Listen to this week's Sermon below
"Letter from Prison 1"
September 20th, 2020
(Rev Canon Malcolm Convery)
(Readings from Philippians 1:12-30 and Matthew 20:1-16)
Click to read HERE
Paul had this to say when he wrote to the Christians in Phillippi:
'I want you to know brothers and sisters, that the things that have happened to me
have really helped progress the gospel'
What has happened to Paul that has led to the spread of the gospel?
Well in this particular case he is in prison in Rome for his faith,
waiting to see whether he will be released or put to death.
This is Paul's 3rd spell in prison. At this point in time he is probably in his 60s and has been in the ministry for about 30 years. You would think Paul would be weary, fearful and feeling helpless in that situation. Far from it! Paul is still passionate about sharing the gospel and seeing people come to faith. He is greatly concerned for the Christians in Philippi, where he had established a church some years ago. The church had started down by the river, where people gathered for prayer, among them a woman called Lydia, a trader in purple cloth. On hearing the gospel message Lydia was baptised and held meetings in her home,
there being no church building at the time.
Paul sees the positive side of his imprisonment.
He tells us that he has been able to speak to the prison guards about his faith.
You may remember on a previous occasion when he was in prison with Silas for driving out a spirit in a girl who predicted the future and earned money for owners.
On that occasion God miraculously opened the prison doors!
The jailer was petrified at their pending escape for he would lose his life,
but Paul shared the gospel with him and he and his whole family became Christians.
Paul was an opportunist!
This reminded me of a vicar in Liverpool who saw the visit of the bin men as an opportunity to talk about Jesus and how He could move the rubbish out of our lives!
I don't know whether we'd be a brave enough to do that with our bin men!
I wonder when we are finding life difficult for one reason or another do we think about our own predicament or do we see it as an opportunity to say something about our faith?
I once knew a lady who was my landlady in Sheffield when I was a student. When she became housebound she came across a prayer about being house-bound and lonely.
She had copies printed on cards and sent to friends who lived alone.
I have heard of people in hospital who were given a small handheld wooden cross and passed it on to someone else with a word as to why it help them.
Or perhaps you have received a booklet on bereavement and when finished with,
you passed it onto someone.
Opportunities arise, not only for Paul, but even for us in difficult circumstances,
to offer a snippet of our faith and make a difference to someone's life.
Paul is also aware of the impact of his imprisonment on the lives of those outside the prison.
He tells us they have more confidence in the Lord and are bolder in preaching the gospel because of the example Paul sets.
Even in prison the Lord uses Paul, as indeed He can us, even when things are not going well.
Being in prison meant Paul had time on his hands,
time to think, time to reflect on what God was doing.
At this particular time, his thoughts were with the Christians of Philippi whom he held deeply in in his heart and his prayers. He was able to write to them.
His prison letters included Philippians, Colossians and Philemon.
We've had time on her hands during lockdown. How have we used that time?
Perhaps we have spent time in the garden or we have telephoned friends or if not self isolating, doing shopping for someone.
Did we have more time for prayer, reading our bibles, listening to the radio or online services? Have our priorities changed?
In his imprisonment Paul was able to reflect on where he had reached in his spiritual life.
He reached a point of tension where he was being pulled in two directions.
Here he was perhaps nearing the end of his ministry, not sure whether he would live or die and he writes:
'Whether I live or die, I will honour Christ.'
and he goes on to say
'I want very much to leave this life and be with Christ but for your sake (that is the Philippians)
it is much more important that I remain alive.'
Indeed, Paul is looking forward to returning to Philippi for the 4th time
and no doubt the Christians there longed for his return.
Those of us who have been in the Church a long time
and are well past retirement age are still of value.
We can pray, we can offer words of encouragement, carry out small acts of kindness.
With Jesus in our hearts, we can make a difference.
Let the love and joy of Jesus flow through our lives, as it did through Paul's life.
Despite being written in prison Philippians is Paul's most joyful letter!
Thinking of small acts of kindness, I came across the story of a preacher in the United States.
He was due to speak in a park to 5000 people. He decided to visit the site the day before,
when he saw a man sitting on a bench in the park smoking a cigar. He casually greeted him,
'How are you?' The man seemed to to mumble no clear answer, but the preacher was moved to engage the man in conversation. The man told his story -
that his wife was ravished with cancer and dying, but she did not know it.
Here this big, strong man, with no inner resources to face his crisis, trembled with fear and tears flowed freely down his cheeks. He said he had no one to talk to, no one with whom to share. The preacher and his wife were able to comfort him, share the gospel and pray with him.
Writing about this experience, the preacher said:
'On that weekend, I remember more about that man than the preaching to the 5000.'
Paul continues his letter by addressing the members of the congregation directly. He writes:
'Now the important thing is that your way of life should be as the gospel of Christ requires.'
People will observe our behaviour before listening to our words and when they know we are a Christian will judge us more critically. How we conduct ourselves is very important.
Fortunately, when we believe and commit ourselves to following Jesus, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, which produces the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Those Christ like qualities of
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self control.
Paul goes on to say that we are in a battle, fighting together, for the faith of the gospel.
He urges us to stand firm and be united in our stand.
Paul knew that he was in a battle. Jesus knew he was in a battle.
Both faced opposition from the beginning of their ministries.
We don't have to look far to see the power of evil in the world and its destructive effect on lives and society. We are reminded of this every time we pray:
'Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil'
It is easy to be sucked into a Godless life and we are called to be alert to such a thing happening. We may not feel we are in a battle like Jesus and Paul faced, for we live in a part of the world where we are not persecuted for our faith or living in fear of our lives,
but the hymn we sing reminds us that we are in a battle:
'Fight the good fight with all thy might
Christ is thy strength
and Christ thy right,
Lay hold on life and it shall be
thy joy and crown eternally.'
We may need to remember that Christ is with us in the battle and as Paul reminds us:
'Don't be afraid of your enemies,
always be courageous and this will prove to them that they will lose
and that you will win,
because it is God who gives you the victory.'
We are likely to face opposition when we speak out against such issues as injustice, abortion, climate change etc. Often the Christian view is opposed to the world view
and that is when the battle lines are drawn.
Paul tells us we have been given the privilege of serving Christ
and indeed it is a priceless privilege.
He says we have been given the privilege, not only by believing in him,
but also by suffering for him.
Suffering for our faith is part and parcel of the Christian life.
Finally, let's be encouraged by Jesus words in the beatitudes:
'Blessed are you, when people insult you, persecute you
and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad,
because great as your reward in heaven
for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.'