Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Church Lady Smackdown!

Philippians 4:1-9

Paul's letter to the Philippians is very warm and affectionate, yet there are issues even in this church that must be addressed. Throughout the letter Paul has been urging the Philippian Christians to be united, "of one mind," "having the same mind." But rather than specifically addressing whatever dispute is going on there (in this week's reading we find out that it may be some kind of argument between two women who are leaders in the church) Paul turns the church's focus to something (Someone) else.

In chapter 2 of Philippians Paul expands his call to be "of one mind" by describing the one mind the Philippian Christians are to have: the mind of Chirst. He quotes what may well be an early hymn, speaking of how Christ Jesus, who had the right to great honor and divinity, left all that behind for the sake of obedience to God's will, even though that led to death on a cross. Whatever the problem may have been in the Philippian church, Paul reminds the brothers and sisters that there is something much more important.

In 4:4-9 Paul offers still another alternative: joy instead of anxiety, gentleness as witness, prayer that brings about peace. He urges the Philippian Christians to follow his example ("be imitators of me, as I am of Christ," as he says in another letter) and his teaching, which--because he is a follower and imitator of Christ--leads to a deep peace that comes from God.

Fred Craddock says the main problem in Philippi may well have been a petty one--but he also says that one of the biggest problems in many Christian churches is pettiness. A colleague of mine in the United Church of Canada asserted once that "anxiety is counterproductive to ministry." I wonder if that could be because anxiety often leads to pettiness, which might be another reason for Paul to urge against anxiety. Had Paul come in and declared which of the two women in the dispute at Philippi he thought was in the right, he might well have given in to the pettiness that was present htere. Instead, he reminded the church that their reason for begin together was much, much more important.

I think this text could be well served by a story sermon: flesh out what the dispute might have been between the two women, perhaps even bringing it into a modern church setting (Euodia the board chair in a disagreement with Syntyche the CWF president, perhaps?), and considering how a church functioning as the body of Christ--where we are all members of one another--might work to bring about unity.

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