Sermon by Rev. Dr. Stuart Bond, April 23, 2016
What a great Sunday we had last week! I was moved and I know that some of you were as well as we celebrated Jesus Christ rising from the grave. And how about our “insta” choir? That was so fun! Instead of “just add water” it was “just add Chris Von Seggern.” The praise team, the lilies — and I spoke with several shut ins this week who were admiring the lily on their table and grateful to this church — right down to the basket we found at the door with the phrase, “Jesus is...our lifesaver” and it was filled with lifesavers. It was a great day.
Prior to the two Sundays of Holy Week, we were working piece by piece through Philippians, the “Epistle of Joy.” Now we come back to where we left off. Paul is in prison, as we have noted repeatedly. But unlike our prison system, he is not alone. He has a team with him. And we learn that someone new has been added to the team:
19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. 20 I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. 21 For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 23 I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. 24 And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.
25 But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. 26 For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. 29 So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, 30 because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me.
We come to a kind of hiatus in the letter. Here we have a moment that is more about practical matters. And yet, it is just there that we get an insight to the true, lived values of Paul and the leadership of the church.
He begins by saying that Timothy will be along shortly. Now we know what a powerful relationship Paul and Timothy had. We read that he has known Tim’s family. He knew his grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice. And in his ministry to that family, there was the young man, Timothy. He must have seen the boy grow up. He saw his faith develop and he saw his great gifts for ministry.
He was with him through the hard times in ministry as well. When he was discouraged we read:
I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
In this letter, we see how close they are. In fact, Paul gives Timothy quite a compliment. He says that Timothy is Christ-focused. His concern is, what does the Lord want rather than what can he get out of the deal. Paul says that that is so rare. He says, “I have no one like him.” Most folks are focused on their own interests rather than Jesus Christ.
And that is my first stop off in this message: Is that you? Are you that kind of rare person? Would someone watching what you do in a day or in a week say, “That man or that woman cares about what the Lord wants.”?
Sometimes we forget that the true goal of all of this is that we are being transformed, that we are becoming that kind of person. Our study on Wednesday is all about how we can really embrace personal change. If you would like to do that, join us Wednesday night at 7:00. The only requirement is that you have to be a sinner who has room to grow.
Here’s a piece from that study. John Ortberg writes:
Let’s call him Hank. He had attended church since he was a boy, and now he was in his sixties. He was known by everyone — but no one really knew him. He had difficulty loving his wife. His children could not speak freely with him and felt no affection from him. He was not concerned for the poor, had little tolerance for those outside the church, and tended to judge harshly those who were inside.
One day an elder in the church asked him, “Hank, are you happy?”
Without smiling, he responded, “Yes.”
“Well, then,” replied the elder, “tell your face.”
Hank’s outside demeanor mirrored a deeper and much more tragic reality: Hank was not changing. He was not being transformed. But here’s what is most remarkable: Nobody in the church was surprised at this. No one called an emergency meeting of the board of elders to consider this strange case of a person who wasn’t changing. No one really expected Hank to change, so no one was surprised when it didn’t happen.
There were other expectations in the church. People expected that Hank would attend services, would read the Bible, would affirm the right beliefs, would give money and do church work.
But people did not expect that day by day, month by month, decade by decade, Hank would be more transformed into the likeness of Jesus. People did not expect he would become a progressively more loving, joyful, winsome person. So they were not shocked when it did not happen.
What we see in Timothy is that he is transformed. I’m not saying he is perfect, of course. But he is rare. He puts Christ first.
In the afterglow of Easter, ask yourself if you are more like Hank or Tim? Are you letting Christ impact you and change you?
Christ being first, Christ being above all else, is a foundational value of these two men. And how cool of Paul to praise Timothy before the church there in Philippi!
There is a second element I see here that speaks to their true values. And that is the way Paul writes about Epaphroditus.
Epaphroditus is the young man who brought them the letter of concern about what was happening in the church in Philippi, along with gifts and money to sustain the Apostle.
Apparently, perhaps because of the journey--maybe he caught a bug along the way--but the net was, he became terribly ill. Paul says he nearly died.
Now Epaphroditus is going to return to them. In fact, what he is bringing back is the very letter we are reading now, two thousand years later.
I want you to notice what Paul and Timothy say about this young man. He is their brother. He is their co-worker. And he is their fellow soldier. Let’s take a look at each of those titles.
Here are Paul and Timothy, thick as can be. So it would have been easy for this young man from Philippi to feel on the outside. But they drew him in. They called him brother. They said, “You are part of the family.”
Then they honored him further by calling him their “co-worker.” In other words, he is not only on the team--he is an equal partner.
Imagine doing ministry with the great Apostle Paul!
“What are you writing there, Paul? It seems...kind of long.”
“Oh, it is nothing really. Just a little note to the Romans…”
Here is a guy who has been through everything you can imagine for his faith and been able to bring about the incredible change of including non-Jews in the Church. From theologian to defense attorney, from world traveler to pastor to personal counselor, he has done it all.
Imagine him calling young Epaphroditus a “co-worker.” And let’s not forget that Timothy was something of a legend in his own right. He has faced down controversy of every kind and he has led his church through many treacherous waters. He was the one who Paul leaned on more than anyone else.
But they see this young man as one of them, as equal to them, as someone who has skills and they were glad to have him aboard.
And finally, they have a third term for young Epaphroditus. They called him a “fellow soldier.” They were saying he had heart. It wasn’t just that he did the job well. It was that he did it with passion. He had courage in his effort to honor Christ and serve the church and it showed not only in the way he brought the things to Paul at the literal risk of his life but in the way he carried himself while he was with them.
How do you think Epaphroditus looks as he comes over the brow of the hill and drops into Philippi? They saw a newfound confidence as he came to them. He delivered the letter and the whole church would have gathered to hear it read. And right there, just about the middle of it, they would all read those words: brother, co-worker, fellow-soldier.
This is my second stopping off point. Our first one was to put Christ first. But a close second is this: to encourage one another onward. Hebrews 10 says that we are to encourage one another onward in love and good works.
I had a great call on Good Friday. 20 years ago I had a group of men that met at our house every Monday morning from 6:00-7:00 a.m. The kids would come down the stairs and look at these guys going over their Bible and think, “Wow. What are they doing here?”
We formed a bond during those meetings. Now they live all over. But two Fridays ago, two of them flew into the town, and others gathered at 8:00 am (they are all retired now!) and they gave me a call because I was to give them one more lesson.
But before I could get started, they wanted to tell me what that group had meant. One of them said that, when he received the letter asking him to be part of the group, he read it over five times to make sure he knew what it said because he couldn’t believe I would want him in my group. That guy moved to the Midwest and has started a network of over 100 men’s groups in his church. Another guy is just taking on a term as an Elder for the church, and he traces a lot of his spiritual reawakening back to that group.
My point is not that I did anything great but by inviting them into that circle they had been empowered. They became Epaphroditus returning to Philippi. They were changed into brothers and co-workers and fellow soldiers.
At session I am taking them through a book called “Growing Young.” No, it’s not a book about beauty secrets. It is a study various churches around the country--large and small, traditional and contemporary--that have found a way to throw a line to the next generation. And now, in terms of their overall membership, they are “growing young.”
The good news of this study is that it isn’t necessarily about having the pastor wearing skinny jeans that makes the difference. I was very relieved to hear that. It is much more about being authentic. And, as they looked closer, there were six habits or tendencies they saw that were factors in all these churches being successful at increasing their leadership teams.
One of those factors was called, “key chain leadership.” The idea is that, when someone is trusted, when they are really part of the team, they get some keys. We want to be a key-sharing leadership team as opposed to a key hoarding leadership team. In other words, we want to do for you what Paul and Timothy did for Epaphroditus.
We want to identify some folks who are skilled, who could be a leader here but, for whatever reason, haven’t been given the keys. Maybe you are younger and you just never thought you would be someone the church would look to. We want to extend our hand to you.
Or perhaps you are not necessarily young. But you have never truly been invited to use your skills or share your leadership. Maybe you came more recently to the church (in our case, ten years is recent). Or maybe you were kind of burned at another church so you have been quietly attending but not truly sharing the gift God has given you.
But you know you are called to more. Still, how do you move from where you are to a more central place? How do you get a key around this place?
So the Session has an assignment: We are each to identify one person who has the potential to step up — that brother or sister who can become a co-worker, the man or woman who can rise to the level of being someone who is courageous in life’s battles — a fellow soldier who understands the stakes and gives his or her best to serving Christ. We would like to open a dialogue so you can get a key to this place.
I do have to say it is ironic that was also the night that we decided to physically re-key the entire church because there are so many keys out there! But even that might speak to our situation here: One of the goals to re-keying the place is to have one key that opens every door to the church.
We want to give you the key not just so we can “grow young” but so that we can utilize the God-given gifts and talents that are right here and that we might have tended to ignore. No more!
So if one of the Elders is speaking to you this month, it might be about all the usual things you two talk about. But there might be a bit more: he or she might be saying, “I want to invite you into that cadre of folks who have a key. I want your skills to be at work and I want you on the team. I believe you could rise to that level where you are not only a brother or sister, but also a co-worker and a fellow soldier.”
Now let me close by addressing one more, tiny subject: you might be thinking, I like this church. And I would be willing to get more involved. But I like Stuart and I want to know he will be here before I commit. Let me make three points.
First, Gary Carter came by and gave me this. It is my Adirondack walking stick. It even has my own name on it right here. I’m going to have to be around a while to use this. So there are no plans for me to go anywhere for a while. My lease is until next February and it isn’t hard to imagine this will be another year or two beyond that. We shall see. This is a great time to get involved and put your shoulder to the wheel as we imagine some new ministry opportunities and your skills and spirit are needed. That’s my first point.
My second is, the Session is not planning on hiring a slouch. They will not be looking for some sour faced person who doesn’t like people and is a boring preacher. I’m pretty sure that is not their goal. They are going to get a man or woman who is a true gift to this church. And wouldn’t it be great if they came and you were already in place, serving God and ready to support them?
And then, here’s the third point: maybe even they won’t stay for one reason or another. Their mother takes a fall and they just have to be there for her. I don’t know. My point is, things change. And what are you going to do: wait and wait until you know everything is stable and then get out there to serve the Lord? Are you going to stand before him in eternity and say, “Lord, I really was planning on doing what you called me to do, but the situation was never just right?”
No. Of course not. The Marines say they are looking for a few good men. We are looking for a few, good Epaphroditus’ and Ephaphrodites’. We are looking to utilize your gifts for his service. And we are looking for people who want what Jesus Christ wants more than anything else in this world.
Those are our values. If they are your values as well, I invite you to step up into the fellowship of those who are joyfully sharing their talents and serving the Lord. We welcome you into leadership, for you are our brother or sister, you are our co-worker and our fellow soldier.
Here is your key.