Sunday 15 October 2023
Year A: 19th Sunday after Trinity (Proper 22)
Liturgical Colour: Green
- Exodus 32:1-14
- Psalm 106:1-6
- Philippians 4:1-9
- Matthew 22:1-14
This and the past three Sundays have taken us through parts of the eleventh book of the New Testament, Philippians. Fans of ancient history (and perhaps Shakespeare and Carry on films!) will know that Philippi was a very significant city. It was conquered and renamed around 356-7BC by Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great. By 168BC it was a fortified roman city. Then in 42BC it was the site of the battles and eventual victory of Marc Anthony and Octavian over Brutus and Cassius, the main assassins of Julius Caesar. In 31BC Octavian then defeated Marc Anthony at Actium and eventually, in 27BC, became the single supreme ruler of Rome, Emperor Augustus. He gave Philippi Italian legal status and by the time St Paul arrived there on his second missionary journey, its residents enjoyed great prosperity and privilege.
These included Lydia, a merchant of purple cloth, who became one of Paul’s first converts there (Acts 16.14). Lydia was clearly a respected and well-to-do business woman. She opened her home to the emerging church and effectively became the leader of the very first church plant in Europe!
One of the key themes in Philippians is koinonia, pronounced ‘coin-no-nee-a’. It appears in Phil 1.5,7; 2.1; 3.10; and 4.14-15 where it is translated variously as ‘sharing in the Gospel’, ‘sharing in God’s grace’, ‘sharing in the spirit’, ‘sharing in [Christ’s] sufferings’, ‘sharing in [Paul’s] distress’ and sharing ‘in the matter of giving and receiving’. Some have suggested that koinonia sums up Paul’s definition of Christian friendship. It implies a deep sort of cooperation and mutual interdependence in working for the Kingdom combined with a reciprocity of goodwill that goes far beyond the social conventions of the day, and a shared awareness of, concern for, and solidarity with the other. All of this is set and held within the shared fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
In our passage this morning Paul is urging two other women leaders of the church in Philippi, Euodia and Syntyche, who appear to be in disagreement, to ‘be of the same mind in the Lord’ (Phil 4.2) and asking the recipient/s of the letter to help them in that (Phil 4.3).
Very little is said about the nature of their disagreement. Nor about whether their unity should be based upon actual agreement about a particular subject, or, remaining in fellowship whilst they debated. However, the Greek (τὸ αὐτὸ φρονεῖν), meaning go about things with wisdom, suggests the latter. Perhaps prudence was particularly needed given the history of the soil!
Fellowship based upon koinonia suggests the kind of hospitality and belonging that perhaps many yearn for in a world that can seem so individualistic, competitive and uncertain. Sometimes when I go into a church I can feel an almost tangible sense of warmth and welcome; as if the very stones themselves have absorbed many years of goodness and wholeness and can expand to enfold anyone who enters.
That welcome doesn’t have to be there already though; we can create it.
I was privileged to attend a morning at Rotherham Minster recently about the Renew Wellbeing spaces that are being opened by some local churches based upon the thinking and experience of Ruth Rice. Whether buying into that movement is something that is right for your church or not, I cannot say.
However, the ideas and principles behind it are really good, and close to Lydia’s example of opening up her home to be a space of welcome and sharing.
What might something like this look like in your parish?