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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Thursday, September 24, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Philippians 2:1–13

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 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 a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (NRSV)

The Apostle Paul, who wrote this joy-filled letter to the Christians at Philippi, did a lot of prison time. He kept getting in trouble with his fellow Jews because he preached that the Messiah had come in the form of a common carpenter from Nazareth. He got in trouble with the Greco-Roman world because he claimed that this common carpenter was in fact God-in-the-flesh. Yet whatever prison he found himself in, he found companions who became converts because this strange message had a ring of truth about it. As convincing as the message was, it was the remarkable life of the messenger that gave it credibility. Resilience. Remarkable resilience.

Take for example the backstory of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, found in Acts 16:25–34. Paul and Silas come to Philippi, are flogged brutally for creating a disturbance, and thrown in the Philippian jail at midnight. As Luke, the author of Acts, tells the story, “About midnight, Paul and Silas were singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” One can only imagine what these fellow prisoners were thinking. It is not common for prisoners who have been beaten bloody and locked in the stocks behind iron bars to sing hymns of praise to God. The same could be said of the jailer that night, working the night shift. This strange phenomenon of songs in the night was followed by another attention-getter. An earthquake shook the foundations of Philippi and the jail cells were jarred open, releasing the chains from their groundings. The jailer rushed in, terrified. He cried out to Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul answered back, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your family.” And these three strangest of bedfellows were bonded to each other for eternity.

Now, fast forward about eleven years to another jail, this one in Rome. Paul is now nearing the end of his life as he awaits his trial in one of Caesar’s courts. Always one to make the most of a bad moment, Paul’s most inspirational letters were written during this time, including his letter to the Philippians. One might imagine that same Philippian jailer, now an elder in the Church of Philippi, smiling as he hears the apostle’s letter read to the congregation. The jailer catches Lydia’s eye across the room (see Acts 16:14–15), they both stand up, raising their hands and voices in a “Hallelujah!” and the entire congregation bursts into song. Lydia asks the jailer, now her brother in Christ, to share again his first encounter with the apostle from eleven years before, near midnight when they first met.

Resilience. Remarkable resilience. But what—or who—inspired it? Just maybe that song that arose from the “Hallelujah”of the Philippian congregation as they heard Paul’s letter read was the song that Paul inserts in this most joyful of all his letters. It tells the story of resilience: that when we fall on our face, lose all hope, hit the bottom of despair, there is a living God who has also descended into the depths, risen again, and who reaches out even now to lift us up also. Resilience. Remarkable resilience. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Gracious God, you are close to the brokenhearted and you save the crushed in spirit, so come alongside us now.  Breathe your loving Spirit into our distress, so we may discover once again a Savior who descended into the depths to claim us and rose again to lift us up. May the resilience of Jesus give us hope that, in him, we may find the same, so that, whether in the depths of our hopelessness or on the heights of our restored faith, we may call you Savior. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Written by David Handley, Interim Minister for Pastoral Care

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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