Today we meet Paul as he writes from prison to the Philippians encouraging them on the good work they have been doing in Christs name. Throughout Philippians Paul emphasizes his commitment to serving Christ and you’ll notice how Paul offers grace to the Philippians in the beginning of the letter, this form of grace is one that describes a new and fresh relationship between God and the believer. Paul’s prayer here is one of thanksgiving, he’s thankful to rejoices with the Philippians in the work they’re doing and will do in the name of Christ, so Paul writes:
“Toall the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishopsand deacons.2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heartfor all of you share in God’s gracewith me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. 9 And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:3-11)
As I reflected on these words I thought of our own church and wondered what Paul would say to us, what would he encourage us to do better, what he would ask us to think deeply about, what he would be critical of us for doing and/or not doing. And how do we as this community of faith allow these words to fall on our hearts and minds as we work together to share Gods love with those around us.
Two questions among many others arose in my contemplating: first, “who are we called to be in our corner of the world!?”, and second “what can we do with the gifts we’ve been given here?”.
First Baptist we’ve seen our church grow in ways we could have never hoped or imagined, we’ve seen countless children and their families make professions of faith and be baptized. We have felt the electric move of the spirt through our programming and offerings. We see growth in our children, youth and family Sunday school classes. We see 1stExplorers offerings and how they continue to impact our community. We see the beauty of our children learning about God being at work in places far in near through our mission friends, Royals Ambassadors, Girls in Action and ActTeens. We’ve seen Gods uniting love at work as we continue to learn and partner with our friends at Kerygma Baptist Church in Holguin, Cuba. We’ve seen what it looks like to provide clothing for individuals in Kentucky. We’ve seen what it looks like to journey together in the hardest of times as we’ve mourned the loss of several church members over the past few weeks.
When we look around us we can see the harvest from plenty of seeds that have been planted and bloomed and can see many seeds beginning to sprout, but now, we must ask ourselves as we reflect on all of the good work to this point “where do we go from here?” do we get lazy and rest on the good work we’ve done up to this point or do we dig deeper and begin to reimagine and question what God is calling us to now.
Reimagining and digging deeper means that with childlike faith we ask the question of our Summer Explorers bible study theme ask this past week “What if We Change the World?”, “What if We Change the World?”, “What if We Change the World?”.
In order for us to change the world, in order for us to hear how God is calling us, we must have “holy discontent with the status quo”meaning we have to recognize that we are calling to do more than we are doing now, we have to recognize that we are called to do exceedingly and abundantly more. We can’t think well we’ve done enough. We have to recognize that we are in the work of changing lives and having our lives changed. This work calls us to digging deep within our souls and allowing ourselves to experience God in new and challenging ways. This work requires us to notice the gifts we have within this very sanctuary today. This work means we must be willing to work together. This work means we must be willing to share Gods love with those who don’t look like us. This work means we must be willing to be in community with those who believe differently from us and those who we quite frankly can’t stand.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr said “we must discover the power of love. And when we do that, we will be able to make of the old world a new world. Love is the only way.” Y’all its time for us to have some holy discontent with the status quo. It’s time for us to hear how God is calling us to do more and hear the words of verses 9 and 10 and think of our own church, when Paul says “And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless,”
And with that in mind we with holy discontent that challenges the status quo, here this story from the mid 1940s, a Caucasian Baptist New Testament Greek scholar who also was a farmer named Clarence Jordan and his wife Florence along with another couple moved their families to a 440 acre of tract of land outside of Americus, Georgia, because they felt called to start an interracial Christian community that they eventually named Koinonia Farms. Koinonia is a Greek word that means partnership, communion, togetherness and it’s a fitting word to use to describe the type of community they were trying to create here. Those that were part of this unique community bound themselves to the principles that all people should be treated equal, they rejected violence, cared for the land and shared what little they had with each other. In the beginning the residents of Sumter County were supportive of this ministry and farm, then as the Civil Rights Movement began to grow these faithful Christians became the target of violence, they were bombed and investigated by the state of Georgia and the federal government refused to assist them. The partners of Koinonia Farms were making good and holy trouble and they weren’t content with the status quo. They responded to the separation and mistreatment of people a way that was risky and begged of them to see the world differently with new eyes, it also begged of those in Sumter County to see the world differently. In the 1960s, after things had “calmed down” Jordan wrote the Cotton Patch Gospel (some of you are probably familiar with the musical), it’s the New Testament with a southern twist, for example Jordan converted references of the “crucifixion” to “lynching”, Rome became Washington, D.C., Judea became Georgia, and Jerusalem became Atlanta to name a few of the interpretations. This translation allows the reader (good southerners like ourselves) to kind of put things in perspective if you will, here’s his translation of the Philippians, however he wrote it as:
The Letter to the Alabaster African Church of Smithville, Alabama:
- From two of Jesus Christ’s slaves, Paul and Timothy; To all the loyal Christians at Alabaster, especially the ministers and church officers.
Grace and peace to you from our Father-God and from our Master, Jesus Christ.
3.Every Thought of you makes me thank God for you, and all my prayers for you are flooded with joy because of your partnership with me in good news from the very first moment you heard it until the present. And I can assure you that, having started you off on the right track, I will follow you through until Jesus Christ has his day. it is nothing but right that I should feel this way about you all, for I have a very warm spot in my heart for you. All of you are my fellow partners in God’s grace, whether I’m in jail or preaching and explaining the gospel. I declare before God that I have the same tender feelings toward you as Christ Jesus himself does. And this I pray: that your love may keep growing until you have such understanding and keen perception that you can sort out the truly important matters. I pray too that you may overflow with the goodness that comes from following Christ, to God’s credit and honor. 
Did you hear that last part, spoiler alert that last part is what I’ve been trying to get at, so wake up and hear it again “And this I pray: that your love may keep growing until you have such understanding and keen perception that you can sort out the truly important matters.”
What matters the most is that we:
- Share the stories of our faith with those around us.
- That we pray for one another.
- That we share with one another despite our differences.
- That we advocate for children and youth.
- That we work hard to leave this world a better place for generations that follow.
- That we speak truth to power, even when we are in the minority and everyone else doesn’t agree.
- That we are kind to one another.
- That we care for the least amongst us.
- That we love and that we love openly and freely.
- That we stand up and have something to say about the opioid epidemic that is effect so many in our communities and families.
- That we listen for where God is calling us and respond.
- That we are a light in a dark, hurting, broken and messy world.
- That we dedicate our time and attention to the work of the church and find our place in the work.
- That we stand up for those that don’t have access to quality education, health care, food and/or housing.
- That we live simply rather than in excess.
- That we have open hearts, open minds and open spirts to experience God in new and unimaginable ways.
What matters is that we must that we get sick on the status quo and shake things up making holy and good trouble that shares Gods loves. Amen.
(Queen and Davis 2014)
Books referenced in this sermon were Hopeful Imagination by Mike Queen and Jayne Davis and The Cotton Patch Gospel: Paul’s Epistles (Volume 3) by Claraence Jordan.