The Church Ladies, Philippians 4.1-9

Sermon:        The Church Ladies
Scripture:     Philippians 4.1-9
Preacher:     Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Date:              October 15, 2017

 

The-Church-Lady

Years ago, former cast member for Saturday Night Live, Dana Carvey, played a character called the Church Lady and the Church Lady hosted a little television show called, Church Chat; she was always dressed in penitential purple and had a way of making everyone she spoke with feel less of a person by the time they finished the interview. The character was a wonderful form of artistic hyperbole that pushed the far limits of the culture’s view of life in the church. It portrayed Christians as boorish, judgmental, petty, and who are intentionally looking for little things to become upset about. Sadly, Carvey’s character was so popular because it resonated with people out in the world and how they view our life in the Christian community.

Church Ladies.  All churches have them.  These are the well-meaning ones who “know better than anyone else” on how things are to operate in the church.  They have opinions on what’s proper procedure and protocol and vocalize definite attitudes about how Jesus is to be interpreted and how the coffee is to be made in that place.

I look over the churches I’ve served for 35 years and I can pick out who all the church ladies were and what their particular issues and hot-topic were at the time.  I learned early in ministry that if you are going to get along in a congregation as a new pastor, you had better find out who the church ladies are and get on their good side! These are people who have called me out in public forums for unintentionally forgetting to list their ministry in a list of ministries we were celebrating. They are the ones who stop by your office and leave a book on grammar with the secretary and tells her, “Tell the pastor to read this.”  They are the ones who walk into the church manse during dinner time while your family is trying to eat and complain about the way you handled a situation with another member of the church who just happens to be their second-cousin Frances.  They are the ones who put money in an envelope and slide it under the office door anonymously telling you to get a haircut.  Church ladies hold official or unofficial places of power and leadership in the church community. They can be eccentric and loving at best or they can be very divisive to the community at worst. This is what Paul is dealing with in Philippians.

There are two de facto leaders in the Philippian church everyone knows and Paul is left with no choice but to come out and address them directly by name in the letter. Throughout the letter, Paul has been addressing the issues of his love for the people there and the gratitude he has for them in sharing his financial support in the Gospel while he sits in a Roman prison cell. The letter goes on to address spiritual and theological issues that were being proffered about that were undermining the gospel news of grace through allegiance to Jesus Christ and these teachers were encouraging folks to follow old Jewish religious rites instead. And the final reason Paul wrote the letter is that he has heard there is dissension in the ranks and he is imploring the community to be of one mind and one spirit in promoting the Gospel of Christ Jesus. Indeed, in chapter 1:15ff., Paul describes how there were preachers and teachers who were performing their duties out of rivalry and selfish ambition while others were preaching and teaching from sincere, loving motives. The kicker comes in verse 18 when Paul declares: “What then? Only in that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that, I rejoice!”

The deal for Paul is that nothing is to get in the way of proclaiming the grace-full message of wholeness and salvation in Christ. Nothing. Not personal agendas or wish-dreams.  Not interpretations of Christian dogmatics nor personal interpretations of good preaching versus bad preaching.  Nothing is to usurp the prominence and preeminence of Jesus.  Nothing.

Just to make sure you heard me, what is more, important to Jesus for Paul?  Nothing! Absolutely! This leads us to today’s text where we read about our first-century church ladies.  Listen to the Word of God. I am reading from Presbyterian pastor/author/treasure Eugene Peterson’s version of the scripture called, The Message. Listen!

Philippians 4:1-9, The Message (MSG)

4.1 My dear, dear friends! I love you so much. I do want the very best for you. You make me feel such joy, fill me with such pride. Don’t waver. Stay on track, steady in God.

I urge Euodia and Syntyche to iron out their differences and make up. God doesn’t want his children holding grudges.

And, oh, yes, Syzygus, since you’re right there to help them work things out, do your best with them. These women worked for the Message hand in hand with Clement and me, and with the other veterans—worked as hard as any of us. Remember, their names are also in the Book of Life.

4-5 Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!

6-7 Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

8-9 Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. [1]

There are two things to note immediately. One, the church ladies in our Story are named as leadership of the church. They are described as standing, running, working together side-by-side with the Apostle Paul, Clement and the other “veterans” striving for the ministry. The imagery is all athletic and Paul says the Euodia and Syntyche were equally equipped with all the other leaders to fulfill and lead the work of ministry.  And perhaps this is why Paul calls them out in his letter by name.  Euodia and Syntyche are leaders and as such, they need to lead by positive example.

The second item to note about our text is that Paul’s words are not just to the “church ladies” of the congregation. He’s writing to all of us in places of leadership in the church whether a man or a woman.  Bill Self, long retired pastor of the huge Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta once remarked of the group he called the “disgruntled men’s cigarette-butt stompers” who would gather in the parking lot and would gossip and supplant others in the church. So, lest we forget, there are Church Men just as much as there are Church Ladies. Paul is talking to all of them, all of us, who have parts in leadership.

What’s he saying to them? In verses 4-5 Paul implores them,

4-5 Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!

Paul is telling the church to revel in God each and every day and do so in a way that works alongside with people they may disagree with but who are still brothers and sisters in the Lord. Euodia and Syntyche may have their differences but they are told to place their individual differences, feelings of entitlement and being correct and push them to the background. They are not to work against one another but alongside each other for the real purpose of the church community in Philippi which is to focus on and revel in Christ Jesus.

Have you ever wondered why the two women disagreed?  We may not know what the one hot-button issue was at the time but we do know that if a person takes a strong personal stance on an issue or belief, it is because there is not only a personal feeling “I’m right!” but there is a subterranean fear that says, “the other side is going to win.” Paul is trying to encourage the church to see the only other side there is to be concerned about is the side that is against God in Christ.  Quit working against one another and instead work with one another for the common goal in Christ!  Consequently, he reminds the Church in verses 6-7:

6-7 Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Paul tells the Philippians to quit worrying about who is right and who is wrong and lift it to God in unifying prayer.  When that happens, a sense of God’s wholeness, completeness, dare we say, peacefulness? alights on the Body of believers. The fears of forfeiting our personal issues, ambitions, agendas, and dogmatics will not become so important once they are brought up under the light of Jesus Christ’s illuminating Presence.

Today’s lectionary passage is a vital one for those of us in Mainline churches today. It serves as a lighthouse marking the way of the safe course. You see, American churches are not only under the pressures from outside the church in our culture trying to rip it apart but it’s also under strain from the inside out as our mutual Euodias and Syntyches, the church’s own leadership – lay or otherwise – are taking sides against one another pushing their own causes. Those of us in the Church have lost sight of the Lighthouse, i.e. Christ, and have looked instead to multiple-placed buoys of issues or political agendas in the channel which bob up and down in the waves to guide our course.  We get distracted from a safe course because we are so trying, straining to see when our buoy, or rather, my issue, bobs up into view that we will end up crashing the ship on the rocks because we failed to look at the one constant, the Lighthouse, to guide our way. If you don’t believe me, look at the state of American Christianity today.

Church, we have been watching and have become worked up over multiple issues for the last fifty years.  It’s not to say that some of those issues aren’t important to look at but they are still subsidiary issues compared to the Christ. Economics, social reconciliation and justice, race, and gender issues are all important issues but they must be seen with the Light of Christ illuminating them and not vice-versa. Issues of the day will come and go but the Christ is always the same. Paul is imploring Euodia and Syntyche to grab their differences, the personal buoys they are hung up on, and drag them along together to the beach where the Light of Christ can shine down on them together.

So, I leave this question for the Holy Spirit to haunt you with this week. Are you a Euodia and Syntyche that is sucking the life and energy out of the Christian community you’re in? Are you one of Dr. Self’s “disgruntled men’s cigarette-butt stompers” meeting in the parking lot pulling attention away from Christ Jesus onto your particular “thing”? If so, speaking on Paul’s behalf, then stop it!  The world has enough problems without us Christians creating our own. How can the Church be the Light on a hill for Christ if we cannot get along ourselves? A new generation is watching; what will they see? Let it be.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, Florida 32720
pwrisley@drew.edu
Wrisley.org

© 2017 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.   All rights reserved.

[1]The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Message: Have you checked the condition of your heart’s filters today?, Matthew 15:10-20

Sermon:          Have you checked the conditions of your filters lately?
Scripture:        Matthew 15.10-20
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:         First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:               August 20, 2017

You may listen to the sermon by clicking here.

Last week, we spent time in Romans looking at the centrality of the Word in our worship and devotional life; we noted how the first mark of the church is when the Word of God is faithfully preached and it is faithfully heard.  Today, we are going to look at the words we use in our everyday life to determine if they are consistent with the Word our hearts have been exposed to in that time of devotion and worship.

Turn in your Bible to Matthew 15.  We will read verses 10 through 20.  In all fairness, the power of this Parable of the Mouth[1] is better understood when taken in the larger context of verses 1 through 28.  The reading is long and I encourage you to go home and read all of it applying what you hear this morning with what you read. Because of its length, we will focus on just the ten middle verses.

As you hear this text, keep in mind that Jesus is in a large group of people including everyday folks as well as the notoriously described Pharisees and Scribes.  The Jewish religious leaders have just arrived from Jerusalem and immediately jump on Jesus’ case by complaining that his disciples aren’t washing their hands before they eat, thereby, in their opinion, disregarding the Law of Moses on being ritually pure. Jesus goes on to school the religious leaders in the dietary law’s intent but also reminds them of the Torah’s overall purpose.    This is where we pick up in the Story.

Matthew 15.10-20

10Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” 13He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” 15But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”[2]

We had just moved into our new home in Celebration, Florida in November of 1996. Boxes were still getting unpacked and things were still getting put away.  Our two girls who were very young were still exploring the little nooks and crannies of the place when one night, one of them came down the stairs before bed and said with the cutest Cindy Loo Who voice, “Daddy, something is wrong with the toilet.”  Thinking to myself, “Yeah, I know what’s wrong with the toilet,” I follow her upstairs and sure enough, it wasn’t flushed.  I press the handle again and experienced that horrible painfully slow moment and feeling of dread one has when the water is rising every so precariously to the top of the rim.  Gratefully, it stopped just in time but it failed to go down either. I made the decision to wait until the morning to see if the water would go down before I tried anything. Standing there, I noticed the bath water had not drained from the tub either.  “Katie, why didn’t you let the water out of the tub?”  Her little voice responded, “But I did, daddy.”

Uh-oh. Something much bigger was going on than a little too much toilet paper. I surveyed the situation, turned-off the light and closed the door.  “I’ll call the builder in the morning.”

The crew foreman from David Weekly homes came over the next day and looked at what was going on; he complained our kids were throwing stuff down the pipes and it was our fault the system locked up. I disagreed but let them do their work and we would sort it out later. An hour later the foreman walks into the dining room directly beneath the girls’ bathroom and gives me a serious look saying, “We got a problem.”

Great.

He quickly goes out to his truck, fetches a ladder, a drill, and an industrial sized plastic waste can. Now, I don’t know much about being a handyman but I did know enough as a new homeowner this did not look too good. Climbing the ladder, the foreman was again griping about my daughters when he put the drill to the ceiling it exploded; I knew I shouldn’t have laughed but come on!  This guy has been grumping about my kids for the last ninety minutes and now he was covered in Katie’s bath water among other things. We are talking the grayest of gray water was pouring into our dining room.  Some of it made it to the trash can he brought in; most of it did not. After a moment of stunned silence, all I could manage was, “You know, I’m not paying for that.”

I learned two very important lessons that day.  First, it was not my girls who caused the problem but the cleaning crew that prepped the house before we moved in.  It seems they used large cloth rags and flushed them into the system clogging it up.  The second thing I learned was though it does matter what goes into the system, it’s what comes out when there’s no filter to catch it that will cause a stinky mess.

And Jesus’ first words to the disciples in our text today are, “Listen and understand!” Literally, he is saying, “Hey! Listen up and all of you get on the same page as I am on this!” He then goes on to tell his disciples it is not the food that goes into a person that defiles him or her; rather, it is the gray water that comes back out of the mouth that defiles them.

The word defile is interesting. Today we understand that to defile something means to make dirty or impure.  In Jesus’ day, to defile something literally meant to take something set apart, special or distinct and make it common or ordinary.  The religious leaders believed washed hands kept a person set apart, special, un-common or pure.  Washed hands reflected how you as a person were standing out over and against the common person.  The tradition of hand washing was to make you pure or righteous before God. The religious leaders were upset because Jesus’ disciples were acting very common – dare I say pagan-like?-  for not setting themselves apart; they were, therefore, offending God with dirty, common hands.  This is why Jesus initially exclaims, “Listen up and understand!”

Jesus wanted the disciples, wants us, to see that the serious religious leaders were majoring in the minors and not in the majors.  They had totally missed the point. The thing that defiles or makes a person common, unholy or impure is not what is eaten or how it is eaten but are the very words that emit from one’s mouth bubbling up through the spring of a person’s heart. Whitworth University professor Dale Bruner remarks, “The major pollutant in social life is words.”[3]  Does the spring of our heart produce life-giving water, or, does is dump out a disgusting backflow of brackish gray water?

Words.  Words matter.  Word’s carelessly used or spoken.  Words, when given with a certain tone or look, can cause pain and hurt. All we need to do is remind ourselves of what happened in Charlottesville last week and note how high-visibility leaders in our country responded to the situation with their own words that compounded the problem. Today’s social media from Face Book, Yik Yak[4], or Instagram can be beneficial but oftentimes these sites are used among our young people as a means to bully, shame, or post hate.  What emerges from our hearts through our words carry power – a power to bring life or power to pollute and destroy. Life-giving words are Christ-like; words that destroy are abusive, corrosive and deadly like the radioactive water coming out from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan years ago. It is water that kills at best or causes abnormal mutations of living things at worst![5]

In the beginning, out of God’s heart, He spoke and created all that was, is, and will ever be and it was all good!  The Apostle John reminds us in his gospel that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God and the Word was with God…and what came into being with him was life and that life was the light of all people![6] Words bring life, my beloved. Yet we also learn in the early Story of Genesis how the serpent uses words to create in Eve and Adam doubt, enmity and challenges God’s character.  Words matter.

Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, was heaven-bent on refocusing the peoples’ understanding that words, the Law and Torah, were meant to bring people life!  The Holy Word was meant to bring people closer to God and to one another as opposed to building walls between the two. The Words of God speaking Creation into existence were thought-full and deliberate to the point that any scientist would say that the order of creation in Genesis makes perfect sense and logic. Words bubbling from our heart and expressed to God and to others matter.  Words define who we are in the core of our very being deep in our soul.

This isn’t the first-time Jesus has spoken about the power of words to the religious officials and the disciples. Earlier in Matthew 12.36, Jesus flatly remarks: I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.  Words matter.  Say that two-word sentence with me! Words matter!

Beloved, what type of spiritual filtration system do you have for your heart? A good filter keeps unhealthy things out of the heart and makes sure whatever impurities that get do get in don’t come back out. A good filter keeps the gray water from exploding back out onto others causing a nasty mess.

In Florida, we are reminded to check our air conditioner’s filter to make sure it’s clean so the unit doesn’t freeze and lock up.  It’s no different for Christ-Followers.  We are called to check the air-filters of our hearts. What do we look for to see if our heart’s filters are working well? Let me provide us with a four-point systems’ check that we can run anytime to check our spiritual filtration system.

Systems’ Check One: Do your words build others up or do they tear others down?

Systems’ Check Two: Do your words glorify God or do they glorify you and your position?

Systems’ Check Three: Do your words bring life and healing or do they cause pain, shame, or suffering?

Systems’ Check Four: Do your words bring people together in reconciliation or do they tear communities apart because our hearts are filled with hubris and pride?

Build up. Glorify God. Bring Life.  Reconcile.

This week, I pray the Holy Spirit will haunt us as we take the filters of hearts and really examine them through the questions I just asked. If they tear down, glorifies anything other than our Lord God, cause pain, or rip apart relationship, it’s time to pull our heart’s filter out and clean it well by scrubbing it down with the spiritual Clorox of prayers of repentance and for holy indwelling.  We do this because words matter.

All of God’s people say, Amen.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, Florida 32720
pwrisley@drew.edu
Wrisley.org

© 2017 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.  All rights reserved.

[1] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Christbook. Matthew 13 – 28, Volume 2 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987), 92.

[2] The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[3] Bruner, 94.

[4] Yik Yak suffered its own self-destruction because of its abuse.  See USA Today, April 28, 2017, at https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/talkingtech/2017/04/28/yik-yak-shut-down/101045670/

[5] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_Daiichi_nuclear_disaster.

[6] See John 1:1-5.