Paul was in a prison cell. Paul understood isolation. Paul understood something else. Paul knew that even though he was isolated, he was not alone. So he wrote to his beloved friends at the church in Philippi, “I thank my God every time I remember you…”
Today is Sunday. This morning is Sunday morning. It just passed the 8 am hour when our normal Sunday worship services begin, followed by our later service at 10 am. I walked through the sanctuary. It was isolated. It was definitely isolated, although unlike any Sunday I have ever entered the sanctuary as the first one to arrive, there was a light on. There must be some spiritual message in that. On a day of isolation, someone left the light on. I like that.
I was isolated in our sanctuary this morning, but believe me, I was not alone. The seats might have been empty but as I made my way through the pews and glanced at the choir loft, I did not feel alone. Instead, I did what Paul did when he was isolated. I spent my time remembering all of you, our dear family of faith at Dunn’s Corners. As I remembered you, I gave thanks.
I gave thanks for the saints who are no longer with us on this earth, remembering the Sunday Bill Day reached in front of him to help an older woman as she took off her jacket, remembering Walt Shwayka with his warm smile and the twinkle that occupied a permanent place in his eye, remembering Dick Anthes filling our Diamond Worship with his rich voice and vibrant spirit…as I remembered the saints I gave thanks.
I gave thanks for the saints who are with us now. In my mind’s eye I saw your face, your faces. I imagined you entering the doors of God’s house, missing the smiles and hugs and words of greeting, but thankful for the many shared in previous days. I saw you ushering people in with warmth and kindness, I saw you singing in the choir and ringing the bells, I saw you serving communion, I saw you standing to praise God and I saw you bowing your heads to pray to God. I was isolated, but I was not alone.
I gave thanks for the saints who worship in other places, saints from the Pines Presbyterian Church in Houston, saints from California churches we served in Fresno and Fair Oaks. I gave thanks for the First Presbyterian Church in Hanford, California, where I was trained in the ways of the Lord and was able to see men and women live out their faith in a variety of life situations.
You might be isolated this morning. There is much we will miss in these days ahead of us when we all work together to stem the spread of the Coronavirus. You might be isolated this morning. But dear friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, you are not alone.
I encourage you to take some time this morning and remember…remember the saints who have touched your life. Remember the wonderful community of faith we have at Dunn’s Corners. Remember your past, the people who encouraged you and supported you along your journey of faith. Remember the saints who have touched your life and give thanks.
How do we stay connected in a time of isolation? Sometimes we turn to old fashioned ways. Paul was isolated, stuck in prison, so what did he do? He wrote a letter. He wrote a letter to his beloved friends in Philippi. As you give thanks today, as you remember the saints who have touched your life, even in your isolation, you are not alone. Maybe you will do like Paul and write a letter. I hope you do. Remembering beloved friends really is a tremendous blessing. It can lift your spirit and it can fill your heart with joy.
Even in our isolation we can stay connected. Read these words of Paul and know that because of the love of Christ Jesus we are connected, we are a community of faith.
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:3-11