Sermon from 5th Dec 2021 (Advent 2)

Philippians 1:3-11 (EHV)

I thank my God every time I remember you. Every time I pray for all of you, I always pray with joy, because of your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now. I am convinced of this very thing: that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. I am equally convinced that it is right for me to think this way about all of you, because I have you in my heart, for both in my chains and in my defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all share in this grace with me. Yes, God is my witness of how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And I pray that your love may still increase more and more in knowledge and every insight. 10 This will result in your approval of the things that really matter, so that you will be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that what you’ve already started in us, may continue to grow until the coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

If I were to ask if you were a ‘glass half full’ or a ‘glass half empty’ kind of person, how would you answer?

You know, are you one of those people who are always thankful for what you have, no matter how small or insignificant? Are you thankful for every small opportunity which comes your way, even those annoying and inconvenient moments? Do you always appreciate every person God has placed in your life, even when you don’t agree with them or if they keep on interrupting your own plans? Are you even thankful for the scars and heartaches you’ve experienced in your life because they brought you closer to God?

Or are you one of those who are tempted to complain because you’re missing out on what others possess? Are you tempted to whinge about those who disrupt your best laid plans or hold differing opinions? Do you keep looking through shops and catalogues because you’re not content with what you already have? Are you dissatisfied with God when he doesn’t answer your prayers the way you want him to and within the timeline that you’ve given him?

I’m not going to take a poll right now, but in my experience we all struggle to be thankful in all circumstances, especially when things go wrong with our health, our work, our schools, and our loved ones.

Even in our own Christian fellowships we can struggle to be thankful.

We’re not always thankful when our own names are listed more and more frequently on rosters. We’re not always thankful when we don’t always get to sing our favourite hymns or songs. We’re not always thankful when the sermon or the worship service goes longer than we want it to. We’re not always thankful when we don’t get our own way at meetings. We’re not always thankful when others make jokes at our expense or when someone has a go at us. We’re not always thankful when others force their opinions on us and won’t seem to listen to what we’ve got to say. We’re not always thankful when crabby old Mrs Gruffenpiffle makes a beeline for us after worship to whinge about all her troubles again. We’re not always thankful when we hear stories of abuse or conflict or divisions in our church.

If we’re honest with ourselves, the reason we’re not always thankful is because most of our reasons for thankfulness seem to be dependent on our own experience of happiness, success, comfort, or getting our own way. We’re more likely to be thankful when we get what we want.

Knowing how we struggle to be thankful in all circumstances, especially when we don’t get our own way, it comes as a surprise to hear St Paul being so thankful as he begins his letter to the congregation in Philippi.

And don’t get him wrong, he’s not denying the reality of the problems around him, after all, he’s currently writing from a prison. While we don’t know the exact place or conditions of his incarceration, I guess we could say he has much less freedom of movement than what we have today, and he didn’t have Netflix to keep him company in his isolation! Despite Paul’s confinement, he’s thankful for his imprisonment and for the opportunities God’s given him to defend and confirm the gospel.

Similarly, Paul isn’t blind and deaf to the issues facing the Philippian congregation. They’re not a perfect congregation and they have some important relationship issues to work through, yet he still begins with thankfulness. In fact, most of his letters start with thankfulness, but his thankfulness is also not what we’re expecting.

Instead of thanking them for the way they welcomed him, or for all those times he sat around their tables to have a cuppa, or for the way they faithfully served on committees, he thanks God for their partnership in the gospel – their partnership in the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and the promise of life eternal through faith in him.

He thanks God for what God has begun in them, knowing they haven’t reached their maturity in the gospel yet. He thanks God for their partnership in God’s grace. He prays that God will continue to build on what he’s already started among them.

Perhaps knowing some of their love for each other is struggling, he also prays that their love might become abundant, especially the love which flows from the gospel of Jesus Christ as they learn to forgive each other and seek to be reconciled and unified in Christ.

But he also wants their love to come with attachments – the attachments of knowledge and discernment. In this way love isn’t just a sentimental feeling, but it’s a love which seeks to understand and carefully discern between what is right and good and holy and excellent in God’s eyes, and what isn’t, as they live out the gospel in their lives and community. As he continues to partner with them in the gospel, even though he remains separated from their community, he’s confident they’ll continue to be filled with the righteousness of Christ.

Applying these words of God through St Paul to our own situation today, and no matter whether you’re a glass half full, or glass half empty, type of person, how might you view yourself and those around you if your starting point was in the partnership we share in the gospel?

For example, if your starting point for looking at yourself and each other is through the lens of the Law, you’ll have certain levels of expectation. This means you’ll expect people to live a certain way. You’ll expect things will be done to certain standards. You’ll also expect you’ll live up to your own high standards.

It’s probable that, if you or anyone else, including God, doesn’t meet these expectations, you’ll whinge and complain and grumble about how unfair life is, how selfish and ignorant and stupid people are, how weak and undisciplined you can be, and perhaps even hold a grudge against God because he didn’t meet your own expectations. And it’s not just about lowering your expectations. Living with the Law as your foundation will always disappoint you and lead you to despair!

On the other hand, if your starting point for looking at yourself and each other is through the lens of the gospel, how might this free you from the condemnation of the Law and restore your joy and thankfulness?

For example, I have some good news for you!

Jesus suffered and died for all those times you were less than thankful for all the gifts and people God sent you. For the sake of Christ, you’re forgiven for complaining about your parents, your premier, your pastor, or any other person God placed in authority over you. You’re forgiven for being selfish and for not helping and supporting people in their times of need. You’re forgiven for those times you didn’t come to someone’s defence, for not speaking well of them, and for not explaining their actions in the kindest way. You’re forgiven for not being content with what God’s given you. As you believe in the good news of the forgiveness of sins for the sake of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, those sins are removed from you as far as the east is from the west!

Now, as God restores your peace and joy through the power of the gospel, both individually and corporately, how will that affect the way you partner with God’s people in this same gospel?

Will you be willing to view each other with more grace? Will you be more merciful with each other? As you forgive as you’ve been forgiven by Christ, how will you express your forgiveness to those who have hurt you or let you down? Knowing the good work of God has begun but hasn’t reached its fulfillment among you, how will you encourage each other in the gospel as you grow in your understanding and learn how to discern what is right and good and excellent in God’s eyes? How will you bring glory to God as the fruit of righteousness benefits those around you?

What God has started in you hasn’t yet come to its conclusion, which means God needs to keep encouraging you to grow and mature in your Christian faith together with your fellow Christians. You need to keep hearing the gospel and keep receiving the grace of God through his holy Sacraments. While Christ’s work of forgiveness and salvation has been finished and completed on the cross, you’re still a work in progress as you learn how to partner with Christ and each other in the gospel.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how much water you have in your glass, but it matters who gives you the precious gift of faith so you may believe in the gospel. It matters how God continues to bless your faith as you live in the gospel in partnership with each other. It matters how God will complete what he’s started among you.

This means we can all thank God for what he’s begun, what he’s currently doing, and what he’ll continue to work in and among us as we partner in the divine blessings of the gospel.

May we all continue to grow and mature in the partnership of the gospel so that we may all know and discern the excellent work of God among us as we love as we’ve been loved by God, forgive as we’ve been forgiven by God, and serve as we’ve been served by God. By the power of the Holy Spirit, may we all bear the fruit of righteousness and bring glory and praise to God!

And may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.