Sunday Eucharist reflections are available below.
TRINITY XVII SUNDAY 11 OCTOBER
Today's sermon is available as an audio recording here. Press play to start.
I wonder, who was Euodia? Who was Syntyche? Clearly, they were members of the Christian community in Philippi when St Paul wrote his letter to that church, but that’s all we know of them. The same with Clement, who also gets a mention. Still, they remind us that St Paul’s letters really were letters, written to be read aloud to specific Christian communities facing specific situations – which means communities like us.
And what would a present-day St Paul want to say to us? I imagine he’d say much that he said to the Philippians, beginning with a reminder that the Christian Church is made up of individual communities. That’s an important thing to remember. It’s easy to think of the Church as a large institution, which in one sense it is and has to be; but first of all, the life of the Church is made up of Christian communities like this.
Another point I’m sure St Paul would make to us is that Christian communities are not made up of people who want to look after their own souls. Yes, we’re each expected to take care of our personal life with God, but the vital thing is that we see ourselves as community, not as a meeting of unconnected individuals. What’s more, we’re part of a community extending beyond this world.
Also, St Paul would remind us that we mustn’t take a narrow view of why we’re here together. Our purpose is to be people God can use to change the world. Don’t forget just how dangerous and revolutionary the Christian Church appeared when it began to spread into society, because its system of values was so different from prevailing standards. Power, success, wealth, possessions are always popular aims, but from the start Christians behaved as though these things were of quite secondary importance. Christ is our King, so it’s no wonder that dictators and tyrannies fear the Church, right up to this moment.
Anyway, (let’s hear St Paul talking to us again) what are we brought together for? We’re here to worship God, and to receive at the altar the heavenly food we need for our journey, but also to be reminded that we’re called to be people who are being changed, changed so that we can follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ and be His witnesses in the world. Basically, we’re meant to plant the seeds of a new Kingdom built on the love and mercy and forgiveness of God.
Now we may say that this sounds pretty fanciful, and that we’re not keen on buying into this radicalism, and the Church as an institution has frequently operated by much less exalted standards. Yet throughout the Christian centuries there has been a steady procession of men and women who have recalled us to what we’re meant to be as Christian communities.
It’s worth asking ourselves, “what does my Christian commitment make me do which otherwise I might not?” And this doesn’t apply just to churchy things. It applies to the way we run our businesses, the politics we hold, the care we show for others, the concern we have for our planet, and so on. In other words, are we people who truly believe that God works by reaching out to those who don’t imagine God could possibly care about them; who believe that God works by valuing the oppressed and the outcast and not just the mighty and important; who believe that God uses defeat and death as a means of bringing new life to birth? That’s the way we see God operating in the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now we may be feeling that all this is way beyond us, which indeed it is, except that God promises us the power of the Holy Spirit to help us achieve what we can’t do by ourselves. The important thing is that we never lose the vision of what we’re meant to be and to do as a Christian community. To assist that, St Paul gave the Philippians a piece of very practical advice, which applies to us as well. He says, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
One of the extraordinary features of our culture is that while we can become obsessive about what foods we allow into our bodies, we hardly ever give a thought to what we allow into our minds, yet it matters enormously what we admit into our mental space. If we’re feeding ourselves with films and computer images of extreme violence, if we’re listening to angry voices and heartless political policies, if we’re being seduced by advertising, these set up destructive impulses within us which, at worst, can lead to destructive action. St Paul shows us another way – “think about the good and excellent things” - because what absorbs our minds decides what people we become. Hence the need for us constantly to feed our minds with the great truths of the Christian Faith.
St Paul’s final message to us is to encourage us in words we can take away and keep turning in our minds: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.