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Philippians 1:3-11

It’s no secret that I’m now in the final four weeks of my ministry here, and it’s time for some goodbyes and thank-yous. I give thanks for the blessing of beginning my ministry here, and I celebrate the core of our identity in God’s love.

So this month we’ll be reading Paul’s letter to the Philippians. This was a special church to him; it met in the home of Lydia, the first Christian convert in Europe. This letter seems to have been written late in Paul’s life, when he’s tying up his affairs from prison. He’s also addressing some difficulties for the church – maybe persecution, false teaching, or division. But through it all, Paul’s confidence comes from the grace of God that had called him to Philippi and beyond.

Paul gives thanks for the church’s gracious welcome. At the beginning, Lydia had prevailed on Paul to stay with her, and that hospitality marked the rest of the church’s life. You’ve opened your homes to me; your hospital rooms; your weddings, funerals, and baptisms – the sacred moments of your lives. You’ve challenged and deepened my sense of the sacred, that God is among us and all around us. I look forward to an even richer spiritual sense in the congregation as we continue to learn new ways of naming God’s presence together.

Paul gives thanks for the church’s generous sharing in ministry, as the Philippians supported him in prison and abroad. Here, I know the budget is a perennial issue, but you give handsomely to particular needs: the new carpet, outreach projects, the deacons fund. There’s all this generosity just waiting for a mission to dive into. In our time together, we’ve said goodbye to many great ministries (and people). Our PW is changing, our youth program is in flux, even our Bible study is on a long-term hiatus. The ground is ready for something new, and I can tell the new energy is starting to coalesce.

I also give thanks for this community of love. Paul knew that love is the truest mark of Christ’s presence. You have loved me and cared for each other. In this congregation, with such a wide range of ideas, beliefs, and politics, we can’t help but learn love. I pray that you continue to disagree (kindly, respectfully, and honestly), and that this will strengthen all your faith. May it keep you open to others and their ideas.

Our life in the presence of Christ, the core of Christian reality for Paul, is the main thrust of Philippians. Love, generosity, and welcome are marks of Christ, not just behaviors. Christ’s presence among us is my hope for HCPC. Christ’s life can end and be raised again, so we certainly can change and be made new. That’s the promise that all our changes – all our days and years of life together – will be fulfilled in us, to the glory and praise of God.