It’s ironic that I talked about my “It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine.” mantra in my sermon this morning because I forgot to put my phone on “do not disturb” for worship and I GOT A PHONE CALL THAT INTERRUPTED THE LIVESTREAM during my sermon.
Everything is fine.
So worship does get interrupted for a few seconds during my sermon, but not for long! Just don’t think it’s your device or connection – all me.
Anyway, I hope you all are well! It’s funny how, even during covid, things are busy at church right now! It’s nice to put stuff on the calendar, though. We’re celebrating the small victories and embracing what we are able to do.
Here is my sermon, as well as the video of this morning’s worship!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
September 20, 2020
Living With Hope
This week was a big one for our students, parents, teachers and administrators. For most of them, it marked the official start of school. After spending the entire summer trying to do the impossible – putting pieces of different puzzles together to create one picture – both physical and virtual doors opened and learning began.
I watched this process unfold largely as an outsider. I do not have school-aged children and therefore, ultimately, the specific plans of our district did not necessarily affect me. However, on Friday morning, for posterity sake, I did take “First Day of School” photos. I put my 5-month-old in a bow, bribed my 3-year-old with Swedish Fish (at 7:30 in the morning) and put them in front of a sign that read:
FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
Like so many others, this expression – “It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine.” – has become my mantra this year. It has been my mantra for dealing with the more frivolous things – like when I cut my own hair or put in an online grocery pickup order for pancake syrup and the shopper substituted it for a bottle of syrup made out of rice. It has been my mantra for dealing with work-related conundrums – like when I yammered on for ten minutes last week before worship without turning on my microphone or wrote a policy for baptisms during covid which states that the parents will pour water over their children instead of me. It has also been my mantra for dealing with the bigger things – like having a baby during the first wave covid surge in New England. This mantra has been tested at times – like last week when I heard word that the senior center was burning down and certainly on Friday evening when the news broke that Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away.
It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine. This mantra reminds me that 1. it is okay if every now and then I have to adjust my expectations and 2. big picture, it is going to be okay, even if it is really hard right now. This mantra has, at times over the past seven months, been a battle cry; a declaration of my refusal to let this pandemic beat me. It has been a constant affirmation (and there is my star word from last year) that my faith and my faith alone will carry me through the hard times we are experiencing right now; that if I continue to chart the course – to lean into my faith and to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ – that I will journey safely to the other side of these uncharted waters.
In many ways, this is very similar to what Paul is saying in this morning’s scripture reading from his letter to the Philippians.
Philippi was a Roman colony in Macedonia. According to Acts of the Apostles, Paul had traveled to Philippi and founded a church. The members of this church were predominantly gentile; and Paul loved them very much. The tone of this letter shows that Paul regarded the Philippians with great affection and deep longing; he had a lot of hope for this church that he had planted.
I know hope is something that a lot of us are struggling with right now, so it is important to point out that hope was not necessarily something that came easy for Paul at the time of writing this letter; in fact, he wrote it from prison. The Philippians, knowing Paul was in prison, sent a member of their church, a man named Epaphroditus, to bring him gifts. Epaphroditus became ill when he arrived and, once he recovered, Paul decided Epaphroditus should go back to Philippi. Paul sent him back with this letter.
One of the main focuses of this letter is that we need to distinguish the things that truly matter from the things that don’t. I could see where, being in prison, Paul would have the opportunity to reflect on this. The word “joy” appears five times in this letter and the verbs “rejoice” and “be glad” appear 11 times. Despite the fact that Paul was living through a hard and arduous season in his own life, he was refusing to let that win; he was determined to proclaim the Gospel of Christ, to live in Christ and, as he says in this morning’s scripture, live “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
Again, I think joy is something that a lot of us are struggling with right now. And so it is, again, important to think about the fact that Paul’s focus on joy comes from a place of deep pain and sorrow.
And yet he continued to live with hope.
This particular passage has some darker undertones. He starts off by saying, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” The expression, “living is Christ” is one that does not have a great translation into English, but essentially what Paul is saying is that he does not want to live his life apart from his obligations to Christ. When he says, “dying is gain” he is insinuating that death might be a better option – that his desire to be with Christ is more than his desire to be in the flesh.
I do think we have to be really careful with this passage, because there is this underlying insinuation of suicidal notions with the statement that Paul would rather be dead and with Christ than alive. But for me the more important part is the shift where Paul talks about it being more necessary for him to remain in the flesh. And then he talks about why. And then he talks about how.
The thing is, Paul is experiencing what, seven months ago, I would have called an unimaginable suffering that most of us would never comprehend in our lifetime. But this year has just kind of beaten us up in a way that no one ever saw coming. And so Paul’s words – his suffering – are so much more real to me now.
I would imagine they are to a lot of you who are watching this morning, as well.
But this is not where it ends. Because as real as Paul’s suffering is to me right now – this makes his faith and his desire to stand in the flesh and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ all the more convicting, as well.
When Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday, we not only lost a Supreme Court Justice, but we also lost a champion of equality and an inspiration to so many who believe that a better world is possible. She once said, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” These words are so poignant at this moment in our history. Because we do have to fight for the things we care about; in this moment of chaos in our history, they do not necessarily come easily.
And so we fight. We fight for hope. We fight for the Gospel; for the truth that love will always win and that, even in the darkest of moments, light will shine. We fight for justice to prevail – and for the least of these to be cared for. We fight for our church to not only survive this pandemic, but to thrive in the midst of it and to do what God is calling us to do in this moment. We fight to find ways for our community – our village – to give back and to care for one another. We fight to keep our faith – and to trust that God will lead us safely to the other side of this pandemic.
And we fight in a way that will lead others to join us. We fight in a way that is compelling and hospitable and inspiring. We fight in a way that demonstrates a deep longing and affection for others, like Paul so clearly felt about the Philippians. We fight in a way that will change people’s lives, that will bring about a better world.
Paul says twe have to live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ; in a manner worthy of the sacrifice that Christ made, of the grace and forgiveness and reconciliation bestowed upon us. Paul says that this matters; that our lives in the flesh matter and that they have meaning and they give people the kind of hope they need to believe in.
Now more than ever, the way we live our lives matters. We cannot afford to be silent or complacent. There is too much at stake. Our world is in chaos and people are starting to lose hope.
And the thing is – we have hope. At its core, Christianity is about hope. At its core, Christianity is about the fact that there is always hope, even when, from the outside, it looks like death, itself, has won.
And so right now we have to show people what it means to believe in this kind hope; this death-defying, life-inspiring hope. Right now, we have to not only proclaim our faith in Christ, but also show people what, exactly, it means. We have to live our lives in a manner worthy of the Gospel, showing people that hope is real and it is alive and it is worth holding onto. We cannot give up – or give in.
And is this fun or easy to amidst a global pandemic and a year that has already taken away so much from us? Heck no. But Paul never thought it was going to be easy; in fact, for Paul it was really, really hard.
But he believed it was possible. And that’s the really cool part. When faced with imprisonment and the possibility of death, himself, Paul still had hope and he still thought the way he lived his life mattered.
So let us go live our lives worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, holding onto a hope that will transform our minds, our hearts and our lives.
And may we do so in a way that will lead others to join us.
And then may we all proclaim this hope that will change the world.
Thanks be to God!