The Scripture reading is from Philippians 1: 2-11
2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Sermon, “Sharing In God’s Grace” May 5th, 2019
Let us pray: Almighty, eternal, just, and merciful God, give us scoundrels your grace to do for you what we know you want from us, and always to do that which is pleasing to you. May we be inwardly purified, interiorly illumined, and kindled by the fire of the Holy Spirit, so that we are able to follow in the footsteps of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and by your grace alone make our way to you, the Most High, who live and reign in perfect Trinity and simple unity and glory, God almighty forever and ever. Amen.
In 1225, Saint Francis of Assisi wrote to his Friars, his brothers who followed him in his simple way of life, a letter that included this prayer and that phrase, “Give us scoundrels your grace.” The word scoundrel means a dishonest or corrupt person or a rogue, rascal, or cheat. Not the words that I would use when thinking about Franciscans in the past or today. Even so, Francis was serious about always coming back to grace, a gift of God that we don’t deserve, which is why he probably used that interesting word scoundrel to describe him and his brothers.
This prayer prompts me to ask for grace time and again. “Give us scoundrels your grace,” which to me is a reminder that none of us are worthy of God’s love, but its grace, a gift of God given to us in and through Jesus Christ. Francis’ prayer continues and asks not just for grace, but to “do for you what we know you want from us, and always to do that which is pleasing to you.” In a way, Francis’ prayer echoes what we heard Paul write to the Christians in Philippi. Paul encourages the church to be, using Francs’ words, inwardly purified, interiorly illumined, and kindled by the fire of the Holy Spirit.
Paul writes as a prisoner, likely in Rome, which would make this one of Paul’s last letters written around 60 or 62 about 10 years after first visiting Philippi. Even though he’s behind bars he holds the Philippian Christians close to his heart. And he not only holds them close spiritually, he still tries to instruct them in the way of life they should lead as Christians, living life together.
It’s clear that this church held a special place in Paul’s heart. This is the only church he addresses as “partners”, being in a partnership in the gospel. As Paul writes later in his letter how they sent him help and took care of his needs to be able to continue his missionary work. It’s clear that the church was a source of refreshment for Paul’s heart and mission, especially while in a difficult place of being in prison. They shared in God’s grace with one another and that thought and spiritual connection sustained Paul during a challenging time. Isn’t that a beautiful image of the church? The church can be and should be a source of refreshment for our hearts and our mission or calling God has given to us to live out. We are partners in the gospel, sharing the good news and living the good news, and we share in God’s grace with one another.
It’s good to be refreshed in grace. That’s what Paul experienced through this community of faith in Philippi. Isn’t that a part of the reason why we come on Sunday morning? We gather to be together, to encourage one another, to partake of the grace of Holy Communion, to sing God’s praises, and to share in our joys and concerns. We share life together. Sometimes it’s simply a grace, a gift of God, to be together. Other times it’s a grace to be challenged to think or act differently through the sermon or prayer or conversation. It’s always grace, a gift, to be refreshed in the Holy Spirit in the community of believers.
What can we take away from Paul’s words to the Philippian believers? The early church was always in a state of transition or change. Paul would travel and end up in prison. The early church experienced growth, persecution, and constant change. For our congregation, we are experiencing change too. I’m feeling the full weight of change and transition as my final Sunday approaches next month. As I read this passage from Philippians, I keep hearing a good word of grace for us. What holds us together during times of transition and change? This short passage might give us some insight.
First, Paul offers his thanks to God for the church by writing, “I thank my God every time I remember you.” Our presence alone shows that we are thankful for one another. I’m assuming of course that you didn’t come begrudgingly this morning thinking, “Ugh, I have to see those church people again!” We come because we know the power of being a community of faith together. I have always said that church would be lonely and pretty boring if I was preaching to an empty chapel or sanctuary on Sunday morning. You are offering me the grace to preach to you. We are offering grace to one another by simply being here, present to one another, but we’re also encouraged to give thanks to God for one another. I love the quote by Meister Eckhart, the 13th C. German theologian, “If the only prayer you said was thank you that would be enough.” I think it would likely change our congregation and the way we interacted with each other if every time we entered into a church gathering we simply prayed, “God, thank you. Thank you for the children and families of Meridian Street. Thank you for those who have given a lifetime of service and energy to this church. God thank you for every person who calls Meridian Street home.” That would most certainly change us.
I have been learning about what it means to be church. Last month, as I was corresponding with Pastor Mary Hubbard, the pastor who is retiring from the church I’ll be serving in July, First Church South Bend, I learned that the person who offered nursery care for First Church was here in Indianapolis in intensive care. I went to visit her several times while she was in ICU battling for her life and would continue to visit with her and her daughter until she died a few weeks after I first met her. It was a gift for me to share the role of being her pastor with Pastor Mary in the last few weeks of her life. It was a gift to be able to be present, to pray, and to show that the church loves and cares for her and her family. I was able to offer God thanks for her life, even though I wasn’t even technically her pastor yet. It was all a gift of grace in what was a difficult time for my new church and this family. I have been learning about the power of being prayerfully present and the strength that’s found in the church community that is larger than one church and how wonderful it is to give thanks even in the most challenging circumstances. We are reminded by Paul to give thanks for one another and to pray for one another.
Not only do we give thanks to God for one another, but we pray for each other with joy, as Paul wrote, “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.” That changes the meaning slightly. It’s not that we are just obligated to pray for one another, but we do so with a spirit of joy. It’s a powerful feeling to know that a congregation is praying for you. You can ask anyone who has been on our prayer list. When you are prayed for by so many people, you just feel it, you just know, and that’s the great power of a prayerful church community. In fact, on Monday, during our Monday Morning Bible Study, Sally Peters, shared how powerful it was to have everyone praying for her and how just felt everyone’s prayers and love. It’s very true. You feel that grace of people praying for you, whether they are present, home, far away from home, or even in prison, as Paul was. It’s a gift to pray for others and to be prayed for. During this time of transition, I ask for your prayers for my family. On Friday, we closed on a new home, our first time buying a home. We have also been sharing the exciting news that we are expecting our 2nd baby in September. So again, we ask for your prayers. While we are feeling the weight of lots of change and transition, I remember from Paul, that when we give thanks for one another and we pray for each other with joy that sets the foundation to live the Gospel life.
We partner with each other in living the Gospel life, “being confident that God who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” The work of God in and through church doesn’t cease. In the midst of change, the work, the ministry continues. I witnessed that last Sunday. Any one of you could have served last week on your own anywhere you would have liked. Instead, we went out as a church in groups. We blessed so many people and organizations who serve those in need day in and day out.
Together, we can do so much in living the Gospel, the good news. To partner in the Gospel is to be active in continuing the ministry and way of Jesus. To partner in the Gospel is to learn and grow together in loving God and loving neighbor. To partner in the Gospel is live life together. It’s not a lone ranger experience; it’s a partnership with other people in the faithful church community. Together, as partners, where no one is better or worse than another, where we share our spiritual and financial gifts, and where we figure out faith and life together, we live out the Gospel. And all of this is a testimony to grace. Really, it’s all a gift of grace.
We share in God’s grace, as Paul wrote in his letter. It’s all about God’s work in us. It’s all grace, but even as I say that it might be all too easy to think that all we have do is sit back and relax and watch God work. We forget when reading this letter that Paul is writing to a deeply committed community of faith as they lived out the Gospel. Paul writes confidently that they will continue following the way of Jesus, and as they do, God will work powerfully through their lives as their love abounds more and more, as they discern together what is best and pure and blameless, as they bear fruit that comes through Jesus, all to the glory and praise of God. We share in an active grace that pulls us closer to the heart of God and that continues to call us into the world in love. What does it mean for us to be a part of this ever changing church community? We give thanks to God for one another. We pray for one another with joy. We partner with each other in living the Gospel life. We share in God’s grace. That’s a beautiful image of a refreshing, joyful, grace filled church community of followers of Jesus.
With all of this in mind from Paul’s letter, if we go back to Saint Francis’ prayer, I would probably edit a few things. I don’t think I would call us scoundrels, far from it. Aren’t you glad to hear that? Instead, I would say, “Give us neighbors your grace.” No, that’s not personal enough. How about children? “Give us children your grace or give us siblings your grace.” Let’s try, “Give us brothers and sisters your grace.” However we say it, may God give to you and me, and all of us together a share of God’s abundant grace.
Let us pray:
Almighty, eternal, just, and merciful God, give us children, brothers and sisters, your grace to do for you what you desire us to do, knowing that when we follow Jesus into Gospel living it is pleasing to you. We give thanks for every person here this morning. We joyfully offer our prayers for every need or challenge. Offer to us a share of your grace, that we may encourage each other to live the Gospel life. Give us the grace to follow in the footsteps of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and by your grace alone make our way to you, the Most High, who live and reign in perfect Trinity and simple unity and glory, God almighty forever and ever. Amen.