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: Getting Broken to Let the Light Shine, Matthew 14.13-21

Sermon:          Getting Broken to Let the Light Shine
Scripture:        Matthew 14:13-21
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:         First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:                August 6, 2017, Communion Sunday

You may listen to the message by clicking here.

Turn once again in your Bible to Matthew’s Gospel.  For the past few weeks, Michael has been looking at some parables in Matthew 13 describing what people do when they hear the Word of God as well as stories about what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.  Matthew then has Jesus making a brief stop in his hometown where he is summarily dismissed by the folks he grew up with.  Matthew then moves into the next chapter by looking at the fate of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist as he is beheaded by King Herod because Herod, in a moment of passion, makes a hyperbolic promise to his step-daughter for the sensual dance she has just provided Herod and his guests. He is so overwhelmed by her dance that he blurts out, “Wow!  Incredible! I’ll give you anything you want for that dance – up to half of my kingdom!” The step-daughter calls his bluff and replies, “Okay, daddy.  Give me the head of John the Baptist on a platter!”  Herod had no choice to but to abide by his amoral daughter’s wish so as not to lose face in front of his party guests.  John the Baptist – the one who God sent to prepare the way, to be the spiritual rooster that crowed to wake people up – is dead. And now, as the late Paul Harvey would say on his radio program, “Here is the rest of the Story!

We are picking up with Matthew 14 beginning with verse 13. Listen to the Word of the Lord!

Matthew 14:13-21

14.13Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. [1]

So, Jesus has been blown-off by the people in his hometown of Nazareth[2].  His cousin John, the one who was to get people ready for the Messiah’s return, has just been murdered for sport. By all appearances, things are not looking too good for Jesus and his fledgling movement. People are either hot or cold towards what he says and the ones who were hot about it were violent in expressing their feelings.  Jesus, the man, is soaking all this in.

If we were walking along next to him, we might see in his face a sad resignation that people just aren’t getting it. Parts of his message expressed through his teaching and works are getting through, but it seems at this point, people are only responding to the degree that they can benefit from Jesus. We look in Jesus’s eyes and see frustration, fatigue, and feelings of loss.

So, what does he do?  He tries to disappear. The words from David’s Psalm 55:4-8 come to mind in this instance.  I can imagine Jesus reflecting,

My heart is in anguish within me,
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, ‘O that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
truly, I would flee far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness;
I would hurry to find a shelter for myself
from the raging wind and tempest.’

Have you ever had those moments when things in life weren’t going your way and you simply had to get off and be alone?  You needed time to think. Pray. Grouse. Shake your fist at God and yell, “What gives?” You need to hear the crashing sound of silence or the lapping of the water on the side of a boat that brings serenity to your soul. This is what Jesus is experiencing now. As soon as he heard about cousin John’s death he needed to get away and simply ‘be.’ But something interesting happens.

Verse 13 says, “But when the crowds heard it, they followed him.”  There are two possible ways to read this line and it revolves around what the crowds are responding to in the story.  The first part of the verse indicates that when Jesus heard ‘it’, i.e. the news of John’s death, he had to get away. What is the ‘it’ the crowds are responding to at this point?

On one hand, when the crowds heard ‘it’, i.e. Jesus had left, they went searching for him.  On the other hand, one can easily understand the reading as though once the crowd, like Jesus, heard ‘it’, i.e. John the Baptist had been killed, they too needed to go and discover what all this meant and so they naturally went to find Jesus who might give some answers. This fits nicely with the storyline and they are every bit as anxious about the situation as Jesus is. Whereas there were two Jewish spiritual reformers shaking things up in Judea, now there is only one figurehead in front of this new spiritual movement and it’s Jesus. It makes perfect sense for the people to follow the leader to see what is going to happen next.

Jesus slips off in a boat and makes his way to an unidentified location across the water.  The anxious crowd, upwards between five to seven thousand people, are moving along the coastline trying to spot where Jesus was headed. Jesus lands the boat and sees all the people and puts his own grief on hold, puts all the questions rattling around his brain on pause, and immediately does what he does best: He has deep compassion for the people.  He heals them.  He casts out spirits.  He encourages.  He inspires. He begins to prepare for their future, too.

John’s death seems to be a wake-up call of sorts for Jesus.  Yes, he knew he and the Message of Compassion and Justice would be met with some resistance but this whole thing with Herod and John seems to have taken it to a new, violent level of resistance. In some way, John’s death was foreshadowing Jesus’ own and in his deep places, Jesus knew that, too. It is easy to imagine our Lord looking at the crowds and then at the motley crew we know as the Twelve and Jesus reflecting, “What have I gotten you into?”

The feeding of the 5,000, the only Story aside the Easter account, is in all four Gospels. For the early church, this was a pivotal Story.  Did you ever stop to wonder why?

It is not only a Story that foreshadows the Lord’s Supper whereby Jesus gives himself totally to the cause by becoming broken and shared among those around the Table, it is a Story in which Jesus demonstrates that for the movement to continue forward in his absence, for the movement to endure, the Twelve would need to learn how to carry forward on their own.  The feeding of the 5,000 is not only for the benefit of the ones who are getting fed with bread and fish; it is a Story designed to teach the Twelve disciples and ultimately you and me a valuable lesson about following Jesus.

Confronted with the crowds, the late hour of the day, and the lack of provisions,

the disciples tell Jesus to send the crowd away so they can go feed themselves. Jesus astutely turns the problem back to the disciples: You give them something to eat.  Jesus realizes his fate would be along the lines of his cousin John’s. The disciples needed to begin seeing they could carry the message of restoration and reform forward themselves.  The simple lesson Jesus is offering the disciples is this:  Look for opportunities God can use to create miracles and understand that in order to be effective, they will need to give thanks to God and then allow themselves to be broken and shared among the people. Following Christ is not for the faint of heart; it is demanding and it will cost you your very life.

Look for opportunities. Give thanks. Be broken and shared.

Jesus was indicating what would not only happen to him but he was showing his disciples what is required for us in our life.  We are to look for opportunities to serve others, we are to give God thanks for those opportunities presented, and we are to be broken and shared among the people in compassionate, active love.

What opportunities are available in your own personal life that God can use for the Kingdom of heaven’s ends? Like the little boy and the fish, it’s right there if we only look!

Is your allegiance to Jesus deep enough to give God thanks as you are broken and given to others for the sake of Christ and for his love of others around us?

Come to the Table of Grace and Call this morning, my friends! Jesus is showing us how we are to live as Christ-followers and as a church.  What needs to be broken in you so that you can feed others in the name of the Holy One? Pride? Greed? Feelings of inconvenience? Hate and prejudice? Lust? Power? Come to the Table and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the opportunities before you and this church, so that you can be – that we can be as a Body of Christ – broken in order to be shared and be a blessing to others. The Table is a great place to remember our brokenness so that we can let the Light of Christ Shine in and through us.  So be it.

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 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.

[2] Mathew 13:53-58.