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Who Will We Be? -- Philippians 4:4-14 (20th Sunday After Pentecost)

Photo credit: Peter Anderson

When we left off last week, we had located ourselves living somewhere between despair and hope.[1] We had named that, particularly as we consider the Earth as our home in a time of climate crisis.

We listened to the words of the prophet Jeremiah, as he spoke against the destruction of the land he witnessed in his day. And we spoke of our own destruction of the Earth. We named honestly the severity of climate emergency and places where collapse has already begun.

And then, we turned to the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans – and listened to all creation groaning – groaning towards hope. We sifted through what hope is not. It’s not glib optimism; it’s not wishful thinking.

We spoke of what we called real hope

hope that begins in a groan, that takes seriously hard realities,

and grieves;

hope that let’s go of that which is out of our control;

hope that nevertheless senses something larger than us

at work in the world for good;

hope that then sets about doing that good, doing our part,

because it’s worth doing no matter the results.[2]

In his letter to the Romans – we noticed – the Apostle Paul wrote of the hope we find in Christ – living in the Body of Christ – a place for us there – a place for us here – connected with all creation – in groaning, in hope, in life.[3] And as Paul wrote to the Romans, he said how he longed to travel to Rome to tell them even more about this Good News.

That’s where we left off last week.

As we turn to this morning’s Scripture – from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians – we find Paul, we think, in Rome.[4] Paul has made it to Rome... yay!... but he’s made it to Rome... in chains. The Apostle Paul is writing to the Philippians from a prison in Rome.

Things have not gone according to plan. Since last we saw him, before he could head to Rome, Paul headed back to Jerusalem. And he was arrested there, and tried – he invoked his Roman citizenship – with an appeal to Caesar – and so he’s been taken to Rome in chains. This is not how Paul wished things would be. He had wanted to go to Rome and then on to Spain – taking the Good News of God’s liberating love for Jesus Christ to the ends of the known world.

But here the Apostle sits. In prison. And we know that he will die there. But even so, it seems that here in prison, Paul still has freedom enough to write his letters. The little community that he loves in Philippi sends him some support. And so Paul picks up his pen – his quill – and he writes. From prison. Where he will die. And look at what he says:

Rejoice. From prison.

Again, I say rejoice.

Paul writes: Let your gentleness be made known to all.

God is near.

Be anxious for nothing.

But with thanksgiving – with gratitude – in prayer, let your requests be made known to God.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding

will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

This is what the Apostle Paul writes from prison – out of what, for him, is clearly the worst of times. He is candid and clear-headed about his predicament – he groans. (We knowthis is the last letter that we have of his.) And he writes this: Finally beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, whatever is good – think on these things.

Think on these things. And do them.

The Apostle explains, with the wisdom of one who has lived the best and worst of times – somewhere between despair and hope – “You see, I’ve come to be content – grounded – whatever the circumstance.” From the prison where he will die, he writes, “I can do all things through the one who strengthens me.” Oh, and he adds that lovely note at the end. And beloved, you have sent me these gifts of support – how kind of you to share my distress.

In Romans, Paul writes in expansive terms of the hope we have in Christ – the hope that groans with all creation – our place in the Body of Christ – connected with all creation – groaning together as we birth something new. Paul writes of that in Romans.

In Philippians, we get a glimpse of how he lives that out.

I think of that quote from Vaclav Havel: “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something is worth doing no matter how it turns out.”[5] I think of how Jem Bendell writes of hope beyond hope – “a kind of faith about the ultimate rightness of all things, no matter what occurs... a deeper knowing in us of the nature of reality and thus an instinct for living lovingly. [6]

This afternoon, we’ll gather in interfaith community in the groaning of our day – in the groaning of creation in climate crisis. And we’ll ask, “Who will we be as the climate changes?” I hope you can come. We’ll enter into a framework that Jem Bendell offers for living lives of Deep Adaptation in climate crisis – what we’ve come to call the 5 Rs of Adaptation.[7] We will think on these things:

· We’ll begin the experience with reverencegrounding ourselves in the goodness of creation and the source of life within and beyond us

· We’ll think of relinquishment – grieving what is and will be lost, and letting go of ways of living that harm creation;

· reconciliation - making peace so that we can work toward a shared vision

· restoration –restoring balance in ourselves and in our ecosystems

· resilience – drawing on our inner strength and the strength of community to face our common challenge.

First Pres adds to the conversation a 6th R – Resistance – staying engaged in the good and worthy work of resisting systems that harm and destroy.

One of the stations in the pilgrimage this afternoon will be an experience of the photography that you see in the sanctuary today. In August 2016, Peter Anderson made the journey to join the community of protest that gathered at Standing Rock. You may remember it was a protest of an oil pipeline that threatened indigenous land and waters. The pipeline had originally been planned further north, but when non-indigenous white folks complained, they changed their plans, and decided to build it underneath the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s water supply.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe protested because the construction of the pipeline violated treaties that the United States had made with the tribal nations, and because the pipeline threatened the waters of their tribal lands. The protest grew into what became a historic gathering of Indigenous Nations. And then folks began to come from all over the United States to stand with the Indigenous Nations gathered at Standing Rock – a community of Water Protectors, standing in solidarity with the Standing Rock Tribe and the land.

The protest encampment endured and thrived for nearly a year. Peter shares some of what he experienced in the photographs you see here. As I’ve talked with Peter about his experience and these photos, I’ve been moved particularly by something Peter said to me: In his time of living in the encampment at Standing Rock, Peter says he came to have the sense that the indigenous people at Standing Rock actually didn’t necessarily expect to “win,” as we would think of a win. They have lived centuries of oppression, of stolen land, of treaties made and broken. They know how the world (and the United States) works – and that the corporate money behind the pipeline was powerful.

But what they did was show up every morning, living for what they knew to be good and true. All around the sanctuary, we have glimpses that Peter brought back. I’d like to invite him to come and share just a bit of that with us now:

Peter Anderson’s presentation of his photos from his Standing Rock experience is available to hear and see on the worship video, which you can access here on the church’s YouTube page.

© 2023 Scott Clark

[1] This sermon is part 2 of a two-part series, as we consider Earth as our home, within the context of our theme “A Place for You Here.” You can find here part 1 (last week’s sermon) here: [2] See id. [3] For general background on Romans and this text, see N.T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” New Interpreters’ Bible Commentary, vol. x (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2002), pp.594-604; Herman C. Waetjen, The Letter to the Romans: Salvation as Justice and the Deconstruction of the Law (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2011), pp.213-23. [4] My understanding of the chronology of the Apostle Paul’s letters follows Udo Schnelle, Apostle Paul: His Life and Theology (trans. M.E. Boring) (New York: Baker Publishing Group, 2005), see pp. 359-69, and is influenced by the teaching of Professor Eugene Park. For general background on Paul’s Letter to the Philippians and this passage, see Morna D. Hooker, “The Letter to the Philippians,” New Interpreters’ Bible Commentary, vol. xi (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000). [5] Quoted in Rebecca Solnit and Thelma Young Lutunatabua, Not Too Late: Changing the Climate Story from Despair to Possibility(Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2023), p. 7. [6] Jem Bendell, Breaking Together: A Freedom-Loving Response to Collapse (Bristol, UK: Good Works, 2023), p.177. [7] The 4R framework was originally mentioned in a 2018 paper by Jem Bendell which can be found here: The 4 Rs are: Resilience, Relinquishment, Restoration, Reconciliation.“Reverence,” has been added by Project Adapt as a 5th R. Learn more here: for-reverence/


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