Sermon for II Advent Yr B 7/12/2003
Based on Phil 1:3-11
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, Alberta
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
The apostle Paul’s letter to the congregation at Philippi in Macedonia, is “filled-to-overflowing” with joy and love. Some passages of scripture communicate very troubled messages of: suffering, conflicts and divisions, persecutions, anger, frustration, and so on. But Paul’s letter to the Philippians is one of the most, beautiful, upbeat books of the New Testament. As one reads today’s passage, one becomes deeply moved by the love and joy; the unity and goodwill; the deep, intimate relationship, which existed between Paul and the Philippians. This joyful, loving, caring relationship between Paul and the Philippians is every pastor’s dream of “the perfect congregation.” Paul’s pastoral relationship with this congregation may also be every parishioner’s dream of “the perfect pastor.” In any case, it provides every pastor and every congregation with one of the best biblical examples of joyful, loving, caring Christian community. Here is Christian community at its best.
How is such ideal Christian community possible? What makes this congregation at Philippi so joyful, loving, and caring? What can we learn from this congregation that would help us to grow more mature in our joy, love, and caring?
Well, for starters, our passage today, which is in the form of a prayer or blessing, tells us that both Paul and the Philippians remembered and supported one another in prayer. A joyful, loving, and caring church is one which keeps each other in prayer. Oftentimes, we fail to be a joyful, loving, caring Christian community because we fail to remember and support each other in prayer. There are many missed opportunities because we are not listening to God with an open mind and heart in prayer. Christian community without prayer is not possible. It’s like trying to cook a good meal without the necessary equipment; or fix a car without the necessary tools and repairs—it is not possible. Prayer not only gives us the necessary resources to be the community God wants us to be and accomplish the tasks God wants us to do; prayer also changes our impossible situations into possible ones. More importantly, however, prayer changes us. Prayer works on our negative, doubting, critical, apathetic sinful attitudes and behaviours. It transforms such harmful attitudes and behaviours into a joyful, loving, caring Christian community. So as Paul would say, never underestimate the power of your prayers—God works miracles through them. Also, pray with ceasing, as Paul instructs us to do.
Another reason Paul mentions in our passage as to why the congregation at Philippi was so joyful, caring, and loving is stated in the following phrase: “your sharing of the gospel.” That English word, translated “sharing” here, is a loaded one. In the Greek it is koinonia. Koinonia has several meanings in the Bible. Among them are: sharing, partnership, fellowship, communion, community-building, witnessing. Paul speaks well of the koinonia present among the congregation’s members at Philippi. He complements them for their: sharing, partnership, communion, fellowship, community-building, and witnessing. For Paul and this congregation, the gospel was not something static—nor was it meant to be “the best kept secret.” Rather, they believed the gospel was alive, dynamic, something worth getting excited about—it was meant to be shared with everyone, the whole world. That meant it went with the people in their thoughts, words, and actions during the week. For Paul and the congregation at Philippi, the gospel, along with the help of the Holy Spirit, made it possible for them to be a koinonia Christian community. In this way, the ministry was a growing, healthy, and flourishing one since everyone pulled together and shared the work. So, the koinonia congregation is one which reflects the unity and harmony of God, as brothers and sisters of one happy family in Christ.
Moving on to verses nine through eleven, we not only have a classic example of Paul’s writing style—notice, it is all one long sentence!—the apostle also provides us with one of the central themes of the Second Sunday in Advent: namely, preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ. Listen, once again to Paul’s words of instruction: “And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced a harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.”
For Paul, love is the key gift which prepares us for Christ’s coming. This love is never static—it’s always growing, increasing, and maturing. Paul says that love grows, increases, and matures because it leads to knowledge and full insight. Our Christian love is an ever-deepening, changing journey. This story, by Gustavo Gutierrez, underscores how his love deepened and changed over the years.
Some years ago, a journalist asked whether I would write (my book) A Theology of Liberation today as I had two decades earlier. In answer I said that though the years passed by, the book remained the same, whereas I was alive and therefore changing and moving forward thanks to experiences, to observations made on the book, and to lectures and discussions. When he persisted, I asked whether in a love letter to his wife today he would use the same language he used twenty years ago; he said he would not, but he acknowledged that his love perdured. My book is a love letter to God, to the church, and to the people to which I belong. Love remains alive, but it grows deeper and changes its manner of expression. 1
As Christians, if we truly love something or someone, we shall not remain static or stagnant in our love. Our love shall grow, increase, mature and change—as will our knowledge and insight. This knowledge and insight—tempered with love—serves a larger purpose. Knowledge and insight is of little or no value without love—as Paul so clearly stated in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter thirteen. Our Christian love, knowledge, and insight shall help us to turn away from that which is hurtful, wrong, evil and destructive. This shall give us an ever deepening desire to grow more Christ-like in our thinking, speaking, and acting. When Christian love, knowledge and insight are combined in our day-to-day living, then, Paul says, they produce “the harvest of righteousness.”
God calls us in and through the everyday, ordinary events of our lives to produce a harvest of righteousness by combining love, knowledge and insight. Whether it’s at work, school, or home, our social life in the community, or at church, or wherever else we go in our daily living—we are producing a harvest of one kind or another. This involves working for: love, peace, harmony, understanding, respect, goodwill, justice, and mercy among all people with whom we meet every day. The question is: What kind of harvest are we producing? Jesus said: “just as you did it to the least of these who are member of my family, you did it to me.” Christ is present whenever we think, speak and act with love, knowledge, and insight. This is how we are blessed and encouraged to make a difference in the church and in the world. As we continue on our Advent journey, may our Triune God help all of us to produce the harvest of righteousness, then we shall indeed be prepared for the coming of Jesus Christ. Amen.
1 Cited from: Marc Ellis & Otto Maduro, editors, Expanding The View: Gustavo Gutierrez And The Future Of Liberation Theology (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1988, 89, 90), p. 33.