Search

"The World Is Full of Wonderful Things" -- Philippians 4:4-8 (21st Sunday After Pentecost)




As most of you know, for the past several weeks, I’ve been in Florida with my family – and, well, Florida is hot and humid. If you want to get outside, particularly in the summer and on through September, it’s best to do that first thing in the morning. So, every morning, I get up and set out for a 2-or-3 mile walk. Sometimes I walk in silence and take in the day. Sometimes I listen to a podcast. Sometimes I listen to music. Sometimes that music is show tunes – Hamilton, Rent, Hello Dolly!


One morning, I was walking, listening to show tunes, and there was this moment in the middle of one of the songs when one of the characters – a young woman who has just fallen in love – exclaims: “The world is full of wonderful things!” I laughed out loud. I guffawed. And I thought, in 2020, you could only get away with saying that in a Broadway musical. Ten months into 2020, the exclamation, “The world is full of wonderful things!” feels more than a little absurd.

And then I turned the corner in my walk – and I had to squint because of the brilliant light and the flash of color from the sunrise – and I walked the last few blocks toward the homes where I knew my family was starting their day – some just waking up, some just in from walking the dogs. We were alive and together, and I thought – well, maybe I should give this some more thought. So, on further reflection, the theme of this morning’s sermon – on October 25, 2020 – is “The world is full of wonderful things.”

In this morning’s Scripture, the Apostle Paul is writing this letter from jail. This morning’s text gives us some of the most beautiful words in all of Scripture – “Rejoice in God always! Let your gentleness be made known to all. Be anxious for nothing. God is near. Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, think on these things.” And Paul is writing these words... from prison. The Apostle Paul lives a hard-scrabble life. He has been gripped by the Good News of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, and he is consumed with an urgency to make that love known and real throughout the whole world.


But almost everywhere he goes, the Apostle encounters resistance.[1] As he travels building new communities that live the life of Christ, there is a group of opponents following him around, trying to undo what he is doing – always at his heels. When Paul arrives in a new city, he is often arrested and jailed. He is called before all manner of tribunals – local, imperial, even the councils of his own religion. Paul helps nurture these communities that he loves – but they inevitably fall into disagreement – sometimes with each other, sometimes with Paul. And all Paul wants is to share this Good News with the whole world – and so he longs to go to Rome (the center of the known world), and then onto Spain, the furthest reaches of the known world. But when Paul arrives in Rome, he is arrested and thrown into prison. He’ll never make it to Spain. He’ll spend the rest of his days, and he will die there, in prison, in Rome. Paul’s world is grim.

And, as he sits there in prison, Paul writes to the community in Philippi – whom he loves tenderly and deeply – and he says: “Rejoice! Again, I say rejoice.” What? You gotta wonder if Paul is paying attention.


If we take Paul seriously, the joy of which he speaks has to be something broader and deeper than happiness in the moment. It has to be something that doesn’t depend on present circumstances – Paul is in jail. It has to be something more. This joy of which Paul speaks has to be something that lives within the grit of the world – that doesn’t minimize or deny the suffering of a troubled world, but that also isn’t diminished or deterred by it. One writer describes it like this: “Joy is not an escape from the pain of the world; it is a re-consideration and a re-investment in life from a different and liberating perspective.”[2] Joy is “a discipline of perception,” a re-seeing of the world through the lens of love. Joy is a re-orientation to the world from the sure and solid ground of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. God. Is. Near.


And so, the Apostle Paul – who wants nothing more and nothing less than sharing with the whole world God’s love for us in Jesus Christ – he can write from prison: “Consider these things:”

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if there is any excellence – anything worthy of praise – think on these things – consider these things.” The world is full of wonderful things.

What do you think about that?

It’s been good to be back in Northern California. My morning walks are just as invigorating, but there are different sights and sounds. My first morning back, I woke to the howling of our neighborhood coyotes (real coyotes). I stepped out another morning into a neighborhood blanketed in cool, crisp fog. I’ve shared with some of you that on Tuesday on my way to get coffee, I had to wait at a stop-sign for eight wild turkeys to cross the street. Annie Dillard says: “We are made and set here to give voice to our astonishments.” One morning, I hiked to the top of the hill over my neighborhood, and listened, trying to separate out the different songs of the different birds. Linda Ronstadt says that she sings for the same reasons that birds do – “to find a mate, to claim some territory, or sometimes simply to give voice to being alive in the midst of a beautiful day.”[3]


Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just,

whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable...


It’s harder to find admirable things in the news these days. But this week, I saw that in Louisville, a judge has granted the grand jurors permission to speak publicly about the grand jury proceedings related to Breonna Taylor’s killing.[4] For far too long, those proceedings have been shrouded in secrecy. One juror has spoken out and said that the grand jury wasn’t told about the option of homicide charges, or even about the requirements for self-defense. Their questions were shut down. And we get this glimpse into the secret proceedings of grand juries and the power of prosecutors. It’s a moment of accountability. And I think of all the faithful protesters in Louisville – day by day – who have kept public count of the days that officials have done nothing in response to the killing of Breonna Taylor. I think of their signs that offer photos and paintings of Breonna Taylor – of how her family keeps telling the story of her beautiful life, cut down far too soon. And this week, there was a glimmer of truth.


Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just,

whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable...


In just a little while, before I join the folks in the Memorial Garden, I’m going to put on this mask that MayLinn made for me. And I’m reminded of all the masks that the folks at The Tam have made over the course of the pandemic – to protect the staff at the Tam, and each other, and you, and me – to keep us safe, in these days that feel so full of peril. Masks stitched in love.


Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just,

whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable


In just a few moments, we are going to baptize a child of this church. We will baptize Gavin Henley Cain, as he’s presented by his parents, Brenda and Tim, and accompanied by his sister Claire. We will celebrate this new life – Gavin – and claim for him all the promises of God’s unshakeoffable love.

· In the waters of baptism, God reminds us that we are God’s beloved children – that we always have been and always will be – that we are named and claimed by God.

· In the waters of baptism, we confirm with our embodied selves that God brings forgiveness more expansive than any wrong we have done, healing stronger than any hurt, and life more powerful even than death.

· In the waters of baptism, we are washed in Christ’s love, and joined as part of one family – one God, one body, one love.


Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just,

whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable

consider these things.

These are just some of the things I have noticed this week.

I wonder what you have noticed.


As I name these things, I hope you know me well enough by now to know that I am not an escapist. I believe with all my heart that it is incumbent upon us to name the evil in this world and to face it– to stand in the midst of suffering and not shirk away from it, or try to pretend it away. We have to name that so that we can know what we have to change, so that we can see our part in the harm of the world, so that we can come to know and name our own hurt, and so that we can find the work that is ours to do in the world. We not only have to name the trouble in the world, but – as Sister Simone Campbell would say – we have to walk toward the trouble.[5] And we know in 2020, perhaps, more than ever before, that all this, all this is a long haul, and our bones are weary.


And the Apostle Paul knows that too. And so he whispers to us, across the centuries: “Remember, God is near” –


God is near,

in the birth of a baby into the world,


in the laughter of children,


in the waters of baptism washing over us,

refreshing us with life,


in hands that hold the wisdom of long years,

sewing mask upon mask, stitch by stitch,


in voices that shout for justice and will not be silenced,

bringing about that day when justice will roll down,

and God’s new day will dawn over the rubble

of the oppression we have wrought,


God is near,

in beautiful lives that grace the day – like yours and mine –

ready to love and laugh and weep and live,


God is near,

in the song that

“gives voice to being alive in the midst of a beautiful day.”


God is near.


As we embrace our life and our work in the midst of this troublous world, consider these things:


Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just,

whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable,

if there is anything that is excellent, anything that is true,

consider these things.

And rejoice.


In just a few moments, we will join together as a community, and standing with his family, we will baptize Gavin Henley Cain. We will celebrate. We will rejoice.


Friends, here is something that is true:

The world is full of wonderful things.


© 2020 Scott Clark

[1] This understanding of the life and biography of the Apostle Paul follows Udo Schnelle, Apostle Paul: His Life and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Press, 2003), and the teaching of Professor Eugene Eung Chun Park, as reflected in Either Jew or Gentile (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003). [2] Nathan Eddy, Commentary in Feasting on the Word, Year A, vol. 4 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), p.161. [3] Quote from the documentary, Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice [4] See https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/20/us/breonna-taylor-grand-jury.html [5] See Sister Simone Campbell, A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community (San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2014).


Photo by Daniil Silantev, used with permission (and gratitude) via Unsplash

ABOUT US

First Presbyterian San Anselmo is a progressive, inclusive Christian community blessed with meaningful worship, people who care for one another, diverse ministries for all ages, and a passion for justice and service.

CONTACT

(415) 456-3713

 

72 Kensington Road

San Anselmo, CA  94960

 

mail@togetherweserve.org

CONNECT

Click the icons below to join our mailing list, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or view our YouTube videos.

  • Facebook Social Icon
  • Twitter Social Icon
  • YouTube Social  Icon