Whatever

Philippians 4:1-9 [i]
Lauren J. McFeaters
October 15, 2017

In traveling to Canada this summer, I stayed in Old Quebec City at the Monastery of the Sisters of St Augustine.

Their story starts four hundred years ago when several sisters, 16 years of age, left the shores of France and traveled by ship to the shores of New France. They traveled with one goal: to serve Jesus Christ by bringing healing to the Inuit peoples and settlers of New France.

They created a church in a tent. They opened a clinic for the healing of bodies and a clinic for the healing of minds. They shaped holy friendships. They mended and bandaged and stitched and bound up the broken and infirm.

They built a small hospital in the middle of the settlement. You see the word hospital in French is Hotel Dieu, meaning House of God. And over the last 400 years they have created an entire hospital system: 12 hospitals stretching north throughout Quebec Province. Each with a free clinic, a sanctuary, and a Monastery.

Whatever.
Whatever the disease – they found a way to treat.
Whatever the condition – they found a way to mend.
Whatever the complication – they found a way to sooth.
Whatever.
Whatever is true. Whatever is honorable.
Whatever is just or pure or pleasing or commendable.
Whatever.

I think the Church of Philippi needs the ministrations of the Sisters of St. Augustine. You see two leaders of the church, Euodia and Syntyche, are in crisis.

Their friendship needs a therapeutic intervention.
Their disease needs a cure.
Their condition needs treatment.
Their complications need soothing.
A House of God needs intercession.

We don’t know the substance of the quarrel between these two women, but whatever it is, it’s not inconsequential.[ii]  What we do know is there’s distress in the church. There’s anxiety. The times are ominous. Times are frightening. The Romans are bearing down and Christians are swept into prisons to rot, and 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 friends in the Book of Life, are hostile and antagonistic, he is more than eager 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 bitterness and estrangement. The Christian family does not have that kind of time to waste.

And though Paul does not explicitly describe it as such, these nine verses are essentially medicine for the church. He’s sending a remedy to the Hotel Dieu du Philippi and not just for the mending and bandaging and stitching up of individual friendships, but for the binding and suturing of friendships within a group of holy friends.

Throughout the entire letter, Paul emphasizes a cure for the mending of the church: it’s friendship and reciprocity; that the healing of deep friendships is not a one-way street: it’s a constant give-and-take from both sides, full of mutual caring, loving generosity, and most of all – wait for it – that long-lost and forgotten word “Forbearance.”

Forbearance.

If you asked for words that describe the healing of friendships, I highly doubt forbearance would make the Top-10. And yet Paul – and the Sisters of St. Augustine in their rule for community life – uphold this concept as the crucial medicine for healthy Christian Community.

Forbearance? What is it? Well it’s patience, gentleness, and mercy. It’s self-control and moderation. It’s acceptance and leniency. It happens when friends walk through the muck of life together and accept the good, bad, and ugly.[iii]  It’s taking on anxiety and fear as a part of life; a life being difficult to live.

Have you noticed when forbearance is not a part of Christian living life becomes palpably anxious and fearful on the outside and people turn against each other on the inside. Holy Friendships are scuttled. Without forbearance:

  • The community of faith bends in on itself.
  • Comments are muttered under the breath; not to take sides mind you, but out of “Christian” concern.
  • Up go the walls. Down go the connections.
  • Up go the defenses; Down goes the contact.
  • 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 we become the Church of Whatever.

We become more of what our society becomes:

  • where disparagement is a profession,
  • and mockery a pastime,
  • and ridicule is lifted as an aptitude.
  • “Whatever.”

In our lives, where reality is known as Big Brother 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 non-dramatic, too distracting from the serious business of world rule.

Yet the urgent work of love is gentle and powerful. Through acts of love — what Nelle Morton calls “hearing each other to speech” — we literally build up the personhood of one another; we build up dignity and self-respect. [iv]

Whatever.
Whatever the disease – we find a way to treat.
Whatever the condition – we find a way to mend.
Whatever the complication – we find a way to sooth.
Whatever.
Whatever is true. Whatever is honorable.
Whatever is just or pure or pleasing or commendable.
Whatever.

You know as followers of Jesus our Lord, we have the power, through him, to stand the world on its head. It starts at home and at school and work and on the streets. We stand the world on its head for Christ when we:

  • When we make that step in humility toward someone we’ve hurt or betrayed;
  • When we finally stop long enough to listen to what our elderly parent has been trying to tell us; what our spouse has been trying get through; what our nephew needs to let us know;
  • When we refrain just long enough not to hit “send” on our snarky response or juicy gossip or
  • When we go to the Assembly Room today to meet new friends from Malawi;
  • When we fill up the food bin at the back door and the coat bin at the side door;
  • When we pack our bags with hammers and nails and work boots and head out to mend and rebuild;
  • When forbearance and its patience, gentleness, and mercy becomes our rule of life.
  • Whatever.

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable.
Whatever is just, pure, pleasing, commendable.
This is our call to faith.


ENDNOTES

[i]  Philippians 4:1-9: 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]  Christi O. Brown. “Holy Friendships.” Duke Divinity School, faithandleadership.com, December 1, 2014.

 

[iv] Beverly Wilding Harrison. Making the Connections: Essays in Feminist Social Ethics. Boston:  Beacon Press, 1985, 12.

 

 

[1]  Philippians 4:1-9: 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.

 

[1] Fred B. Craddock. Philippians, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1985, 69.

 

[1]  Christi O. Brown. “Holy Friendships.” Duke Divinity School, faithandleadership.com, December 1, 2014.

 

[1] Beverly Wilding Harrison. Making the Connections: Essays in Feminist Social Ethics. Boston:  Beacon Press, 1985, 12.

 

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