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A Message from the Interim Rector

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Dear friends,

St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians has been our Bible Study reading these past four weeks. Paul wrote a number of letters to the churches he had founded around the shores of the Mediterranean. As a Pharisee who at one time persecuted Christians, Paul is an informed guide to our understanding of the Christian faith which grew out of Judaism. 

After an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul became an apostle for Christ. He did this at great personal risk to himself, since the gospel message was not met with universal acclaim or acceptance. Indeed, there were occasions when Paul was beaten and imprisoned for evangelizing. When Paul writes his letter to the church in Philippi, he is writing from a prison cell. 

Paul remains undaunted by his imprisonment however, and his letter is filled with the joy of one who lives for Christ. He even boasts that “what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel”. (Phil. 1:12) He offers advice to the church, “Be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (Phil. 2:2) A Christian community must be united in Christ. 

The Letter to the Philippians is famous for containing the earliest known Christian hymn (Phil: 2:5-11). Such hymns were composed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and later sung or chanted in public worship. Paul’s hymn is about Jesus who, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.” (Phil. 2:6) Paul is referring to the equality between Jesus the Son and God the Father. 

God may be all powerful, but in Jesus we observe what he actually does with his power. He “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” (Phil. 2:7) Jesus has given away all his power so that he is at the lowest rung of society. In one sense he is the slave of the Father - slaves depended entirely on the will of their masters. He has also become our slave, here to serve us. Jesus turns our human understanding of God, kingship and power on its head.

The hymn continues to its first logical conclusion: the Cross. Jesus “became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:8) This was the fullest expression of Jesus’ self-emptying love. In laying down his life for his friends, Jesus shows how far his love was prepared to go: all the way to eternity. As we know, Jesus did not remain on the cross forever, but was buried and rose again from the dead. 

The hymn now reaches its fulfillment and turning point, where the experience of suffering and death is transformed into the glory of God. In verses 2:9-11, God exalts Jesus on high and gives him “the name that is above every name” (Phil. 2:9) What is that name? The name is Jesus, which is derived from the Hebrew word which means “Savior.” Jesus is our Savior, a Savior-God. That means the path to salvation is made effective through the name of Jesus. 

It is hardly surprising the Paul should be filled with joy and wonder at what God has done. He ends the hymn by saying that “every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” This is the earliest Christian confession: “Jesus Christ is Lord”. Not Caesar, or Herod, or King or President, but Jesus. Jesus is our Lord and Savior.

This hymn, a gift of the Holy Spirit, is one we can read and reread. We can meditate on its meaning. It can inspire us to reconsider our own lives. How far have we allowed the Spirit to form our own minds to be like Christ’s? What does it mean for us, if we empty ourselves of our ego, our pride, our prejudices, and allow God’s Spirit access to our very being. How can I humble myself before God, and become obedient to his will? 

These are question which the honest soul asks when it seeks for meaning and direction. The soul, in reaching towards Christ, desires to think like him, to share his burdens, and to be gifted with his graces. The seed of love has already been planted in our hearts. Let us help it to grow, by emptying ourselves, and confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

With every spiritual blessing,

Father David


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