Sunday, December 13, 2015

Why We Give; Today's sermon on Philippians 4:4-23

Rev. George Miller
Dec 13, 2015
Philippians 4:4-23

Show of hands- how many people take the Holiday Season as it comes, doing things as needed, perhaps even shopping last minute?

Who here races to finish and send out cards?

Swears that next year they’ll get an earlier start on the shopping, decorating, baking?

How many here are my organized folk? 3-4 weeks out you set aside time, make a list, break down what you’re going to do day by day?

Know the exact day to go the Post Office so you don’t have to deal with long, long lines?

How many simply love this season?

How many secretly dread this season?

How many feel this Holiday season is weighted down with a sense of sadness?

Someone is gone; family is missed; a friend is deathly sick; a pet has died?

How many here have ever experienced the Holiday Blues?

The Holiday Blues are no joke. NAMI, which is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, stated that 64% of people surveyed claim to be affected by the Holiday Blues.

The Holiday Blues are temporary feelings of anxiety or depression associated with the extra stress, unrealistic expectations and the memories that accompany the season.

People who claim to experience the Holiday Blues report fatigue, frustration, tension, isolation, sadness and sense of loss.

The Holiday Blues may only last a season, but they still hurt, and they are still real.

So for those who are experiencing the Holiday Blues, I’m here to say you are not alone, you are not crazy, and you do not have to put on a false mask of joy.

We are all here for one another; I am here for you; Emmanuel UCC is here for you.

So, for those with the Blues, you may not be too fond of today’s reading. It’s a letter Paul wrote to one of the first churches he knew.

A church that stood by his side when others would not; a church that strived with him in the work of God’s Kingdom; a church that has tried their best to be the hands, feet, and heart of Christ.

What makes this letter amazing is that Paul is currently about 800 miles away from them, yet he talks as intimately too them if they have been side by side every Sunday morning.

Even more amazing is this- Paul is writing from jail. He’s been arrested once again for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ; he’s been punished for being too provocative in his words and deeds.

Historically, no one really knows if Paul is in the big jail facing charges of corporate crime, or if he’s under house arrest.

Either way, his physical freedom has been taken away, and he’s been under some form of lock-and-key for about 2 years.

You’d think that Paul would have no reason to be happy; you’d think he’d be as blue as can be.

But at this moment, he appears to be OK; content with where his life has taken him.

“Rejoice!” he says. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Do not worry about a thing!”

How many here today who are experiencing a bit of the Holiday Blues secretly want to say “Oh just shut up, Paul! Take your happiness elsewhere!”?

Reading just this portion of Paul’s letter can make him sound just a bit starry-eyed. It can also give a false impression of the complex person Paul most likely was.

Are we to assume that this letter accurately reflects Paul’s mood every day, every minute, every second he’s on lock-down?

Are we to assume that for 2 years of imprisonment Paul went around singing “Oh, Happy Day”?

I doubt it, because if he did he wouldn’t be human, he wouldn’t be three-dimensional, he wouldn’t be real.

No, my guess is that this letter of Paul’s just so happens to catch him on one of those days when he’s feeling pretty positive, his blood-sugar is even, he got enough sleep, and he’s a bit reflective.

You can hear a Christ-like quality in him in which he looks back over his life and gets to think things over.

As Paul states, he’s had a lot and he’s had little; he has gone hungry and he’s had his share of all-u-can-eat buffets.

But through it all, Paul claims he is content and he won’t complain.

One gets the sense that although Paul is in jail, he has no regrets and would do it all again if it meant leading people to the light of Christ.

But how did Paul get to this Zen-like place? How did he get to this moment of immense understanding and deep reflection?

I have a theory, and it’s a theory that fits into the Christmas season and the work of the Service Committee- Paul has received a gift.

Reread vss. 15-20 and we’ll discover perhaps the reason why Paul wrote this epistle- it’s a thank you letter.

It’s a letter in which the Philippian church has sent him a gift; many gifts in fact. At least one of those gifts appears to be a bottle of cologne.

A gift.

Could it be that simple?

Now, typically Paul did not like to receive presents. He preferred not to receive gifts or financial assistance. He felt it was not right to make a profit from preaching the gospel. (He’d probably be appalled that modern ministers make a salary.)

Paul did not like to receive gifts, and yet he welcomed the gifts from the Philippian church.

Perhaps it’s because he sees their gifts as a reflection of their partnership.

Perhaps it’s because he knows accepting their gifts could enhance their partnership.

Perhaps Paul has reached that place few A-type personalities reach in which he realized that sometimes it is good to let someone else do the caring.

Perhaps he realized that this was the way in which the Philippian church was able to be the hands, feet, and heart of Christ to him.

Perhaps this was an example in which a congregation becomes like living angels to help another in need.

I wonder if the receiving of gifts is what sparked in Paul this sense of rejoicing, this sense of contentment, this sense of having “enough” (Dayenu).

I wonder if just hours before writing this letter, Paul was a little blue. I wonder if he was in prison, feeling frustrated, fatigued, lonely, and sad.

I wonder if Paul shed his share of tears while imprisoned? I wonder if there were moments he doubted God?

I wonder if he ever wondered if God had simply forgotten about him?

We can’t tell by this particular letter, but if Paul was anything like you, if he was anything like me, if he was anything like us, the answer would be a “yes!”

I wonder if receiving this care package from the congregation allowed Paul’s spiritual button to be reset; if that’s really the thing that made him feel happy?

This is a great letter to read for the Advent season. It’s a letter that brings home the real reason why we give gifts.

It’s not to boost sales. It’s not to earn a spot as the favorite son, daughter, aunt or uncle.

It’s not to go into excruciating debt.

We give this season because God first gave to us: the gifts of creation, the gifts of freedom, the gifts of the commandments.

As if that isn’t enough, God continued to give with the gift of Jesus Christ, the gift of the Gospel, and the gift of the Holy Ghost.

We also give, because it reminds others that yes- they care cared for, yes- they are remembered, yes- they matter, and yes- they are not alone.

Even in our distress, even in our loneliness, even in our prisons, real or imagined, no one is alone…

…Sometimes it takes a gift, to make that message known.

So as we continue to prepare for the Birth of Jesus, as we prepare to face the Holidays, let us give in a way that reflects how we truly feel for one another.

Let us give not by the content of our wallets, but by the Christ that lives in our hearts.

Because when we give, we are widening the reach of Christ’s magnificent light.

Amen and amen.

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