SERMON TITLE: “What Can We Do?”
SERMON TEXT: Philippians 3:2-14
PREACHER: Rev. Kim James
OCCASION: November 12, 2017, at First UMC—Veterans’ Sunday
I don’t know about you, but this week has felt weird to me. At the very same time that we’ve been honoring our veterans for their service to our country, we’ve been saddened and angered that a former airman killed 26 people in a Baptist Church last Sunday. At the same time that we have rallied in support of the various branches of the military which keep us safe, we have this profound sense of vulnerability, that maybe we’ll never be safe—not in the workplace, not in school, not in the public square, not even in church.
Because we aren’t in agreement about how to prevent these acts of violence, or even about what causes them to occur, it seems like we just wring our hands again, pray again for the wounded and grieving, and once again feel impotent to do anything about it. Because last Sunday’s shooting happened in a church, this one’s been harder for me to put out of my mind. Early in the week I found myself talking with some of our Trustees about a safety plan for our church. If something terrible like that happened here, would we be prepared? How would we manage the emergency?
Apparently I wasn’t the only church leader asking these questions. Midweek, I received an email link to an article titled, “Churches and Gun Violence: 7 Practical Preparation Tips.” The seven tips came “from Rev. Derrek Belase, a former certified police officer turned pastor, with two degrees in criminology . . . Derrek believes that you can’t completely prevent gun violence from erupting, even with the best laid plans or the best legislation.” But he did give seven fairly simple and practical ideas that included the importance of establishing relationships with first responders, training ushers to be more alert, and being mindful of the church building. Suggestion number six was to avoid expensive security plans that that would “ratchet up [both] expectations and fears.” Then the final item on his list was to focus on what we’re here to do: worship God, preach the gospel, give people hope, provide opportunities for spiritual growth, and reach out in mission to the community and the world.1 The bottom line was that, while there’s no absolute way to prevent violence or guarantee our survival, there are a number of important things we people of faith can do to improve our quantity and quality of life.
That positive note connects us to our scripture reading from Philippians, a letter the Apostle Paul wrote under threat to his life. He had been imprisoned for preaching about Christ. Yet, somehow—in spite of that state of punishment, limitation, and deprivation—Paul was able to write an amazingly joyful, thankful, and optimistic letter. Let’s dig into chapter four and discover Paul’s answers to the question, “In the face of adversity, what can we do?”