Sermon: We’re All in This Together
Scripture: Philippians 1:21-30
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale
Date: September 20, 2020
It’s something I still have tucked away in a little box. It’s a handwritten letter from my oldest daughter, Lauren, that she sent during her first semester of college. Lo was an independent, spirited child during middle and high school and did not mind letting Kelly and I know if she thought our parental instructions were incorrect. So, when I opened her letter that late fall of 2003, I just wept. In it, she wrote that she claims the fact she was an independent, spirited child over the last several years. In it she shared how she was not always the easiest one to get along with at times. She said, “Mom and Dad, thank you for not giving up on me and teaching me all the wonderful things you did which I am realizing now that I am on my own.” It was a love note written from a daughter to her mom and dad expressing her deepest feelings and appreciation.
Today’s text is a love letter shared between a pastor and one of his favorite flocks. The pastor, Paul, has full and rich memories of his time with them which interestingly have been unfolded to us in this week’s Daily Common Lectionary readings in Acts 16. Paul and the Philippian church have shared many experiences together that have bound them to one another. Some of those experiences were joyful like finding Lydia, a local businesswoman, who is baptized and helps network Paul and his companions to others in the community. Yet, some of those experiences in Philippi were painful like when Paul was publicly beaten with rods, flogged and thrown into jail. It was through their shared experiences, both good and bad, that have made an iron bond between them.
Think for a moment of a time when you have gone through a season of shared experiences with others that have forged a deeper relationship with them. This church has had many of those types of experiences in her past; this time of pandemic is yet another flowing of the seasons when we as a people are having our relationships tested and strengthened. Paul is presumably writing this letter from a prison cell somewhere and appears to be having a tough time in his own life but he still finds time to pen a letter. Our Story today gives glimpses of his struggles as well as his longing to see his beloved one more time. Listen to the Word of the Lord in Philippians 1.21-30:
21For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, 26so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.
27Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, 28and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. 29For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— 30since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. 
Did you hear Paul’s fatigue? Did you hear his longing? Paul is tired. His decades-long missionary life has been tough and demanding with several beatings, stoning’s, shipwrecks, and imprisonments simply for telling the life-giving Story of Jesus. Here’s the old Apostle whose body aches, whose eyes are going bad and he pines away that he knows that if he dies, he will be with Jesus; frankly, Paul would love just to die and be with the Lord but he realizes that would be selfish of him at this point; there is still vital work to do. The deep love for the members of his church is what keeps him living, hoping, and longing to see them again. Yet, if anything, Paul is a realist. He knows that he may not make it again to see his beloved church and so he gets right to the point of his love letter.
Since the pandemic began, we have been shooting a daily devotional that Nic calls, “This One Thing” where we look at the daily lectionary reading and try to pull one vital thing out of the text for the day. Well, did you know that “This One Thing” originally began with the Apostle Paul in our text today? Slide your finger to verse 27.
Our English texts begin verse 27 with a simple word, “only” which does not grab the full gist of the meaning. In the original language, this word is an exhortation that can be translated, “Remember there is just one thing!” Paul opens this new paragraph with a little word which is akin to my fifth-grade teacher, Ms. Parks, who would clap her hands and yell, “Children! Listen up!”
What is this one thing Paul wants his beloved church to remember should he not be able to come and see them? The one thing he wants them to remember is, “Church, live out your Christian citizenship in way that is becoming for a follower of Jesus.” He exhorts them to live their lives in a manner worthy of the Good Gospel News.
He reminds us that living a life worthy of the gospel will have joys as well as sorrows. There will be times of easy sailing and there will be times of rough, violent seas. Just as this was so in the life and death of Jesus Christ, so it is in Paul’s life as a Christian and so he reminds them it will be for all of us in the church. The thing he wants us to remember is that regardless of our life’s condition, we are to maintain and display a consistent citizenship to the Kingdom of Heaven with Christ as our Lord.
It will be evident that we are standing in one Spirit together, not as a Republican spirit or a Democratic spirit but in the Holy Spirit that transcends both.
It will be evident because people will see the rich diversity of this church but note how we are serving, striving side by side to share the Good News, as we become an inspiriting Christ-centered presence in Fort Lauderdale transforming our local community and beyond!
It will be evident when we actually display and live out the love of God to others instead of segregating people by race, religion, sexuality or party affiliation.
Returning to verse 27, the phrase “live your life” is from a cognate of a word that we get our term “politics.” Paul uses a word that expresses the connotation that the gathered Church is not a collection of Romans, Greeks, Jews, or Persians but is a collective group of men, women, and children from all the backgrounds who comprise the citizenry of the realm of God. Jesus has replaced the worship of the Law. Jesus has taken the place of Zeus or even the Emperor Caesar himself. For Paul, a person was a disciple and citizen of Jesus’ realm first and a member of the Roman Empire or Jewish community second. When a person becomes a Christ-Follower, Jesus displaces any political, national, or ethnic rank or economic privilege.
What’s the natural consequence living in a manner worthy of the gospel? Paul nails it in verse 30: Both he and the members of the Church will struggle being a light in a shadowy world. Like Paul, the Church will be made fun of, scoffed at, persecuted, ignored and made a pariah by the culture. The only way he, Paul, and the church will survive is if they stand unified together in and against the spirit of the world. As scholar Cynthia Jarvis writes, “For Paul, the unity of the body is the “manner [of life] worthy of the gospel.”
Paul enjoins us to remember and get this one thing: Each of us is to stand side by side, shoulder to shoulder, and live our commitment to God in Christ in a worthy manner where God is first, front and center in lieu of our politics, our economics, or our polemics.
What I call the Two P’s of 2020 – the pandemic and the politics – have become our nation’s focus and as such taken our eyes off the mark which is a life focused on the gospel of life. I read the news and look around and lately I do not experience a whole bunch of unity and standing together in our world. The pandemic may have temporarily pushed the church underground, but Church, let our roots become revitalized in the soil and sprout new trees and fruit with the unity of purpose for Jesus the Christ and show a vibrant, tangible bond of solidarity for the Gospel. If the Church can’t do it, no one can! Church, let’s all of us live together in the manner worthy of the Good News of Christ. And all of God’s people said. Amen.
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
© 2020 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
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 The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume XI (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 496.
 Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship (Kindle Locations 10370-10372). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.