Thanking God for You

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Introduction

Earlier this week, I was listening to the radio and the song “5 more minutes” by Scotty McCreery came on. The song references moment after moment that we wish could last a little longer. As kids, it’s playing outside with out friends at night. As high schoolers, it’s making that last season of football or drama last just a little longer. When those we love prepare to leave this life and enter glory, we want just five more minutes. I am feeling all those feels today so, honestly, I am just hoping to get through this morning.
Our text this morning comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, but before we dive in let us pray for God’s blessing on the reading of his word.
Prepare our hearts, O God, to hear your Word and obey your will. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Text

Philippians 1:3–11 NIV
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may 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.
L: This is the word of our Lord!
P: Thanks be to God!

Partnership in the Gospel

Paul thanks the Philippians for their partnership in the gospel. The Philippians were not a large church or a wealthy church, but they were generous in supporting Paul in his missionary journey and in giving to those suffering in Jerusalem. They saw the work of Paul as their work, too.
I am so thankful for your partnership in the gospel these last almost 18 years. The first time I ever preached at Zion, it was on a passage in Amos. Someone commented that pastors always bring their best sermon for those days, that it was always a bit of a dog and pony show, I think is the exact quote. Man, I wish that was true for me. I had only preached 12 times in the previous 2 years. I had no greatest hit sermons, not even a decent hit sermon, I just knew I wanted God’s word to guide us so a chose to talk about it from Amos. Thanks for taking a chance on a young pastor who had only preached 12 times in the previous two years and who had never led a funeral or a wedding.
Those first few years, we just tried stuff together. The Consistory went around knocking on doors to see if people even knew where our church was. The answer was “no” the people who lived next to Zion, did not know the name of our church. We invited half the state to our building for our first big give away in 2006. I am still pretty sure I stopped a fight between two very large people, one of whom I am pretty sure was armed. Mostly, from that first year, I remember the smell of our building. It smelled like a middle school locker room even the next day as we gathered for worship. Someone complained to Rick about the smell and he had the best response, “That’s the smell of ministry.” Thank you for consistently putting ministry ahead of a clean or nice smelling building.
Over all these years, you have given me and my family permission to just be people. When I nearly singed my eyebrows off my face in a botched sermon illustration, we could laugh together. When I was completely fried nine years ago, you sent me away on a sabbatical that helped me stay in ministry. Being burnt out didn’t disqualify me from being your pastor, it just meant I was human, too. In the process, you have created a culture which at its best allows people to be human. To make mistakes. To struggle with addictions and longterm problems with no easy answer. To not have all the answers, but just a lot of questions for God. You have made a place for people to be real abut the struggles of life while they try to follow God in the midst of their struggles.
I am also thankful for the leaders of Zion, especially the many Consistories I have worked with. Many times over the years, we have come to a moment where we were faced with a difficult choice with no obvious right or wrong answer. But we had to say “yes” to one thing and “no” to another. The temptation in those moments is to make the choice that will keep as many people in church as happy as possible. But time and time again, your leaders asked, “Which choice will help us reach or connect with more people who have been wounded by church, left the church, or are curious about God?” And then they did the hard thing and chose to prioritize the people who were not yet a part of Zion over the people already here. The chose reaching the one over the preferences of the 99. That is hard and challenging leadership. I am so thankful for the faith filled, mission focused leaders at Zion.
And, you have loved my family well. My kids all serve in the church, enjoy coming to church, and are growing in their love for God. Thank you for being faithful to your baptismal vows.

Have You in My Heart

Paul goes on to he has the Philippians in his heart. Basically, he loves them. They matter to him.
In seminary, they urge new pastors to keep their relationships with the church professional. Care for people. Pastor them well, but don’t have friends in the church. There is a lot of wisdom to this advice because it is hard on friends when your role as the pastor interferes with the friendship. And honestly, it is easier emotionally to keep people in the church at a professional distance. I just suck at it.
I am so proud of you. I am proud of the way you invite kids to lead in our church, not just behind the scenes or in small roles, but in very big up front if something goes wrong everyone will know it ways. I am proud of the way you love our community. I am proud of the way you embrace change and are willing to try new things. I am proud of the way you have chosen to live facing outward to our world rather than inward worried about ourselves. I am proud of Jill Austin for stepping out in faith to lead Threads this past year. Of Rachel Verbrugge for leading Camp Zion all these years. Of some of you parents who were raised to preach judgment, but are learning to speak grace to your kids whose lives are not taking the path you expected. Of Connie for having the courage to love the Myint family and make them her family. Of Matt Eling for speaking hard truths in an environment that does not always welcome challenge or new perspectives. Of a couple chairs of our deacons who stepped into some chaotic situations and brought some hope and peace. I could go on and on today. Seriously, I brag about you all the time to my pastor friends.
All I’m really saying is I love you. And am so honored you have let me be your pastor all these years.

My Prayer

Paul ends with a prayer and I will do the same. My prayer for you is that in this season of transition you will stay focused on our mission: love God, love others, and teach people how to follow Jesus. None of those things require a pastor, so keep doing those things.
Love Pastor Steve well as he joins you for this season. He is truly a great guy and a wonderful pastor. And, whenever God calls your new pastor, love them as you have loved me and my family.
But most of all, my prayer is that you love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may 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.
And now, I would like to invite Rachel Brower up to share a few words.

Rachel’s Thanks

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, may your love abound in each of us more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that we may be able to discern what is best and may 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. Amen,
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