Sermon October 12: Called Out

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Faith United Methodist Church

October 12, 2014

18th Sunday after Pentecost

Rev. Krista Beth Atwood

Scripture: Philippians 4:1-9, Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23

Prayer of Illumination:

God of wisdom and truth, speak to our hearts so that the words we speak, and the words we hear, and the very meditations of our hearts might be pleasing and joyous to you. Amen.

Sermon:  Called Out

Our readings today come from the lectionary for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost. “Lectionary” is one of those churchy words meaning a pre-selected collection of Scriptural readings that follow a three-year cycle and compliment the liturgical year. In other words, each Sunday of the Christian year the lectionary gives us recommended reading. I’ve been a lectionary preacher most of my career. The good thing about following the lectionary is that it can stretch us as Christians. When we follow the lectionary we encounter passages that we might otherwise choose to ignore. We can’t hand-pick our favorite Scriptures and only focus on those. And sometimes ~ hopefully often ~ the lectionary speaks a word into our modern-day life. I can only describe this as the work of the Holy Spirit.

Earlier in our service Liz named a hurt in the life of our church, a situation in which some people in our community are experiencing pain. This was lifted to us in the context of Healing Prayer. And today, through the word of God, we also hear that we are not alone. Even the earliest Christians struggled and experienced pain within the life of their community.

On this 18th Sunday after Pentecost we meet Euodia (yoo-OH-dih-uh) and Syntyche (SIN-tih-kee). The New Testament occasionally gives us glimpses into the everyday lives of Christians and this is one such peek. We don’t know much about these women beside the fact that they were having a bit of a quarrel ~ a disagreement. We don’t even know the cause, but it was important enough for Paul to mention in his letter to his friends in Philippi. “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to come to an agreement in the Lord…. help these women who have struggled together with me in the ministry of the gospel.”

We don’t know why Paul took such a personal tone. As the founder of the Philippi congregation, perhaps he felt it was his place to mediate relations among the community. Imprisoned and awaiting trial in Rome, Paul was unable to be physically present so he sent his words of encouragement ~ which were read with great excitement when the congregation got together.

But think, for a minute, of how you might have felt if you were Euodia or Syntyche in that situation. As one pastor put it, “Dialogue, asking questions, seeing things from the other’s point of view, listening, sharing perspective, trying to understand where other people are coming from, hanging in with people with whom we disagree is hard, hard work.” Together with their church they waited to hear a good word from the founder of their congregation. All went well until, about three quarters of the way into the letter, it got personal. Euodia and Syntyche were called out. Paul pointed out the elephant in the sanctuary and the whole community was brought into the situation.

And we’ve probably all been in Euodia and Syntyche’s shoes, if not in our church community then in our workplace or family or among our friends.  Feelings get hurt. Misunderstandings arise. Rifts develop where strong ties once existed. Conflict is aggravated by stubbornness or embarrassment.

And the truth is, we don’t have very good examples of conflict management in our society, do we? Open the newspaper and we can read about who is fighting with who over what. Much of what passes for news these days is conflict played out at the commentator’s desk. Unchecked, contention spreads and feeds our anxiety. What are we to do? As our Seasons of the Spirit put it, “Living a praiseworthy life in a world rife with hostility is not easy. The antidote to such cynicism is to pray, rejoice, and focus on all that is truly good in God’s realm.”

In her book Amazing Grace Kathleen Norris tells of her experience, as a new Christian, coming into a church that was embroiled in conflict.   Upon reflection she suggested, “…if it’s a gathering of like-minded individuals you are looking for, then you should join a political party, not a church.” Those of us who make up the body of Christ are a diverse group. We are from varied backgrounds, races, and economic and educational levels. Democrats. Republicans. We have different tastes and preferences. Yet we are one in Christ.

As Paul spoke to the Christians in Philippi, Paul speaks to us today. Are there ways that disagreements and grievances may keep us from fulfilling our calling? Like any group of humans, we have our moments and we struggle with what it means to be faithful. We don’t all agree about everything ~ nor should we. Healthy disagreement can bring growth.

And there are times when conflict is necessary. When separation is called for. When reconciliation may not be the best resolution. When it is best to go our separate ways. Often, though, those things that separate us are much smaller than those things that bind us together. Paul tells the Philippians and us, today, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” This isn’t a “Don’t worry, be happy” kind of rejoicing. It is the kind of rejoicing that reminds us of the important work we are called to do. Rejoicing even when the journey gets difficult.

Euodia and Syntyche were called out. But, you know what, so are we. When referring to the church community Paul used the Greek word “ekklesia.” Ekklesia literally means a gathering of people called out. In Christian terms, it is the body of believers whom God calls out from the world and into His eternal kingdom. As followers of Christ, we are all called out.

So what does it mean to be called out as a community of God’s people, committed to living out the ways of God? It means that we try and that we sometimes make mistakes, because we are human. It means that we listen to our Scriptures and to our teachers and to each other as we seek to discern God’s wisdom in every situation. It means that we rejoice in God’s grace even when we hit bumps along the way. And it means that we do all this in the spirit of prayer as those called out to do God’s work in the world. Amen.