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Interfaith Thanksgiving Service Sermon

“All Ways”
Philippians 4:1-9
The Reverend Sharon K. Core
General Presbyter
Presbytery of the Western Reserve

Always is often used in moments of exaggeration. It always rains when we go to the beach. I always get stopped at this traffic light. She always talks about her dog.
Always is often used in communicating manners. Always chew with your mouth closed. Always say “thank you.” Always be courteous.
Always is often used in instilling values. Always think kindly of others. Always consider another person's  point of view. Always treat people with compassion.
Always is often used to note every time. Christmas is always December 25. Labor Day is always the first Monday of September. The Supreme Court always begins its new term the first Monday in October.
Always-- no matter how you define it or how you use it, Always is always is always. Period. Now and forever.
Paul is a man of always. In many of his greetings to the churches, he always gives thanks to God for the people, for their commitment to the gospel, for their support of him.
He always gives thanks to God for those who support him and join him in his ministry.
He always rejoices in the fellowship he has with the churches and in the relationship he has with God.
In this letter, Paul urges the Philippians to be people of always.
And for them, it may not be as easy as it is for Paul.
Philippi, while geographically distant  from Rome, saw itself as a "little Rome": a place where a Roman citizen could feel at home and where many expressions of Roman culture were present.
Former Roman soldiers and other Roman citizens settled in Philippi and as a result, the city became a blend of older Greek and newer Roman practices.
Of the 50 thousand or so people who lived in Philippi, around 50 would have identified themselves as members of the church addressed by Paul's letter.
Philippi, proud of itself as a little Rome— official, patriotic, suspicious of any persons or movements  not aligned and loyal to Caesar, made life difficult for the disciples of Jesus.
In this letter Paul writes to the Philippian church, he seeks to bolster their allegiance to Christ in the face of the prevailing lordship of Caesar.
It is not Caesar the Philippians are called to imitate; it is the Lord Jesus Christ.
The church is founded on the witness of Christ, on the hope of the gospel, on the promise of God.
The church is not a creation of the state or the servant of Caesar.
The church, the ekklesia, is called out to be an alternative society in the midst of the culture.
The church, the ekklesia,is called to live a life infused and guided by God's radical nature of love, compassion and justice.
And it is to this God that Paul urges the Philippians to rejoice in always.
Such rejoicing calls for public witness and such public witness in their day and time was a dangerous witness.
They were under great pressure to assimilate not only to the cultural mores, but to the religious ones as well.
Failure to fit-in resulted in charges of civil disobedience with the consequence of beatings and imprisonment.
This new group of believers called to be God's people in this time and place are under pressure from those around them to conform.
And yet, and in spite of the political climate, Paul calls them to rejoice in the Lord always.
In the midst of opposition, they are not to hide or apologize for their existence.
Those who are a part of the faith community are called to live in such a way that all of life is to be informed and guided by the gospel of Christ.
As we gather this Tuesday before Thanksgiving,we gather as people of many faiths.
And we gather as people of the one God known and worshipped in many forms.
I take comfort and courage from our gathering here as I believe it is incumbent upon us to put into practice
the same thing Paul was encouraging of the Philippians.  
In our own traditions, guided by our own holy words, we too are challenged to give witness to what we believe
and the ways our traditions teach us that as people of faith, we are alternative people; we do not conform to the mores of society or the current political landscape.
We are people who have been created by a gracious and generous God, a God who calls us to live life infused and guided by God’s radical nature of love, compassion, and justice.  
It seems we are living in a time where opinions and actions not aligned or loyal to the current national leadership
are viewed as suspicious and ones to be derided.
Views and actions in support of compassion, kindness, fairness, and justice are belittled and bullied.
It almost makes speaking out, speaking up, and advocating for the vulnerable and poor something to be avoided.
And yet, as Paul reminds the people of Phillipi, it is not the current state we are called to imitate--we are called to imitate the God who has made each one of us.
Our belief in and witness to the Divine is not a creation of the state or the President or Senators or Representatives.
We are called to be an alternative society-- one which holds forth the value of each human being, the integrity of truth, the ethos of compassion and kindness.
In all the ways we live, we live as God’s people-- Ones who are given the Divine mandate of whatever is true, 
whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, 
if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, in all ways we are to always live and witness with this in mind.
In spite of the political climate, Paul calls the Phillipians to rejoice in the Lord always.
In the midst of opposition, they are not to hide or apologize for their existence.
And it is the same for us--we who are guided by our belief in and witness to the Divine, may we in all ways always speak the truth and live with compassion.