Philippians 1:15 – 2:4
How Jesus’ Story becomes My Story
Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are the climax of the whole event of Jesus among us. Jesus’ followers realized that this great event changed their perception of everything and everyone, including God and themselves and all creation. The NT is the record of their explorations of what it means to live in a world with Jesus’ cross and resurrection.
Paul brought Jesus’ whole story to Philippi. Jews, Pagans, women, slaves, Roman veterans, were drawn into a community. There was violent reaction, beating, prison, release. Paul left for other cities. Now he’s in prison in Ephesus. Philippi sent help, but worried.
Paul describes his situation, expressing the way being in Christ (Anointed King) shapes life, death, calm before opponents, hope. He proclaimed a new emperor in a center of Roman power and doesn’t back down. He wants more boldness: To live is Christ.
The diverse believers in Philippi experience persecution. He wants them to stand firm,
but how? Everything they see around them says no. Paul moves from how his own life is shaped by Jesus to how their lives can experience the same power. The love that is the heart of Jesus – God’s self-giving love, our response in heart and action –becomes the lens that lets them see what really matters (1:9-10).
Learning the Joy of Faith in a World of Trouble
We focus on Philippians in this period between Easter and Pentecost: a time of Disciples beginning to grasp the reality and transformation of the resurrection. Paul is living and carrying that resurrection power into a world that had no grasp of it – Roman cities.
Paul is in Ephesus and writes to Philippi. Both were cities of Roman government. Ephesus, capital of Roman Asia, center of Artemis and Emperor worship. Jewish community, culture, magic, riots, etc. Luke shows complex situation. Philippi was a Roman colony. Little Jewish presence, but strong patriotism to Rome. Close relation to Paul.
What happened? Paul is in prison/chains in Ephesus. His Roman citizenship got him out of jail in Philippi, but not in Ephesus. Paul is in danger of execution. Paul has both supporters and enemies (Demetrius). Believers have become bolder. Paul’s friends are in danger. Many people are talking about this King that Paul proclaims!
A New World of Life – Breaking Into the Empire of Death
Celebrating Jesus’ resurrection is rejoicing in a challenge that hits us every day and never goes away. We humans everywhere structure life around power over others in all its forms, raw violence, manipulative enticement, structures of control, financial reward.... Even our best intentions and policies must be enforced. Behind all is death’s power.
Jesus’ resurrection is the event in which God reveals that his own world/reality is creating life, not threatening death. He shows our patterns of religion, politics, life struggle, are not his eternal reality. He broke into our human empire of death with his Kingdom of life and challenges each of us to see his reality of Love, Grace, Trust. It’s there in plain sight, if we’re not blinded. But it’s hard. We are blinded by our little reality, by fear!
Our modern world knows when the ages turned – Galileo, Newton, Enlightenment, French Rev. Breaking ecclesiastical domination, free thought, human autonomy. Important! But that eccl. domination had domesticated and hid the great revolution, the truly new age that we celebrate: Easter when God breaks in to overcome the ultimate power of death and create new life.
Palm Sunday and all this week sets the stage. Death is still master. Hopes blossom. A long history feeds anticipation with prophetic poetry. Imperial oppression holds in boiling resentments. Aristocratic religious leaders are threatened by the very faith they’re supposed to foster. Religio-political groups propose ways of reform. The crowds long for Passover deliverance!
A young prophet from Galilee, riding a donkey, comes over the hill and sees the city and temple and weeps over it. He sees things others can’t yet see. He is someone more than they imagine.
Jesus’ Astounding Authority
Jesus: “Change your way of thinking, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” (Mt 4:17) Seek God’s kingdom! You don’t create it. It’s here, real! Do you know reality to see it? The change of mind is in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and his signs of healing and life.
People flocked to Jesus for healing power, but felt something more – authority. “But I say to you” unfolds a vision of God, of solid life, of faith and everyday practice. Doing “the will of my Father” is the same as “listening to these words of mine and doing them.”
Mighty Works by Your Name! ... I Never Knew You!
This week we are going to look at how Paul’s words orient us HORIZONTALLY in light of our vertical relationship with God.
Paul views the gathering of vertically aligned people as an entirely new humanity.
The horizontal relationships we have in this body are critically important because in here we are being told a story that has the power to not only transform us, but to transform our families, our friends, our school, our work places, even our social media feeds. Taken all together, this story can change the world.
God intends for the church to be inside out kind of place, and Paul knows that in order for us to be what God intends, we have to be people who understand who we were as outsiders, before we were brought inside by the cross of Christ.
Ephesians 1 & 3
Through the lens of Ephesians, we see that there are unexpected aspects in our relationship with God that have more and farther reaching impact than we imagine. The countercultural impact of the gospel rocks the world in Paul's time and in ours, and transforms our daily Christian walk.
Who’s really Great in God’s Kingdom? – a real Saint!
Jesus: “Change your way of thinking, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” Thinking about Saint Patrick’s day. Also about the growth of faith in Jesus in Asia, Africa, etc. The distinctive forms of churches, music, organization, architecture.
Is St. Patrick a saint? In what sense? Someone canonized? Someone great in Christianity? What does that mean? The word “saints” is used in many NT translations. What does it mean? “Holy” (hagios)! Is that some special achievement in religion? Martyrdom?
Jesus and the Law and the Prophets
Many in Jesus time wanted to be God’s “holy people.” Most movements wanted to create a purified people. Especially the Pharisees with Teachers of Law, famous for rigorous obedience to Torah. They condemned Jesus’ lack of rigor – “tax collectors & sinners.”
Jesus’ Focus on Love. Enemies? Really?
Jesus: “Change your way of thinking, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” [Mt 4:17]Central and distinctive to this change/repentance is Jesus’ emphatic teaching on love.
The climax of Jesus’ six distinctives (“You’ve heard...”) is most striking. It starts with “Love your enemies” and ends with being “perfect.” Radical repentance, counter-cultural. It assumes good human love and pushes toward something more, being God’s children.
Healing – Transforming Love
Jesus stresses healthy self-love. I want my life! 2nd command –“as yourself” [Mt 22:35-40].But he’s very realistic. Self-love often distorted. We’re masters, victims, self-hating / glorifying. 1. Assume we’re broken & need healing. 2. Value God’s work / pearls.
3. Actively ask, seek, knock. 4. God loves us as a true Father his children: Gives Life.
God becomes central–God! I love myself as God’s beloved child. Center of ethical life.
What are Spiritual Practices for anyway?
Jesus: “Change your way of thinking, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” In the Sermon on the Mount he focuses that repentance/change of thinking. He talks about very basic challenges: anger, desire, truthfulness, enemies, anxiety, judging others, etc.
He focuses regular religious practices: alms, prayer, fasting. We often think of spiritual disciplines as a way of self-control, finding centering, peace, authentic self, etc.
Jesus always focuses on a living, vibrant dialogue with God. God who is intimate, hidden, knowing. The Abba who is life-giving creator, who is reality itself. The perennial dangers are self-centered distortion and the temptation to use piety as performance. Jesus’ concern is not my sense of authenticity, often distorted, but reality in relation to a God who knows me, who is and gives life. I save my life only by losing/giving it.
Real Prayer and Fasting and Dialogue with God
We begin this afternoon a period of Shared Prayer. Our community prayers flow from experience of personal dialogue with God. Very practical. Not new rules but focus on real relationship. Fathers in ancient world were often controlling, public-oriented. Jesus remakes “Father” as shared image for creative, intimate, challenging God.
Walter Edwards leads the congregation in a meditation on Black History and the impact of African Americans on the church. Along with Larry Mudd, Carl Garrison, Mary Joseph, Adolf Everett, and Alva Burton. A vital message of hope, repentance, and racial consciousness.
Simple Reality in a Relationship with God
Jesus: “Change your way of thinking, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” (Mt 4:17). “Kingdom” points to God’s “Anointed king” – Messiah – Christ. A challenge to every other kingdom: Herod, Rome, myself, the world. But the kingdom is of God’s realm, “the heavens,” permeating all reality, but unrecognized. To people, “kingdom” meant power, conquest, glory, taxing. In SoM Jesus shows God’s Kgd: self-giving love, grace, generosity.
Through teaching prayer, Jesus takes us to the heart of a relationship with God – simple, real. It’s heart is the secret place, pointing to the inmost self. God’s heavenly realm is there in secret. “Your Father” is present, sees, knows, and responds. God’s glory is not for show.
But the dialogue of prayer is profound, all-encompassing! We speak our desire to change our thinking to align with God’s will: God’s Kingdom coming on our earth as in God’s heavens. The union of God’s rule with God’s creation becoming reality personally and universally.
Shaping People to Learn the Kingdom of God
Jesus challenged people: “Change your way of thinking, for the kingdom of the heavens hascome near!” (Mt 4:17). Is it a kingdom rebellion against Rome? A new way to strategize?
But Jesus didn’t gather strategists or theologians, but fishermen! Not purification in the desert but crowds in the towns. His sign was not a Zealot strike force but healing for anyone.
People set Jesus inside their own understanding of life, good, power, justice. They loved himbut .... Those closest, like Peter, affirm him as Messianic King! But when Jesus tells what “Messiah” means, “No!” – they think Jesus doesn’t understand his own greatness. (Satan!)
Jesus begins training them/us to a new, challenging way to see / think about everything, a new way to live in the world – Sermon on Mt. To “think the things of God,” to see all thingshuman as a gift from God. To love and seek God’s kingdom! God’s love at the center.
Tempting and Testing – The Coming of the Accuser
God celebrated Jesus and gave a sign of the Spirit’s presence/anointing with him at baptism. That Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be put to the test/tempted (peirasmos). One word for both harsh, negative “testing” and alluring, deceptively attractive “temptation.”
Both challenge integrity, commitment, faithfulness. We experience tests and temptations as deeply personal. Here we’re given an external view, like Job 1-2. The Satan, the Accuser (diabolos, slanderer, devil) seems to appear in personal confrontation. God’s voice... Satan’s.
The narrative is stylized, simple, formulaic. It avoids taking us into Jesus’ psychology – like our inner struggles where we experience the core of testing/temptation. Paul and James focus on desire, law, human choice and weakness. Sin personified. Desires from within.
Here, we’re given a glimpse of the coming battle as Jesus “binds the strong man.” (Mt. 12:28-29) A curtain is pulled back. Jesus has fasted for 40 days. The Accuser thinks he’ll be weakened.
The Anticipation and Surprise of John the Baptist
In our text we hear the voice of Jesus himself for the first time in Mt. After a 30-yr gap in our knowledge, Jesus comes to John to be baptized and amazing things begin to happen.
John was a prophet like Elijah in wilderness pronouncing God’s coming judgment – especially on Pharisees (Law) and Sadducees (Temple): “brood of vipers” (3:7). He calls all to repent, be baptized to prepare “the way of the Lord” for the in-breaking Kingdom of Heaven.
John proclaims the one who will follow him: his power, worthiness. Beyond plunging in water, he will plunge you in Spirit and Fire. John’s words echo words of scripture in Mal., Isa., etc. The coming one will embody God’s judgment, sifting, gathering wheat, burning chaff. He’s ready.
Then Jesus comes. It doesn’t seem right. He should take over, not be baptized. He should show power, fire, judgment. John expects the Messiah that so many envisioned. Jesus surprises! Not by being more glorious than we expected, but by being one of the crowd of people.
A New Year – Under God’s Rule!
Epiphany – The Magi come seeking the new king. Herod urges them to seek that king so that he may ‘worship’ (kill) him. Mt wants us to think intently about Jesus as God’s Messiah, King. “God’s kingdom is arriving” – breaking in. This is God’s work. Can we participate?
New Year – We stand in the crowd listening to Jesus: “Seek first God’s kingdom, God’s rule and God’s righteousness!” Good! I want God to rule in my life. But it sounds strange.
I don’t have to seek Herod’s rule or Rome’s. They impose it. God’s kingdom comes, but it relates to me as no other kingdom. Jesus says, “Seek it.” I say, “Just tell me the rules – sacrifices, rituals, purities, things forbidden, boundaries, who’s in/out, rules of worship, rewards, punishments.” Jesus looks at the rag-tag, expectant crowd: “Sure, that’s what I’ve been doing. Love God, neighbors, enemies. No anger. No sexual dominance, Speak truth. Don’t resist evil people, but turn your cheek. Don’t show off piety. Pray simply. Give generously. Don’t judge. Give to others what you’ve been given. Don’t worry about your life!
John the Baptizer and Elijah
Matthew introduces John as a known person: “Baptizer” (also Josephus). Famous as prophet and martyr killed by Herod Antipas. He is the renewal of prophecy cut short by corrupt power.
Mt illuminates his role by two scripture references. Isaiah 40: Wilderness, Exodus, hope for end of exile, renewal. Preparation for God. This is what the Gospel is about. Nothing less.
Also the sign of Elijah that ends Malachi. The call for renewal before God’s Judgment.
The surprising way that God comes. “God with us” as the exiled son. God as human Messiah.