Of all the churches Paul founded, the Philippians brought him the most joy. It’s no surprise that when they learned Paul was again in prison for the gospel; they sent a man named Epaphroditus to encourage him with money and supplies and friendship as he had so encouraged them with the gospel. Paul was deeply moved by this act of compassion and said so in his letter. We all need encouragement and affirmation. Paul needed it, they needed it, and we need it.
This week my family got to celebrate my parents’ birthdays and their 55+ anniversary. We spent Wednesday at Monte Vista Grove where my folks live in community with other retired Presbyterian pastors and missionaries. Dad and Mom decided that because circumstances kept them from celebrating their 55th wedding anniversary as they had hoped, they were going to bring Hawaii to the Grove and host a Luau in the main meeting room! There were about 150 people present, and what a party it was. To start things off, my brother Scott blew a conch shell in traditional luau fashion. Then we enjoyed a delicious Hawaiian feast. Scott even played the ukulele as our four girls danced a bit of hula for entertainment. After the meal I took the mic, “This afternoon, I am going to try to do the impossible; but then Jesus did say, ‘With God all things are possible.’ I’m talking about hijacking this luau, and doing something that my Dad and Mom expressly told me not to do…and that’s pass the mic. Many of you have expressed your desire to affirm our parents and we’ve got just a few minutes for you to do that in two or three sentences.” I’m happy to say we pulled it off, though Mom did give the “if looks could kill” expression when I pitched the idea to the crowd. In the end, my parents were very good sports. I won’t try to recount all the kind words that were shared, but suffice to say they were beautiful and affirming words that told of 55 years of friendship and decades of shared ministry in the churches where my parents have served. “Dad and Mom,” I said, “Scott and I are proud to be your sons. You introduced us to Jesus and because of the gracious example you gave us, it was easy to believe that everything Jesus said was true. On top of that you introduced us to some of the most wonderful followers of Jesus we have ever met, and many of them are right here in this room. Thank you!” I adjourned the luau with prayer in good Presbyterian fashion, and we ended on time, even with the extra sharing. The next day, we had a big family gathering at our house, and one of the things we did was to present my parents with a notebook filled with love letters from each of us. Grandkids, daughters-in-law, even my Dad’s sister, got to contribute, and each of us read our letters aloud. We got to do something very similar for Lisa’s mom, Loretta, just three weeks ago in Costa Rica. One of the things that our parents have always excelled at is the gift of encouragement. This month was an opportunity for them to receive what they are so wonderful at giving to others. It can be hard to receive praise, especially if you have the gift of giving it. Servants can find it difficult to be served. Yet all of us need encouragement and affirmation on a regular basis. The apostle Paul said of Epaphroditus, “Welcome him then in the Lord with all joy, and honor such people” (29); and in Romans 12:10, Paul urges us to “outdo one another in showing honor.” Who is God calling you to honor or encourage in specific and meaningful ways this week? Bill and Polly and Loretta, we honor you and we give thanks to God for you. Your grace and humility have made it easy to believe that the Jesus you so lovingly shared with us is true!