Our second reading today, from St. Paul to the Phillipians, starts: “Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” Paul sounds pretty happy, don’t you think? Everything must be going really well for him, especially in the community he founded in Philippi. It must be all peace and harmony and understanding and everyone just getting along famously. Right? WRONG!
In the four verses immediately before our second reading today we hear: “For these reasons, my brothers, you whom I so love and long for, you who are my joy and my crown, continue, my dear ones, to stand firm in the Lord. I plead with Evodia just as I do with Syntyche, come to some mutual understanding in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, too, my dependable fellow worker, to go to their aid; they have struggled at my side in promoting the gospel, along with Clement and the others who have labored with me, whose names are in the book of life.”
What is going on here, what is Paul talking about? Well, there is a division in the community. Two church ladies, Evodia and Syntyche, both staunch pillars of the parish, well known and influential in the community, had a disagreement. Apparently a pretty serious and public one.
I know such an occurrence is exceedingly rare, but this sort of thing can happen. Now both Evodia and Syntyche were good women, dedicated to spreading the Gospel, but they had some sort of falling out, a difference of opinion, that was causing a problem for the church of Phillipi. In fact a big enough of a stink so as to cause St. Paul to ask one of his co-workers in Philippi to act as referee. Paul wrote: I ask you, too, my dependable fellow worker, to go to their aid;” Go try to help them resolve this thing. For these two ladies were leaders in the church. They did much more than just serve tea, for St. Paul states that they struggled at his side in promoting the gospel. They were missionaries or church leaders of some sort. And so it was important for St. Paul that the two women get along, or at least “come to a mutual understanding in the Lord.” Because their division was hindering the mission.
The point I want to make here is that it is immediately following dealing with this squabble, this rupture in the community, that Paul continues with the passage we have as our second reading today: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.” And so on.
I mention this little bit of the Phillipians’ “dirty laundry” to show that Paul’s optimistic and enthusiastic writing in our second reading is not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, not some unrealistic fantasy, but is based in the day-to-day realities of living in community, with its tensions and squabbles and disappointments.
Not only did Paul have opposition from many of the Jews who rejected the New Way he preached, and not only did Paul have all the dangers and inconveniences of ancient travel, and not only did Paul have difficulties with the Roman authorities,
Paul also had all the problems, divisions, squabbles, disagreements and arguments that every community is subject to, and he seemed to have it in all the churches he founded, and even with other Apostles.
So, there was plenty of human reason for St Paul to be discouraged, disheartened, disgusted and even depressed. But here he is recommending to us: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.”
The last sentence is the kicker. The Lord is near! It is Paul’s faith that the Lord is near that allows him to remain, not just calm, but buoyant, optimistic, hopeful, positive, indeed joyful. The Lord is near! And for St Paul that is all that matters. He knows that we are never going to find our way out of the mess that humanity has gotten itself into by moral reform, nor government action, nor economic development, nor scientific progress, nor academic excellence, nor artistic creativity, nor social development nor military intervention, nor any other human endeavor. Paul knows that the only way out of the dead end of sin and death is through the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. And Paul knows that the Lord is near.
That is why St Paul confidently continues in our second reading: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
That is very good advice. I urge you to take it to heart. “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
The Lord is near! AMEN.