Rehoboth Congregational Church
September 21, 2014
A Pastor Walks Into A Bar
I met a guy at a bar on Friday night.
Okay, not like that.
I met a guys at a bar on Friday night – and, like many people that I meet along my journey through life, this particular man was a little bit surprised when he found out what I do for a living.
We went through the typical round of questions people ask me about my life: So you are a real minister? Yes. Are you a priest? No. Are you allowed to get married? Yes. Are you allowed to have children? Yes. Do you have children? No. How do you get into that, anyway? It is actually kind of a long story. So is it a lucrative profession? Actually, that was a new one, but, no.
Once we were past the easy stuff, he started to ask me harder questions. Questions about what I believe, what I do not believe, how I know this “religious stuff” is real and how I explain Christians in the world that say and act with hate and judgment.
I really just wanted to relax and enjoy my margarita.
So the conversation continued. I talked about my faith, my religion and – what eventually became my most important line of defense – my church community. You see, this guy was not really all that interested in hearing about how – in a world as crazy and hectic as ours – I just have to believe that there is some greater force at work. He really did not buy into my theology that having faith and believing in God should be the starting point for our journeys and not the destination. He wanted proof. He wanted something tangible, something that he could see and feel and touch.
I could not give him that.
Eventually I kind of threw my hands in the air and said, “But at least I am part of this amazing community.”
In this morning’s scripture reading, Paul, too, was emphasizing the importance of community. A little bit of research reminded me that Paul was not speaking generally or metaphorically in this passage when he called for unity. He was – in fact – addressing a specific division between two women – Euodia and Syntyche – that he names specifically in the fourth and final passage of the book of Philippians.
We do not really know the specifics of the conflict between these two women, but I do not think that it is entirely relevant for our understanding of the text. I am sure we can all imagine an instance where two women in a church community got into a spat about one thing or another …
So imagine, for a moment, two women in a church community arguing about something and let’s look at this passage.
This passage is a call for unity.
Make my joy complete.
Be of the same mind.
[Have] the same love.
[Be] in full accord and of one mind. 
Paul is calling both these two women and the church community in Philippi to be united by the spirit and not divided by conflict. He reminded them that God is working through them and helping them – not only to be united, but also to live out God’s call for them in the world.
But here is the remarkable thing about how Paul addresses these two women. He does it by lifting them up.
How often have you been knee deep in the middle of someone else’s fight or argument – whether it be your children’s, friends’, spouse’s or family members’ – and all you wanted to do was yell, scream and tell both sides how stupid they are and how ridiculous they are being?
Paul decided to handle things a little bit differently. He started by reminding them that the spirit of Christ is within them, that they, too, hold all of the virtues that Christ did.
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” Paul said. Who “emptied himself … humbled himself … became obedient … [and was] highly exalted.” 
Paul did not say that they should be like Christ. Paul said that they were already like Christ; that the Christ-like qualities that they needed to be united and to minister in Philippi were already within them.
Paul did not see a conflict or some sort of struggle and blame and lecture about the human infallibility of a church and community. No; Paul started by celebrating the way that Christ was and always would be alive and at work in the church and community.
I think we need to do the same.
I have sat in several meetings over the past several weeks where the focus has been the decline of mainline churches and the changing landscape of ministry in the 21st century. The story is always the same: Membership is dwindling, finances are tight and the pews are not as full on Sunday mornings as they once were.
These are not my favorite conversations to have. Because while I realize that there are some realities about the church – both our church and the Church as a whole – that we all have to face, I – like Paul – can also see the amazing ways that Christ’s spirit is already alive and at work in the church community that I serve.
I read a commentary on this text written by Mike Graves, a preaching professor at the St. Paul School of Theology that said:
If our own words of challenge are to be heard aright, perhaps that is where our sermons should begin as well, celebrating the gifts and graces already at work in the church. 
There are so many gifts and graces already at work within the Rehoboth Congregational Church that I celebrate on a daily basis. And I think I am going to take a page out of Paul’s book for a moment and start by naming them.
We are a community that cares about creating a space for everyone – everyone – to seek God’s presence and explore their faith. From worship on Sunday mornings to the choir, to our Church School program, to our Bible Study sessions, to the WKB Women’s Fellowship, to the various boards and committees that people serve on, to the Youth Group activities and service projects, to the multigenerational fun programs and outings and to the people who work nonstop during the Bazaar to ensure its success, we are a church who cares about being involved in the community.
We are a community that cares about one another. We pray for one another, visit one another, send cards and meals when people are in need and call and text to check in when they are sick.
We are a community that wants to make a difference – in our town and in the world. We have an active and thriving Missions Committee, a successful annual Homeless Awareness Weekend and a compassionate team of Lay Shepherds.
We are a community that knows how to cook! I realize that this may sound silly, but there is something profoundly scriptural about sitting around a table and breaking bread with your friends.
We are a community that desperately wants to be the church that God is calling us to be. We are standing on the threshold of the past, the present and the future and God is most certainly working in our midst.
This is why we come to church.
This was what I was trying to explain to the guy at the bar: That we, as a community of faith, may not be able to save the world or stop tragedies from happening, but we will always have each other.
We are a community of faith. And more than that – God is dwelling among us. We are celebrating the resurrection that happened 2,000 years ago and we are celebrating the resurrection that is still happening today.
We are entering a new program year at the church. Our fall calendar indicates that we are preparing for both new things and time-honored traditions. We have been seeing new faces come through our doors and rejoice when those faces return again and again. We are busy, but we are so very blessed.
I challenge you to enter this year with dreams and visions. Do not let us settle to simply be the church that we are, let us rise up to be the church that God is calling us to be.
Therefore, my beloved … work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 
So friends, in the same way, I implore you to be united in spirit and in mission. Love one another and love this church. Remember that you are who God says you are and you can be who God is calling you to be.
And never forget that Christ’s spirit – a humble and obedient spirit – lives and dwells within you.
Thanks be to God!
 Philippians 2:2, NRSV
 Philippians 2:5-8, NRSV
 Graves, Mike, Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 4, Page 113
 Philippians 2:13, NRSV