Sunday May 22, 2022
Life and Work of our Church
Acknowledging the Territory
As we begin our worship, we once again acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is, by law, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our deep gratitude for this land and or those who have cared for it long before our ancestors arrived. We commit ourselves to live with respect upon it, seeking justice and equality for all.
Lighting the Christ Candle
The light of the Risen Christ shines in our world.
We light this candle to remind us to let Christ’s light shine.
Call to Worship ~ written by Thom Shuman
We gather to give thanks to God!
We thank God for joy, for laughter, for abundant blessings of every kind.
We gather to give thanks to God at all times and in all situations!
We thank God, when we can and as we can, for struggles, for solitude, for fears.
We gather to give thanks to God at all times and in all situations in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We thank God that, in Christ, our joys as well as our pain, our losses as well as our laughter, are all safe in God’s heart and hands.
And so, we gather in worship to give thanks to our God.
Opening Prayer (in unison)
Divine Source, we come before you today aware of the many ways in which we are so fortunate and blessed. But today we ask that you help us to find it in our hearts to be grateful to you no matter what. May we praise you for what we can do and praise you in spite of what we can’t. May we thank you for what is and what is not, for what is going well and for the things that cause us to struggle. May we thank you for what brings us joy and even for what brings us sorrow, for it is often in our deepest trials that we become most aware of the depths of our love. And so, as we gather here today, Divine One, we simply say, Thank-You. Amen.
Gift of Music When Morning Gilds the Skies #339
The letters written by Paul to the churches he helped to establish, make up a large portion of our Christian Scriptures. In many of those letters, Paul is apparently responding to questions or conflicts that have arisen in the individual congregations. He frequently expresses frustration and even anger at some of the behaviour that has developed. But the letter to the church in Philippi is different. From beginning to end, the letter to the Philippians is a letter of praise and gratitude for the people there and for Christ’s love and care among them.
Philippians 1:1-18 Good News Translation
From Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus—
To all God’s people in Philippi who are in union with Christ Jesus, including the church leaders and helpers:
May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
I thank my God for you every time I think of you; and every time I pray for you all, I pray with joy because of the way in which you have helped me in the work of the gospel from the very first day until now. And so I am sure that God, who began this good work in you, will carry it on until it is finished on the Day of Christ Jesus. You are always in my heart! And so it is only right for me to feel as I do about you. For you have all shared with me in this privilege that God has given me, both now that I am in prison and also while I was free to defend the gospel and establish it firmly. God is my witness that I tell the truth when I say that my deep feeling for you all comes from the heart of Christ Jesus himself.
I pray that your love will keep on growing more and more, together with true knowledge and perfect judgment, so that you will be able to choose what is best. Then you will be free from all impurity and blame on the Day of Christ. Your lives will be filled with the truly good qualities which only Jesus Christ can produce, for the glory and praise of God.
I want you to know, my friends, that the things that have happened to me have really helped the progress of the gospel. As a result, the whole palace guard and all the others here know that I am in prison because I am a servant of Christ. And my being in prison has given most of the believers more confidence in the Lord, so that they grow bolder all the time to preach the message fearlessly.
Of course some of them preach Christ because they are jealous and quarrelsome, but others from genuine good will. These do so from love, because they know that God has given me the work of defending the gospel. The others do not proclaim Christ sincerely, but from a spirit of selfish ambition; they think that they will make more trouble for me while I am in prison.
It does not matter! I am happy about it—just so Christ is preached in every way possible, whether from wrong or right motives.
Grateful to God
Paul’s letter to the Philippians was written while Paul was in jail. It is not clear exactly where this was or when, but it is likely that the letter was written while he was in prison in Rome and that it was one of the last letters, possibly the very last letter that Paul ever wrote. Although it is the only letter to the church in Philippi that we have in our scriptures, it is clear that this is not the only letter he has written to them. This is an ongoing communication with a community that he feels very connected with.
If you remember a few weeks ago, when we heard about Paul’s first visited Philippi, he was also thrown in prison there. And it is while in jail in Philippi that Paul and Silas sang songs of praise which resulted in the eventual conversion of the jailer and his entire family to the way of Christ. This time it seems that Paul is alone in jail, although Timothy was apparently able to tend to Paul’s needs and care for him during this time.
And just as had happened in Philippi, Paul had continued to spread the gospel of Jesus even while in prison. He writes that all of the palace guards and all the others that he has come into contact with during his imprisonment have now heard about Jesus and understand that it is because of his faith that Paul has been imprisoned. The fact that he talks about the palace guards and not the jailer as he did in Philippi also indicated that this time Paul has been jailed as a Roman citizen and therefore was being cared for and looked after.
What is also clear from this letter is that Paul’s relationship with the congregation in Philippi was one of deep love and respect. Throughout this letter Paul expresses his gratitude to the Philippians and talks about his deep desire to return to Philippi to see them again. There is a deep personal connection between Paul and the followers in Philippi. Paul tells them, “You are always in my heart!”
But this is not simply, “I’m grateful to have you as a friend” or “I miss you and can’t wait to see you again”. Paul says, “I thank my God for you every time I think of you”.
What Paul expresses thanks for is not just the people that he holds in his heart. He expresses thanks to God for them and for the fact that they have not only accepted the gospel that he shared with them, but that they have continued to spread the message of Christ even after Paul was no longer with them.
Paul’s gratitude is not based on his personal enjoyment of the friendship he has with the people of Philippi. It is not based on how he feels when he is with them or any of the typical feelings that each one of us has when we are with those we love and those who make us feel loved and respected in return.
Paul’s gratitude is to God for having put these people in his life. Paul’s gratitude is based on the understanding that, since his encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, he has found a purpose and a meaning in his life that influences everything he does. It has become his very reason for living. And it is the faith of the people in Philippi that point to the success of his mission.
It may seem like a very fine distinction between being grateful for someone’s love and friendship and being grateful to God for that person’s love. But I believe there is a difference. And the difference is where we ultimately put our faith, our trust and our love.
I’m sure many of you remember 10 years ago, when 20 first grade students were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I recall at the time listening to a conversation among a group of parents. One person said, “If anyone killed my child, I would kill them.” Several others nodded in agreement, but one woman shook her head.
“I would die for my children” she said. “I would fight with everything I had to protect them. I would put myself between them and any danger. I would take a bullet for my children. But I would not kill for them. I could not take the life of another person’s child, no matter how old or how damaged that child might be. If my child was killed, I would have to believe that God would take care of them.”
This profound statement of faith in no way diminished that mother’s love for her children nor her gratitude to have those children in her life. It was clear that her children meant everything to her. But her gratitude, like Paul’s was based in her belief that it was God who had gifted her with those children in the first place.
If, as most scholars believe, Paul’s letter to the Philippians was one of his last letters, he never did get to return to them. His hope of seeing them again and his prayer that God would allow him to do so, went unanswered. And yet this in no way diminished Paul’s gratitude for these people or his faith in God.
And the greatest gratitude Paul expresses in this letter is that the people of Philippi have not only come to believe in Christ but have continued the work of sharing the gospel with others. They have done this even after Paul himself was no longer there with them to direct and teach them. Despite Paul’s absence, the number of followers in Philippi continued to grow as they reached out to others, following Paul’s example.
It is clear that Paul loved these people and although we only have one of his letters to them in our scriptures, we know that he continued to keep in touch with them and offer whatever help and advice he could. But Paul also had to let them go and trust that, through their faith in Christ, God would guide and direct them as they continued to grow in faith and share that faith with others.
We know from some of his earlier letters to the faith communities that Paul had helped to establish, that letting go was not something that Paul always seemed to be very good at. In some of his earlier letters, Paul demanded that the believers to whom he wrote do things exactly the way he taught them and no other way.
In his letter to the followers in Galatia, Paul rants at them for following a variety of teachers. He begs them to be like him. He accuses them of falling back into old habits and of giving in to their selfish desires. In both of his letters to the believers in Corinth he gives numerous rules that they must follow and he warns about false apostles or false teachers who don’t teach them about Christ in the way he did.
Yet in the last portion of the scripture that we read this morning, Paul says, of course some of them preach Christ because they are jealous and quarrelsome, but others from genuine good will. These do so from love, because they know that God has given me the work of defending the gospel. The others do not proclaim Christ sincerely, but from a spirit of selfish ambition … It does not matter! I am happy about it—just so Christ is preached in every way possible, whether from wrong or right motives.
This is a huge switch for Paul. To allow people to share the gospel of Christ in whatever way they choose and then to trust that God will work it out, is not something you would expect from Paul. But perhaps by this time in his own ministry as Paul once again faced prison and the prospect of his own death, Paul was able to truly let go and put his absolute trust in God.
In this letter Paul does more that offer his deep gratitude to God for the people that God has placed into his life. Paul also turns them over to God and trusts God to direct them and lead them where God wants them to go. Paul no longer insists that they do everything the way Paul himself would choose. I believe that this is perhaps the most difficult part of truly deeply caring for the people in your lives. It is about loving them while, at the same time recognizing them as being a gift from God and trusting them to God’s care. We cannot control other people, but we can love them with the deep and sincere love that comes from God. We can see them as a blessing in our lives and we can be truly, deeply grateful for them. When we are able to do this and still trust that they do not belong to us, but that they belong to God, our gratitude, like Paul’s will spill out in praise to the one who created them and us.
I thank my God for you every time I think of you; and every time I pray for you all, I pray with joy. Gratitude and joy go hand in hand. When we are truly deeply grateful and when we recognize that the blessings for which we are grateful come from God, our gratitude cannot help but spill out in praise and joy.
That is why Paul and Silas were able to sing even as they were whipped, beaten and thrown in jail. That is why Paul was able to write beautiful words of gratitude, encouragement and joy even as his freedom and eventually his life were taken from him.
Because of the example of Paul, we have the promise and the assurance that no matter what happens to us, no matter what hardship we might face in our own lives, like Paul, we too can continue to sing, to praise and to express our deep gratitude to the God for all the love, the care, the friendship and fellowship and the many other rich blessings, with which our lives have been enriched and made whole. Amen.
Gift of Music Give Thanks for Life #706
We Offer Our Gifts
In gratitude for all that we have received, we now offer our gifts, the gifts of our financial contributions, the gifts of our time and commitment, the gifts of our love and devotion. And so, whatever gifts we bring, let us offer them to God.
What can I do? What can I bring? MV#191
What can I say? What can I sing?
I’ll sing with joy. I’ll say a prayer.
I’ll bring my love. I’ll do my share.
Loving God, we thank you for the many gifts and blessings that we have received and we ask that you would bless these and all the gifts we offer you today. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
As we being our gifts to God we also being our prayer. Let us take a moment of silence now, to remember all those named in our prayer jar and all those who are on our minds and hearts this morning.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
Wondrous, joyous, life-giving God we come to you this day in deep joy and gratitude. This world in which we live is your world, brought into being through your love. And so, as we bring all our concerns before you, we know that you hear us. You have revealed Your generosity to us. Teach us the gratitude that dispels fear and doubt, that honors each gift you give us as a cherished part of your creation. Teach us to praise you in all times and places. Remind us that the work of our hands, minds and hearts are also part of our worship and praise.
In gratitude for the wonder and beauty of our world, help us to strive for the well-being of all creation, using what you have provided wisely and respectfully…
In gratitude for all the comforts and joys of life, help us to not forget you in times of hardship and pain…
In gratitude for the people we love and who love us, help us to never forget those who feel unloved and who need our care and friendship. Teach us to be more generous with our time…
In gratitude for the material blessings that we enjoy, help us to never forget those in our world who go without, those who have no food, shelter or clothing, or other essentials. Teach us to be more generous and sharing with what we have…
In gratitude for the peace and security we enjoy here in Canada, help us to never forget your call to be peace makers in our world. Teach us to speak out against war, terrorism, and political abuses that case so much of our world to live in fear…
In gratitude for the deep comfort of knowing your presence with us, help us to never forget the people who wander through life, constantly seeking a meaning and a reason to live. Help us to live with such joy and gratitude that our lives will reflect your love and your meaning… Wondrous, joyous, life-giving God in gratitude to you, we pray. Amen
Gift of Music Blessed Be the Tie That Binds #602
So go out from here now in joy, knowing you are loved, you are cared for, you are blessed and you are called to be a blessing to others. Go in the name of Christ, knowing that you are not alone. God is with you. Go with God.
Choral Blessing #416
Forth in your name, O Christ we go, our daily labour to pursue,
You, only you, resolve to know in all we think, or speak, or do.