Relationships: Life’s Crowning Joy

Relationships:  Life’s Crowning Joy

October 15th, 2017


Philippians 4:1‑9

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.  I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind n the Lord.  Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my coworkers, whose names are in the book of life.  Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone.  The Lord is near.  Do not worry about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let you requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Progress is not always progressive.  I say this as I consider all of the ways in which it has become more difficult to do business face to face with a person.  ATM’s were predicted to do away with bank tellers altogether.  Some businesses have phone numbers but no address where you can find a person, and when you call their phone number you get an automated telephone system with a menu that rarely includes the business you want to conduct.  It’s hard to make human connections.

Even when these high tech procedures function efficiently, they leave us with a huge void in our lives where there used to be human interactions.  I don’t know about you, but somehow I’ve never been convinced that the gas pump really means it when it tells me, “Thank you, have a good day.”

Paul, grateful for his friends, calls them his “joy and crown.”  That’s pretty high praise and suggests the high value Paul placed on his relationships.

When the Bible defines God as “love,” and defines us as created in God’s image, the Bible is tipping us off to something extremely important. “Love” means “relationships.” God made us to be in relationship.

I do a lot of reading in the field of quantum mechanics and most recently quantum gravity.  While I don’t understand all of it, my clear impression is that we are learning that relationships may be even more fundamental to the universe than the particles  of which the cosmos is made.


The whole notion of Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit, describes a God in and of relationships.  God made us to be in relationship.

Our relationships with church members can be among the best of our relationships. It was his relationships with his fellow believers in Philippi that Paul referred to as his joy and crown.

The congregation is our family of choice.  It’s not the perfect family.  Every church family bears the same idiosyncrasies and eccentricities that occur in any family.  Jesus teaches us that family is not a matter of who shares the same chromosomes or who has the same last name, but who serves the same God.  Not who lives in the same house but who lives in the same faith.

Our church family relationships are very important.  However, you and I can miss out on those relationships if we are not actively attending to them.  We foster relationships in the church in the same ways we would nurture relationships anywhere else.

We build relationships by regular participation in the life of the congregation.  We participate in work and worship with our friends.  In worship we celebrate our relationship with God and with one another.

It was when I was in college that I discovered that friends didn’t just happen.  And it was no longer play that brought us together.  We made friends by working together and by studying together and eating together.  In the church, as we work together in committees relationships are built.  As we study together relationships are built.  Whether we eat potluck casseroles or the body of Christ in communion, relationships are built and maintained.

Relationships are built and we become family together.  That’s just one of several reasons why we need our committees and study groups to meet regularly.  In part it’s about doing the work of building relationships.

When we study together on Wednesday evenings, or the choirs gather, a lot more is going on than talk about the Bible or how to sing a particular phrase.  Relationships are built.  Singing creates strong bonds of fellowship.  Which is why I sing even when I shouldn’t.

And Jesus wasn’t just playing around when he instituted a sacrament that involved eating and drinking.  Eating together creates relationships.  You and I think we are feeding our bodies.  What we’re really doing is feeding relationships, maintaining relationships.  The relationships we build in the church can become our joy and our crown.\

In addition, our relationships with people, especially our relationships with people in the church, are the model for our relationship with God.  When you and I learn to love people, we are also learning how to love God.  Now you can think about it the other way around if you must—that how you relate to God is the model for your relationship with others.  While it works both ways, our relationships with other people are more concrete in our experience.

Through that concrete experience, you and I learn to relate to the people and things that we see so that we might better relate to God whom we do not see.  As we learn to relate to God, all of our relationships are elevated.  Our relationships with other people are seen as precious.  Even how we experience our relationship with one who would be the enemy is transformed.  We relate to the creation differently.  We may learn that even the stones which we toss out of our vegetable gardens are proclaiming the glory of God.

All of these relationships with God, with people, with animals and objects, these relationships can become our joy and our crown.

So you aren’t so sure about your relationship with that stone you tossed out of the garden, the one I said was proclaiming the glory of God.  I tell you our relationship with things is as important to us as our relationship with people and with God.

I once owned a small aluminum boat for fishing.  I spent more time moving that boat around the yard for mowing than I spent moving it around the water for fishing.  That boat was running a portion of my life.  My relationship with that boat was greatly improved when I sold it.

There are times in life when it is important to consider our relationship with the things we say we own.  Too often it is the thing that owns us

Rabbi Harold Kushner writes: “I was sitting on a beach one summer day, watching two children, a boy and a girl, playing in the sand. They were hard at work, by the water’s edge, building an elaborate sand castle with gates and towers and moats and internal passages. Just when they had nearly finished their project, a big wave came along and knocked it down, reducing it to a heap of wet sand. I expected the children to burst into tears, devastated by what had happened to all their hard work. But they surprised me. Instead, they ran up the shore away from the water, laughing and holding hands, and sat down to build another castle. I realized that they had taught me an important lesson. All the things in our lives, all the complicated structures we spend so much time and energy creating, are built on sand. Only our relationships to other people endure. Sooner or later, the wave will come along and knock down what we have worked so hard to build up. When that happens, only the person who has somebody’s hand to hold will be able to laugh.”      ‑‑Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, quoted in Kindred Spirits:  Meditations on Family and Friends, eds. Claudia Karabaic Sargent and Peg Street (Viking Studio Books, 1995).

Paul delighted in the relationships he established and maintained throughout his far‑flung ministry. Even while he was under house arrest, far away from those he cared about, he was comforted by the mere thought of these brothers and sisters. They were his “joy and crown.” Despite the fact that Paul was always on the road, that he had no place to call “home,” that he sometimes went years between seeing or hearing about those whom he called “friend,” the apostle still rejoiced in all his personal relationships and was strengthened and nurtured by them.

What prevents us from having the kind of relationships Paul celebrates?

Hurry, the rush of our schedules, can cause us to commit one of the greatest possible sins against our neighbors‑‑ignoring them. It is hard to be where we are when we think we should be somewhere else.  It is hard to attend to the person in front of us when we are anxious to be somewhere else.  Good relationships do not submit to schedules.  They take time.

Worry damages our capacity to make meaningful relationships with others. Worry spirals all our attention inward, focusing our energies only on ourselves and our own concerns.

It is next to impossible to genuinely connect with another human being when our minds are a thousand miles away. Being present for the other is a minimum daily requirement for establishing relationships.

A third impediment to relationships I will call slurry.  Slurry is the stuff that clogs your drains and backs up the toilet.  Slurry is the stuff that clogs up our lives and clouds our vision, making it impossible for us to see further than the tiny world of our own concerns and needs. The muck and madness that just normally infiltrate daily life can keep us from lifting up our eyes and experiencing the presence of the divine in the face of the neighbor.

In some churches the pastor will admonish you to collect gems to wear in your heavenly crown.  I think more like this:

A man was visiting in Rustin, Louisiana where he complimented a woman, on her jewelry. She smiled and said, “Thank you. I collect gems.” The man said, “It shows.”

“No,” she insisted. “I don’t collect those gems. I collect real ‘gems’‑‑I have a gem of a husband, a gem of a daughter, a gem of a friend, a gem of a pastor. Those are the real ‘gems’ I invest in.”

How is your gem collection doing? Who are the gems in your “crown of joy?”


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