Saturday, October 31, 2020

All Saints 2020

Matthew 5:1-12

1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7"Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Praise Prayer from Psalm 34

I bless God every chance I get; my lungs expand with God's praise.
I live and breathe God; if things aren't going well, hear this and be happy:
Join me in spreading the news; together let's get the word out.

God met me more than halfway, and freed me from my anxious fears.
When I was desperate, I called out, and God got me out of a tight spot.
Worship God if you want the best; worship opens doors to all his goodness.
Can't wait zeach day to come upon beauty?

Turn your back on sin; do something good. Embrace peace—don’t let it get away!
Is anyone crying for help? God is listening, ready to rescue you.
If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there;
if you’re kicked in the gut, God will help you catch your breath.

Keep blessing God every chance you get! Let your voices circle the earth!

The Message (MSG) Copyright 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson

All Saints Sunday is All Saints Day this year!

Halloween is All Hallows Eve. A hallowed person, place, or event is a holy one. The traditional version of the Lord's Prayer in English asks that God's name be hallowed or made holy. All Hallows Eve anticipates the holy persons the church remembers and celebrates on the following day, All Saints.

Saints or holy ones we've known could be neighbors, parents, friends, relatives still on earth or in heaven. Saints could be people in scripture or famous saints like Teresa of Avila, Teresa of Kolkata, Francis and Claire of Assisi, Augustine, Susanna, John, and Charles Wesley. Although historically this day has focused on the church triumphant, the remembrance includes those of us still in the visible church that's sometimes called the church militant. "All of us" because in baptism we receive the Holy Spirit (Spiritus Sanctus in Latin) and become hallowed or sanctified; we become saints.

The sanc prefix to a word also means holy, just as in the Sanctus–"Holy, Holy, Holy" we sing during the liturgy. Western churches often use the term sanctification to refer to the Holy Spirit-inspired process of people more consistently acting with justice, love, mercy, and righteousness, of becoming more holy, just as God is holy. Hallowed be each of our names?

Legend says Martin Luther posted his 95 theses or ideas about needed church reform on the church door because: (1) the church building was the town's cultural center, so people got their important news from the door of the church—similar to our narthex bulletin board; and (2) All Saints Day was a holy day of obligation with people required to attend mass, so chances were high that everyone would read Luther's ideas. Therefore… the church celebrates Reformation Day on 31 October, but with All Saints coming up the following day, Reformation Sunday gets scheduled for the previous Sunday.

Matthew's Gospel and the Beatitudes

Three more Sundays, and then a new year of grace begins with the first Sunday of Advent, so this lectionary year A with gospel readings mostly from Matthew is almost over.

Matthew's gospel portrays Jesus as the New Moses, Jesus as the new King David. Matthew has a strong emphasis on God's righteousness and justice we find throughout the Hebrew Bible. You probably remember God spoke the Ten Commandments – words in the Hebrew text – through Moses on Mount Sinai or Horeb? In Matthew, Jesus' IPO – Initial Public Offering – after his baptism and call of his first disciples is the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew parallels Moses receiving the Ten Words of the Sinai Covenant by having Jesus preach on a hill. We can consider Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew (Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:17-26) interpretations of the Ten Commandments. The commandments and the sermon on the mount are paths to wholeness for all creation.

As he begins his homily or talk, Jesus describes attributes or characteristics of his followers with blessings they receive as a result. In turn they (that's us) use those blessings to bless others. Beatitude comes from the Latin beatus or happy. These qualities are gifts of grace rather than "be-attitudes" as some suggest, yet having them demands our response—what we do because of who we are. In that sense, the beatitudes are about how we are supposed to be.

In real life, Jesus probably gave this or a very similar talk many times to different audiences that could have been his twelve main followers, a mixed group of a few hundred women, men, and young people, a spontaneous gathering of ten or so curious people… flash mob! We can speculate on anything scripture doesn't clearly state, and often need to be imaginative to contextualize scripture for our own place and time.

COVID-19 and the Beatitudes

The saints we've been seeing during this pandemic! Countless people worldwide have risked their lives, comfort, and safety to help others and keep the planet running. We've seen healing, protection, rescuing, praying, hoping, governing, sustaining, waiting, loss and grief. We've observed heroes on television and elsewhere; we know scientists on several continents have been developing vaccines behind the scenes (among many other less visible contributors). No one can count or celebrate sufficiently those COVID-19 saints who embody and rock the beatitudes every day. God works through everyone; God doesn't mind being anonymous. Many essential workers and other pandemic heroes intentionally follow one of the Abrahamic religions or another spiritual-ethical way of life that acknowledges the divine in creation, but many don't. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit filled the world…

The commandments and the sermon on the mount are paths to wholeness for all creation.

• Is there any group you especially appreciate during this time of lockdown, pandemic, uncertainty, and opportunity?
• Is there some way we can thank the first responders?
• How can we pay forward their amazing service?

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Reformation 2020

Reformation 2020 Psalm 46

Jeremiah 31:31-34

31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord.

33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Prayer from Psalm 46

God is our safe place to hide,
    ready to help whenever we need help.
We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom,
    courageous in seastorm and earthquake,
Before the rush and roar of oceans,
    the tremors that shift mountains.

River fountains splash joy, cooling God's city,
    this sacred haunt of the Most High.
God lives here, the streets are safe.

See the marvels of God!
    God plants flowers and trees all over the earth,
"Step out of the traffic! Take a long,
    loving look at me, your High God,
    God remains above politics, above everything."

Jacob-wrestling God fights for us,
    God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.

The Message (MSG) Copyright 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson

Reformation: event – day – movement

Along with the day of Pentecost, Reformation is a major wear red festival of the Holy Spirit. The church uses red for celebrations of the Holy Spirit and to commemorate prophets, martyrs, and renewal.

Martin Luther and other reformers acted as God's agents in response to the Holy Spirit of life, restoration, and resurrection. Three years ago we celebrated Reformation 500; we continue in a church that's still reforming, a reforming church that now includes the Roman Catholic branch of Christianity. Martin Luther insisted worship and hymn-singing in the vernacular (the common, ordinary, easy to understand language regular people spoke) was a mark of the true church. As a church of the Reformation we also can be a vernacular church that speaks the common cultural language of the people; we can present Christianity with vocabulary and with symbols everyday regular people understand.

Instead of different scriptures for each lectionary year, every year Reformation features the same four readings. Today we'll look at the prophet Jeremiah's proclamation of God's new covenant with all creation.

Jeremiah – New Covenant

God's covenants or agreements are a prominent feature of the Old Testament and continue into the New Testament with Jesus Christ, God's ultimate covenant. Covenant comes from the Latin co-venire – coming together – and was a familiar concept in the Ancient Near East. Old Testament covenants include Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David… creation itself was an act of covenant. On Lent 4 during spring 2019 we talked about covenants; here's the handout I prepared.

Jeremiah was very much into the ten words or commandments of the Sinai Covenant the people received as gifts of grace and that we've described as working papers for our lives together. The commandments are about creating and sustaining community as they shape God's people (that's us!) into rocking an anti-imperial lifestyle, into ruling and governing themselves by considering the needs of each other, by not making gods of money, power, fame, or material stuff. God is our ultimate ruler, yet the commandments help us live as self-governing people.

Jeremiah 31:32 – the people broke the commandments in a double sense: by shattering the stone tablets they were written on, and by not following them in their daily lives. Verse 33 – God and people literally belong to each other. Verse 34 – God for-gives (the opposite of give) so completely it's as if God totally forgets anything we've done wrong.

A new anything implies an old something, but this is much more a new location than it is a different agreement. Jeremiah says God's eternal covenanting will become natural and instinctive because it literally will be embodied in each of us and within the community itself. We've discussed how the heart in Hebrew biology isn't the location of emotions as we often consider it. In Hebrew biology and bible, heart is where a person's will or intention resides and goes beyond that to include reason, wisdom, creativity, discernment—and also emotion. During one of our discussions in a previous year, Barbara told us a healthy heart is soft and vulnerable. Great image for relating to each other!

COVID-19 – Still Reforming

Although most churches own, rent, or borrow a physical, geographical space because they need a gathering place for worship and other meetings, during non-pandemic times the church (that's us) always leaves the building after worship and brunch to continue the lives of service Word and Sacrament have modeled. However, for the past eight months we've stayed outside the building most of the time, so we've been experimenting with new ways of being church. Fortunately(?) this pandemic has happened during a time digital connections are easy to come by, when almost everyone has at least a minimal online presence beyond an email address. These factors have made Zoom and YouTube worship, committee meetings, and bible studies commonplace. Months ago people seriously started discussing the possibility – or not – of virtual sacraments; by now many churches and pastors have gone beyond asking and have started offering online communion services with participants widely scattered, yet still gathered together through the electronic amazement of the internet.

In his seven marks of the true church, Luther mentioned worship and hymn-singing in the vernacular. Especially for churches in the Reformation traditions, Word and Sacrament remain earthbound, physical evidence we can sense (smell, hear, taste, see, touch) of God with us and among us.

• In the tradition of the Reformation, how can we interpret or re-interpret scripture, sacraments, and our everyday lives into a language or modality our neighbors from different cultures and countries easily understand?

• How do we separate appreciation for other languages and cultures from what people sometimes view as mis-appropriation of cultural styles and artifacts? (Cue endless discussion…)

• Are we spiritually and emotionally mature enough to direct newcomers to a church with a different overall style if our fairly formal, traditional worship doesn't attract them?

Reformation Sunday is an especially good time to reconsider dreams for this congregation, this neighborhood, and this city.

• When we return to more frequent in-person yet masked and distanced worship and other meetings, do you think our sense of mission to the surrounding neighborhood will have changed or been revised?

• If so, how?

• If not substantially, why not?

As people in mission, we live with and work through those concerns all the time, but this pandemic may make the questions clearer, finding answers more urgent.

• Or does it?

All Saints' Sunday next week!

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Jubilee Weekend 2020

This week we take a short excursion away from the lectionary to celebrate an interfaith Jubilee Weekend: Curing Poverty, Inequality and the Coronavirus – October 16-18, 2020.


God of hope, we lament the suffering and isolation, and sometimes death, that the pandemic is causing our world, our communities, our families. Give us protection, especially all those on the front line of medicine and research, and those whose work makes them in contact with many people. Give us our daily bread, as so many are hurting economically now. Give us hope to see beyond this turmoil and teach us lessons of endurance, faith, and love, as we pray constantly for an end to the virus.

God of creation, quiet the earth where it trembles and shakes. Help us to protect vulnerable ecosystems, threatened habitats, and endangered species. Prosper the work of scientists, engineers, and researchers to find ways to restore creation to health and wholeness.

May your Spirit strengthen each of us with words of hope and love, that we might be the church for this time, and share that same hope and love with our neighbors. With your steadfast love, dear God, hear these and all our prayers as we speak them to you, through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Adapted from Prayers of Intercession for Jubilee Weekend by Pastor Steve Herder, Ascension ELCA, Thousand Oaks, California.


Instructions in the book of Leviticus for observing a jubilee year inspired this Jubilee Weekend. As scripture explains, seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years – and then the fiftieth year, a year-long Sabbath grants freedom and new beginnings to all the people, all the animals, and to the land—although apparently God's people Israel never celebrated a jubilee year to the fullest. Before looking at today's passage from the poet synagogue and church sometimes call Third Isaiah, here's part of the jubilee year description from Leviticus. By the way, does "seven times seven" sound familiar? Seven times seven also measures the fifty-day long week of weeks celebration of Easter, and isn't the end of death and dying the ultimate freedom?

Leviticus 25:1-17

1The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: 2Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land shall observe a sabbath for the Lord. 3Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield; 4but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land …7for your livestock also, and for the wild animals in your land all its yield shall be for food.

8You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. 9Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. 10And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. 11That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. 12For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.

13In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property. … 17… for I am the Lord your God.

Isaiah Outline

• 1st Isaiah, mostly writings from Isaiah of Jerusalem, prior to Babylon exile: 1-39
• 2nd Isaiah, during exile in Babylon, 40-55. Includes "Comfort ye… every valley" we know from Handel's Messiah and other memorable passages
• 3rd Isaiah, after the exile, back in town trying to rebuild lives, physical and community and religious structures

Isaiah 58:6-12

6"This is the kind of fast day I'm after:
to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts.
7What I'm interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families.
8Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way. The God of glory will secure your passage.
9Then when you pray, God will answer. You'll call out for help and I’ll say, 'Here I am.'

"If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people's sins,
10If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
11I will always show you where to go.
I'll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—firm muscles, strong bones.
You'll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
12You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You'll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.

The Message (MSG) Copyright 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson


Everyone didn't leave Jerusalem and Judah for Babylon; some who left settled in Babylon permanently and helped create good living conditions there. The prophet and poet called 3rd isaiah wrote to the few who'd remained in Jerusalem and to exiles who returned. The temple was gone, the city in disrepair, no one trusted much of anyone. They needed to rebuild infrastructure that would include streets, roads, meeting places, markets for sales and exchange; they needed to rebuild reliable human community that would help with physical, material needs. They wanted to rebuild the temple.

Leading up to the Isaiah passage for today, people had been performing empty rituals and not backing up their claims to love God and neighbor with actually loving, life-affirming, situation-transforming actions. One of the revolutionary things about Yahweh, the God of the Bible, is that unlike other gods of the Ancient Near East, Yahweh didn't require appeasement, tribute, protection, or beseeching. Through Isaiah and other prophets, God tells us holy righteous living means to share your food, invite the homeless / poor into your spaces, put warm clothes on people who need them, be available to your own families. [Isaiah 58:7]

In an echo of the year-long Jubilee Sabbath, this passage connects being good neighbors with proper religious observance. It lines out a series of "if – then" conditions regarding human behaviors, God's response, and effective outcomes. This is a word about the neighbor, about the other; it's neighborology that offers guidelines for creating covenantal community where people trust God and one another. It's a word about a Holy God and a holy people of God.

You may remember Luke 4:16-19 records Jesus of Nazareth's first act of public ministry when he reads from Isaiah 61 and announces good news to the poor and release to the captives? That proclamation ties in closely with this week's passage and to the ministry God calls us to wherever and whenever we are.


Although when we read scripture we first ask about the historical setting that inspired it, most times we want to know "what's in it for us right here and right now." Cities and communities that need rebuilding have become familiar to us. A couple of times I've asked if our current unsettled situation with a global pandemic that seemingly won't quit, worldwide environmental devastation, ongoing social unrest, qualifies as exile, sabbath, winter, or something else. Whatever anyone names it, instructions for the Jubilee Year and from Third Isaiah give us workable ideas for rebuilding our own surroundings. Let's remember the God of liberation and homecoming also is God of resurrection!

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Pentecost 19A

Philippians 4:1-9

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 contended at my side in the cause 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 petitions with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will protect 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, ponder 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.


When we gather in person I usually do a quick overview of where we are in the church's year of grace. After today we have 6 (six, a half-dozen) more Sundays and then it will be the First Sunday of Advent and another new year. The current Revised Common Lectionary Year A emphasizes the gospel we received from the community gathered around Matthew. At the start of Matthew an angel instructs Joseph to name the baby "Emmanuel," God-with-us; at the end of Matthew, Jesus promises to be with us forever, "Lo, I am with you always." We know Jesus' promise through Luke of the Holy Spirit of life, of resurrection, of presence the world received in a spectacular manner on the day of Pentecost. John's gospel also brings us God's abiding presence in the Spirit. Today's second reading from the apostle Paul's letter to the church at Philippi assures us of God with us, God among us, God for us.


Philippians is one of the seven genuine or undisputed letters written by the apostle Paul. Although as circular, round-robin documents they probably received some editing by others along the way, writing style, vocabulary, syntax, and theology substantially reflect Paul/Saul of Tarsus. Philippians is the "epistle of Joy," with joy or its cognates occurring at least 16 times. As last week's notes observed, we refer to Philippians as a captivity letter because Paul wrote it while he was incarcerated—possibly in house arrest or in a dungeon. Despite circumstances, he maintains confidence in God's presence along with assurance of his essential identity in Jesus Christ.

4:2 "I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord…" often gets misinterpreted by assuming the two women had been in the midst of a serious disagreement, but instead it's almost definitely a style of writing and discourse called paranaesis (roughly encouragement or exhortation) that was common in that era and that we find elsewhere in writings from Paul, in epistles attributed to him, and in 1 Peter and 2 Peter. In addition, unlike in the Corinthian Church, there's no evidence of any particular conflict at First Church Philippi. 4:9 confirms this when Paul advises them to keep on doing the things they've learned from him, their pastor and teacher.

4:8 is one of Paul's famous lists: true; honorable; just; pure; pleasing; commendable; excellent; praise-worthy…


As a People of the Book – along with Jews and Muslims – Christians accord a high level of authority to the bible and its words inform every aspect of our lives. However, there's something so compelling, inspired, and universally applicable about our scriptures that many people who don't claim any spiritual way use some of its passages to guide them; there's also a Bible as Literature approach you may know about. In addition, even those of us who hear and heed God's call to love and justice, obedience and righteous living to heal creation and transform society, focus on different aspects of The Word at different times.

It's not humanly possibly to spend 365/24/7 responding to God's unmistakable summons to care for the sick, cast out demons, challenge Big Oil, grow and distribute food, worship in gathered assembly. Often we go to the bible for comfort and reassurance.


With southern California counties in different stages of remaining closed and partially reopening, as the USA prepares for a critical presidential election, most of us reasonably thoughtful people have been doing everything possible to care for our neighbors and maintain a semblance of mental and emotional health. But by now, even people who aren't essential or frontline workers need comfort far more than they need another call to action. For sure this passage commands us to rejoice, to be gentle, to let God know our "prayer requests" (not simply praises and thanksgivings!) and not to worry. But most importantly for now, this scripture assures us:
5bThe Lord is near. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will protect your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. … 9bthe God of peace will be with you.


• This passage promises us God is with us; it also commands us "Rejoice in the Lord always."
• If you've sung in choirs, you may know Henry Purcell's extremely famous "Rejoice in the Lord Alway" based on Philippians 4:4-5.
• How can we have joy in spite of everything?
• Philippians, the Letter of Joy commands us to rejoice and it promises God's presence and peace and protection. In addition, it more than suggests:
8Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable [famous or renowned – Greek is euphemism], if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, ponder these things.
• At this mid-October point when we realize if only we'd started distancing and masking back in January or even February. When we wonder if civil rights legislation, better relating and greater awareness hadn't changed a whole lot of human behaviors and even structures, after all? When we ask if only more individuals and corporations and industries had been more careful with the gifts of creation (David Attenborough says the planet can recover a lot during the next ten years). Amidst all the ugly, disappointing, unsavory, and degraded, how does thinking about good and pleasing things feel?
• In any case, this passage commands us to rejoice and enjoy. A sunrise, a savory salad, a purring cat, a surprise flower finding a way through concrete, a properly distanced conversation, an archived recording of our choir singing a favorite anthem. Have you ever been told or told yourself to "Lighten up?" (As if I need to ask.) What are some of your best and favorite Little Things in life?

Philippians 4:5b The Lord is near. How?

• Short list: In the prayers and presence of people of faith, in the presence of those who care for creation, who advocate for justice. The Lord is near in the words of scripture. As we literally re-member and retell stories of God's faithfulness throughout history and in our own individual lives. The Lord is near as God self-reveals in holy ordinary stuff of creation—water, grain, fruit of the vine.
• What evidence of God's presence do you especially rely on and return to?
• Do you have a favorite scripture for comfort or reassurance? A particular book of the bible?
• Is there a special place or activity that almost always helps you feel better and/or closer to God?

Saturday, October 03, 2020

Pentecost 18A

Philippians 3:4b-14

4If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith [or faithfulness of] in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Prayer Song: Knowing You, Jesus

All I once held dear, built my life upon
All this world reveres, and wars to own
All I once thought gain I have counted loss
Spent and worthless now, compared to this

Knowing you, Jesus
Knowing you, there is no greater thing
You're my all, you're the best
You're my joy, my righteousness
And I love you, Lord

Now my heart's desire is to know you more
To be found in you and known as yours
To possess by faith what I could not earn
All-surpassing gift of righteousness

Oh, to know the power of your risen life
And to know you in your sufferings
To become like you in your death, my Lord
So with you to live and never die

Graham Kendrick – Copyright 1993 Make Way Music

Philippi and Philippians

Today we read from Apostle Paul's letter to the church at Philippi. As their founding pastor and mission developer, he writes from prison (house arrest?) and describes his identity in Jesus Christ's death and resurrection as central, despite his incredibly splendid cultural and religious Jewish résumé. Today's passage starts out with one of Paul's famous lists; this list of his credentials includes seven (the number of perfection) elements. Paul possibly wrote this captivity (imprisonment) letter either from Ephesus around 52-56, or more probably from Rome around 61-62. Captivity letter? Philippians has been called the Epistle of Joy and reveals Paul captured by and captive to Jesus Christ. In this reading he reminds the Philippian Christians "what's really important." Paul reminds us our identity in Christ is central.

Philippi was a long-time Roman colony, so like the apostle Paul himself, the people Paul addressed in this letter were Roman citizens, yet still colonials. They received a lot of freedom and privilege in return for loyalty to the empire. Philippi was the first church on European soil.

First Church Philippi may have serendipitously started the way Acts 16:13-15 describes:

On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. "If you consider me a believer in the Lord," she said, "come and stay at my house." And she persuaded us.

Paul and his sidekick Timothy went to Philippi in Macedonia, then down to the river on the sabbath hoping to find an ad hoc synagogue; if there was no local synagogue, Jews would gather at the river to form a minyan or at least to pray together. They met Lydia by the riverbank, and eventually baptized Lydia and her entire family. Commentaries from writers familiar with that culture differ on whether Lydia was very rich from selling purple goods or if she was quite poor and barely scraping by.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:10-11

• In Graham Kendrick's paraphrase, to know the power of your risen life, and to know you in your sufferings. To become like you in your death, my Lord, so with you to live and never die.

For Paul, the good news of the gospel is death and resurrection. We have been baptized into Jesus' death and resurrection. Just as for us, anti-imperial heavenly citizenship at Philippi began with baptism; the Holy Sprit creates the church out of the assembly of the baptized gathered around Word and Sacrament.

Note on 3:9 – the faithfulness of Christ is a more accurate interpretation than faith in Christ. The faithfulness of Christ is God's own fidelity to us, to all creation, made visible and tangible in human flesh in Jesus of Nazareth.


During the endless pandemic that has wrecked schedules and ruined expectations, this scripture reminds us our foundation is not what we accomplish but about what God in Christ has accomplished in us and for us. In his letters Paul is huge on everyone's participation in the ongoing life of the church; he is very clear about the extremely high value of everyone's particular gifts to the wholeness and integrity of the body of Christ. God absolutely calls us to be doers of the Word and not simply hearers. We talk about God's Work / Our Hands. Regarding Jesus' promise we'd do greater works than he did, a while ago I heard a preacher ask, "Where were you born? St Mary's? Presbyterian General? Where did you graduate? Concordia? Notre Dame?" He cited health care and education as only two of the countless ways Christians have contributed to the greater good. Individual Christians also fill for-profit and not-for-profit non-church-related entities as employees, clients, and customers. You can make a very long list.

All of us are urban, if not exactly cliff dwellers, and we've observed enough to know fields and forests are not active to the same degree all of the time. Although trees, vegetation, and houseplants constantly provide oxygen, there are times and seasons of more spectacularly visible giving with veggies, fruits, and flowers, especially at harvest time. Humans, their organizations and institutions likewise have seasons of high activity and seasons of simply being and passively receiving. Just as it was for Paul, the most important part of our identity is who God has recreated us to be in Jesus Christ. Essential workers aside, it's probably accurate to assume most of us are working some and producing some during lockdown, but maybe not what we're used to doing or what we wish we were doing. Just as Paul describes a life in process and continuing to change and grow in 3:12 – Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal… COVID-19 is one of many seasons or stages along the way for us.