Broad Brook Congregational Church
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
October 12, 2014
A Letter of Joy
Over the last few weeks we have traveled with the Israelites through the parting of the Red Sea (remember our re-enactment?), through their wandering in the wilderness experiencing hunger relieved by YHWH who sent manna and quail, thirst relieved by YHWH providing clear fresh water from a rock, God’s loving wisdom gifted to them in the form of the Ten Commandments. Today we will reflect on Paul’s letter to the Philippians in the forefront while being mindful that in the background our reading from Exodus has the Israelites taking things into their own hands as they build the Golden Calf. The Israelites faith is still experiencing growing pains, as they are not quite ready to put all their trust in God. The young church in Philippi is also experiencing growing pains. The tender care and love, the multitude of gifts and profound wisdom that guided Israel in the desert and supported the young church in Philippi are still available to us today to guide and strengthen the church on its way.
Paul’s Letter to the Philippians is intensely beautiful. While there were many significant instructions to learn out there in the desert with the Israelites, this week our spirits are raised by Paul’s graceful love letter to a church for which he cares deeply. I invite you to read the entire letter for our lectionary gives only a small part of the last chapter.
As I began to reflect on Paul’s letter and my approaching one-year anniversary with you, more and more my thoughts seemed to focus on the word JOY. As a result I will attempt to put my thoughts and feeling into words as I write a letter of joy to this church. It will not be as elegant as Paul’s letter but it will be as heartfelt as his was.
Carol, servant of Jesus the Christ,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Broad Brook Congregational Church,
Grace and peace to you from God the mother and father of us all, and our brother Jesus Christ,
I thank my God every time I think of you. I thank my God that you believed in my qualifications and passion for ministry and you trusted in God that I would be a good fit for your church. It takes a leap of faith and much prayer to trust that God is leading you in the right direction as you welcome a new pastor into your fold. My cup runneth over with joy as I have come to know all of you and how you have welcomed me.
We have spent the past year getting to know one another. It has been a year filled with joy as new relationships have formed and trust has been established. There have been weddings, baptisms, new members received, all bringing a special kind of shared joy. But there have also been times of grieving in which our community shared prayers and tears with those in deep sadness. There have been cheers when jobs were found, goals achieved, healings revealed, and humor lifted spirits. In all those times joy in our God’s presence was evident, both in times of joy and of concern. This is a church of close community where we share each other’s burdens and joys.
We are about to begin the next chapter in our shared life together. I am filled with excitement, as we will begin to work together toward new goals, goals that we will determine together. One of the ways we might use to help us choose our path will be the use of a survey. I will give you much more information on this at a later date, but for now, I want to put this thought out there: if we do this it will be important for everyone to take part. Each of you is an important part of the body of Christ. Each of you has a voice and as such your voice has to be heard in order for us to be a true community in Christ Jesus.
New ideas are most welcome as we begin this next chapter. There is one thing that I will not do. I will not reject any new idea as not worthy of investigation. There is nothing more demoralizing than to have someone’s idea put to rest before it has even seen the light of day. As Paul advices his church to “be of one mind in Christ Jesus,” let us be patient with one another and give due consideration to new ideas. Sure there might be some ideas that we might table to a later time or perhaps decide it is not a path we want to go down. But those decisions must not be given consideration until we at least hear and have a positive discussion around a new idea. The fact that “it has never been done before” is no reason to reject an idea. I am over joyed that you have embraced many of my ideas, initially perhaps with fear and trepidation, but ultimately I hope they have excited you. I believe now you trust me enough to know that I will not do anything to bring discord or unhappiness down upon you.
Just as the new church in Philippi has conflict, any church comprised of human beings will have conflict. There has been conflict in the past here at Broad Brook Congregational Church. Some points of conflict were resolved while others still are open wounds. Paul urges Euodia and Syntyche, esteemed leaders in the church at Philippi, to resolve their differences. Paul also seeks help from his workers there to help the women resolve their differences. My prayer for this beloved church is that those conflicts be resolved. May God open hardened hearts and closed ears and break down the walls that have been erected to protect a bruised ego and let the love and forgiveness of our God enter in.
Let me borrow words from Paul: “Let 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” (Phil 4:5-8). Concentrating on the very best things, the true, just, honorable, pleasing, pure, excellence, commendable, and praiseworthy things in our day-to-day choices that we make on the highway, in supermarkets, at home, in crowded workplaces, and in the myriad other encounters with people where we make choices that work with or against Jesus’ two great commandments, we can make peace, justice, and love a natural and regular part of our daily lives. Such practice leads to a place where peace, love, forgiveness, justice and healing can reside in our beings. Practicing these virtues on a daily basis also helps us in our activities here at Broad Brook Congregational Church. Sometimes we get caught up in the mundane tasks of Suppers, Tag Sales, Bazars, and committee meetings that we loose focus. Making a place for praising God and loving one another in our shared life in church will increase our joy. Each of you has precious gifts from God that you willing share with this faith community. Using your gifts to increase joy rather than diminish it will bring God’s peace to fruition.
I have been filled to the brim with joy in this faith community. I have watched and listened as many of you, some openly while others quietly behind the scenes, brought joy, compassion, and God’s love to others. I have seen how it brought joy to you as you helped another of God’s forgotten ones. The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, has been present here in full measure and joy has filled my heart.
As I stand in this pulpit, I am both humbled and honored, humbled to stand in the place where past saints have so faithfully stood, and honored to be chosen as the pastor to presently guide you. I have tried to express the love and joy I have in you, the faithful saints of Broad Brook Congregational Church, but words simply fail to express how deeply I care for this church and all the joy in my heart as we share our faith journeys. Just know that I love you all. Let us walk into this new chapter hand in hand with excitement trusting the Holy Spirit to lead us where we should go and trusting God to grant us the strength to do God’s will for Broad Brook Congregational Church.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. In the greatest of hope and joy!