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Overflowing Love

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Man’s Search for Meaning

I don’t think that I need to point your attention to the fact that the world is pretty weird right now right? Inflation, rising interest rates, gas, groceries, etc. etc. don’t create what I would call a hopeful world outlook. And the reality is that there is uncertainty and pain in every aspect of our church identity right? There is all of the stuff that it happening in the Church universal that has caused the world to mistrust Christianity, turmoil within our denominational structure as we figure out who we are going to be going into the future, and of course the pain that this church has had to walk through over the last year. It’s messy, it hurts, and it doesn’t inspire a lot of hope. I don’t know about you all but I’m ready for Jesus to come on back.
I’m not going to lie, its hard to be the church when we our hope starts to fade. And I think that it’s hard to be the church when our hope starts to fade because when our hope starts to fade it gets really hard for us to love anyone outside of ourselves. We kind of jump into survival mode or isolate. We focus on ourselves and that doesn’t leave us much room to love our neighbors. It makes it hard to love and trust God because things just don’t make any sense. It’s pretty normal. But the reality is that we aren’t called to live like that. Actually kind of the opposite, you might recall this interaction that Jesus had with some Pharisees:
Matthew 22:34–40 NRSV
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
What Jesus’s commands really point to is that we are called to be people who live lives of overflowing Love. And that love is rooted and grounded in the hope that we have in Christ.
But I’ll be honest with you, its easy to let all the messes drag me down. And when they do one of the things that kind of smacks me back into reality is remembering a particular story that I’ve read and meditated on many times. It comes from a book called Man’s Search for Meaning, written by a man named Viktor Frankl. Now I want you to read this book, so I’m not going to ruin the entire thing. But the gist of it is that Viktor was a Jewish man who practiced psychotherapy in Austria until the time that it was annexed into Nazi Germany. He then moved through the system of Concentration camps, including the infamous Auschwitz, losing more and more of his family at each.
While Frankl was living in the most dire of human circumstances under the thumb of the most atrocious human evil, he studied people, he was shrink after all. And what he found was that those who were most likely to survive their circumstances were people who clung to one thing. Hope. Hope that they would be able to someday fulfill their purpose. Hope that their life would have meaning. For a baker it was that he would again be able to have a shop and bake bread. For Viktor it was that he would once again be able to see patients. Essentially humanity, every single day is given one simple choice, a choice that Viktor Frankl puts rather poetically in this quote:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” -Viktor Frankl
This is an important truth, because when we make a conscious choice each day to allow all of the uncertainty and negativity live in our heads rent free, we are choosing not to place all of our hope in Jesus and the Gospel of the kingdom. We are choosing to be consumed by the situations that we find ourselves in rather than the love of God which we are called to be conduits of.

Past: Acceptance and Joy

Now this is our final message in this series titled Salutations, which has been an exploration of who the church is called to be. A church whose faith is lived loudly, a church who is an assembly of gifted persons, a church who has a sacred identity of God’s chosen, redeemed, and renewed people, and finally this week we are wrapping this all up by looking at how we are called to be a people who overflow with love.
So we are going to look at Paul’s opening words to the Church in Philippi and see what Paul’s salutations to them teaches us about how to be a church that overflows with love. So this is Philippians 1:1
Philippians 1:1–6 NRSV
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.
So Paul’s rhetorical strategy here is going to take on a 3 part structure. Basically past, present, and future. And what it’s going to do is highlight the attitude that he has regarding each of these time periods, and how they point towards how to live a life of overflowing love.
So Paul, at the time that he’s writing this letter is sitting in jail. He kind of perpetually got locked up for causing local disturbances when he went around preaching the Gospel. Scholars kind of debate on where he was at this particular writing, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is Paul is in jail and he’s like man, you know what I need to do. I need to write a letter to my friends in Philippi.
This was a church he planted, so he’s got a really strong relationship with them, as can be evidenced by his vocabulary right? He says things like “I thank God, praying with Joy.” Which seems totally normal. But heres the thing. Paul’s time in Philippi was not a good time. Sure, I imagine he had some sweet memories with the church, but the highlight of Paul’s time in Philippi is centered around a story from the book of Acts.
I won’t read the story to you, but the jist of it is this. Paul and his travelling partner at the time, Silas, heal a girl who is possessed by a demon that gave her the extraordinary power of divination. Well it turned out that she was a slave, and her owners were making a lot of money off of her gift. Now their cash flow was jeopardized. So they have Paul and Silas arrested and they got thrown into jail. Not exactly a fond memory of a town.
But Paul chooses to focus here on the good that came from that trip. The work of the Gospel that they have done together, not only despite his run in with the law but through it. It turned out that God did something miraculous and brought a Roman Guard’s entire family to faith.
So Paul’s frame of mind regarding the past, although he has every right to be angry, is one of acceptance and joy of the time that he spent there… even though it included an unwarranted stay in the local jail, an experience that he’s currently facing, so lets continue on

Present: Love

Philippians 1:7–8 NRSV
It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.
So Paul’s current reality is not great. He’s sitting in jail, which is not a super fun time. Especially in Rome. But Paul’s state of mind here shines through his words. He’s filled with affection for these people. He could be all like “poor me, I’m in jail. Must be nice for you all who aren’t locked up.
But Paul doesn’t speak in that manner. He instead talks about how deeply they are in this thing together. He speaks with an attitude of love, detailing how they are sharing in Gods grace together in his imprisonment and in the mission of the Gospel. There is not a twinge of jealousy, of woe is me, of passive aggressiveness here. Paul isn’t angry with them, but rather he is deeply affectionate towards them.
So Just Kind of hang onto that for a minute as we move through this last section

Future: Hope

Philippians 1:9–11 NRSV
And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
Paul rounds out his opening with his prayer, or his main hope for the church in Philippi, and really for all followers of Jesus. His prayer is centered around the coming of Christ, as is our true hope in this world. But until then his hope revolves around the growth of the community in love.
And this isn’t a simply sentimental love. This is a love that is joined to knowing and understanding, to probing, to discernment. It is a love that asks tough questions, and discovers what the best course of action is based on what we know about who God has revealed himself to be in the past, how we experience God now in the present, and what God’s plan is for us in the future kingdom when sin and darkness are swept away and we live in eternal communion with God.

A Vision

So as we navigate a world of uncertainty, as we read about our church on the internet and have discussions about what the future holds, we’ve been given a choice. We can focus on the junk and on the mess of it all. We can let the trouble that lies ahead and behind weigh us down by looking at the past with resentment because those people or those people or those policies caused us pain or have contributed to the pain that we are experiencing today.
We can respond to our current situation with anger, lashing out at those who stand in the way of how we wanted, hoped, or wished things would be.
And we can approach our future with fear and anxiety. Circling around what if’s and could be’s until our brains and our hearts explode.
But I’m going to tell you that none of that is really helpful to us as individuals, nor is it helpful to us as a community meant to overflow with love.
So I’d offer you the words of Viktor Frankl again, now that we are a few words further into this discussion. Let them really sink in.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” -Viktor Frankl
The reality is that we largely don’t get to choose the situations we find ourselves in throughout our lives. We didn’t get to choose that the incredible losses we faced as a congregation would happen to us. We didn’t get to choose to live in a time of political turmoil, cultural turmoil, and ecclesial turmoil (thats a big word for Church). But we do get to choose who we are going to be in the midst of all of that. Because the way we move through the mess says a lot more about who we are than anything else.
So do we look at our past: the good, the bad, and the ugly, and accept it for what it is? Do we see that it is comprised of a complex web of relationships and persons who were doing the best they knew how to do?
Do we look at our present and see ourselves as a community of love who seeks to honor God and plant seeds of the Gospel, announcing the kingdom of God and his righteousness?
Do we look at our future with the expectant hope of Christ’s return and the restoration of all things, working towards making that kingdom as real today as we possibly can?
If we do, then great. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this isn’t exactly natural. And I get to say that because it’s not always natural for me, your pastor, the guy who’s supposed to be good at this whole Jesus thing.
But if I can — if we can — remember, that Viktor Frankl had undying hope and love for his fellow prisoners in the heart of Auschwitz, in the heart of evil itself, and if Paul could reflect on the past, present, and future love and hope that he had for the people of Philippi while rotting in a Roman jail cell, surely you and I can do the same when gas is 4 dollars a gallon. Surely you and I can do the same when we have to have difficult discussions and make difficult decisions as a church. Surely we can choose to allow acceptance, love, and hope be the driving attitudes and principles in our lives as individuals and in our life together as a community.
I’m grateful for the community that this church has chosen to be over the past years, and especially over this past year. You have proven yourselves to be resilient, focused on justice, and willing to put in the hard work of ministry. I see you and I celebrate each and every one of you.
I know that over the past 4 weeks I’ve said somethings to challenge us, to push our envelope, and hopefully to stretch our hearts out a bit further. It is my desire to lead this church in a path of love and righteousness, a path of justice and mercy, a path that leads us towards being the most authentic version of what God has envisioned for the church to be and become.
And that was the point of these four sermons. It was so that you might get to know more about what I believe God, through Paul, has called the church to be. We are to be people who live out our faith loudly, use our gifts for God’s glory, embrace our identity fully, and love fiercely with all of our being.
I think that if we can be this kind of church, that we can do anything together. We can weather any storm, we walk though every circumstance, and we can reflect the face of God in every single thing that we do.
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