“The High Road”
(From Philippians 4: 1-9)
As I was listening to the Vice-Presidential debates on Wednesday evening, Paul’s admonition to the Philippian Church echoed in my ears in strong contrast to what I was actually hearing and seeing on the debate stage. Particularly, Paul’s words in Chapter 4 verse 8, “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, pure and lovely… if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” were not in sync with the overall tone and content of the debate. Whichever party you favor, I think we can all agree that the politics of our time have become more negative and adversarial than I can recall them in the past. Holding them up to the words of Paul above, I was made painfully aware of the contrast between the values of the world and those of the kingdom of God we have been exploring for several weeks. What was missing in this debate, friends, was the high road.
Paul had an especially close relationship with the Philippian Church, the first church he founded on European soil during his second missionary venture in about the year 49 CE. Philippi was a city in ancient Macedonia, the territory that is today northeastern Greece. It was only about 8 miles from the Aegean Sea, so it was a port city as well as a strategic city along a route connecting Italy and Western territories with Asia Minor and the East. The people living in Philippi were of both Roman and Greek descent, and, as you can imagine of an urban center, had a longstanding tradition of worshipping a variety of deities which included the prevailing emperor. There were also some Jews living in the city of Philippi whose number was not great enough to support establishing a synagogue. They met at a riverside location that Acts 16:13 describes simply as “a place of prayer.” It is there that Paul preached the gospel, converting the Jews he found there to Jesus Christ and baptizing them in his name.
Paul wrote his letter to the Philippian Church to thank them for their generous gift to him, as well as for their ongoing support during his time of imprisonment, likely in the city of Rome. In addition, Paul had several areas of care, concern and encouragement to share with the Church located in Philippi. One such area was to encourage the church to stand firm in the faith he had shared with them, even in the face of persecution and difficult circumstances, just as he had done while he was with them. There were among them a sect Paul referred to as the “Judaizers”. This group of early Christians believed and taught that it was necessary for believers to follow the ancient Jewish rituals of circumcision and Mosaic Laws in order to receive salvation. They were also being harassed by a group known as “antinomians” or “libertines.” This group taught a doctrine of grace that freed people from living according to moral obligations and behaviors such as those found in the Ten Commandments. Paul warned the Church at Philippi against these beliefs and practices, which contradicted the gospel message that he had preached from the beginning of his time with them in Philippi. “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the peace of God will be with you,” Paul proclaimed. He was calling the Philippians to stand firmly on high ground, to take the high road of holy excellence.
Jesus did the same with is Disciples during his time with them at the last supper. The gospel of John recounts how Jesus took a basin and towel and washed each of his Disciple’s feet. After he had done this, he reminded the Disciples that he, as their master, had given them an example to follow. They often argued with one another over which of them was the greatest. In this act of service, Jesus showed them that the one who would be great must be willing to be humble, last, and a servant of all. The one who is willing to lose will win in God’s kingdom, and the one who lords their power over others will, ultimately, be the one to lose. To find and live the kingdom of God, we need to walk along the high road. May we bring the high road into the midst of our daily living—even into the arena of the political campaign rhetoric. Let us see our world anew with spiritual eyes, and let us hear with spiritual ears. Let us put into daily practice the faith we have learned and believed–and, as Paul shared with the Philippian Church, the peace of God will be with you. Amen.
I love you Lord, and I lift my voice—to worship you, O my soul rejoice. Take joy my King in what you hear, may it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear. (“I Love you, Lord”- words and music: Laurie Klein).