Our sermon for today will be primarily on our second lesson from Philippians. The scripture passage is about a pastor’s love for a congregation… the hopes and dreams that Paul has for the Christians in Philippi. Paul is interesting in that he can be rather scathing and aggressive in his letters as he points out where Christian churches have fallen off the path of Christ’s grace and Paul’s version of good church order. But at the same time Paul can be deeply loving… so caring… so heartfelt. There are times when Paul bursts with pride and joy and hope for all that God is doing with those Paul introduced to Christian faith… excited about all their praise-worthy accomplishments… excited by all the potential for good in them. In our passage for today, Paul entrusts the congregation he loves to God in prayer, which at some point is something all pastor must do… every parent must do… it is what each of us must do with those dear to us.
As your read his New Testament letters, Paul in his role as pastor can feel like a parent. He busies himself with both building-up and humbling the churches he started. Much like a parent who, for the sake of their child, at times encourages and at other times disciplines. For the child to grow-up and mature and realize the capabilities in them, a parent must both prod and comfort as the situation demands. When Paul pastors a congregation he engages with these two parental purposes of lifting-up what is meritorious and correcting what is harmful.
But Paul is not the parent. Paul is not father. No pastor is ever father. There is only one Father, there is only one worthy Lord, there is only one deserving of your praise, of your loyalty and life… it is God Himself. The role of pastor is merely messenger… one calling out in the wilderness. The pastor is not the well of refreshment and rejuvenation, but merely one who stands by the found oasis calling out to the thirsty. Only a messenger… while the message itself, its content, its power to be fulfilled… belongs to God alone.
Paul is merely God’s messenger. And it is God’s message that comes to us as Gospel and Law… as a building-up and a humbling… encouragement and discipline. When you feel yourself convicted or the breaks getting slammed on something you were rushing after… stop, breath and take a moment to listen to whether God is speaking a corrective parental word to you. When you feel yourself encouraged and built-up and firing on all cylinders of your talent and passion and good will, take a moment to listen to whether God is calling out of you the best of who you are, calling forth from you the truth of who He has made you. God’s message is lovingly parental. God’s messengers can sound like they are our parent, but they are not. We are all in the loving hands of someone more trustworthy than Paul or Ioan or any human. We are in God’s hands.
Paul understands that he is not the ultimate authority, and so He prays to the one with the real power. Parents can only parent so much. A pastor can only pastor so far. Ultimately, the people we care for are in God’s hands and not ours. Pastors must entrust congregations to God. Parents must entrust their children to God. Friends must entrust each other to God.
The best method for entrusting those we love to God is doing what Paul does in our Philippians reading: praying. Pray for those you love. Don’t try to control them. Don’t force them into what’s best for them in your opinion. Don’t force them to be someone they can’t be. A parent is not the same thing as a bully. Being a pastor or a friend is not a calling to bullying someone for their own good. Pray for those you love. Once you’ve talked honestly… once you’ve encouraged the good… all what’s left to do is pray. Pray for those you love as Paul prayed for the Philippians he loved so dearly.
As pastors entrust congregations to God… congregates must in turn entrust their whole lives to God. God’s people must entrust to God the ministry of the church, the guests and visitors that show up, all the yet-to-be members and not-yet-Christians. Dear friends at Lutheran Church of The Master you must entrust everything we have here and everything you have in your life to God. As I entrust you into God’s hands, you also must entrust yourselves to God. All ministry, all of life, is trust in the faithfulness of God. To help get himself, the Philippians and us to that place of trust, Paul prays. Prayer is the best vehicle and route to that life of trust in God we are being called to.
So as Paul prayed for the Philippians that were so dear to him, I now pray for you… Dear God, build up in the people of this congregation faith and trust in You. Let them feel the love You have for them. Let this congregation feel the powerful love You have for the many people who pass through this church on Sunday morning, during the week, by happen-stance or by intentional seeking for Your love. Let the feeling of Your powerful love convince the people of this congregation that all good things are possible through You. Fill the people of this place with your peace… a peace that comes from knowing that they are in Your trust-worthy hands. Bless these Your people with a spirit of wisdom and discernment so that they may follow Your path, Your lead, Your way of love and grace. As Paul prayed, I also pray… let love overflow. Let love rush forth and burst forth from this church as though the mighty river of Your divine love has been diverted through this church.
I entrust you all to the blessings of Almighty God, only Father, true Son and powerful Spirit. Amen.