Today’s passage from Philippians was written by the Apostle Paul in the 1st c. Like most of Paul’s letters, this one addresses a key topic for Paul: how to do Christian community well.
In Paul’s day, community was unavoidable. With most people living within a 2-3 mile radius, you were stuck with each other, which meant you had to learn how to get along.
Things are different today. Today, we can shoot messages around the globe in an instant and travel thousands of miles in a single day … Today, we can keep a tally of our friends on Facebook and make new friends with the click of a button…Today, we can conference call, Skype, text, email, Facetime, and on occasion, even go old school and talk face-to-face face-to-face. And if doing community gets hard or annoying, all it takes is a quick click to “ignore” calls, “block” callers, or “unfriend” people.
Yes, the way we do community today is quite different from the way it was done in Paul’s day…which makes you wonder: Does a 1st c. apostle have anything to say to 21st c. disciples about doing community? Let’s look and see.
Many of Paul’s letters were addressed to communities in conflict. Serious conflict. Paul wrote to those off-the-rail churches to help them get back on the rails again.
The purpose for the letter to the Philippians is less urgent. Paul writes from prison. He sends the letter with his co-worker, Epaphroditus, to assure the Philippians he’s okay. He tells them he loves them and misses them. He thanks them for their prayers and for the good work they are doing. He encourages them to continue that good work despite his imprisonment.
With the church at Philippi, Paul has the luxury of addressing, not a church off-the-rails, but a community that’s clicking on all cylinders. “You’re doing well,” he says. “Here’s how to become an even stronger community.” Paul packs a lot into the 9 verses we just heard read. We could learn a lot about strengthening our community by considering each of them.
Instead, I invite us to look briefly at vss. 2 and 3, where Paul writes: “I urge Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel.”
So, two leaders of the church are in conflict. Unable to resolve the conflict themselves, the tension is spilling over into the rest of the community. And, as Paul knows well from working with other conflicted communities, conflicts—even small ones—can distract the faithful from their mission, which, of course, is to share God’s love with others.
Here’s the thing about conflict—if you’re in a community, there’s going to be some, even when the community is “clicking on all cylinders.” It’s the nature of the beast. Think about it. To do community well, everyone has to give up some autonomy, right? But who wants to do that? We like being in control of our own destinies, don’t we? And our own remotes!
How many TVs do you have at home? Hopefully, you watch some shows together as a family, but, I’m guessing in most homes, there’s the option of everyone watching different shows at the same time. Even here today….if everyone had their earbuds with them, each of us could be listening to a different piece of music at the same time. Life has become so individualized, there’s very little we have to negotiate with others.
And when it comes to negotiating opinions and ideas? Forget it. In this age of instant communication, the sound bite has become the normative form of communicating. I often find—on Facebook, on “news” programs, in emails—on the whole, we don’t seem to give a lot of thought to what we say any more. We shout slogans and think we’ve communicated. We hear other people’s slogans and think we know everything there is to know about them. I fear that authentic communication—which is key to authentic community—is becoming obsolete.
The more individualized society gets, the more counter-cultural faith communities become. A place where people of all ages, economic means, family make-up, theological bent, political commitments, and musical tastes try to live together in some sort of harmony and maybe even accomplish something together? How do you even do that? Why even try?
Paul’s words to Euodia and Syntyche and the Philippian community offer insight into both the how and the why of Christian community.
How do we live in community? First, Paul says, we strive to have “the mind of Christ.” So, what does that mean? Here’s what Paul wrote earlier in his letter:“Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking … human form, he humbled himself…”
How do we live in Christian community? We do so by following Christ’s example of emptying ourselves for the good of others. Let me be clear. This isn’t a humiliating humility Paul is talking about; Paul’s not saying we should become doormats for others. Instead, he’s advocating for true humility, a way of being that recognizes that we aren’t the center of the universe, but only one tiny part of it….a recognition that the ideal of community happens when we all work together, pray together, and seek the good of the whole community together.
And sometimes, Paul reminds Euodia and Syntyche, seeking the good of the community requires backing off a rigid stance, especially when it’s distracting the community from its mission of sharing God’s love with others. And sometimes, Paul the pragmatist reminds the whole community, it takes a village to resolve conflict. Hence, he calls on his “loyal companion” (probably Epaphroditus) to help Euodia and Syntyche resolve their differences.
So, the first way to strengthen Christian community is to “have the mind of Christ,” to set aside one’s individual desires for the good of the community. Then, when conflicts aren’t easily resolved, Paul says, the community should step up and help those in conflict resolve their differences. Two helpful words on how to do Christian community. But why bother?
Why tend to Christian community at all? You can join just about any kind of spirituality or social justice or Bible study group you want on line. You can even join a faith community in the virtual world. Why go through all the hassle of trying to create Christian community with people who are different from you, people who will challenge you to rethink your beliefs and values, people whom you might find the tiniest bit annoying? Why try to create community with people who like different styles of music, who have different parenting philosophies, or who vote differently at the polls? And why give up one whole morning of the weekend to do so? In the first century, people had to live in community to survive. Today, we can get along just fine without community. So, why do it?
Paul speaks to the why of doing Christian community when he asks Epaphroditus to “help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel”…
Why work at Christian community? We work at Christian community for one reason, Paul says: doing “the work of the gospel.” What is the “work of the Gospel?” The work of the Gospel is sharing the good news of God’s love for every person. I don’t know all the ins and outs of it, Paul might not have either…but the good news we share– that God’s love is for every person—our individual experience of that good news is only half the story. I can’t explain how it happens, but our experience of God’s love somehow becomes complete when we experience it in Christian community. So, if we are to be about our mission of sharing God’s love with others, then it’s vital—vital!—that we do community well.
Today, we honor two people who have done Christian community extremely well here at Pilgrimage. When we were compiling the list of Bob and Sylvia Goodyear’s many contributions to the Pilgrimage community over their 20+ years as members, one person said, “Why don’t we just create a list of what they haven’t done. It’ll be much shorter!” Indeed.
Pilgrimage is one of the most generous congregations I’ve ever been part of. And based on what I hear from my colleagues, you are one of the most generous congregations, period. The per capita giving—in time, talent, and treasure—exceeds that of most congregations. And I know that you give and share because it’s the right thing to do, because sharing God’s love with others is vitally important, because it is our mission as a church to “bring hope, comfort, and friendship to all, welcoming everyone in Christ.” Every person in this congregation gives generously. And every contribution is vital to the life and mission of this community.
But the contributions of Bob and Sylvia Goodyear to Pilgrimage United Church of Christ? We’ll all have to step it up several notches to equal their generosity.
While we could have shared with you only what the Goodyears hadn’t done for the Pilgrimage community, I think there is much to be gained from hearing what these two people have done for and given to this community… contributions from which we all have benefited… contributions that have made it possible for this community to share the good news of God’s love with others. Let’s hear that list now. [List of contributions.]
|Bob & Sylvia||Received the Doctor of Friendship in 2007|
|Bob & Sylvia||Members of the Sanctuary Choir|
|Bob & Sylvia||Members of the Handbell Choir|
|Sylvia||Acted as interim choir director and accompanist|
|Sylvia||Unofficial Choir Librarian|
|Bob||Auctioneer for many years at our church auction|
|Sylvia||Host of the annual ornament exchange|
|Sylvia||Member and frequent host of Book Club|
|Bob||Member and contributor to the “men’s club”|
|Bob & Sylvia||Regulars at church work days|
|Bob||President of Congregation|
|Sylvia||Church Treasurer for many, many years|
|Sylvia||Served on Search committees for church secretary, youth director|
|Bob||Helped with computer and phone systems|
|Bob & Sylvia||Angel Flight volunteers|
|Bob||Chairperson of the Growth Task Force|
|Bob||Chairperson of the Capital Improvement Campaign|
|Sylvia||Chairperson of Communications|
|Bob||Served as Financial Secretary|
|Sylvia||Coordinated the Auction and Yard Sale for several years|
|Bob & Sylvia||Taught Sunday School|
|Bob||Helped teach Sex Education class|
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2014