The 2nd Lesson of M. P. Philippians iv. 4.
Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ. Finally brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned and received, and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace shall be with you. But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; but ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
As I sat down to write my sermon for today, two things occurred to me; first, since I’ve been here at St. James for more than two years I have already preached on both the Epistle and the Gospel for the fourteenth Sunday after Trinity; and, so I needed to do something different. Second, as always, I needed to figure out just what kind of “different” message I should to leave you with.
Fortunately, we always have St. Paul. And in this case, we have his letter to the Philippians; a portion of which I just read to you. Those of you who regularly read Morning Prayer will have recognized this as one of the New Testament Lessons appointed for today. As I read this lesson and started to study it and meditate on it, it occurred to me that there exist some parallels between the early Church and the Anglican Catholic Church. And so, I’m going to continue with that theme.
From all indications, the church in Philippi held a special place in St. Paul’s heart. This was the first church that he established in Europe. It was quite small at the start; just a few people whom Paul personally converted. But the church there soon began to grow and they regularly sent money to Paul during his journeys.
Further, the Philippians didn’t seem to cause Paul the same sort of problems that the churches in Corinth and Galatia did. We regularly see in his epistles to those churches where St. Paul “smacks those folks around” because they all seemed to want to do things their own way.
But not so much with the Philippians; no, St. Paul refers to them as “beloved”, “brethren”, “my joy and crown”. All in all, the Philippians seem to be in pretty good shape, both physically and spiritually. And if you think back on it, that’s where the ACC started as well.
Ah, but things weren’t exactly perfect in Philippi. The folks there weren’t really getting along all that well; and of course the reasons for this were connected to pride and of course it was starting to tear at the church. Additionally, the Philippians had to deal with the usual stresses from the outside world; continually dealing with harassment from non-Christians. Combine the internal stress with these external pressures and it’s no wonder that things in Philippi were getting bad enough to cause St. Paul to be concerned.
This was our history as well; pride; external pressures. These combined to tear at the unity and harmony that had been the catalyst behind the Affirmation of St. Louis. Within just a few years, we would see these forces tear our church apart and cause us to splinter into so many different groups; a divide that continues to plague us to this day.
But St. Paul wasn’t about to let that happen to his beloved Philippians. And so he urges them to live in unity and harmony. He cautions them about the enemies of the church. And he then tells them where they will get the strength to remain faithful; and where we may still draw our strength as well. This is where we get to the heart of St. Paul’s message.
First of all, he tells us to ”rejoice in the Lord always“. We in the ACC, and particularly here at St. James, have so much about which to rejoice. Our building; our parish life and family; and of course, we have the Catholic Faith maintained through the doctrine, discipline and worship of the ACC and the historical witness of this parish.
And we also have even greater reasons to rejoice. Recently our Metropolitan, Archbishop Haverland, joined with the Presiding Bishops of the Anglican Province of America, the Diocese of the Holy Cross, and the Anglican Church in America in signing a letter stating the desire for all of our Churches to be in full communion no later than the end of 2017. There is a great desire for unity among those of us who claim St. Louis as our foundation and our Bishops are working toward it. When St. Paul commanded the Philippians to rejoice it was a call to Faith; for us in the ACC, it is nothing less. Pray for the unity of the Church and rejoice!
Next St. Paul tells us that “The Lord is at hand“. Not only is he with us spiritually at all times, but his second coming is imminent as well. The early church believed this; we must believe this too. We may not know the time or the date (for we do not know what “imminent” means to God), but we must be prepared nonetheless.
“Let your moderation be known unto all men“. We are also commanded to be gracious to our fellow Christians. This is what St. Paul meant by “moderation”. I have on occasion spoken about how we should react to people who come to us from other churches. If we truly believe that “The Lord is at hand“ we will rejoice when they come, and we will be kind, we will be welcoming, we will be gracious.
“Be careful for nothing“. This doesn’t mean that you should start running with scissors. Rather, it means that we need not worry excessively about things. “The Lord is at hand“. When we remember this, our worries and anxieties are subdued and they are taken away by our prayers to God. The more we fret about the unity of the church, the growth of our parish, or the stresses of the outside world, the less likely we are to attain the peace of God, “which passeth all understanding“.
That one sound familiar? Divine Peace; given to us in times of anxiety; a Peace that exceeds our ability to understand it. Our knowledge that the Lord is at hand takes away our anxieties, and gives us a tranquility of mind that frees us from fear and worry. St. Paul preached this to the early church in times of turmoil and persecution.
And like that early church, we attain that Divine Peace when we do those things that are honest, that are true, that are pure; those things that have virtue and are worthy of praise; the Faith that we have learned and preached.
And just how do we do all this? Aren’t the odds stacked against us? Like the Philippians, do we not suffer from the harassment and distain of those who are supposedly “enlightened”? Like the early church, don’t we see laws being created that are designed to stifle traditional Christians? Like those first Christians, aren’t we looked down upon by a society who sees us as misguided?
Well, of course, we can’t do it on our own. But we can persevere. We can rejoice. We can bring about the unity of the church. We can increase God’s Kingdom because we “can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth” us. EVERYTHING starts there.
The early church existed and flourished because of the perseverance of those people, like St. Paul, who received their strength from Jesus Christ. The church grew and survived persecutions and heresies and internal strife through the efforts of people who received their strength from Christ. And not only will the Church continue on, but will also flourish and grow only through the efforts of people who receive their strength from Christ.
The ACC, and this parish dedicated in the name of that great Apostle St. James, will ultimately prevail if we rejoice in the Lord; knowing that he is here with us now and always; if we are gracious to our fellow Christians and give our worries and anxieties over to God and attain His Peace. And we can do these things only if we draw our strength from Jesus Christ.
This is the message that I want to leave you with today; We are like that early church. We will be beset by any number of external pressures, stresses and anxieties. But we must respond to these modern day “persecutions” in the right way; we must ”Rejoice in the Lord always“. We must be gracious to all. We must put aside all our anxiety and fear “by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving“, and ask God to unify His Church and increase His Kingdom.
And we must take our strength from Jesus Christ in all ways and at all times, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me“; It is only through him that we can overcome our fear and anxiety; it is only through him that we can defeat the pressure and stress inflicted upon us by the world; it is only through him that we can achieve the reunification of his Church; it is only through him that we can do all that is necessary; it is only through the strength granted to us by Our Lord Jesus Christ that we will know the peace of God which passeth all understanding, forever keeping our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God.