We live in apocalyptic times. Or at least, that is the perception. People are concerned that something is happening. Something big. I hear it in all sides of the political aisle. Those on the left are apocalyptically concerned about the existential danger of climate change - Ottawa just declared a climate emergency. They say that we have 12 years to do something about this all or it all explodes. People on the right are apocalyptically concerned about the breakdown of society’s institutions, such as family and the rule of law. People in the middle are apocalyptically concerned about the increasing polarization between the right and the left and the disintegration of dialogue and the rise of totalitarianism on the right or the left. The church is facing apocalyptic-level persecution. As we gathered for worship last week on Easter Sunday, believers in Sri Lanka were crawling out of the ruins of 8 bombings that left over 300 dead and many more wounded at the hands of Islamic radicals. I heard this week a report that Christians are now the more harassed minority group in the world, suffering harassment in 144 countries. So left, right, centre and non-political, the perspective is, that we live in apocalyptic times. If I only heard these things being pushed in the media, I might write it off as click bait from a money-grabbing sensationalistic press. But I hear people in coffee shops speaking about it. Neighbours in conversation saying things like, it just seems like something big is about to happen. Anxiety is epidemic in this apocalyptic age. We’re on edge. Always on edge.
We’re starting today a new series in the book of Philippians. The Philippians were an anxious church. They were anxious not about global warming or internet censorship, but their anxiety stemmed from one particular circumstance, the arrest, detaining and potential execution of their friend and spiritual guide, the apostle Paul, who had started the church about ten years before his current imprisonment. The church at Philippi was desperate to gain any information of what might be the outcome of Paul’s trial, and so they had sent on of their own, Epaphroditus to Paul to aid and assist him and bring back news of Paul’s outlook. Upon coming to Paul, Epaphroditus became deathly ill, delaying his return, and now the Philippians had another thing to worry about, his health and well-being.
If anyone had reason to be on edge, it would be the apostle Paul. He after all was the one in chains, the one awaiting word on whether his sentence would come back, live or die. While he awaits word of his execution, Paul writes a letter to the Philippians, and it’s a perplexing letter. Instead of asking for prayer for his condition, Paul prays for the Philippians in their condition. Instead of being a letter ridden with anxiety, it is an epistle of joy. 16 times in four short chapter Paul speaks of joy, or rejoicing. Philippians: the epistle of joy in the face of apocalypse.
These themes are introduced to us in the first 11 verses of chapter 11, which includes Paul’s thankful, joyful prayer for the Philippian church.