Advent 2 – Sunday, December 9, 2018

December 9, 2018  

Philippians 1:3-11

Excerpts from St. Paul’s letters are read in church periodically, as the 2nd reading. St. Paul’s ministry is described in the book of Acts, verses from which are sometimes used as a 1st or 2nd reading, as well. And yet—how much do you know about St. Paul?

Paul was born in Tarsus, a port city on the Mediterranean Sea. He was a Roman citizen with two names, as most Roman citizens had. His Jewish name was Saul. His Latin name was Paul (Wikipedia). He never met Jesus other than in a vision while on the road to Damascus. That vision led to him become a Christian.

St. Paul was a missionary, traveling around the Roman Empire establishing churches, most often the coastlands of the Mediterranean Sea. Our New Testament is full of his letters, and of letters ascribed to him written by others who greatly admired his work.

Eventually St. Paul was arrested because of the work he did with Gentiles—with those who were not Jews who converted to Christianity. As a Roman citizen St. Paul had the right to a trial in Roman Court, a right he claimed. When he finally arrived in Roman he was kept under house arrest for two years.  After house arrest he was imprisoned, and as tradition has it, he was found guilty of his crimes in Roman Court and beheaded.

Although the matter is debated, some scholars believe St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians was written while he was imprisoned, not while he was under house arrest.

Verses from that letter are our second lesson—and they could not come to this congregation at a better time.

St. Paul loved the church in Philippi. His love for them is obvious in what he wrote. “I thank God every time I remember you” (1:3). “I am constantly praying with joy…for all of you” (1:4). “I long for you with the compassion of Christ Jesus” (3:8).

Paul was in prison when he wrote these words! We don’t know what his imprisonment was like. But he was confined, held prisoner until his death.

Mental illness is a disease that imprisons people, it imprisons individuals and their families, it imprisons individuals and their friends. Mental illness comes in a variety of forms and leads to a variety of behaviors… arguably the most devastating of which is suicide. Mental illness has the power to create dark holes in peoples’ minds, dark holes in their interactions with others, dark holes in their ability to cope with life.

When someone we know and love suffers from the most devastating effect of mental illness, St, Paul provides a blueprint for us—in the midst of his own suffering—that shows us how to respond to the pain and the loss we feel.

St. Paul wrote “I thank God every time I remember you.”
St. Paul wrote “I am constantly praying with joy for you.”
St. Paul wrote “I long for you with the compassion of Jesus Christ.”

And St. Paul wrote:
“…this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more” (1:9).

When we as a congregation, or when members of this congregation face devastating realities—if our foundation is true– our response will be, our response MUST be a response of overflowing love for one another.

We love those we’ve lost.
We love those who hurt.
We love those facing new realities.
We love. In the name of Jesus Christ we choose to love.

A scholar wrote “In our prayers for other Christians, do we spend enough time remembering them with joy, with confidence, and with love…?” (New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 11, p. 485).

This morning we remember those we have loved and lost with joy, grateful for their presence in our lives.
This morning we remember those we have loved and lost, confident in the promises God made to them. Confident in the promises of their baptisms. This morning we remember those we have loved and have lost with joy–confident God embraces them, and loves them—always and forever.
This morning we remember those we have loved and lost with love. We remember them with the love of God that flows into our hearts and through us, to them.

A quote from Meister Eckehart: “If the only prayer you ever say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would be sufficient” (NIB, vol. 11, p. 485).

We say ‘thank you’ to God today for every person here and for those not with us. We say ‘thank you’ to God with joy. We say ‘thank you’ to God with confidence. We say ‘thank you’ to God with love.

We say thank you this morning specifically for the life of Peg VanZee. We say ‘thank you’ every time we remember her. We say ‘thank you’ with joy in our hearts.

Amen.