if you would like to , listen to this sermon then here is the link to part 1 & part 2... as we have a limit on the data we can upload at the moment so it is done in two parts...
I really enjoyed the launch service we had last week. It was a fitting culmination to a three year process of talking, praying, wrestling with and working through a new way for the Presbyterian Parishes up here in Whangarei to be church together. The work you have done… It was a fabulous way to launch Hope Whangarei, and celebrate our coming together, with fresh vision and vigor.
It kind of feels strange doesn’t it, something’s have changed andIn an email to a friend this week I likened the process to a Microsoft windows update. You now it will happen and when it does you have that moment of anxiety, wondering if the whole system will simply crash, rather than update. In anticipation, you watch the circle of white dots going round and round on your screen, the only sign of activity as windows configures your update. When it’s done and launched, it oddly seems to be the same. Something’s have changed, something’s have been renamed and you can’t find them and there are new things, things that you didn’t even know you needed, some that you like and others you wish they hadn’t changed and you can guarantee their will be a glitch or two along the way … and then you get on with the work you use your computer for in this new environment. That’s Hope Whangarei, new and different, same and familiar, called to be, led by the spirit to be, getting on with the work of being the church and proclaiming the Kingdom of God.
I really think we got off to a good start, and I’m looking forward to working with you at being and becoming that flourishing Christian community, that is intergenerational and missional, that is connecting people to God and to each other in Christ, that is our vision, that is our purpose.
Today we are starting a series of sermons looking at Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, all three centers, congregations are going to be working their way through this letter, and the series is called partners in the gospel. In his opening prayer for the church which we had read today Paul says he gives thanks for the churches fellowship or partnership in the gospel (v3), their partnership in grace (v7), and I think it’s good for us as a church at this new juncture to explore what that means. What it means for us to be partners together in the gospel.
On one level Philippians is a letter that is kind of like the ones my mother made me write after Christmas or my birthday when I was a child. You know the ones to say thank you to that mysterious array of distant relatives, that we hardly ever met, who had sent a card, sometimes with money tucked inside, a one or two or five dollar note or ten if we were lucky… and in those letters she’d make us tell auntie petunia or great uncle bob what class we were in at school and what we liked and what we did as a hobby. Paul is writing to thank the church for their continued ongoing support for him, in prayer and financially. Paul does fill them in on what is happening in his life. In fact Paul is in prison, and prison in those days was not a state supported institution, it was user pays, you had to provide your own food and support. So the financial gift from the church was a lifeline for Paul.
But Paul saw this gift and ongoing support, even when others had abandoned him, written him off as evidence of a deeper connection, a deeper commitment, that the church in Philippi, were indeed partners in the gospel. In the midst of great difficulty, and you can read about that in acts 17, they had come to faith in Christ, and amidst pressure from outside and amidst difficulties within they were seeking to be a people who in all they said and did and how they loved each other and even how they dealt with conflict, defended and confirmed the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Philippians is a letter and the reading we had today is the formal greeting part of that letter, it follows the same structure as any personal letter that was written in the first century. It has an introduction, who it is from and who it is for. Then it has a greeting, and a brief prayer of thanksgiving, and a prayer wishing the best for the person being written to. In the pagan first century they would have been offered to the gods. But Paul takes this formal part of the letter and he transforms it. He infuses it with theological depth, and Christian warmth and uses it to preface and introduce what he is wanting to share with the church at Philippi… and with us…as we read it …two thousand years later and a whole half a world away.
Let’s work our way through the passage and see what it does have to say to us.
Firstly the introduction, Paul uses this to speak of the fact that he and the people he is writing to are partners in the gospel because they, we belong to Christ Jesus. He identifies himself and his offside Timothy as servants or slaves of Christ Jesus. He writes to all the believers in Philippi acknowledging them as God’s holy people in Christ. People who have been set aside in Christ and for Christ. First and foremost we are partners in the Gospel because of what Jesus the messiah has done for us. It is because of Christ, his life, his death his resurrection that we are bought together.
I don’t think it’s going overboard but in writing to all the believers Paul is affirming that catch cry of the reformation, which we are a priesthood of all believers, we are all bought into that relationship with God through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is affirming the understanding of the body of Christ that came about because of the charismatic renewal, that we are a ministry of all believers. We have all been given a gift and a part to play. It resonates with what is a developing understanding of the church, that we are all called to be missionaries together, partners in sharing the gospel in our time and place.
The other thing that this introduction does is that it expresses the humility and servant nature of leadership in the Christian faith. Paul identifies himself and Timothy as servants of Christ, it is a title that he uses in most of his letters. In addressing the church at Philippi he acknowledges all the believers first and then also the overseers and deacons. Not as an afterthought but to acknowledge that those roles are servant roles. This foreshadows Paul’s plea to the church in chapter two to have the humility and the mind of Christ, shown in Christ’s incarnation his own servant attitude and his death on a roman cross. When I was growing up in my home church in Titirangi it was always printed on the front of the newsletter that the ministers were the congregation and ‘The minister’ was the assistant or servant to the ministers…
This being in Christ is reinforced in the greeting that Paul brings. He greets his hearers with grace and peace, that comes from our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It is because of the grace of God that we are bought into a new relationship with him, that we are able to know and receive the pace of God in our lives. The word peace comes from the Hebrew shalom and has the sense not of an absence of conflict, or that wonderful relaxed feeling you get when you just stop and rest. Rather it has the idea of wholeness, of a matrix of right relationships, with God, with the spiritual realm, with one another, with the created world, with our possessions. As we move on through the letter in Philippi Paul will focus on very practical ways in which the church can work on, having that peace with one another, by having the mind of Christ, by people who are in conflict in the church working at reconciliation, through a process that we would call sanctification, become more like Christ in the way we live.
Paul then turn and gives thanks for the church at Philippi, again his focus is on their coming to faith in Christ Jesus. He remembers that it hadn’t been an easy time, there had been riots and he’d been imprisoned as the gospel had been preached but those who had come to faith had been sincere and committed. He sees their ongoing love and support for him as a sign that this conversion to Christ had been genuine. It is by grace that we are put right with God through Jesus Christ, not because of who we are or what we do, but as we experience that grace, it should change us, it should transform us. Paul sees that generosity and sacrificial giving to support him, that willingness in a roman city to identify with someone sitting in a roman prison as a sure sign that their coming to Christ had been genuine. He assures them that he and they could have confidence that the one who had started a good work in them would bring it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus. It is the same hope that we have that Christ is at work in us and will bring to completion the good work he has started in us.
Paul moves to pray for the church, that their love might abound more and more. He does not define what that means, except to say that it will grow through wisdom and insight. That it will be shown in ethical behavior what he calls fruits of righteousness. As we come to understand how much God has loved us in Christ, our love for God will grow. AS we come to understand how much God has loved us in Christ, our love for one another will grow. We will treat each other with forgiveness, respect and sacrificial concern. AS we come to understand how much God has loved in Christ our love for those who do not know Christ will grow, we will treat them with dignity and justice, will offer them compassionate service, and introduce them to the god who loves them.
I’m having one of Lorne’s Toblerone moments… seeing the church grow in upward, inward and outward dimensions.
Paul’s prayer for the church at Philippi I believe is God’s prayer for us as a church as well, that our love might continue to grow and abound more and more, as we know Christ’s love more and more and we are given insight to the dimensions of that love and grace, and that it would abound more and more in our care and love for one another and in our care and concern for the city of Whangarei and beyond…
Last week before the service, I was very nervous, so I went out early into the garden at Glenys Curries, where we are staying at the moment, and took my camera to just do something to calm my nerves. Photography does that for me… While I was out there I took this photo of the dew on the branches of an ornamental cherry tree. Weeping cherry. Which I thought was a wonderful image of what God is doing with us here. For me it is a symbol of the trust in God to be able to bring to completion the work that he has begun. The tree had been pruned and shaped, and is in its winter condition, simply bear branches. But as you look at those branches you could see buds getting ready to break forth with spring growth, you could see this tree that has been there for a long time and is well established about to burst forth into new life. The one who has started a good work is able to bring it to completion. Is at work within us and through us to see our love grow with wisdom and insight. Calling us to be partners of the gospel together.