These past few weeks
I’ve been something of an archivist in my own home.
Recently, I moved from an apartment with LOTS of closet space
(these were deep, deep closets,
the kind where you can squirrel away all sorts of things)
to an apartment with almost no closet space.
And this provided the impetus to break open some boxes
that have remained taped firmly closed
for longer than I would care to admit.
The discoveries were nearly archeological.
There were notebooks from college, filled with tidbits of
half developed thoughts and emerging ideas,
along with to-do lists and phone numbers I had scribbled down,
appointments I had made, and reminders to myself.
I was surprised by how poignant
even the most practical scribblings could be.
In one notebook from my first year of college
I had carefully inscribed directions
to the stage entrance of Avery Fisher Hall,
where I took my first New York trombone lesson.
Seeing those instructions to “take the 1/9”
(as it was called then)
“to 66th Street Lincoln Center”
brought back all the jangly nerves of that first lesson.
which I kept while I was doing community organizing work,
planting street trees and building parks in New Haven, Connecticut,
was filled mostly with lists of landscaping supplies:
prices of mulch and details on different species of plants.
But it also contained the names and numbers
of all the folks I had worked with that summer,
names I hadn’t thought about in a long time.
All these slips of paper, these scribblings,
these strata of scraps,
reawakened memories that had lain dormant.
Brought relationships I hadn’t thought about in a while into full relief.
Sometimes it is the most mundane details
that make the past most tangible.
So it is with tonight’s reading.
Paul’s letters are filled with lots of theology --
with lots of words about who God is.
And they’re filled with images
to help a young church grasp a new way of life --
this re-ordered existence that they’ve come to know
through the story of Jesus.
And then there are the bits and pieces like the ones we read tonight.
Little scraps of history
scribbled down on post-it notes
or stuffed between the pages of a book.
Instructions and directions
and individual names,
So practical and mundane,
and so very real.
Paul’s words in this section of the letter
refer to two fellow disciples:
Timothy and Epaphroditus.
The reference to these two followers of Chist
capture something of a larger story,
a story that we’ll never entirely hear.
We only know fragments --
they're almost asides, really:
that Paul’s sending Timothy,
with a very high recommendation,
to be with the church in Philippi -- to pastor them as Paul would.
And that he’s sending Epaphroditus,
a congregant whom the Philippians sent to care for Paul --
back to them,
because Epaphroditus is recovering from an illness --
an illness that almost killed him.
Paul is attending to the day to day.
He’s making sure that the Philippian community has a pastor who will care for them,
and he writes that he knows they’ll be in good hands with Timothy.
I hear a sadness behind his words though.
“I hope therefore to send him as soon as I see how things go with me;
and I trust in the Lord that I will also come soon.”
As soon as I see how things go with me.
There’s a tinge of worry in his voice.
A tinge of something left unspoken.
Because we know that Paul is waiting to hear his sentence.
to see if he will be released,
or put to death,
knowing he might die in prison before either of those things come to pass.
Sending Timothy to be with the Philippians
might mean that he never sees him again --
this fellow worker who has been like a son to him.
And we catch a glimpse of how much Paul is risking.
How much he’s giving up.
Paul is also sending Epaphroditus home to Philippi.
because everyone’s worried about him,
and Paul’s worried too.
“I am the more eager to send him, therefore,”
“in order that you may rejoice at seeing him again,
and that I may be less anxious.”
And with those words,
that I might be less anxious,
I begin to realize that Paul is writing here
not about someone --
some people named Timothy and Epaphroditus --
he’s writing about people he loves.
He loves these men.
And he’s sending them to Philippi
so that they might be well and healthy and whole,
and so that he won’t have to worry quite so much about them.
To us, flipping through the archive of these letters,
written two centuries ago by a man named Paul,
these names, Timothy and Epaphroditus
scribbled in the margins
along with a phone number.
Paul’s audience can seem nameless and faceless --
as if he was writing to the void.
But every time Paul wrote a letter,
he wrote to a congregation of young Christians
who he knew as well as I know each of you in this room.
As he wrote,
he imagined Phoebe, whose oldest son had been ill
or Lydia, whose crops were not good this year.
Every name hummed with meaning,
hummed with the vivacity and fallibility of any human relationship.
Paul loved these people.
These very real, very flawed people.
You can hear it in every word he writes,
but especially in the words we read tonight,
practical and mundane,
and so very real.
My grandfather collected clocks,
and when he died two years ago,
I had asked if I might have one of my favorites,
which stood on the mantle in the dining room.
My parents undertook the work of cleaning out the house,
slowly sifting through the archival materials that had gathered there
over the decades my grandparents
made that place their home.
Last spring, two boxes arrived in the mail,
one large one with the clock nested in packing peanuts,
another smaller one with a pendulum and a key.
I didn’t have a place for the clock to sit in my old apartment,
and I was hoping to move at some point soon,
so I decided to keep everything wrapped up nice and safe in the boxes.
I didn’t open them until yesterday.
After pulling the clock out of its protective packaging,
I set it on the table,
turned it around, and opened the delicate door on the back.
Inside were the fragile clockworks.
As I went to hang the pendulum in the clock,
I noticed a tiny slip of paper tucked inside the hollow body.
I pulled it out.
March 22, 1984,
Burton Troy Scott.
And I burst into tears.
Holding that fragment of history in my hands,
that most ordinary slip of paper
recording the most mundane of tasks,
time seemed to collapse in on itself
to a March day in 1984
when my grandfather,
smelling of soap and engine oil
had cleaned and oiled a clock in Memphis.
And I was four years old,
wearing overalls over a sweater
and a thousand miles away from him.
That piece of him,
that fragment of his life,
now all dust and ashes,
brought him into sharp relief.
He was suddenly as real as could be,
there with me in my apartment in Brooklyn in 2012.
Holding that ordinary slip of paper
I knew how fiercely he loved me.
The church is made of people.
There are some who we remember
with sudden poignant clarity.
Others whose names are known only by God.
Whether they feel close or far off,
we are connected to each of them.
And we are connected through the most ordinary, mundane,
everyday sorts of things.
Through bread and wine.
Through scraps and fragments of everyday life
that through grace,
are abruptly imbued
with the ferocity of God’s love for us.
And through God’s love,
the ferocity of our love for one another.
Paul may write from his prison cell
about a lot of ideas.
A lot of theology of who God is and what God is doing.
But all of it, all of it, is rooted in the knowledge
that Phoebe's oldest son is sick
and Lydia’s crop was not good this year.
All of it is rooted in relationships that are steeped in hardship
and imbued with love.
We share the sermon at St. Lydia’s. And so I invite you to reflect in silence and then, if you feel moved, to share a story that’s been sparked for you by the text.