Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: Philippians

Sermon: Jesus the Unexpected

Here is the audio of my sermon from Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016 at Peakland United Methodist Church. The text was Philippians 2:5-11. You can listen on the Podcast app by subscribing here.

Sermon: Citizens of Heaven

Here is the audio of my sermon from Sunday, March 6, 2016 at Peakland United Methodist Church. The text was Philippians 3:17-4:1. You can listen on the Podcast app by subscribing here.

Eyewitnesses

“Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:4-5, Common English Bible)

Excerpts from Max Lucado’s God Came Near:

Have you caught a glimpse of His Majesty? A word is placed in a receptive crevice of your heart that causes  you, ever so briefly, to see his face. You hear a verse read in a tone you’d never heard, or explained in a way you’d never thought and one more piece of the puzzle falls into place. Someone touches your painful spirit as only one sent from him could do . . . and there he is.

Jesus.

The man. The bronzed Galilean who spoke with such thunderous authority and loved with such childlike humility.

The God. The one who claimed to be older than time and greater than death.

Jesus.

Have you seen him?

Those who first did were never the same.

“My Lord and my God!” cried Thomas.

“I have seen the Lord,” exclaimed Mary Magdalene.

“We have seen his glory,” declared John.

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked?” rejoiced the two Emmaus-bound disciples.

But Peter said it best. “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”

What greatness of Jesus have you seen? What majesty have you been an eyewitness of? How are you an eyewitness of the Christ?

Joy Conquers Fear: A Sermon

A sermon preached Sunday, December 16, 2013 at Peakland United Methodist Church.  Scriptures were: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18.

The wilderness.  It was the place where the Hebrews wandered for forty years before reaching the Promised Land.  It was the place where Jesus would go and be tempted for forty days before officially starting his ministry.  And it was the place where John the Baptist lived and preached.

The wilderness is dangerous and inhospitable.  It is barren, rough, and rocky.  It is a place that is unstructured and chaotic.  The wilderness is a place of fear.  We have been in the wilderness this weekend.  We were forced into the reality that the world is not safe and is unpredictable. We have roamed in fear, grief, and horror after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school.

Sometime Friday, a clergy person I know posted on his facebook, “WHY!?!?!”  We have probably all asked the same question at some point.  Why did this happen?  Why does this keep happening?  Will we be safe?

But if we let the words of John echo through our wilderness, we may find the next steps.  John calls for repentance and change.  He calls for the people of God to bear good fruit.  It is not enough, he tells them, to claim your heritage to Abraham, you must act like who you say you are.  To us we hear it is not enough for you to say that you are a Christian, you must act like who you say you are.

In the midst of the barren and inhospitable, John calls for reprioritizing.  In the midst of chaos, John calls the people to focus their lives on God’s love.  And we, like the people in the wilderness of John’s day, ask, “What then should we do?”

John’s answer is preschool worthy.  What then should we do?  We should share.  John gives examples of what to do.  If you have a lot, and your neighbor has nothing, you should share what you have.  It reminds me of the saying, “Live simply, so others may simply live.”  But this sharing goes beyond our material things.  We who claim the Christ Child as our Lord and Savior are to share the love of God with others.  We are to share grace and forgiveness.  We are to share our hugs. We are to share our prayers.

In Philippians 4, Paul tells the church, “do not worry.”  At a time like this, that seems like a tall order.  If anyone knew anything about what it meant to worry, it was Paul.  He had churches that were being bombarded with false theologies and pagan ideas.  The churches were infested with conflict and confusion.  They were looked down upon by the rest of the society.  All of this is tough when you are responsible for one church, but Paul had them scattered all around.  Oh, and Paul was in prison.  Paul knew about worrying.

But Paul goes on to say in Philippians 4, “but handle everything in prayer.”  For Paul, the opposite of worry is prayer.  Instead of worrying and being anxious, Paul says, pray!  Prayer should not be the last resort when we are panic-stricken.  Instead, we should be so tight in our relationship with God, that we open ourselves up to God on a daily basis, so that when we are panic-stricken, we are in a place where we naturally hand things over to God.  We do no worry, we give it God.  Because, at the end of the day, God is in control, not us.

My Dad was an example of this for me.  While he was in the hospital sick with prostate cancer, the meds were leaving him in such disarray that he did not always realize where he was.  So, we took turns staying overnight at the hospital with him.  On the night I stayed, I was a young 20, Dad thankfully was alert to his surroundings. During our conversation that evening, he lifted his hands as high as he could and said, “It’s in God’s hands now.”

It would be easy to say that my Dad was giving up, and to be honest, that’s what I feared was happening.  But the reality was that he was opening himself up to God in such a way that it was natural and easy for him to say, “It’s in God’s hands. I’m not in control. God is in control.”

This experience was a wilderness one for me.  It was a time full of fear and uncertainty. It was a time of sorrow, and a time of hopelessness.  It was difficult to see my Dad, whom I had never seen sick during my childhood, in a hospital bed, barely able to lift up his own hands.

Every year during Advent we come to the wilderness to hear John’s story and his message of repentance and change.  It is a message of transformation and renewal.  There is no getting to Bethlehem and the sweet, little, baby born in the manger without first going through the wilderness.

There is a Native American proverb that goes like this. A grandfather told his grandson about two wolves who were constantly battling inside his heart.  One wolf was greed, hatred, and fear.  The other was love, peace, and kindness.  “Which will win?” asked the grandson.  The grandfather replied, “The one I feed.”  When we open ourselves up to God and live in this tight relationship, we are feeding the wolf of love, peace and kindness.

Paul goes on to say, in Philippians 4, to rejoice!  That too seems like a tall order in moments like these.  We can rejoice, however, because the Lord is near.  One Bible translates as “God lives among you.”  This is a word of comfort, no doubt.  In the midst of our grieving, God is with us.  In the midst of our sorrow, God is with us.  In the midst of loss and tragedy, God is with us.  In the midst of healing, God is with us. These are all causes for rejoicing.  Because God is with us, we discover joy.

This is perhaps why the words from the prophet Zephaniah are so profound.  The Israelites of this generation were surrounded by destruction and exile.  They had failed to listen to God; they had strayed; they had not trusted God.  They were need of renewal and change.

What Zephaniah pronounces is that the crises we face are best addressed in community.  Change and transformation, healing and renewal happen best in community.  Nurturing our relationship with God as well as with others is essential to the Christian faith.    We need each other. The Christian faith is not a solo, rather a choral arrangement.  And at the center of this community is the God who comforts.

Despite the conditions and challenges we face, the pain and disappointment, God is a God who comforts, consoles, and nurtures.  God is a God who hears the cries of God’s children. God has not abandoned God’s people.

The events on Friday showed us that in a moment everything changes.  In a moment 15 first-graders were taken from us.

In a moment a teacher, protecting her students, lost her life.  In a moment the lives of ten individuals in Chicago ended.

In a moment, a father loses his job and a family struggles.  In a moment, an accident leaves a mother in a wheelchair.

In a moment a light begins to shine.  In a moment we discover joy.

And it only took a moment for a baby boy to be born. A baby boy who will change everything.

Go from this place and share. Share the love and grace of God.  Share your prayers.  Share a hug.

 

Amen.

Got Questions?

Read Philippians 1:3-11.

When I was a kid, I remember always having questions. I didn’t always voice these questions, but they still roamed around in my head. I was curious about why things happened the way they did.  In school, I remember always wanting to know more about a given subject, at times more than the teacher was willing to teach. My favorite teachers in school were the ones that were okay with me asking questions.

This continued into college, where I had some great professors who encouraged the asking of questions. I was told, very politically  by a professor after a presentation in class I made that I was wrong. I didn’t believe her. I spent the next two days reading everything I could find in the library on the given “wrongness” of my presentation. I eventually  had to go back to her and say, “You were right.”

In his prayer for the Philippians, Paul encourages them to seek knowledge of God.  The more we know about God, the better we can discern, or make good decisions. And the more we determine what is good, the better our harvest, or good works, will be. It all starts with gaining more knowledge. And the way we do that is through searching for answers for the questions we way.

Today, make a list in your journal of the questions you have about God, faith, and/or religion. Share your list with someone you think might be able to help you search for answers.

Pray

God of Answers, help us become more comfortable with the questions of life and faith. Help us today as we name our questions and consider how we will learn more about you to better our journey of faith. Amen.

Little Brother Rat (1939)

In this Chuck Jones directed Warner Bros. theatrical animated short, Sniffles the mouse makes his second appearance on the big screen. Sniffles is ahead in the mouse community’s scavenger hunt. As the short begins, Sniffles has just gotten a cat’s whisker. The only remaining object to be found is an owl’s egg. Sniffles quickly rises to the challenge.

The task, however, proofs to be difficult. Sniffles slips out into the night to find an owl’s egg. Upon finding an egg, Sniffles quietly picks it up and heads out of the barn. The Parent Owl is quick to not let this happen. Sniffles returns the egg back to its nest. But, the unexpected happens, the egg hatches.

Sniffles does what he can to get the baby owl back into the egg shell. When he finally does, Sniffles ties a piece of string around the cracked egg shell and sets out to return to the party. But, the baby owl slips out before Sniffles knows it. Sniffles is ready to walk away from it all, when it notices the cat!

The cat sets is yellow eyes on the baby owl. Sniffles has to make a split-second decision, will he continue to walk away or will he help the newly hatched owl? Sniffles decides to help the little owl. He runs and grabs the owl. They are chased by the cat, but Sniffles is able to keep the baby owl safe. The Parent Owl soon sweeps in and carries the cat away. In gratefulness to Sniffles for rescuing the baby owl, Parent Owl gives him the egg shell.

Paul writes in Philippians 2:4:

Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. (Common English Bible)

Sniffles contemplates this in that split-second he has to decide if he will do what is best for himself or for the baby owl. Paul continues in Philippians 2 with what has become known as the “Christ Hymn.” Paul quotes an ancient hymn, possibly one of the first that the Christian community used, to articulate who Jesus is: “he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave” (2:7).

Sniffles’ act is one in which we as Christians are encouraged (even called) to do as well. Paul says that we are to “adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus” (2:5). If Jesus emptied himself to become a slave, or servant, than we are to have that same attitude as well. In other words,everything from our actions to our decisions have an affect on others. What a difference would we make in our lives, in our communities, in the world, if we followed Philippians 2 to “watch out for what is better for others”? Sniffles provides for us a model for watching out for the good of others.

© 2018 Jason C. Stanley

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