Hello Church Family, this is Pastor Phil!
When my family lived in New Jersey, our family planted a tree in our front yard. For us, it represented a lot of really good things like God’s blessings that saw us through the long years of schooling, the excitement of our first call into parish ministry, our first home, the birth of our children, and the next step of our family’s journey together. We were so thankful for God’s work in our life and we wanted to plant a personal, little memorial to those blessings. When we planted that beautiful little tree, we had no idea what we were doing. We looked up YouTube videos, talked to the guys at the nursery, read articles, but—you know—we really didn’t know. But we tried, and we planted that little tree, we watered it, got one of those gator bags to put around it, fertilized and loved it. Then the storms came.
Our little community in Jersey was hammered by 2 hurricanes and a derecho (a crazy windstorm, with straight, horizontal blasts of wind). I remember watching from our front window when the last hurricane came through and our little tree, really no thicker than a 1×4, was slapping against the front yard, time and time again. I lost count at 100 slaps. When the storm finally passed and we looked at the devastation left in the aftermath, there was our little tree, standing tall and proud, storm tossed and missing all of its leaves, but standing tall. Yesterday, I looked up my old house on Google Maps and saw our tough little tree. Not so small anymore, it’s taller than the house with big branches and a wide trunk. It made me smile.
Our reading today is from Philippians 4:4-13, it is the last part of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi from prison. In his final words of encouragement, he directs the church family to remember where their security comes from in every circumstance and held firmly by that security to approach their relationships with each other and the world with compassion, gentleness, and love. He begins,
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice” (vs. 4)
My poor little tree in New Jersey got the living lights knocked out of it in that last storm, but it stayed rooted throughout. My little tree was not holding itself down but the depth of the hole, the dirt, the gator bag, were all holding it down and keeping it secure even though it was getting whipped around like a ping-pong ball. That solid core of strength is how our Savior Jesus holds us. Jesus does not change. Jesus’ love does not change. Jesus’ security does not change. With Jesus in your life, there is this part of you that is unchanging and can never be broken. It is like a heavenly foundation. Even though our lives can often feel like my little tree in Jersey during the storm, being whipped around every which direction, there is that unchanging heavenly foundation that is holding us secure. What is so beautiful about this heavenly foundation is that even when our earthly bodies finally give way in the storms, our heavenly foundation is still holding all that we are, our heart, our soul, our spirit, in the heavenly realms with our savior. Everything else will be torn away but who we are, secure in our Heavenly Foundation, will always remain.
It is really that Heavenly Foundation given to us in Jesus that any other conversation has to start at because it is the foundation that you build upon that makes or breaks the house that you live in. The house that we are being built into is a spiritual house with the foundation of Christ.
“You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (I Peter 2:5).
As a living house we are the very real bricks and wood that are bound together and because of that we must interact with each other. Gone is the notion of being a personal Christian living alone in the woods, just me and Jesus. That’s not how Jesus made us to be His Church. As a Church, we are already joined together in community, whether we like it or not, because that is how Jesus wants His people to be and how we will be for all of eternity with Jesus in the Heavenly Courts. So right here and now, as a family of faith brought together by Jesus, how are we to live together?
“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” (vs 5)
That word, “reasonableness” may not be very clear in the intent that Paul is trying to make in the Greek language. Let me read to you from Strong’s Greek Lexicon the different ways this word ἐπιεικής is translated. “Gentle, mild, forbearing, fair, reasonable, moderate, seemly, equitable, yielding, in the sense of truly being fair by relaxing overly strict standards in order to keep the “spirit of the law.” Take a moment for yourself and look at those words what kind of mental images come to mind? What does it look to be gentle? Maybe like how you would hold a baby in your arms. Maybe with the attitude of intentional caution I had because I am such a big guy and I don’t always know my strength, to be that much extra careful in how I handled my babies. Or maybe it is with the confident gentleness that I saw with Shi who seemed like she knew exactly what she was doing with the babies but that didn’t make her any less cautious or gentle. What does it look like to be yielding? Choosing your battles maybe. Or, maybe, letting other people win. Or realizing, not with a sense of resignation, but a sense of clarity, there are very, very few things worth holding a hard line on in this life. Maybe a handful at most, probably not even that many. Everything else can be, for the most part, all good, changeable, and flexible.
These are the words our God has given to us to describe how it is we are to treat each other as the family of God built on the foundation of Jesus Christ.
As we look to the world around us. There is so much competition and striving to be winners and make other people losers. It is easy for us to get caught up in all of that whether it’s politics or our faith. We can look at the world with a sense that it’s either us or them, whether we are winning or losing. But why? Everything belongs to the Lord and any culture can’t touch that reality or the security we have in our Heavenly Foundation. Fighting just makes us look weak and like we’ve got something to lose, when we don’t. Instead,
“if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (vs. 8b).
There are so many good things in our world that we can lose sight of in the tug of war, but all of that goodness comes from our God and we can choose to focus on the good instead of the bad and lift that good up, even if we don’t always agree with the person or the place that goodness is located at.
All of this can only be done in the secure Heavenly Foundation we have in Jesus which holds us tight, through all of the storms of life.