A sermon on the Gospel reading can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/061g99.htm The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r061.htm
s061e02 Lockleys 13/10/02 Sunday 28
"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice." Philippians 4:4
It is a bit sad that my time away has meant that I have not had an opportunity to prepare and preach on our reading of St Paul's letter to the Philippians over the past few weeks. The catch cry of this letter is undoubtedly "rejoice". It is used eight times throughout the short letter - by far the most frequent than any other book in the Bible.
One of my colleagues once said wisely that throughout our lives one is always "going through a stage" - so that one wonders when one stage ends and another begins. Certainly by the time I actually return from my holiday, on the other side of the world, I am rather more conscious that I will have just passed through a stage of life. It's back to work for me!
Philippians was one of the last letters Paul wrote. Kümmel dates 1 Thessalonians as his first, written about 50 AD, and Philippians, Colossians and Philemon the last - around 56-58 or 58-60 AD, depending on chronology. The anxieties surrounding the second coming in Thessalonians, the false teachers in the Galatian church, the trials in the Corinthian Church and Paul's agonising about the salvation of the ancient people of God in Romans - all of these he seems to have been able to put behind him. He is able to rejoice as he looks back.
And I suppose this progression Paul experienced in his life is reflected in our own too. In our younger years we were concerned to "make our mark" and change the world. As we are successful or as we are disappointed, we too will find our passions less urgent and we will be content, like St Paul, to rejoice. Another colleague wisely said once, that given our time over, we would indeed do it all again, in precisely the same way we did before. We have learned to rejoice like St Paul, to be content with what we had. We may not "rejoice" with shouts of alleluias - I mean - we are Anglicans after all :-) We still rejoice rather than be consumed by regret.
As the wisdom of Bill Watterson, in his cartoon strip "Calvin and Hobbes" puts it, when Calvin asks his father "Which exactly are the halcyon days of my youth? Is Saturday one?" His father replies "I believe they're awarded retroactively when you've grown up ... Halcyonity is relative". Calvin goes off, in a huff, to ask his mother. :-)
As an aside, this puts a huge question mark against our repentance, and any acknowledgement of our own part in the things that have gone wrong. "The burden of (my) sins are *not* intolerable" and my wish to "live a godly, righteous and sober" life is tempered with a desire to find a glass of claret never too far out of reach :-)
One of my friends in America, the Rev'd Edward Chinn wrote a while back that: "Jesus of Nazareth outgrew his own views." He saw in the encounter of Jesus with the Cannanite woman that this brought to Jesus a new realisation "that God treats all people alike" (Acts 10:34). "For Jesus, also, to grow was to outgrow his family, his friends, and himself." And I have no quarrel with this, for I suspect we have a theology that Jesus was from the age of 0 wiser than any Bishop. This makes him rather more than the human being Jesus actually became. As I said to Bishop Phillip Aspinall on his appointment to Brisbane, it is wonderful that a young person is made an Archbishop. Jesus only made it to 33 at most, before he was killed, and both he and I have a few years over that!
One of my favourite passages of scripture is that from the prophet Joel, where it is promised - "Your young men shall see visions, your old men dream dreams. Even on the men servants and maid servants will I pour out my Spirit" - no age or gender discrimination here!
Rejoice, not because we have to "Praise the Lord" to prove to God or to others that we are dinkum. Rejoice because at the end of time we know the Lord's doing in our lives.
Those wonderful words at the end of the thirteenth chapter of St Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians talks about how we see in a mirror dimly. I read recently that the word is ainigmati - an enigma. And when I look in a mirror, behind the beard, I also see something of an enigma. I do not know myself, for all my huff and bluster.
For some years now I have been regularly seeing a spiritual director, and one of the things a good spiritual director like mine does is gently find out what the directee wants. And this is not an easy question to answer. We might flippantly think - well winning Cross Lotto would be a good start, but we all know that this would bring as many problems as it would solve.
And perhaps this is a fruitful thing to ask yourselves. I don't especially want to know the answer. What do you want when you come to Church? A time of quiet to be by yourself in the presence of God? Hymns and music that you can join in singing? - and tolerant people around you when you do :-) A sermon that is relevant to the message of the readings and to the issues you face? A time of being accepted as you are and encouraged to become more comfortable with yourself as you are? A time when we remember others, loved ones, near and far?
As I began this sermon, what we want in our early years is different from what we want in our twilight years - provided as I say the glass of claret is not out of reach. And it is wisely observed by some that it is just as well God doesn't give us everything we ask for, in prayer, in our early years!
When we see face to face in that perfect mirror at the end of time, we see, not God, but our true selves. The enigma has dissolved and we see clearly that God has been at work in us for the whole time. And what do we do but, like St Paul, rejoice? What can we do but, like St Paul, rejoice?
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