October 1, 2023, Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost. Sermon preached by Rev. Carolyn H. Eklund

Year A; Proper 21; 10.1.2023, The Rector’s Retirement Sermon                

Philippians 2:1-13

[Act out Acts 16 – Paul, Silas, Timothy meet Lydia and her household at the River near Philippi.

Props:  1.purple shawl, two other scarves

            2.Name tags: “PAUL” “SILAS” “TIMOTHY”

            3.Blue streamers for river water.

            We are the faith community called St. Paul’s. For over 175 years we have been a body of Christ in ministry and mission. We are named after the apostle who wrote 13 Letters found in the bible; 13 or more. He wrote to the faith communities he founded.

How many of you are familiar with the musical, “Hamilton?” Then you know the song, “Why do you write like you’re running out of time? Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” THAT’S the kind of prolific writing Paul carried on with his communities. He had LOTS of Good News of Jesus to tell them. He constantly wrote about the joy, faith, hope and love of Jesus.

            One of the most beloved communities he founded was in the Roman military city of Philippi. Philippi was located in Macedonia in northern Greece. We have an idea of how Paul founded a Christian community in that city from a story in the Book of Acts. I love that Cliff, our Senior Warden talked about these very stories yesterday at the retirement reception!

Chapter 16 tells the story of Paul and his side-kicks Timothy and Silas who arrived in Philippi and needed to find a place to pray on the Sabbath. There was no synagogue since it was a Roman military city. So they went to the river nearby. Acts tells us this, “We went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place to pray. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there.”

            The women were Lydia who was a successful merchant of purple cloth and her household. It’s a wonderful story that I want us to act out this morning because it’s a story of baptism and joy and the founding of the Christian community in Philippi.

So! I’m looking for volunteers to help me tell the story. All ages are welcome to join in!

ASK:   Who will play the River?  [distribute blue satin streamers]

ASK:   Who will play Paul, Timothy and Silas? [distribute name tags; give “Paul” the shell ]

ASK:   Who wants to be Lydia? She was a successful merchant of purple cloth, and two others to play her household.

[distribute the scarves, and put players in their places. “River” on center of Chancel step; Paul, Timothy and Silas to my left. Lydia, et al, on the right]

Paul, Timothy and Silas, came to the river on the Sabbath to pray. [they act out praying; the river moves their streamers]

            Already, there were women there praying. One woman named Lydia was there with her household praying to a god that they did not know. Paul came up to her and introduced himself.

By the way, who remembers when members of St. Paul’s went out into the town of Brunswick to get to know our neighbors? We called it “Living Local: Joining God in the neighborhood.” Well, that’s what Paul was doing – he was “living local: joining God in the neighborhood” of Philippi, to find out what God was up to there.

            Anyway, Paul spoke to the women at the river and told them how much God loves them and that there was a man called Jesus who was God’s son and that God sent Jesus to show the people just HOW MUCH God loves them. He told them how this Jesus humbled himself on the cross and died, then God raised him to make the profound point that God’s love is transformative and it’s for all people for ever.

            Paul pointed to the river. He talked about how baptism with water is the symbol that Jesus gave all the people to teach them about faith, hope, love and living as a body of Christ.

            Lydia stepped forward and said, “I want this love. Please baptize me and my household. You MUST stay with us for a while and preach to the rest of my friends.” She really commanded them to stay and wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer!”

And that’s how the Christian community was founded in Philippi. The good news of God’s love spread to Lydia’s friends and neighbors.

[They players return to their seats.]

            Much later, Paul was put in prison. His love and joy for the Philippians was so deep that he wrote them from prison one of the most loving letters of all his letters. That’s the Letter to the Philippians we heard today in the first reading.

Listen to these loving words he wrote:

            “If 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.”

            During my sabbatical trip two years ago to Greece, my travel companion, retired Episcopal priest Janice Chalaron and I visited the ruins of Philippi. Janice is here today, celebrating my retirement with us.

Down the hill from the ruins of Philippi was that same river where Paul, Timothy and Silas met Lydia and her household. Currently, there is an area on the banks of the river set aside for baptism. Janice and I stopped there, stood by the river, opened our electronic prayer books and renewed our Baptismal Covenant together.

            Tears were in our eyes as we felt united with promises that might have been similar to the words Paul said over Lydia that day. Baptism is one of the Sacraments Jesus gave to us and that the Apostle Paul passed on to initiate new people into the faith community, the Church. His Letter to the Philippians, EVEN from prison, is full of joy, and it encourages the Philippians to be united in joy and of the same mind of Christ. Today, it encourages us to be the same.

            Joy and unity are the themes of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. What better themes are there for St. Paul’s, Brunswick, Maine in your time of transition?

            I have one more prop. This one is for all of us. I have the outline of a hand, one for each of us. The hand is the symbol of unity. We can imagine that the hand reaches to each other in connection. Or it is raised high in unity or to give a “high five!” The hand reaches to connect with loved ones and those in need. The hand folds with the other hand to pray. The hand receives the Eucharist, something our hands were forbidden to receive in the Pandemic for the danger of infection.

Right now, many hands in St. Paul’s are preparing for the annual Christmas Fair after which your hands give out all the proceeds to your non-profit partners. We welcome you to worship, partners! After worship today, you can reach out your hand to greet them and learn more about what their outreach objectives are.

            [distribute copies of hands] Are there volunteers to distribute these hands? Take your hand and write something on it: maybe “love, joy, unity.” I’ll share with you what I wrote on mine: I wrote “Baptism” on the pointer finger. Then I wrote, “St. Paul’s, Brunswick, Maine means Love, Joy, Unity, Faith, mercy and Generosity, where I spent the BEST TEN YEARS OF MY LIFE.” Thank you!