Philippians 4:1-9 [i]
Lauren J. McFeaters
October 11, 2020
If ever a church needs prayer, it’s the Church of the Philippians.
You see two church leaders, Euodia and Syntyche, are in crisis. Their friendship needs an intervention. We don’t know the substance of the quarrel between these two women, but whatever it is, it’s severe, harsh, and bitter.[ii]
We know the church is fractured by distress and anxiety. We know the times are ominous and frightening. The Romans are bearing down, and Christians are swept into prisons to rot, and shoved into Coliseums to be slaughtered.
Paul himself writes this letter under extreme conditions. He’s in jail awaiting trial. The outcome is his death. So, when he hears his Companions in Christ; his best of friends in the Book of Life, are hostile and antagonistic, he is zealous for things to be set aright.
Because you know, and I know, and Paul knows, that left untreated – quarrels and resentment can lead to years of hostility. The Christian family does not have that kind of time to waste. Fervent prayer is needed.
In the Jewish tradition, there is a stunning array of prayer – for every moment and situation in life. It’s glorious.
- There are prayers for the moment you open your eyes in the morning, until you are falling asleep at night.
- Prayers for every minute of meal preparation, education, work, raising a family.
- Prayers for the senses: for sights, tastes, sounds, and smells.
- The Kaddish Prayer for the Bereaved:
Exalted and hallowed be God’s great name,
in the world which God created, according to plan.
May God’s majesty be revealed in the days of our lifetime. [iii]
- Prayers for Healing:
May the Blessed Holy One be filled with compassion for health to be restored and strength to be revived. May God swiftly send a complete renewal of body and spirit.
- Prayers for the Traveler:
When we feel weak, teach us, we are strong.
When we are shattered, assure us of healing.
When we do not get along, renew our spirits.
When we are lost amongst ourselves, show us that you are near.
- And in that tradition, Paul’s Prayer for the Philippians:
May your forbearance be known to everyone.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Paul reaches into his soul and begins to pray his church into health. He’s sending a remedy not just for the mending, and bandaging, and stitching up of individual friendships, but for the binding, and suturing of relationships within a group of holy friends.
Throughout the entire letter, Paul emphasizes a cure for the mending of the church. The cure is:
- Friendship and forgiveness;
- A constant give-and-take from both sides;
- A mutual caring; a loving generosity,
- and most of all – wait for it – that long-lost and old-fashioned word – Forbearance.
If you asked for words that describe the healing of friendships, I highly doubt Forbearance would make the Top-10.
Forbearance? What is it?
- Well it’s patience, gentleness, and mercy. Forbearance.
- It’s self-control and moderation. Forbearance.
- It’s acceptance and leniency. Forbearance.
- It happens when friends walk through the muck of life and accept the beauty and the dread of one another.[iv]
- The community of faith bends in on itself.
- Comments are muttered under the breath; not to take sides, but out of “Christian” concern.
- Up go the walls. Down go the empathy.
- Up go the defenses. Down goes the tenderness.
- “It doesn’t surprise me at all that she’s acting this way. It’s so…typical.”
- “Well if he’s going to decide to show up; I’ll just leave.”
- “No wonder they’re so lonely, all they do is gripe and complain.”
- Or no comments are given at all. Instead of the right hand of friendship, what’s given is the cold shoulder of self-righteousness.
- Without Forbearance of one another, we become The Church of Eh, The Church of Blah, The Church of Whatever.
Without Forbearance, we become more of what our society becomes:
- where disparagement is a profession,
- and mockery a pastime,
- and ridicule is lifted as an aptitude.
In our lives, where reality is known as Cat Fish, 90-Day Fiancé, and Hell’s Kitchen – and Twitter is used as a weapon of mass destruction – and abuse and mistreatment becomes Best-See 5-star entertainment, Christ Jesus is our Forbearance and our Mercy.
Beverly Harrison puts it like this:
Our world is on the verge of self-destruction because we have so deeply neglected that which is most human and most valuable and most basic:
the work of human caring and nurturance,
of tending the personal bonds of community.
Because in the larger scheme of things it’s too insignificant, too mundane, too plain.
We know the work of love is gentle and powerful. Because in the end, what our Lord calls us to do, is to build up the personhood of one another.[v] That’s the church.
- And when we finally sit down at our kitchen table to write that note of encouragement to someone who’s been on our hearts;
- When we make that step-in humility toward someone we’ve hurt or betrayed, and we ask for forgiveness;
- When we stop our endless talking to listen to what our elderly parent has been trying to tell us and we just didn’t want to hear:
- Then our lives, like the Philippians, is experienced in forbearance, mercy, and goodness.
Amid our anxieties of this pandemic, our future, our worries over human rights, our families, and country – our Lord calls us to see our names in the Book of Life; not as disconnected lines on a ledger; but beside one another, interconnected members of the household of God.
And what is the household of God Nassau Presbyterian Church?
Well, whatever is true, whatever honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable,
if there is any excellence,
and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.
[i] Philippians 4:1-9; NRSV: Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
[ii] Fred B. Craddock. Philippians, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1985, 69.
[iii] My thanks to Brain D. Philipps, a holy friend, for leading me to the rich traditions of Jewish prayer and especially the Mourner’s Kaddish.
[iv] Christi O. Brown. “Holy Friendships.” Duke Divinity School, faithandleadership.com, December 1, 2014.
[v] Beverly Wilding Harrison. Making the Connections: Essays in Feminist Social Ethics. Boston: Beacon Press, 1985, 12.