God is at work in you.

Proper 21, Year A: Philippians 2:1-13. St. Timothy’s, Lake Jackson.

“…it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

Paul wrote these words to the Philippians. It was true for them then. And it is true for us now.

I must admit, even though your Senior Warden had briefed me honestly and extensively, I was not entirely sure what to expect when I arrived here six months ago to serve as interim rector. 

We were only a few weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic. In-person services were suspended to protect one another and the community. The rector had resigned his holy orders and it was the Friday before Palm Sunday.

To record a message for you from inside the church, I had brought an iPad and a tripod, just in case I was on my own in regard to that task. 

But to my delight, and to my relief, Sondra and Jay were here, set up and ready with their audio and video equipment. And together, along with Susan, Bonnie, Ben, and others, we hit the ground running.

And, as Paul reminds us today in Philippians, I have not been on my own and nor have you … even during the lonely and isolated times — those behind us and those potentially ahead of us. Not only have we lifted up one another in prayer and have come alongside each other in the ways that we safely could, but also as Paul notes:

Fellowship on the driveway.

 “…it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Paul writes this letter from prison. Given his status as a Roman citizen, prison is probably more like house arrest and less like being thrown in a pit. Still, unless you had folks on the outside who could bring you provisions, as a prisoner you were out of luck.[1]

But that was not the case for Paul. For when the “Christians at Philippi heard of Paul’s imprisonment [they] responded with prayers to gain his release and with gifts to supply his need.”[2]

He writes to them, addressing issues sometimes with disappointment and worry, but also buoyed with joy in the hope of Christ. As always, Paul’s letters never allow us to romanticize early Christianity. His words — though far from us in time, are near to us in addressing life and ministry now.

“Have the same love,” Paul says. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…”

It was a counter-cultural message then. It is a counter-cultural message now.

Then Paul launches into the Christ hymn, an ancient Christian lyrical profession of faith that precedes even Paul’s early writings! The Christ hymn describes the self-giving love of God — who loved us all the way to the cross and to Easter.

This loving and self-giving God — this is the God who, imprisoned Paul writes, is working in YOU! Enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Over the last 6 months, we have worshipped together through 28 worship services posted on our website and 64 live-streamed week-day prayer services at the St. Timothy’s Facebook Page.

The Brotherhood of St. Andrew and Timothy’s Troop Children’s Ministry were early adopters of Zoom for fellowship and formation. The parish soon followed with choir, coffee hour, and other online offerings.

From the Sacrament Series of “Show & Tell” at Zoom Coffee Hour.

There have been 10 Silent Prayer Vigils in the church and one Holy Eucharist service with the Shepherds of the Small Groups as the congregation. It was a trial run for the Small Group services we are having this weekend in the courtyard. It was held on September 9th.

Silent Prayer Vigil in the nave on Wednesdays from 11 am -1 pm.

If you recall from Episcopal Church history, September 9th is the Feast Day of the Martyrs of Memphis. Episcopal clergy and laypersons, along with Constance, the Superior of the Sisters of St. Mary, tended to the Memphis community in the late 19th century during the Yellow Fever epidemic. They took in children who had been orphaned by the epidemic. They ministered to the sick. They gave of themselves selflessly in the time and situation in which they lived.

Their self-giving witness evokes the Christ hymn that Paul included in his letter to the Philippians. Their witness is an inspiration to us as we seek to faithfully love God and love neighbor in our time and in our situation.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not over. We need to remain vigilant in our safety practices so not to spread the virus among each other and the community. And this weekend, when we gather as a whole congregation over the course of ten (yes, ten!) small group outdoor services, this is a fitting moment to look back. To see how God has been present with us, at work in us, enabling us in our mission and ministry.

As Christ is made known to us in the breaking of the bread once again, we offer thanks for all in whom we have seen the face Christ during these six months. Those who continue to give selflessly of their time, talent, and treasure. Who faithfully look not to their own interests, but the interests of others. This is the holy kindness and love that marks us as Christians in this world.

God is faithful and will continue to work in us and enable us in ministry, together and apart. In the joys and the challenges ahead, remember the name given to you at Baptism: Christian. Live faithfully into this identity. Confident in the knowledge that in the self-giving life of Christ, we are never alone.

“…it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Gathering for an early morning Eucharist.

[1]Working Preacher Sermon Brainwave #743. Luther Seminary Professors Rolf Jacobson, Karoline Lewis, and Matt Skinner.

[2]Harper-Collins Study Bible, NRSV.

Working Preacher Sermon Brainwave #744. Luther Seminary Professors Rolf Jacobson, Karoline Lewis, and Matt Skinner.

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