffered the same way
was to gather with people,
joke and laugh,
sing and drink beer.
It was to surround oneself
with the people, things, and ideas
that didn’t match with their mood.
It was to think and do the opposite
of the way things are,
because it transformed him and others
into the way he and they
wanted it to be.
He gave the same kind of advice
to those who felt that they had lost their faith.
He told them to run to people who have it.
Go to church, sing hymns,
read the scriptures, pray,
recite the texts of the faith:
the Creed, the Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer.
Surround yourself with the things of faith
so that it transforms you to be a person of faith, too.
It’s a strong and clear piece of advice
a good oncologist, for example,
will give to a cancer patient these days, too:
a positive attitude, a strong will,
a fighting spirit
makes a huge difference
in the treatment of cancer,
as it does in so many other ailments.
That’s part of what’s behind
Paul’s command to the Philippians
to think about things that are true, honorable,
just, pure, pleasing, commendable,
to focus on things of excellence,
and things worthy of praise –
the good qualities that describe the life
of followers of Jesus.
It’s a matter of surrounding oneself
and filling one’s thoughts and life
with these good qualities,
living into that discipleship life,
living in the truth of the near and present Lord,
living according to the peace of God
that surpasses our understanding.
I’ve seen it often, and so have you:
a strong and stubborn will
keeps a person alive
long after others expected,
while a woe-is-me, pessimistic attitude
drives someone in a continuing downward cycle
of suffering, failure, or despondency.
The church, in its ministry to heal,
is keenly aware of this power
of attitude and the spirit,
when we live as a community of faith lives:
we encourage one another,
support one another,
and pray for one another
in our own needs of health, wellbeing,
But for Paul and the church,
this isn’t just about
the power of positive thinking.
Paul’s command to the Philippians
to think about these positive things
isn’t just a mind game.
And Paul isn’t up on our modern
positive psychology behavior modification.
For Paul, this is rooted in our life in Christ,
discipleship in the Lord who is near,
and hope in a promise made and a life lived.
He begins by calling the Philippians
to rejoice in the Lord. Repeatedly.
And what you need to know about that
is that Paul is writing this letter to them
And Roman prison is no picnic,
and Paul’s prospects are not rosy.
So when he calls them to rejoice –
to experience and express joy –
it isn’t an emotion of glee
that comes as a result of fortunate circumstances.
Specifically, it is to rejoice in the Lord.
It is to open their eyes
to the love and action of God in Christ
to save them and redeem them.
It is to root their thoughts,
their hearts, their lives
in the truth and promise of their salvation
by the cross of Christ,
and their baptism into his death.
It is to see in that saving act
and his resurrection from death
a promise for life that surpasses all other realities,
and hope for a future that cannot be taken away.
Because life and the world –
Paul’s and theirs –
is full of suffering.
And we know it, too.
And at times, it sure does seem like
it’s getting the upper hand.
It’s important to realize
that it’s in the midst of suffering –
the Philippians’ persecution,
and our own world’s woes and our personal pains –
it’s in the midst of that suffering
that Paul calls us to rejoice in the Lord.
Illness and suffering,
terror and fear,
loneliness and anxiety
But God declares
in the persecution, suffering, death,
and resurrection of Jesus
that this is not all there is.
In the midst of our very suffering,
this is not the end.
So Paul calls us to think about those things
that defy the world’s ways
and the suffering and pain of our lives.
He calls us to live in close relationship with God
through prayer and thanksgiving.
To see and share – to experience and express –
the joy that comes
through the near and present Lord.
To hope in the one
who comes to us to bring
his own wholeness and peace,
beyond our understanding.
This isn’t a one-shot solution or remedy
to our suffering or illness,
or the world’s ways and trouble.
But it does open our minds and hearts
to see the work of God among us
to save us and heal us,
to know the joys prepared for us
in the death and resurrection of Jesus,
to live in the hope of God’s promise for life,
and the unity and joy of the community who surrounds us.
And in that, there is much to rejoice.