Proper 22 2020
There is something so powerful about this book of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi.
He is unveiling himself disposing of what used to be looking forward with zeal to what will be. Paul is caught between the ‘then’ and the ‘now’ in what he considers to be
a glorious predicament. His world has been turned upside down as has the world Jesus describes. What was good is now evil and it’s all because of changed affections.
Paul’s affections have shifted so dramatically we wonder at how he could let that happen. The simple answer is Jesus. For this Paul, has not only changed his name
from Saul, his very heart has been changed as well. And I think we very much need to listen to him in the time in which we live. Our affections, I would believe, have changed as well. Being social has changed to being more solitary. Going out and about for shopping or dining, has changed to becoming far more home oriented. Our own world has turned upside down and we have no idea when any sense or normalcy will occur.
Which may not be such a bad thing after all.
The Scottish preacher, Thomas Chalmers, preached a sermon entitled ‘The Expulsive Power of a New Affection’ . In that sermon he described how to attain a new affection,
something more worthy than the old one. And he used this passage from Philippians
as an example for a new affection unseating the old and unworthy one. Paul has experienced something so excellent in the person of Jesus all that he used to hold dear has been superseded by Jesus.
Paul writes to this church in Philippi after he has left that city to recall to them his ministry among them which was actually pretty short. Paul and his partner in ministry, Silas, were accused of creating a ruckus among the Jews, beaten severely, thrown into prison awaiting trial, possibly death. In the middle of the night these two prisoners
began signing hymns of praise to God. Their faith was so powerful it opened the prison doors and released them into the care of the guard. Needless to say, they left that city fairly soon afterwards but with enough time to encourage the house church. And Paul writes to this church from his prison cell in Rome in such a way as to set their affections in the same direction as his. What was behind has been left in the dust, as if it was thrown out as garbage. His focus is now in gaining Christ Jesus to know him in such a deep way all else is not worth his attention. This is a heart knowledge like the love one has for a child or a treasured family member. And we can only attain that kind of knowledge that Paul describes by being so in love with Jesus all else seems petty.
It’s all about what has our attention and our affection to the point of changing our hearts.
To read this passage as has been written by someone whose life has changed so dramatically is to have our own lives changed. This is to become more and more like Jesus, to leave behind all pretense of being a ‘good’ person because it is now Jesus who lives within usand guides our affections and our very lives.
When we visited Italy two years ago one of the last stops was in a small chapel in Rome. There in an altar niche is a piece of artwork so evocative of affection it captures the viewer. The statue is of Teresa of Avila, one of God’s great women of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Spain. Carved by the sculptor Bernini it is a statue of a nun, eyes lidded, head thrown back. To her side is a smiling angel with a spear in hand,
gently lifting the cloth of the nun’s habit getting ready to pierce her heart. This is a vision of Teresa’s of being so enflamed with the love of God it was her sole focus in her life. With that love she changed the Carmelite order from a very socially focused club with the rich to an order of the ‘descalced’ or shoeless ones. Poor and rich now came to be part of this order all focused on a life given to Jesus. We are not like Teresa who was a nun and a saint. But we can be like her, like Paul, so focused on Jesus all of our affections can be directed toward him and that is what will change our lives. Amen.