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I spent part of this week emptying my files. I generated most of a blue recycling bin, full of papers I don’t need anymore. It seemed like I was sifting through the tangible remains of five years of ministry (paperwork is not my superpower); but most ministry is not paperwork. Nowhere in those files were weddings, baptisms, bedsides, study groups, and the sacred moments that passed between us.
What does faithfulness look like? Is it a 90-year-old brick building on the downtown corner? Is it a family Bible with meticulous dates and names? Is it numbers, whether of attendance or budget?
Paul writes to the Philippians, and in keeping with his style, he has a long set of concluding exhortations. In a podcast about this text, Matt Skinner called us out on our tendency to brush over these exhortations. They matter because they point to the particularity of Christian life in contrast to the ways of the world. In a world of political wedge issues and niche marketing (which churches are often tempted to use too), Paul calls us to a common purpose beyond our differences. In a world where fulfillment is reduced to imagined independence, we’re invited to find our joy in union with Christ. In a world where presidents and CEOs are judged on their ability to act forcefully, we can practice gentleness because we’re confident in Christ’s power. In a world where so-called reality shows and sensationalist news promote an “anything goes” approach, we affirm a commitment to the highest ideals and practices.
Today I give thanks for the particular shape of Christian life at Hope Community Presbyterian Church. For our open-hearted welcome, especially of those who don’t “belong” elsewhere. For our deep curiosity that trusts in a truth beyond our particular ideas. Most of all, for our practice of Christianity truly as a way of life, with service and caring (individually and on the community level) as our bedrock.
I pray that we continue deepening this sense of Christian life and live out a commitment to challenge “normal” ways of being in the world, to live into the new reality of God’s kingdom. May we allow more ideas and opinions to challenge us, esp those we vehemently disagree with. At the same time, I hope we listen discerningly. Some ideas do more than others to promote life, peace, and joy; we can serve and care by focusing our own minds. And I hope we keep widening the scope of the faithful life, to pursue a truly Christian life in the widest context we can understand.
Most of all, I pray that our lives may continue reflecting Christ, immersed in God’s presence with prayer and study of all kinds, so we can see God at work in the world and others can see God at work in us. That’s ultimately how all this exhortation goes from being “good advice” to becoming a genuine way of life. Ultimately, this is all grounded in the Source of all life, the God who gives us life in Christ. May he continue to become real among us all, now and forever.