Here is a summary of Michael’s sermon A Band of Brothers (& Sisters)
I raised three sons. If you would have come to our house when they were children, you would see battles. Yes, there were sibling conflicts, but those are not the battles I am talking about. You would see re-enactments of World War 1 and 2, the Civil War, Revolutionary War. I guess my proud moment as a father is when I asked my children (who were still young) if they would rather go to Disney World or Gettysburg they chose Gettysburg. They loved documentaries and movies on the subject as well. They were fascinated by the camaraderie that was developed when men worked together to overcome an enemy and endure hardships together. A band of brothers as it is said.
During this Lenten season, I have been encouraging us to meditate and even memorize the book of Philippians together. This is a deep book of fellowship between Paul and the church at Philippi as they endured struggles and persecution for the Gospel of Christ. It is a book where Paul is encouraging the church to act in unity, solidarity, and harmony in their faith. It is a deeply personal letter of fellowship amidst suffering and mutual participation in the Gospel. It reminds me of a letter we would get from our Bishop as he works with us in encouraging Holy Cross to be unified and work together for the advancement of the Kingdom of God in Milwaukee.
In this book, Paul is encouraging the church in Christian unity and to strengthen their resolve in the face of opposition and to restore and nurture harmony and a cooperative spirit. It is an encouragement to continue laboring together alongside Paul to spread the Gospel.
The following are just excerpts, a thread of encouragement we see in the book of Philippians up to the text of the sermon today . . .
- Phil 1:6 – And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
- Phil 1:9-11 – And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
- Phil 1:27 – Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel
- Phil 2:1 – So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
- Phil 2:5-8 – Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
- Phil 2:12 – work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you,
- Phil 3:8 – Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
- Phil 3:13-14 – But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Which brings us to the text of our sermon . . .
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.Philippians 3:17-4:1
Paul here is contrasting two patterns of example/behavior. Those that follow the Gospel and the cross of Christ and those that oppose it. Paul is asking the Philippians to follow his example, not because he is perfect, but because he is striving in the same race they are running in (Phil 1:30). He refers to them as brothers, thus a band of brothers working together, and Paul is encouraging them to follow his lead as they work together in advancing the Gospel.
In contrast, Paul is warning them not to follow the enemies of the cross whose god is their belly. This is an allusion to those that are sensuous and self-centered, which is opposite to the example set before us in the great Christ hymn in Phil 2 where Christ emptied himself to be a servant and suffer. Paul is very emotional in this passage as he references, he is repeating himself and references his tears. He is passionate about this.
He reminds them that their citizenship is in heaven. Philippi was a Roman city and these people were proud of their Roman citizenship. Paul is using this to remind them that their true citizenship is in heaven. We do not trust in the world’s politics, legal system, and wealth. Our trust, our security, our future is in Christ, his work on the cross, and our eternal citizenship in heaven.
Paul concludes with an encouragement to stand firm. This reminds me of a front-line in a battle. In medieval battles, it could be a shield wall. To stand firm and hold the ground together for the Gospel of Christ. A band of brothers (and sisters) working together in camaraderie for a common purpose.
How can we apply this to Holy Cross and our individual lives?
- Our example is Paul and we are to imitate him and others that walk according to the example set forth in Scripture.
- We should remember that our focus is on our citizenship in heaven and not on earthly rewards here on earth.
- We should stand firm together as a Church in unity and solidarity in purpose with deep harmony and love for each other and those around us.
- We should cooperate in the Gospel with our diocese in a common mission and vision of evangelism. Paul is encouraging Philippi just as our Bishop would encourage us in this context.