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It is easy to imagine our reading from Philippians as a cross-strict. Our passage today can easily be glossed over because it’s filled with church-y, flowery language. We can rush these words from Philippians, or, we can slow down and savor the depths of the spirit that is with us and within them.
Paul writes, from prison, “Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad!”
The word for glad, in Greek, is χαίρετε (chairete), you can see in the English that it’s not too far off from the word charity. The root word for glad, for χαίρετε (chairete), is χάρις (charis) which means gift. Today we are going to celebrate communion, also known as eucharist. Eucharist is a Greek word that directly translates into English as good gift. To give thanksgiving, to express gratitude in Greek is eucharist.
Let’s remember, this is a prison letter, Paul is writing from jail to his friends on the other side of the Roman Empire, “Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad.” This isn’t Paul writing, ‘you know, it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile.’ This isn’t Paul saying, ‘You have to look through the rain to see the rainbow.’ Even more than that, this isn’t Paul saying, ‘Let’s all remember that Jesus died on the cross and that makes everything OK so stop pouting.’
There is something more going on here, because this word glad, χαίρετε (chairete) comes from χάρις (charis) it comes from gift, which means that to be glad is to be aware of the gift.
To be glad means you are aware of the gift of life.
The gift of breath.
The gift of being together even while we are apart.
The gift of waking up this morning.
For Paul, to be glad is not to fake happiness.
To be glad is not to force a smile.
To be glad is to have an alert awareness, to be glad is to see and to cherish the gifts that are all around us.
With everything else that we have seen throughout this letter to the Philippians, to be glad is also to be aware, to be apart of the movement of God’s grace and peace that are unfolding around us even here, even now.
Paul writes this letter, essentially, from death row. Not too long after this letter to the Philippians is written, Paul is executed by the Roman Empire because Paul refuses to say that Caesar is Lord and insists, persists, with the hope and promise that Jesus is Lord, that the ways of the empire, the ways of war and coercion and force and brute strength will never withstand the love and forgiveness and service and sacrifice and welcome and inclusion and grace and peace that is God.
In this death row letter, as Paul waits for his execution, Paul writes, “Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad.” Paul is able to write this because Paul is open to the gifts that are with him even in this moment and Paul is able to not only discern but be a part of the movement of God, the gift and grace and peace that is still at work in this world.
We need to remember that when Paul writes ‘Be glad’ Paul does not mean that we need to force a fleeting emotional experience. To be glad is to live with a disciplined alertness, it is to see and to cherish and to live as the good gift that you are. Even in the muck and the mire, even in our loneliness, even in our uncertainty, even in our depression or anxiety, even with all that is going on in the world that makes us rush our breath, even here God is up to something.
Generally, we think that being thrown in jail is a bad thing. Paul’s job was to travel, start churches, encourage folks to grow into their leadership, to invest his time and efforts and energy in their development, to help them unleash grace and peace in their lives and since Paul is in jail, Paul can’t mentor, Paul can really spend time with the folks that he wants to spend time with, but Paul can write, Paul can get to know the guards and I’m going to give away the ending to Paul’s letter to the Philippians but it’s not really a spoiler since this letter has been around for 2000 years. Paul writes at the end of the letter to the Philippians, “All of God’s people here, especially those in Caesar’s household, send you their greeting.”
It’s because of Caesar that Paul is in jail, it’s because of Caesar that the early church was persecuted because they would not bow down to Caesar and instead insisted there is a better way for us to live because their is a better Lord for us to follow. Because Paul was in prison the church has found a way into Caesar’s household.
Never underestimate what can happen when we live with the gladness that is the awareness of gift, and the discernment that opens us to being a part of the movement of God’s grace and peace that is with us even now.
Paul has learned to be glad, and he is encouraging the Philippians to be glad, because there is a very specific kind of formation in life that Paul have the Philippians have gone through – struggle, and pain, and disappointment. The kind of gladness that Paul knows doesn’t come from having everything go right. It doesn’t come from always getting the promotion, living in your dream house, having the yard that everyone thinks is greener than theirs.
When I think about the gladness that Paul writes of, I think about Ginger, one of the saints that has gone before us this year. 16 years ago, Ginger was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer. Don told me that her doctor at the Mayo Clinic had only seen this cancer in 3 other patients. Ginger was told that she might only have a couple good years, at best. Last week, Molly told me a story about traveling to New York with her family and how Ginger would hold her hand as they walked through the crowded streets and in the middle of the crosswalk, Ginger would slow down, even stop, taking in a savoring the sights and sounds and the sensation of holding her daughters hand on Broadway.
If you have even been to New York, you know that things already move fast and you don’t slow down in the crosswalk. But Ginger couldn’t help herself. She had to slow down, she needed to be glad, because she was aware of the gift of that moment.
Maybe there are a few folks out there that have been lucky enough to find themselves with this sort of joy without struggle, without suffering, without loss and disappointment, but in my experience and maybe your own, it seems as if we can only become acutely aware of the gift, that we can only slow down to take it all in and cherish this moment, when we’ve seen some stuff.
For Paul, and maybe for us, to be glad is to be forged and formed, it’s to be shaped and transformed by our struggles, our pains, because in some counter-intuitive way, all of that opens our hearts and souls to the gift and the God that is with us even here, even now.
Paul writes, “Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near.”
I don’t know about you, but when I think of my obituary, and I imagine all the words that could be used to describe me, gentle is not at the top of the list. Kind, considerate, amicable, those synonyms can make the cut, but gentleness, as a word, it feels like putting on a wet sock.
In Greek, this word is ἐπιεικὲς (epieikes), it can be translated as forbearance, fairness, and gentleness. The prefix Epi in Greek is on or fitting and eikes is equitable or fair. This term was sometimes used in legal settings to relax strict legal standards in order to maintain the spirit of the law.
ἐπιεικὲς (epieikes), gentleness, is an act of kindness in a moment when retaliation is expected.
This gentleness has a strength to it, this kind of gentleness is firm, this is not the gentleness that you might find with a moist piece of bread.
We’ve said this a few times so far but it’s worth remembering, Paul is writing this letter from prison. Paul is a political prisoner, in jail because in the Roman Empire it was assumed that the Caesar ruled with divine right and authority.
It was thought that the Caesar must be divine, how else would they have so much power and strength and authority? There were a few propaganda phrases in the Roman Empire and one of them was ‘Caesar is Lord’, another saying was ‘Peace through victory’, ‘Peace through military might.’ Caesar’s army continually expanded the empire, eventually it reached from England to India. What Caesar’s army would do as they expanded the empire is that they would say to a village, confess that Caesar is Lord…or we will crucify you.
Technically that is a kind of peace, but it’s only ‘peaceful’ because everyone that thinks otherwise is murdered.
But Paul says Jesus is Lord. In saying this, in insisting that Jesus is Lord, Paul is saying that the world is not made better through coercive violence and military might. When Paul says Jesus is Lord, Paul is saying that the world is made whole, that we know peace, when we live with the loving service and sacrifice that we see and know in Jesus Christ.
There is perhaps nothing more dangerous you could say in the Roman Empire than ‘Jesus is Lord’ because it takes the propaganda about Caesar and it turns it into a confession of faith in Christ.
That kind of thing could get you thrown in prison.
Paul, in prison, writes to the Philippians, and what we need to remember about the city of Philippi is that Caesar populated it with military veterans. During one of the Roman wars, the Caesar paid troops by giving them homes in Philippi. Not only was the city populated with veterans loyal to Caesar, it was also a military outpost where new military recruits, hopeful for their own plot of land in Philippi, now lived and worked.
From his jail cell, Paul can see where things are headed for this Philippian church. It is easy to imagine Paul thinking to himself, “If I’m in jail for saying Jesus is Lord, if I’m in jail for insisting that there is a better and more holy way for us to live in the world, it’s only a matter of time before a Philippian is in here with me. They’ve had a taste of this grace and peace, they have experienced God’s love, they are aware of the gift and are discerning how to be a part of the movement of God even here, even now, and if that’s what brought me to jail, it’s going to happen to them too.”
This is the subtext to Paul writing, “Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near.”
Paul is, essentially, saying to the Philippians, trouble is coming your way. Things are going to be difficult, things are going to be painful, you are going to feel attacked, it’s going to feel like the ground around you is crumbling, it might seem like everything is falling apart and you are going to be tempted to lash out, to seek revenge, to throw a punch, to retaliate, but you shouldn’t, instead, let your forbearance, let your gentleness be shown in your treatment of all people.
The funny thing about that Greek phrase for all people, it literally translates as all people.
There are moments in this life, especially in the season that we find ourselves in now, where it’s easy to have a short fuse. But that doesn’t mean you let someone else light it. Are you going to give another person so much power and authority over you that they get to define and dictate how you respond to them?
There are evils in this life that should make us angry.
There are injustices that we need to confront.
There are wrongs that need to be made right.
In the heat of the moment, we can easily say and do things that, once we catch our breath, once remember to breathe, we look back on them with regret.
When we feel as if we are surrounded by lies, misinformation, slander, gossip, and cruelty, it is tempting to say to ourselves, well, if that’s how they’re going to act, that’s exactly what I’m going to give them. And yet, we all know, when it comes to the pains and the troubles of this life, if we don’t transform them, we will only transmit them.
This has nothing to do with anything that recently happened to me, it’s just a purely hypothetical example, but imagine that you’re giving a presentation for work. Just to be on the safe side, to make sure that everyone has access to your presentation, because it’s going to be online and we know that everyone isn’t online, even if folks are online, their access isn’t always reliable, you write out a copy and your presentation and have it available for folks. You even mail a copy of the presentation to people that don’t have internet access and can’t join you for it online. Since you are going to write everything out, you devote a good part of your week to writing and crafting your presentation, and then because you’re going to give it online you double and triple check your connections. You make sure everything that you can be in control of is under your control. You start to give your presentation and eventually you find yourself in the flow, everything is going well, you are in your groove, all of your technology is doing exactly what you need it to, but then in the comments someone writes, we can’t hear you. You think it must be glitch on their end, but just to be safe you try to multi-task and so you keep giving your presentation as you check your connections and do another triple check of your technology. As far as you can tell, everything should be fine, but then another comment pops up and says that they can’t hear anything, and then there’s another, and another, and another.
In that moment, in this is purely a hypothetical example, but in that moment you know that there is literally nothing that you can do other than hope the people you are giving your presentation to can read lips.
In a moment like that, and again, we’re just imaging a situation that could happen to you, we are not talking about everything that happened to me last Sunday, in a moment like that it does not matter how many people express their appreciation or gratitude for your presentation. It helps, don’t get me wrong, and yet, in moments like that it doesn’t matter how much went right because we can too easily dwell and ruminate on everything that went wrong.
If we don’t transform our pain, we will transmit it, and we will find ourselves having an argument about dishes in the sink that’s not really about dishes in the sink.
Life is difficult and there will be difficulties that come your way, you will not be able to stop them, you will not be able to avoid them, and when these difficulties come, perhaps the only thing you will be able to control is how you respond to them.
Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people.
We can be grounded, we can see our lives as they fit into a larger story, we can define our response to one another, we don’t have to yield that power to anyone or any circumstance. To do that, we’ve got to slow down and take a breath, to remember, as Paul writes, the Lord is near. The spirit of the same God that created and sustains all things is as close to us as each breath.
Paul continues, writing, “Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks.”
The word for anxious is μεριμνᾶτε (merimnate) and it’s a fascinating word because it has my name in it. But more than that, anxious is an interesting Greek word because it comes from the root word μέριμνα (mérimna) which means parts, divided or separated from the whole. Anxious in Greek means to be pulled apart, to go to pieces.
Some of us are not very good at math, and yet, at the end of the day, when we know we should be falling asleep but can’t, we can quickly calculate exactly how many hours and minutes of sleep we could get if we could only fall asleep.
Sometimes you get your credit card statement and it has a charge on it that doens’t make sense. You remember going to the gas station, you remember what you bought online because you couldn’t fall asleep and tried to tell yourself that shopping would help, but you don’t remember going to Abdullah the Butcher’s House of Ribs and Chinese Food, what is that charge about?
There are all sorts of parts that can play ping pong in our minds.
I know Susan said something about me, but I only know that Susan said something about me because Yancey told me that Susan said something about me, but did Yancey really hear what Susan said? Maybe they didn’t really say anything about me. Maybe I’m taking all this too seriously, but maybe I should talk to Susan and see if there’s an issue between us. But if there’s not an issue between us and I talk to Susan, am I making an issue. I should probably just drop this, but I can’t stop thinking about it.
To all the Susans that are watching, I hope we’re good.
When we don’t have a larger understanding, when we only have parts and we can’t find a way to fit them together because it only feels like things are falling apart, we’re anxious.
A lot of our anxiety can come from not knowing where to place or how to think about parts of our lives. I don’t know where to put this, I’m not sure what to think about that. Is this something that I cannot control and I just have to tell myself that when it comes to this I can’t do anything about it and I can find some peace there or is this one of those things that I have to do something about? Being anxious, having those parts that we don’t know what to do with, it’s living with those parts just knocking around our minds. It’s like having a car in park but the pedal is all the way down. We’re just getting revved up but we’re not going anywhere.
Part of how we deal with our anxiety is by being aware of gift. Be glad, and for Paul to be glad is to have an alert awareness, to be glad is to see and to cherish the gifts that are all around us. To be glad to be aware, to be open, and to being apart of the movement of God’s grace and peace that are unfolding around us even here, even now. From this gladness, from this awareness of the gifts that are around us and within us, we move through life with a kind of gentleness, with forbearance and we don’t let others define our reactions to them because we have decided to respond with grace and peace. If we’re able to do this, that peace can’t help but spill over into the parts and the anxiety that’s playing ping pong in our minds.
Paul continues writing, “rather, [and I love that Paul writes ‘rather’ because it admits that we will feel these parts. We will be confused by the bill, we won’t always fall asleep like a baby, sometimes we’ll be telling ourselves to stop thinking about something and because we tell ourselves to stop thinking about something we can only keep thinking about it. Rather admits that anxiety will come our way, and when it does, we will do something about it, we will] bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.”
The words for prayers, petitions, and requests all sound like different words for the same thing, prayer. And they are, but there’s more going on here.
In Greek, prayers, petitions, and requests are different words, in the Christian scriptures there are three different kinds of prayers, and all three words are mentioned by Paul so perhaps this is something that we should pay attention to.
εὐχαριστίας (eucharistias) giving thanks, brings us back to being glad, it is by living with an awareness and an openness to gift and grace. Specifically, is giving thanks, literally, giving thanks for God’s grace.
προσευχῇ (proseuchē) is the Greek word for prayer and it’s the kind of prayer that’s a bit like a wish, it’s a hope, it’s a dream.
δεήσει (deēsei) is to make known a specific need.
αἰτήματα (aitēmata) means to ask.
So why does Paul use these three different words? The first word for prayer, προσευχῇ (proseuchē) can mean a wish a hope or a dream, but contextually, this word is used in religious settings, like the Lord’s prayer. It’s the prayer that we go to when we’re not sure what else to say or do. It’s a repeated prayer, it’s a formal, sacred, kind of prayer.
δεήσει (deēsei) on the other hand, δεήσει (deēsei) is like driving late at night and it seems like you’re the only person on the road. You want to get home because it’s getting late so you start to see the speed limit as a recommendation instead of a requirement. You are cruising down the road but then you come down a hill and at the bottom of the hill, just off the side of the road you see a car that’s parked and your first thought is, ‘that’s really weird, there isn’t a parking spot there’ but then you notice that the car parked on the side of the road has red and blue lights on top, and at your top speed at the bottom of the hill you realize how far over the speed limit you are going so to be less obvious bout breaking the law you slam on the breaks as quickly as you can, hoping that it helps you look inconspicuous, all while saying to yourself, “please no, please no, please no”. δεήσει (deēsei) is a gut level kind of prayer, those spur of the moment, I need some help, I need some grace, I need some peace, kinds of prayers.
αἰτήματα (aitēmata) means to ask, it’s the kind of prayer where you’re not sure what to do other than ask for something. It’s when you ask for wisdom, it’s the kind of prayer where you have a list of names of folks to pray for and you ask God to care for them and to help you do the same.
This is just a guess, but I’m willing to bet that Paul uses these three different words for prayer because prayer can’t be reduced to a formula. Prayer is not reducible to bow your head, close your eyes and hold your hands. Prayer isn’t a formula, it’s a posture towards life, and towards God, and towards one another.
I think, by using these three words for prayer Paul is saying, whatever it looks like for you to open yourself up to the divine, do it. Whatever prayer works for you, whatever helps you align your heart with holiness, whatever prayer guides you toward God, do it. If you need to journal, if you need to yell, if you need to go for a jog and work things out as you move, if you need to just step away from everyone and everything and sit in silence with a candle, or if you need to call some friends and family and say this is what I’m struggling with, I need your help, will you give whatever thoughts and prayers you can to help guide me, whatever it is that opens yourself up to the divine, that is your prayer, so do it.
What I appreciate about Paul and our passage today is that it doesn’t tell us we can avoid anxiety, but with each other, and with God, we can deal with our anxiety.
I don’t know if you needed a reminder to slow down and take a breath, I don’t know if you needed a reminder to not let others define or dictate the direction of your life, I don’t know if you needed a reminder to open yourself to the divine in prayer however it is that you pray, but I needed it this week and I know I’m going to need this reminder for weeks to come.
I want to be the kind of person that can hear what others say about me and remember that what they say about you usually means a lot more about them than it does you.
I want to be the kind of person that, even when I’m surprised and shocked that a charge shows up on my credit card statement for Abdullah the Butcher’s House of Ribs and Chinese Food because that restaurant has been closed for years, in those moments of surprise and of panic and of fear and worry, I can remember, God takes care of the birds, God watches over the flowers of the field, God already knows, and whatever the cause of this issue is, we’ll find a way through it.
I want to be the kind of person that notices in conversations when we stop talking with one another and start talking at one another because we both have our hands on the volume and are turning things up to 11, I want to be the kind of persons that can take their hand off the volume, that can take a step back, that can take a breath and, with some gentleness, with some forbearance, figures out a way to put the pieces back together.
My hope and my prayer is that we might be that kind of people with and for one another.
Paul ends this passage with a promise, “Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.”
Paul is writing about the peace of God, which is vastly different than the peace of Caesar. This peace isn’t coercion, it’s not the sword, it’s peace. Paul writes that this kind of peace exceeds all understanding and I have to share with you the Greek word for exceeds because it is excessive.
It literally translates as to have beyond, to excel, to surpass, to extend beyond, to transcend.
Paul writes that this peace of God that exceeds that transcends, that extends beyond all understanding, this peace will “keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus”.
Keep your hearts and mind safe is a decent translation but it misses the weight of what Paul says. The word that Paul uses for to keep safe is φρουρήσει (phrourēsei) which is a military term meaning to guard and protect, to be kept in custody.
Guards were watching over Paul as he writes to the Philippians knowing that in Philippi there are lots of Roman guards. Everywhere you went in the Roman Empire there were guards, and this was especially true in Philippi because the city was populated with Roman veterans and was also a military outpost.
Paul and the Philippians knew a thing or two about guards and how they would enforce and guard the peace of Caesar.
Paul, brilliantly, takes this word and idea and image and flips it on its head, because the peace of God is not violence, it does not demean, diminish, or destroy, God’s peace is found in the sacrificial, serving, giving, loving, joy, justice and kindness where everything gets put back together for the sake of grace and peace. This kind of peace guards our hearts and minds. Picture those Roman military brutes that Paul and the Philippians know so well, guarding our hearts and minds in the peace of God.
Today we are celebrating all the saints that have gone before us. There can be a lot of complicated emotions today – we’re remembering those close to our hearts that have gone before us. Regardless of how long it has been since we’ve been with them, we can still hear their voice in our heads. As we talked about gentleness, about being glad and having a heart and mind guided by God’s grace and peace, I bet a saint in your life came to mind. These saints are inviting us to live into their legacy, to trust that the same gladness, gentleness, and peace they shared with us, we can share with one another.
Prayer and Lord’s Prayer
Faithful One, as we give thanks for your prophets and their words of freedom, we grieve the ways injustice continues to take its toll. We pray that we may be a community that listens, responds, and offers support and solidarity to all your sacred truth-tellers and holy rabble-rousers. In days filled with uncertainty, we hold fast to the truths that ground us. We keep our hearts set upon all that is just. All that is freeing. All that deepens our connections and commitments to one another. If we choose to follow, Love will lead us. May this be our prayer and our practice, today, this week, and all of our days. All this we pray through Christ who taught us to pray saying, Our God (Father, Mother, Creator) who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.
Nov. 2 – 7
Click on the day to expand the guide.
Notice – When Jesus told his closest followers that he faced death on the cross, Peter (as usual the most outspoken disciple) tried to talk Jesus out of the idea. Instead, Jesus “doubled down,” telling Peter that he called ALL his followers to “take up their cross.” What would be the point, he asked, of pursuing earthly wealth or prestige in ways that gave up God’s offer of life in eternity? “Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives?” What do you believe it means for you to “take up your cross” and follow Jesus? “Taking up your cross,” wrote Pastor Myron Augsberger, involves three steps: “(1) making up one’s mind; (2) giving up one’s autonomy; and (3) taking up one’s identity.”* In your spiritual journey so far, in what ways have you made up your mind to follow Jesus, given up your autonomy to his leadership, and taken up your identity and purpose as a Christ-follower? In what ways are you asking God to help you grow in each of those life choices? In what ways have you already found your true self as you follow Christ?
Pray – God, so many voices tell me that avoiding pain and sacrifice is the way to a good life. Your call to leave a legacy is highly counter-cultural. Let my lesser self die, so that a greater self shaped by you may be born. Amen.
* Myron S. Augsberger, The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 24: Matthew. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982, comment on Matthew 16:24.
Notice – Paul the apostle was not a father, as far as we know, but he seems to have formed an almost fatherly connection with Timothy, a gifted younger protégé. The apostle expressed gratitude for Timothy’s godly grandmother and mother, who had shaped Timothy’s faith. Now Timothy was leading a church on his own, carrying on the faith he’d learned from his family and his apostolic mentor. In what ways, if any, have your mother, grandmother and other adult mentors encouraged you to value and use your God-given strengths? In what ways have they shaped your life? How can you mentor and encourage those who are younger than you are? Ask God to show you someone you can encourage and uplift today.
Pray – God, thank you for your work in the lives of Lois and Eunice, who influenced young Timothy to become your devoted servant. Help me, like them, to make a positive difference in others lives. Amen.
Notice – Mark reported that a grateful woman anointed Jesus with very expensive perfume in the last week of his life. (John 12:1-8 and Luke 7:36-50 told very similar stories. Scholars differ on whether these are different versions of the same event, or if they reflect two or three separate occasions.) Some criticized her striking act of gratitude, but Jesus staunchly defended her. Imagine the deep love and gratitude that moved the woman to offer Jesus this extravagant gift. What does Jesus’ response tell you about how much her fervent love meant to him as he faced death? How can you show your love for Jesus, both in your inner “sacred space” and outwardly, with the same kind of spontaneity, generosity and urgency?
Pray – Loving Lord, she wasn’t trying to impress us, or the people in the room with you. She just wanted urgently to say “Thank you” for your love and grace. Help the same profound gratitude to motivate any of my acts of service to you and others. Amen.
Notice – People so poor they don’t have enough to eat or wear, who can’t afford good (or any) care if they’re sick, who are in prison, who are outsiders in your community—most of us are willing to do a little something to help them. Jesus called people like that “these brothers and sisters of mine.” To truly “buy into” in God’s renewing work in the world means seeing that the poor, the sick, the prisoners, the aliens are not “them”—they’re “us.” Jesus calls us to build a legacy of doing his work as one human family, bound by mutual caring and sharing. In this parable, “the king’s” word surprised both “the sheep” and “the goats.” The goats’ question (verse 44) meant, “If we’d known it was you, of course we’d have helped.” But the hungry, hurting, outcast people they ignored, maybe every day, weren’t like Jesus—weren’t worth helping. What can give you eyes to see the face of Jesus in the faces of all those you meet, especially those who are outcast or hurting? When have you found the freedom and joy that comes from helping others because it’s the “God thing” to do?
Pray – O God, keep my eyes and my heart open to see your face in the faces of hurting people around me who need your touch through me. Amen.
Notice – The apostle Paul was traveling to Jerusalem. He and his companions carried an offering from Greek Gentile Christians to help their hurting Jewish companions in the faith. But Paul also knew that in Jerusalem he’d likely be arrested and imprisoned. Saying farewell to the elders in Ephesus, he carefully recounted how he had done the work God called him to do and sketched the tasks he trusted them to carry on when he was gone. Today’s passage included the only direct quote from Jesus that is not in the four gospels (verse 35). The apostle introduced it by talking about the value of remembering the Lord Jesus’ words. What habits (the daily guide to prayer and study may be one, since you are reading this!) have you formed that help you to remember Jesus’ words? What value do you see in remembering at least some important words without having to look them up?
Pray – Jesus, you have given so much for me and to me. Keep shaping me into a person who does not simply take from you, but who seeks actively and creatively to share you with others. Amen.
Notice – The apostle Paul never had a son, as far as we know. Timothy came remarkably close to filling that place in his life, as verse 22 indicated. The Philippian Christians already knew Timothy, but Paul included this glowing note of recommendation as he planned to send his younger associate to see to their physical and spiritual well-being in person. Scholar N. T. Wright wrote, “It is interesting that he doesn’t say ‘Timothy is a wonderful teacher’, or even ‘Timothy is a very devout and holy man’, but, ‘Timothy will genuinely care about you’. The definition Paul seems to be adopting for a good pastor… has more to do with sheer unselfish love.”* It seems Paul would agree with the saying that “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” How have you seen this play out in church, in workplaces, schools and families?
Pray – Jesus, your whole story reflected that God genuinely cares about my well-being. Timothy learned to live out your attitude toward others. Keep growing my capacity to do that, too. Amen.
* Wright, N.T., Paul for Everyone, The Prison Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 109). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.