The following is a reflection on Philippians 1:21-30, the Epistle lesson appointed for September 18th, 2011 according to the New Revised Common Lectionary. (Proper 19, Year A) On this site there is also
• a reflection on the Gospel Lesson for the same day, and
• a version of the Prayers of the People, based on the lessons of the day.
“And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well.”
I’m struck by two things here. First, obviously, the notion of suffering as privilege is borderline crazy-talk. I mean don’t we as a culture do everything we possibly can to avoid suffering? Don’t we as a culture lower the bar on suffering, claiming that even the most trite inconveniences are tantamount to agony?
(I came upon this realization last week, where I caught myself being appalled that the local Starbucks was closed after the Hurricane-Irene disaster. Of course, I then went back to my air conditioned home, turned on my HDTV and watched homes and entire towns be washed away…In the scope of things, how bad was it that I had to make my own latte?)
The second thing which strikes me here is that suffering seems to be given higher rank here than belief.
And, this is Paul!
But, it’s not that suffering is something altogether different than belief to Paul, it’s that it’s the next logical step. For Paul, belief leads to the kind of living that is so out-of-step with everyone else around you, that pretty soon you’re going to end up being a threat.
And, when you’re a threat, other people dependent on maintaining the status quo are going to start making things difficult for you.
Or, they’ll drive you and your religion underground.
What Paul is saying here is that God granted the Children of God in Philippi the privilege of having a faith that was so deep and broad that it threatened the status quo of the ruling elite of Phillipi.
And having that kind of faith is a privilege.
This section of the first chapter of this great letter from St. Paul is giving me pause to wonder about the kind of faith I have. The kind of faith that I’m living. The kind of faith that I’m modeling for others, and preaching to the congregation I’ve been called to serve.
Am I living, and praying, and serving in my community with a kind of faith that challenges the prevailing world order? Am I a champion for the faith that Paul preached, that Jesus preached, and which Jesus demonstrated on the cross?
Or, am I, and my faith, too safe? Too bland?
Is my faith a privilege granted to me by the God of Good Friday?
I fear the answers to those questions. Questions which must be regularly asked.