“First United Church of Philippi, part IV”
Rev. Tony Romaine—November 1st, 2020
I’m going to leave these ruins of the church in Philippi up throughout this message today, because I truly want us to focus on what these ruins have to say for us. But before we get too ahead of ourselves, as we conclude our four-part series going through Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, let us be reminded that Paul wrote to the Philippians, and to our modern-day church, with a two-part, over-arching framework in mind; that we should be focusing on what truly matters the most and that we must be active Christian citizens. With this in mind, let us hear what our final chapter has to say on these two principles:
What matters most:
But Paul also wants us to be good Christian Citizens so we must:
Now let us return to the ruins of Philippi:
Why show these ruins of what is left of the church in Philippi? We focus on the ruins of Philippi as a demonstration that while stones may crumble and fall, our call to be what God calls us to be lives on! Which begs the questions that Paul longs for us to focus on again and again:
So, are we indeed focusing on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable?” Or are we focusing on the importance of a building, of worshipping a place rather than, being the people; of worshipping the church instead of being the church? Are we focusing on being good Christian citizens living our lives in unity and focused on the mission of the Gospel of Christ? Are we sharing and preparing for the day when Christ will come again? Are we active in our communities and helping the people we live in and around to know we are Christians by the actions we take and the words we use. Do we vote, volunteer, or stay in touch with one another? Are we there for one another when it truly matters most? Are we there for strangers when it truly matters most?
And if we want our church to remain vibrant, if we long for our church that has been filled with saints for hundreds of years to remain filled with future saints, then we must not be tied to a building, a place, or anything of the flesh; but must place our trust in where and how and what God is calling us to in the future. If that is at 1000 First Street SE in Little Falls, MN for centuries to come then that is awesome and great. But if it is somewhere else, something else, we must trust that as the old hymn says, “The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is the people!”
And for any who doubt that we can make it through COVID-19, or that our church can remain vibrant in our ever-changing world. I say look again at these ruins of the church in Philippi, ruins that have been like this for thousands of years. The church is long gone, but what about Christianity…did that survive; of course! And think about our church, First United Church of Little Falls: Fifty years ago there wasn’t even a church where we are now; and yet, here we are!
So how come and how can Christianity survive these things? What is Paul calling us to take with us? Christianity survives when we partake in the same way the ancient church practiced. That we reach out in charity, that we a part of our community, that we help the widows, the downcast, the downtrodden, the poor amongst us. That we are dedicated not just to ourselves, but we are dedicated to our place in the world. That we believe in the promise, and have faith in, eternal life through Christ Jesus. Yes, it takes money; yes, it sometimes takes empires and governments. But more so, Christianity survives through the love that we share with one another. Inside a building or outside in the world, within our homes or through a letter, in person or through a phone call; love can be shared in so many ways.
There’s an old quote that says, “A good lawyer never asks a question to which they do not already know the answer.” And in many ways, a pastor goes through a sermon series with the same mind; that the conclusion is known at the onset and the objective ever-present. Admittedly, I purposely had us walk through Philippians not for selfish gain or to make my job easier, but so that we could see and hear this example of a church being called to focus and unity. I chose this particular time in our season to go through the four chapters of Philippians and conclude the Sunday before our Tuesday elections and to end on All Saints Sunday.
And while the why might be now known, but let me prattle on just for fun. All throughout our last four weeks together, Paul has been asking us and urging us, directing us, and being a living example for us of needing to focus on what matters most. And in case I have not done a very good job of clearly stating what we should focus on; what matters most in our journey with one another, as church, as people, as Christians is that we stand firm in our love of God and our love of one another.
Furthermore, Paul urges us to be a united Christianity where our collective voices do not have to agree on every part of our existence. But that we could set aside differences, live into what makes us unique; and at the same time, be united under the all-inspiring, umbrella of Jesus’ love. But within this call, we are also called to be active Christian citizens within our world; taking the love God has for us and sharing it with our world; taking the love God gave to us through Jesus and sharing that message with the world. Using our hands and feet and voices to be the love of Christ to our world.
That no matter what happens to us, as we have seen happen to Paul in Philippians, whether that be imprisonment, unpopularity, loss of power or privilege, or even death itself; that no matter what, we would be people of the Good News, sharing the Good News, actively living into the love of Christ. That no matter who we came into contact with, they would know we are Christians and we are God’s love incarnate unto our world.
This is how we survive as a church; this is how we continue the memory of the saints in our lives, and this is how we remain vibrant and active into our future. For we are a people who know that what matters most is our love and we will not fail in letting our world know. This is why we are the First United Church of Little Falls, of Philippi, of the people called by God, saved by Jesus, and filled with the Holy Spirit; now and forevermore. We are stronger than a building, greater than our differences, and called to be the love our world needs now more than ever.
And so indeed, just as Paul closes at the end of Philippians, my sisters and brothers, let us go forth doing what matters most, living what matters most, and being good Christian citizens, and may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, Amen!