by Elaine Maust
Selected scriptures from Philippians and Ephesians
November 5, 2006
Paul is delivered into the sanctuary by soldiers. Parts in bold italics read by Paul in costume and chains. Scripture passages (NRSV) are read slowly and thoughtfully, as though they are being composed as they are written.
I’m grateful that the missionary Paul is able to join us this morning from jail to share his prayers with us. I’m also grateful to Pastor Tom Beachy, former pastor of Pigeon River Mennonite Church, for the idea for this sermon.
This morning I hope we can learn from Paul’s prayers for the churches that he loved. And, think together about praying for Jubilee. In your bulletin you’ll find an insert with some of the Scriptures used today. On the back is a place for you to write your prayers for Jubilee. But more about that later.
Philippians 1:1-2 – “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
That’s the first verse of the first chapter of what we know of as the book of Philippians. It’s Paul’s letter to his friends in Philippi.
Paul’s prayers were included in letters he wrote to churches. These letters eventually became part of the Bible and chapter and verse marks were added to the letters. This collection of letters is known as the Epistles. That’s the part of the Bible in the New Testament, between Acts and the Revelation.
Letters at this time began with the names of the folks or the person that wrote them. How convenient! We have to go to the end of our letters to see who was writing. The letters Paul wrote just started out by saying who he was. And then, who he was writing to. “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi.” Who wrote it and who it’s to.
Like many of Paul’s letters, this one begins with prayer. He would be writing along, guided by the Holy Spirit, and all of a sudden, he’s praying.
Philippians 1:3-7a- (read with a smile) “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart…”
Paul’s great affection for the church in Philippi comes through. He thanks God every time he thinks about them. Wow. He knows they hold him in their hearts. V4 says that every one of his prayers for them is a prayer of joy.
So what is it about Jubilee that makes you smile and thank God? I thank God for you all. I thank God when I see you using your gifts in the church. I thank God when I see you loving with each other. I thank God when I hear you laugh. I thank God when I see you open your hearts to folks that are not part of Jubilee yet. What do you thank God for when you pray for Jubilee?
Philippians 1:7b – “for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment (move the chains a bit) and in the defense and confirmation of he gospel.”
Did you know that Paul wrote this cheery letter, this letter filled with “I love yous” and “you make me happys” from jail? And this is ironic too! Paul got arrested the first time he visited Philippi. Arrested for healing a girl. The story is in Acts 16. Paul and Silas in the jail singing, and then there was that earthquake, and then the jailer, afraid that all his prisoners had escaped, was about to kill himself. And then, you know the rest of the story… the jailer wound up becoming a believer and hosting the ex-con missionaries over at his house that night.
Well now, as Paul is writing to the Philippians, he is back in jail. We think probably in Rome, writing them a warm and encouraging letter sitting in a cell or under house arrest. Spending his time, writing and praying. That Paul.
Philippians 1:8-11 – “For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. (pause) And this is m y prayer (spoken with resolution), that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.”
I’m not sure what Paul was picturing when he prayed that their love would overflow more and more. But here’s what I picture, the overflow by our pond. When it rains and the pond rises, water pours out of the overflow pipe. Brown pond water, splashing and crashing, unstoppable. Like the unstoppable love overflowing in a church.
What a prayer for the church in Philippi, that here love would overflow more and more. What a prayer that would be for Jubilee. What would you pray that Jubilee would have more and more of?
But back to Paul… He is thought to have also been in jail in Rome when he wrote the letter to the church in Ephesus. His words to them were also filled with personal warmth and spiritual hope.
This is from Ephesians 1.
Ephesians 1:15-16 – “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.
Paul says he couldn’t stop thanking God for them. During the month of November, I hope you will make a special effort to thank God for and to pray for Jubilee. Maybe most of your prayers are for a certain person (like yourself or a friend) Nothing wrong with that. Or for a special situation (like where are the car keys or please help me get this baby to sleep). That’s great. Like a favorite song of mine says, “Let us pray, let us pray. Everywhere and everyway.” But for the next few weeks, let’s pray for Jubilee, especially.
When I called Pastor Tom to talk to him about the sermon, he said that often our prayers are too small and that praying with Paul got them praying for their church in a much bigger way.
Sometimes our prayers focus on small picture items. During the next weeks, let’s press our prayers out, past the immediate and important, things like health and money and passing chemistry. Important things, true. But let’s pray for things that will last even after we and this world are gone. Here’s what I mean.
Ephesians 1:17-19 – “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.”
That’s what I’m talking about. Stretching our prayers out a little until they include, “the immeasurable greatness of his power for us at Jubilee.”
To get you started, you might try doing what I’m doing, filling in Jubilee’s name in the prayers of Paul. Like this. This is from Ephesians 1:17: “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give Jubilee a spirit of wisdom…” Okay, we could use that! You get the idea. But however you are led to pray, pray.
Ephesians 6:18 – “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.”
That’s Ephesians 6:18.
As you pray for this church, please write down a prayer or two, or a dozen or two, on a form like this and drop them in the box in the hall. The box will be there for several weeks.
I called this sermon “Praying for Jubilee, Part 1” because I hope to preach another sermon on this theme in January, using some of the prayers you have prayed and written on these little forms.
Now from Ephesians 3.
Ephesians 3:18-19 – “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Whether your prayers are grand and expansive or simple hopes for Jubilee dashed off on your way to work, pray. And please write a few of these prayers down even if you aren’t sure they are all that great.
Ephesians 3:14-16 – “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit.”
Every good thing that happens at Jubilee is a result of the work of the Holy Spirit.
So let’s pray. Pray for Jubilee in your Sunday School classes, in times alone with God, in youth group and care groups. Pray at men’s and ladies’ prayer breakfasts. Invite your children to offer prayers for the church and jot down what they say. Every Sunday bring your prayers and drop them in the box on the hall. God has heard them. Maybe we will all get to hear some of them in January.
What do you thank God for about Jubilee? What do you want to ask God for on behalf of all of us? What are your greatest hopes for God’s work in this church?
Like Erin reminded us this morning, when we call on Jesus, all things are possible.
Ephesians 3:20-21- “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.