By Rev. Chris Jorgensen
April 22, 2018
Scripture: Philippians 4: 4-9
It occurred to me this week that confirmation sermons are kind of like graduation speeches. People are here to see you get confirmed; nobody wants to listen to some long speech from a guest speaker. Unless that guest speaker is Will Ferrell – but maybe that’s just me. And yet…at every graduation, the speaker gets up there and prattles on and on for like 20 minutes and No. One. cares. So I will keep this brief, I promise. I won’t be that guy.
Unlike a graduation speech, this is a sermon, so we better start with the scripture. Our scripture today is the closing section of a letter from Paul to the community he established in Philippi. That’s where the Philippians live – Philippi. (See you learned something today.) And the section we heard reflects the general tone of Paul’s whole letter. He is so darn happy. He’s telling those Philippians to rejoice! Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I say rejoice! He tells them: don’t worry about anything. Just be thankful and trust in God.
Which is a little annoying, right? Don’t you hate it when you are having problems and someone is all sanctimonious and tells you that you should just be thankful and trust in God? I mean, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking Paul is being a little obnoxious here. I kind of thought that myself when I first heard this scripture quoted with no context.
But here’s the interesting part! Paul, Mr. Just-Be-Joyful-and-Don’t-Worry-about-Anything is writing to the Philippians from prison. He’s been thrown in jail for spreading the good news about Jesus. And he still is rejoicing. He still is giving thanks. That’s because Paul’s life has been so changed by Christ that his priorities are totally transformed. He is not worried about his personal well-being or comfort.
When Paul encountered Christ, he was given the gift of understanding which things matter, and which things don’t. Paul knows that the gospel is spreading. He knows that these folks in Philippi to whom he is writing are remaining faithful and following Jesus and telling others. And because of that, Paul doesn’t even care if he’s stuck in jail. Paul is joyful that his friends in Philippi are well and that they are succeeding in their mission of sharing Christ with others.
Paul encourages these Philippians to rejoice at the good work they have done, and like in a graduation speech, he gives them some advice as well. He writes, “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” I think all of these verbs are interesting. He could have just said, keep on doing the things you have learned from me. But he says, keep on doing the things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Not from me. In me. The way that Paul taught the Philippians about the transformative and liberating love of Christ wasn’t just by talking to them about it, but by showing it to them, by allowing them to receive and experience it for themselves.
Confirmands, the same charge that Paul gave his beloved friends in Philippi is the one I give to you: keep on doing the things. “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen…and the God of peace will be with you.” Now, we don’t personally know Paul, though of course we can learn from him by reading his letters, by hearing about his ability to remain joyful in Christ even when he’s in prison. But hopefully, you also know some people personally who follow the way of Jesus and in whom you can see what transformation in Christ looks like.
I hope and pray that you learned something about following Jesus and being filled with the love of God from me or from Emily as we journeyed through confirmation together. And I hope and pray and trust that you have received and heard and seen something of Christ in others as well: your parents who showed you the face of God from the very first time they comforted you, your grandparents who sat beside you in these pews or prayed for your from far away, your Sunday school teachers who taught and loved you, your youth group leaders who challenged and encouraged you, your sponsors who let you ask the hard questions without judgment, the elders of this church who modeled commitment and generosity, and even your friends who studied alongside you – who showed you Christ in their acceptance and joy and even some seriousness in this business of learning more about God.
These people have shown you what it means to follow Christ. They have shown you what it means to be people of faith. Because faith isn’t just about believing something. It’s about living your faith every day. It’s about coming to worship. It’s about praying alone and with others. It’s about being part of the family of God at the communion table. It’s about service for and with the poor. It’s about treating each other – especially the outcast – with gentleness. It’s about inviting and welcoming people. It’s about supporting people when they have needs. It’s about seeking justice and not putting up with anything that takes advantage of the weak. Hopefully, these are things you have learned and received and heard and seen.
And now it’s your turn. Now it’s time for you to do the things. Now, it’s time for you to take responsibility for your own journey.
Like most graduation speeches, this is really a message, not just for the confirmands, but for all of us. Faith is not a spectator sport. You can’t be a Christian just by watching me dance around up here every week, as entertaining as that might be. Like Paul says, you need to “keep on doing the things!” If you want to grow in faith, you have to live your faith.
You have to practice it. Just like you won’t become a better musician or athlete or student without doing the things that musicians or athletes or students do to grow, you won’t grow as a Christian unless you do the things that Christians do to follow ever more closely in the footsteps of Jesus. And no one can do that for you – not me, not your parents, not your partner, not your teachers or small group leaders… You. You have to do the things.
Certainly, we do them together. Christians have always been Christians in community, but you are the one who has to show up. You are the one who has to come to worship. You are the one who has to pray. You are the one who has serve. You are the one who has to stretch yourself to be more compassionate, to continue to study, to learn more and do more in pursuit of God’s mercy and justice. You have to do the things!
You have to show up – and not just that – but you also have to be truly present. Be present and be open and do the hard work of asking the hard questions and choosing faith in Christ even when God seems distant or the demands of faith seem too steep. It’s in those very spaces of struggle where you will encounter God.
So Rejoice! Again, I say rejoice! Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen…and the God of peace will be with you.
Thanks be to God.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
- Who is someone in whom you have learned or received or heard or seen the presence of Christ? In other words, who showed you what being a faithful disciple of Jesus looked like through the way they lived their life?
- What is one thing you have done in the past to grow in your faith?
- What is one thing you want to do in the future to grow in your faith?
- Have you ever grown in your faith because of a difficult experience? Tell us about what happened and how it helped you grow closer to God?