Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sermon Sample Sunday: Congregational Vitality is not an Either/Or Proposition (Philippians 4:1-9)

When congregations are experiencing decline or upheaval, the temptation is to turn inward. People will "navel gaze" and turn their attention toward their own concerns. "If we get our act together--organize our committees properly, get our budget in order, settle a few disputes, fix a few things in the building (that carpet is threadbare, by the way) then we'll be able to get things going in the church."

Congregational vitality is not an if/then equation. Nor is it for individuals. People are often lured into a understanding that says, if I buy this, if I get this job, if my spouse will only do this, if my children behave like this, then I will be happy. Dr. Phil likes to say to his listeners, "How's that working for you?"

In the Apostle Paul's letter to the community at Philippi, Paul lets them know that their happiness is not linked to what they strive for, but their joy is in God. This doesn't mean I am against striving. The statement is about where one finds joy. But this notion of joy from Paul is weird. I have a hard time finding joy in some of the most joyous circumstances. I can easily get crabby on a sunny day. Here is Paul, writing from prison, talking about joy. This is not merely a happy-clappy posture that Paul is taking on. This is not a case of avoiding "stinkin' thinkin'," but Paul links joy and the community being "in the Lord" and being together in one mind, referencing a situation in the community where there may be a lack of harmony between two of Paul's fellow athletes (a different translation of verse 3).

There is another either/or we confront in this portion of Paul's letter. The work of spreading the Good News outside of the community does not stop because of internal community strife. Paul's athletic reference may be helpful here. It may take a long time to become physically fit, but it doesn't take long to get out of shape. Our outward focus takes just as much work as our inward focus, and each direction of our attention informs one another. 

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