1Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
2I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
10I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. 11Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 14In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.
The church's year of grace has moved into the season of Lent that counts the biblical number of forty days minus Sundays: Ash Wednesday through Wednesday in Holy Week. Maundy/Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Eve/Day form a single liturgy of the three days or Triduum.
A couple weeks ago on Transfiguration Pastor Peg explained the recent Lenten emphasis on living grounded in our baptism into Christ, in an attitude of joy, works and words of mercy toward our neighbors (and ourselves, as well). Of course we need to acknowledge our wrong doings, we sometimes need to turn our direction around in prayers and acts of repentance, but the idea is to get away from feeling hopeless and no good, receive the gift of forgiveness and new life, affirm and live out our baptismal identity.
Today we'll check out a passage from the apostle Paul's letter to the church at Philippi. Philippians is known as the epistle of joy and connects extremely well with the current emphasis for Lent. In this short 4-chapter long letter, the "joy" or its cognates occurs at least 16 times.
The words for grace and joy in Greek come from the same root, so you could say to have joy means to recognize and embody grace.
χάρις = grace
χαράς = joy
Paul wrote this epistle to the church at Philippi where we was founding pastor and probably a kind of mission developer. As a Roman colony, the citizens and congregants had dual citizenship similar to ours: baptized citizens of heaven on earth, denizens of imperial Rome, the occupying power. Like us, although they needed to defer to Rome's wordily power to some degree in order to survive, they ultimately needed to order their lives and days around their Christian identities. Philippians is a captivity or imprisonment letter Paul probably wrote from some type of incarceration—possibly house arrest or from a dungeon in Rome around 61 or thereabouts. Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, also wrote well-known letters from prison. Do you know anyone who has written meaningful or memorable letters from prison or jail? Maybe poetry or a novel?
In this letter Paul rejoices despite extremely difficult and discouraging circumstances. In Acts 16:25 we read about Paul and Silas praying in prison; that may have been the same one.
We had a longish discussion of 4:1, "I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord." This section is in the contemporaneous literary form of paranaesis that's encouragement or exhortation to keep on keepin' as you have been and almost never is about reproach or reprimand. Because the lectionary where we get our weekly scripture readings appoints this text for several occasions, I found about a dozen commentaries and current consensus is Paul's ministry coworkers and companions Euodia and Syntyche were doing just fine and needed to keep going as they had been, as 4:9 suggests. On an important side note, here and elsewhere in Paul's seven undisputed (definitely written by him and not by someone else who used his name, which was a commonplace compliment back then) epistles we see quite a lot of evidence of women leaders in the early church.
Philippians 4:8 brings us one of Paul's famous lists: true; honorable; just; pure; pleasing; commendable; excellence; worthy of praise… God bestows those wonderful characteristics on us in our baptism; we bestow them on others with our presence and activity in their lives. What a way to start and continue in this season of Lent as we journey toward Easter.