What We Have Learned and Received and Heard and Seen...

From Philippians 4:1-9

Thank you for the Lavish Welcome celebration!  Fabulous! . . .

And as if on cue, the Supreme Court responded in kind this week . . . at least in their own way. . . .  It has been a long battle for GLBTQ people to receive marriage equality, and it is easy for this community to feel frustrated, rejected, shamed, blamed, and at the very least unsupported.  Just look at what happened with Prop. 8 and the Church.  Silence.  And within that deafening silence, it was tantamount to giving consent to oppression.  And within that context, your Lavish Welcome—what this particular church stands for—made (and continues to make) a real and lasting difference in people’s lives.  You stand for hope in the midst of distress.
Well, this past week, the Supreme Court responded to 7 pending gay marriage cases before them with their own kind of silence.  But this silence did not give consent to oppression.  In fact, it did the opposite. 

By deciding NOT to consider any of the cases, they essentially endorsed the lower federal courts’ rulings—all of which pointed in one direction—towards the endorsement of the constitutionally protected right for same-sex couples to marry.  By the Supreme Court declining to consider these cases, GLBTQ couples will likely be able to marry in 35 states—up from 19 a week ago. 
In other words, love wins . . . even in the face of distortion and bigotry.  The lavish welcome is growing wider. . . .  Or in the words of Paul, Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!
I dare say that most of you remember the wee hours of August 24.  Most of us were jolted awake by the biggest earthquake in the Bay Area since Loma Prieta.  It was stressful, disconcerting.  Winnie has still not recovered!  We arrived at church later that morning uncertain, eyeing the new cracks with suspicion, concern, and apprehension.  Should we meet in the sanctuary or not?  What does this mean for us and the other communities who use our space?  Will we be able to afford the repairs? 
But before I made it home that afternoon, staff from the Week of Compassion had already emailed and called me about ways it could help us.  And they weren’t playing around.  They sent us a $1000 grant to use as we figure out what work needs to be done.  And a couple of weeks ago, we also got that surprise $500 gift from the Disciples Women of the church where I grew up in Russellville, Arkansas to help us in any work or repairs.
In other words, we may not be spared hard times and pressure-packed lives and difficult decisions, but we are not alone.  And we are not overcome.  Or in the words of Paul, Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!
And at this time during the Church year—as we near the season of Thanksgiving—we begin to focus more specifically on stewardship and pledges and budget and resources.  I know Dave will be sharing more with us as the budget proposal comes together. . . . 

And the question that most small churches like ours usually has is Will we have enough?  Will we have enough to support the work and ministry that we want to do and be about in the world?  I know very few people whose anxiety does not rise when the conversation turns to money.  It can be a difficult conversation, but in the church we try to ground that conversation in the reality of abundance.  Yes, we have enough.  Or in the words of Paul, Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice! 
Paul writes to the Philippians, The Lord is near.  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  The Lord is near.  As we talked about in Living the Questions, the 1st century Christians were expecting Jesus to come back literally at any moment; they expected the Parousia—the Second Coming—the end times within their lifetimes.  But what happens if we think of the phrase “The Lord is near” not in terms of time but in terms of space?  The Lord is nearby.  As close to us as our breath.  How might an understanding of God’s close proximity help to reassure us in times of doubt and anxiety, uncertainty and fear?
Our God is close by.  And we can come to God—we are urged to come to God—in prayer—in any and all circumstances.  Of course, there is no promise that our prayers and petitions will be answered in the ways we want.  Paul’s letter to the Philippians does not promise the absence of strife or a life of perfectly smooth sailing.  What IS promised is the peace of God—that will stand guard—like a sentry—at the doors of our lives.  In place of paralyzing anxiety, fear, frustration, and shame is God’s shalom—given in the mist of and in spite of hard times. . . .
I love what Barbara Gerlach says about this scripture: 

I have little patience for the blind joy of those who fail to see the sufferings of the world.  I am skeptical of those whose joy seems forced, happy no matter what befalls them. . . .
But there is another joy—deeper than the good times and bad times life metes out, stronger than our best attempts and sorest failings—a joy that lifts us when we cannot lift ourselves, a peace that grasps us and returns us renewed. . . .  This is the joy Paul proclaims when he writes to the Philippians from prison.  Rejoice in the Lord, for our deepest joy lies not in our circumstances, but in God.  Let all . . . know your forbearance.  To know the joy that comes from God is not to be carried away in blissful happiness, but to be strengthened and deepened in our love for the world.

Paul is incarcerated somewhere in the Greco-Roman world.  Things are not going his way—to say the least.  He is persecuted.  He is mistreated.  And in spite of his circumstances, he urges the Philippians—and us—to find the joy still deeply embedded in God, in Creation, and in our relationships with the world.  He does not urge us to ignore the harsh realities that surround us—but he does urge us to not let the bleak and destructive side of human experience be the last word. 
Yes, we are faced with Ebola, ISIS, Global Warming, contemporary forms of slavery, addiction, bigotry, homelessness, apathy.  But even in the face of these things, we are called to be strengthened and deepened in our love for the world.  Rather than face these situations and problems with gloom and despair, let us meet them confident in the joy and love that come from God.  Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!
Ministry matters. . . .  Month and week of ministry.  Solutions and success when faced with social, economic, spiritual problems and crises are not instantaneous.  20 years of being O & A, and still progress is slow. . . .  And still the Lavish Welcome we offer is significant.  Ministry matters. . . .  Ministry is a process, a journey.  And we are on that journey together.  And as part of that journey, Paul invites us to meet our worry with prayer and to turn over our anxiety to the peace that passes understanding.  We have learned and received and heard and seen some amazing things at God’s hand.  And we have been a part of many of those things. 
So, let us keep on doing the things that we have learned and received and heard and seen, and the God of peace will be with us always.  Amen.


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