A Call to Celebration
Grounded in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians
- Divide the group into pairs (make one a threesome, if necessary) and after giving them three minutes ask each person to introduce the other by giving full name, preferred name, and a brief description of how that person celebrates birthdays, anniversaries or other major events in life.
- Decide (1) how to distribute these leaflets to members of the group; (2) who else you will invite to join the group.
- Conduct a play reading, using the script provided. There are 8 characters. If you do not have 8 readers in the group, some will have to double up by reading a second part. Have another person read the stage directions, the part in italics. Don’t try to act it out, just read the parts. Give people a few minutes to read their relevant parts before you get started.
- Read Philippians 1: 1-2 and the accompanying comment.
Philippians 1: 1-2
By strength of faith and personality, Paul was clearly an outstanding leader in the early church, and this letter was written by him as a personal message to one of those congregations which had grown up as a result of his missionary activity. But he included his fellow worker, Timothy, with him in the sending of the letter. In spite of his prominence, his outstanding gifts and his unique role in the founding of the Philippian church, he here shows himself to be a team player. This might well remind us that when we are in leadership positions or busily involved in working on some task to give due recognition to the people working with us. When God calls us to community and co-operation, it is a denial of the Gospel to become so task orientated that we fail to give recognition to the involvement and contribution of others.Paul and Timothy described themselves as slaves of Christ Jesus. Some translations use the word servants instead of slaves, but ‘slave’ carries with it the idea of having been captured by Christ. It also includes with it the idea of being owned by, belonging to Christ Jesus. Paul and Timothy knew themselves to be servants of Christ, but, more than that, they felt as though they had been captured by him. They belonged to him.We are taught to be independent. We like to think of ourselves as being our own person. So the idea of belonging to someone else may seem strange or even offensive. The whole idea of slavery is offensive. However complete independence is a mirage. We constantly come under the influence of others. A person falling in love experiences something like capture. We can be captivated by an ideal or an idea, a vision or a dream. When we are captivated by Jesus, we have a sense of belonging to him. In one sense we are no longer independent, but in another sense we find the truth in George Matheson’s lines, “Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.” Paul and Timothy felt this. So may we today. We symbolize it whenever we eat and drink at Holy Communion.To whom is Paul writing? He doesn’t simply address his letter to the members and pastors of the church in Philippi. Their membership in an organisation is not uppermost in his mind. He addresses them as holy people, saints. Through their relationship with Jesus Christ believers have a holiness which is not of their own making. When we call ourselves Christians we do not mean that we live like Christ in everything we do, say and think, but we indicate the name of the one who inspires us, whose call we seek to follow. Similarly when Christians are called saints it is not meant that they have arrived at perfect goodness and sanctity, but that before God they are treated as having the goodness and sanctity of Jesus and they acknowledge his call upon their lives.From the beginning, some people have been charged with exercising oversight within the community of faith and others have been called to be helpers. Paul used terms like bishops and deacons of these people when writing to the Philippians. Church councils have an oversight task. So too do individuals. To be appointed to any kind of leadership position in the church whether it be as leader of a youth group, musical director, elder, pastor or regional superintendent is to be given an oversight task – a shepherding, guiding, encouraging, guarding and stimulating role.In writing his letters, Paul used the form usually used by letter-writers in his day: state the name of the author, indicate to whom it is addressed, then send greetings in the form of a blessing or prayer. As a servant/slave of Christ, he does not simply send his own greeting, but speaks a blessing in the name of the one whom he serves, and the greatest blessings he can give them is grace and peace from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.There are no greater gifts which we can receive than the grace and peace of God. To be recipients of the generous, undeserved love of God and to know that peace which passes all understanding through our relationship with Jesus Christ is to be truly and wonderfully blessed.For discussion:
1. Paul acknowledged the presence and contribution of Timothy.
(a) How important is it to recognize the presence and contribution being made by fellow workers in the church?
(b) In what way can you acknowledge the presence and contribution being made by others around you?
2. Paul described himself and Timothy as slaves of Christ.
(a) Does the idea of being captured and owned by Christ have any meaningful significance for you?
(b) How does participation in Holy Communion give expression to the idea of belonging to Christ?3. Paul addressed his letter to all the saints in Christ Jesus.
(a) What difference does it make to see people as saints of Christ Jesus rather than simply as members of a church?
(b) How could you encourage the encouragers in your congregation?
4. Paul’s greeting turned into a blessing.
(a) What have you got out of belonging to Christ and to his church?
(b) Write a blessing for your congregation.Pray for your congregation that it may live up to its designation as saints.Pray that all in your congregation may know God’s grace and peacePray for those in leadership within the congregation that they may exercise their oversight with love and with commitment
A Letter from Paul
A play reading
The cast:Syntyche, a middle-aged woman of modest attire;Euodia, the gushing, over-dressed hostess;Lydia, a mature-aged, wealthy, no-nonsense, business woman;Old Man, rough in his appearance, an ex-prisoner;Jewish Man, young, serious, devout;Slave Girl, gypsy-like in appearance, looks older that her twenty yearsClement, a distinguished-looking man who carries himself with confidenceEpaphroditus, pale, drawn, tired, almost haggard in appearance.
The scene is set in the atrium of a large house built in the Roman style. It is open to the blue skies above, but is pleasantly cool in the late afternoon shade. This coolness is accentuated by a small fish pond set in the middle of the terracotta paving. The backdrop is formed by a column of marble pillars behind which a row of doorways can be seen leading each to a small bedroom. There is a marble bench seat and several wooden stools to the right of the fish pond. At one end of this atrium (stage left) a corridor links the area to the street, at the other end (stage right) a doorway leads into the family’s dining room.Syntyche emerges from the corridor, left, through which she has just walked in from the street, and enviously looks around at the luxurious surroundings, shakng her head as she does so. Euodia hastens in from the doorway on the right.
Euodia: Ah, Syntyche, its so good of you to come.
Syntyche: Of course I’d come. I’m just as much a member of the church council as you are.
Euodia: Welcome to my house, darling. Yes, I know it’s a bit bigger than your appartment, but you’ve no idea what it costs in upkeep.
Syntyche: Don’t darling me, Euodia! Just because you have the biggest house you think you own us. You think it’s your church.
Euodia: That’s not true, Synthche, and you know it. But I did give more for Paul’s present than anyone else in the group.Lydia arrives.
Lydia: You two aren’t quarrelling again, are you ?
Syntyche: She’s too uppity for me.
Lydia: That’s enough! We’re all sisters together here.
Euodia: She’s just jealous because she hasn’t got a house big enough for the church to meet in.
Syntyche: It would have been big enough for a meeting of the overseers and deacons.Euodia: But then we would have had to come back here for the love feast and the breaking of bread with the rest of the congregation. You know we couldn’t all fit in your little flat.
Lydia: If there’s going to be all this fuss, we’d better start meeting back at my place.An elderly man arrives in from the street followed immediately by a younger man with a distinctly Jewish appearance.
Old Man: Where’s Epaphroditus? Is he here yet?
Lydia: He’s on his way. He’s very tired after the journey. He’s not completely recovered from his illness, you know.
Old Man: What did he have to say about Paul? How are they treating him? I know he’s under guard, but are they giving him a fair go? You know I was a prisoner with him on the night of the earthquake. When all the doors flew open, but no one escaped. Where’s Silvanus these day?
Jewish Man: You mean Silas?
Old Man: Same thing.
Jewish Man: He’s back in Jerusalem. I received a letter from him recently. I wrote to him about women in leadership. I still have difficulty accepting it. But he wrote back saying that in Christ there is neither male nor female, neither slave nor free, neither Jew nor Gentile. He got that from Paul. But I don’t know. I still have difficulty accepting that Gentiles can just take over the heritage of the Jewish people without being circumcised or having to keep the Law. It seems too easy.
Lydia: Not you too! I keep hearing that sort of talk from my Jewish neighbours. I thought the whole business of our relationship with Judaism had been resolved at the Jerusalem Council.
Old Man: It’s not only the Jews who are against us. Everyone is against us.
Lydia: We miss our old friend, the jailer and his family, they were great in the defence of the Gospel. I hear that they have started a church in that place to which he was transferred.
Old Man: You couldn’t keep him quiet. He’d be talking about Jesus to everyone he met.The slave girl rushes in.
Slave Girl: He’s coming. I just passed Epaphroditus in the street. He’s with Clement.
Euodia: What are you doing here? You’re not a member of the church council. You’re neither an overseer nor a deacon. You’re not good enough for that. You have to be a real Christian to be a member of the council. You’ve slipped too many times. Out you go!
Slave Girl: Oh please let me stay. I just want to hear the letter from Paul.
Lydia: Don’t be hard on the girl. If it weren’t for the miracle God worked in her life none of us would be here today.Clement and Epaphroditus arrive and the slave girl slides quietly into the background. Epaphroditus carries a metal cylinder in his hand.
Clement: (Clears his throat) Right-o, everyone! Settle down. Epaphroditus is here with a letter from Paul. Get him a stool. He’s not feeling well. I know he’s come in for a bit of criticism because he didn’t stay longer with Paul. I know, because I voiced that criticism as loudly as anybody. We sent him to serve Paul during his imprisonment. But he’s here now, and he comes with Paul’s blessing. So let’s listen to what our friend Paul has to say.
Epaphroditus: (Noting the small number of people there. ) The letter is meant for the whole congregation.
Euodia: The rest are coming later. We, the leaders, need to hear it first.
Epaphroditus: (Sitting down on the stool which has been offered to him) All right, so long as it is read to the whole congregation later, just as it is, not leaving out any bits that you don’t like.
Clement: Right-o, Epaphroditus. Will you read it, or do you want me to read it for you?(Epaphroditus extracts a rolled piece of parchment from the cyclinder, unravels it and starts to read.)