Prayer of Illumination
Holy One, as we listen to your word to us this day, clothe us in your compassion and love. Dress us in your justice and righteousness. Transform us to be people of your realm, living the words we so often pray: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Amen
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
In 2003, the term “flash mob” was coined. I would say flash mobs have proliferated in the last five years. For the uninitiated, according to that font of all knowledge, Wikipedia, a flash mob is “a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and (often) seemingly pointless act for a brief time, before quickly dispersing.”[i]
Perhaps the most famous flash mob happened in Ontario, Canada when 100 voices joined in a shopping mall food court to sing the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah”. Last year the US Air Force band flash mobbed visitors to the National Air and Space Museum when, beginning with a single cellist, they enthralled the crowd with a new arrangement of “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” and “Joy to the World.” I will say, though, that the term flash mob took on a whole new meaning when they rolled out the full-sized harp! The thing about flash mobs is that they appear to be spontaneous events. They are not. They are deliberately rehearsed and quite intentional!
The truth is, I enjoy a good flash mob. — And now, there apparently is a new version of this phenomenon. It is called a “Mass Mob.”[ii] Every month, a group called the “Detroit Mass Mob” selects a church. The group posts its intentions on Facebook and gets the word out through word-of-mouth and other forms of social media. Then, on the appointed Sunday, hundreds of people descend on the named church. The goal of this group is to help revitalize struggling churches in Detroit city. At first it was a group of about 150. As word spread, the numbers increased. At a recent Mass Mob over 2,000 people descended on St. Florian’s church to not only fill the pews, but also stuff the offering plates. “The day of the Mass mob, St. Florian’s collection basket brought in more than $19,000″ – about 10 times the amount donated at a typical Mass.”[iii] All this because people woke up that morning intent on being together in a community of faith -following a common purpose.
Thom Kinney, a five-time Mass Mob veteran said: “there’s something special about coming to Mass with so many other people. To be in attendance when it’s full, as opposed to just the sparse. There’s an electricity that’s amazing.”[iv] All this electricity in the air because people woke up that morning intent on being together in a community of faith, following a common purpose.
To be in a community of faith is an intentional act. It requires thoughtfulness. It requires discipline. It requires resolve.
But being in a community – any community – is not easy. Among the disciplines that nourish my soul is my affiliation with Mount St. Benedict’s Monastery in Erie, Pennsylvania. This is a community of about 100 nuns who live together in an intentional community. The Sisters will tell you that following the disciplines of the Rule of Benedict is nothing compared to the hard work of living together in community. It only works because the Sisters come together with a common purpose: to love and serve the Lord by loving and serving one another and the community in Erie.
Anyone living in an intentional community will most likely confirm that without a common purpose binding the individuals in a spirit of unity, the whole project would fall apart.
Paul says: “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and longed for, my joy and crown, (remember your common purpose) – stand firm in the Lord…”
Paul is speaking to the community at Philippi and reminding them of their common purpose – a purpose that is bigger than any one individual member. So, when he addresses Euodia and Syntyche and admonishes them to “be of the same mind,” he is not telling them to agree. He is exhorting them to be of the same mind “in the Lord.”
This “appeal for unity is based on the fact that those who are in Christ should share the attitude of Christ”[v] “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, and being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.”[vi]
The thing that binds us – this standing firm in the Lord — this is grounded in us being citizens of God’s kingdom and putting on the attitude of Christ. Which, of course, is easier said than done. But it’s not impossible. It is intentional.
There are distinct qualities that mark community life when we have put on the attitude of Christ.
First, there is joy because we live with resurrection power. We have the ability and the privilege of bringing life to lifeless circumstances. We have the privilege of being light in a dark world. It is important to remember that when Paul wrote this letter he was imprisoned with capital charges hanging over his head. And yet he could exhort us to joy. It is something to remember – Something to hold on to. Rejoice in the Lord always, in all circumstances, in all places, at all times.
A second mark of the Christ-like community is gentleness. Oddly enough, this word is one of the most untranslatable Greek words in the bible. If you read several versions of the New Testament, you will find the word translated as moderation, patience, softness, and forbearance, just to name a few. The gentleness spoken of here is more than being kind or amiable. It is more than being soft or patient. The gentleness of those who stand firm in the Lord is generous. It is large and magnanimous – generous in forgiving an insult or injury; free from petty resentfulness or vindictiveness. Unfortunately, however, our way of relating is often shaped by the harsh world we live in. It is a world of assertiveness, bluntness, and presumption. To be gentle in this world, and in this town, is not an easy task; but it is the task to which we are called if we are to stand firm in the Lord – if we are to be faithful to our common purpose.
It is a task made easier if we remember that we are what we think.
The body of evidence is without dispute. Sour dispositions create not only sick souls but also sick bodies. The opposite of this is also true. People with a positive outlook, who fill their minds with positive affirmations and concentrate on noble pursuits set the stage for healing and the wholeness that is God’s design for us all. Nearly a couple of thousand years before Sigmund Freud was born Paul knew the power of good thoughts.[vii] Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there’s anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Think about these things in the context of your relationships in the community of faith. Think about these things in the context of your relationships in the world. Think about these things – make them a part of who you are and your gentleness will be known to everyone and you will stand firm in the Lord.
It is easier said than done. It requires thoughtfulness. It requires discipline. It requires resolve.
But, it is not impossible. It is intentional.
[v] Hooker, Morna D., The Letter to the Philippians, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume XI, (Nashville: Abingdon Press) © 2000.
[vi] Philippians 2:6-8.
[vii] Maxie D. Dunnam and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Galatians / Ephesians / Philippians / Colossians / Philemon, vol. 31, The Preacher’s Commentary Series (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982), 307–313.