100th Anniversary of the Dakota-Montana District

A sermon preached on Philippians 1:3-11 by Pastor Michael Johnson at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, SD, on September 20, 2020.


How do you celebrate an anniversary? A nice dinner? A gift? A party? Well, probably depends on the anniversary right? How do we celebrate an anniversary for an entire district of our church body, especially one that stretches 1,200 miles and two countries – not to mention being in the middle of a pandemic?

Why not celebrate by thanking God for the church and the unity he has given us? It doesn’t matter how spread apart we are. Today, the Dakota-Montana District of our church body thanks God for 100 years of grace together. We can thank God much in the same way that Paul thanked God for the Philippians. We thank God for the unity he has given us in faith as a district.

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.” Paul remembers his fellow believers as part of his regular prayer life. Today, we pray for our fellow believers all over our district, just as they are praying for you!

And when Paul remembers his fellow Christians, he thanks God for them. He doesn’t complain about how they so often mess up or the problems they have. More than that, thinking of them gives him joy.

But what gives Paul joy? He says he prays with joy “because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” Paul prays with joy because of the Philippians’ partnership in the gospel. The word translated “partnership” is κοινωνίᾳ. It means “communion” or having a “share in.” In the New Testament, the word κοινωνίᾳ is often used to talk about the bond that we have with God and other Christians through faith. You and I are one in faith. It’s the same word that the Bible uses when it talks about the Lord’s Supper. When you take communion at a church, you’re saying that you have a share in what that church teaches. You have a partnership in their teaching. That’s why we practice member communion here so we know we have that unity together.

Paul says he is thankful for their partnership from the first day until now. I’m sure Paul had many fond memories of Philippi. It was an important Roman colony. There were very few Jews to preach to when he got there. They had started a church preaching down by a river. A woman named Lydia was brought to faith and offered her home to them the entire time they preached there. Maybe you remember how Paul had been arrested for driving a demon out of a young girl and God sent a huge earthquake in the middle of the night and released his bonds. Then Paul used the opportunity to preach to the jailer and his whole family was brought to faith. The Philippians were thankful for God’s Word. They supported Paul financially whenever they could. In fact, that’s why he wrote the book of Philippians to say thank you for a gift they had sent him.

Would that be a pastor’s reaction thinking of all of us? While I’d like to think so, let’s be honest, I don’t need to go back 100 years, I don’t even need to go back a year before I recognize that each and every one of us has a rotten pile of sin we don’t want people to see when they think of us. I certainly have not been thankful with the same humble heart Paul had at all times. In fact, I have found myself jealous of other churches in the past even. Have you always enjoyed that κοινωνίᾳ unity? I’m not even talking about here in church, what about in your home? Do you always feel like you are united or have a share in your marriage? Or have there been times that husbands you did not love your wife with the tenderness and care that Jesus urges you to have for her – always putting her needs first? Or ladies, have there been times that you perhaps did put your children before your husband and made him feel unwanted? Maybe over the stress of the past year we haven’t treated each other with the affection of Christ Jesus. Have you gotten frustrated with someone else’s handling of Covid? Have you found that you treated someone like they should have already had a complete pandemic playbook planned out for this year? Or maybe the stress of this year has tempted me to cope in different ways. Instead of being filled with righteousness like Paul writes, have you filled yourself with some sort of chemical dependency? Has it been easier to find release addicted to things online instead of through your spouse?

No, on our own, there is not much to boast about or to find joy in and of ourselves. Thankfully, Paul did not pray with joy solely because of the Philippians. No, he prayed with joy because “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.” Paul doesn’t say “I thank God because of you and how good you are.  He doesn’t say that he’s confident that the Philippians will continue on the right path they’ve started.  No, Paul knows that the Philippians, left to themselves, could do nothing but fail.  Psalm 51 says “surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”  You and I left to ourselves are dead in the water.  There’s not one thing we can do – we’re born spiritually dead.  A dead person can’t save themselves.  There’s absolutely no room for prideful thinking.  We haven’t attributed to our salvation at all.  It’s a good thing Paul doesn’t focus on us isn’t it?  It’s all about God.  God began a good work in us.  Before the creation of the world, God picked you to come to faith.  Before you were even born won your salvation through the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  God brought you to faith, for many of you while you were just a little baby through the waters of baptism.  He continues to work in you and through you.  He’s invested a lot of time and energy into each and every one of you.  I think it’s safe to say he’s not going to just stop caring all of the sudden and abandon you.  He has done all of the work.  Notice I haven’t even once mentioned anything you’ve done.  There’s also great comfort in the fact that we don’t do anything.  It doesn’t depend on us and our many faults and weaknesses.  God’s done everything for us.

God has begun a good work in us and will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus – the last day.  Sounds a lot like some words from Jesus doesn’t it?  Jesus said “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  No matter what happens in life – pandemics, people you love letting you down, riots, election cycles – no matter what happens God will be there with you – helping you through it – completing the good work of creating faith in your heart.  God doesn’t leave his work half done.  God is going to continue to work in you and support you until you’re in heaven with him.

Because of this, I can pray for you with joy and with confidence. Paul says “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for 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.”  Paul prays with joy because he says “I have you in my heart.”  There’s a hymn in which the lyrics start off “How good, Lord, to be here.”  It is good for Christians to come together in church.  It is good for us to come together and to encourage and strengthen each other and to be encouraged.  You can see you’re not the only one that is here and believes what you believe.  Even though Paul was under house arrest in Rome when he wrote this letter, he longed to be with the Philippians.  He was with them at heart. Even though our district is spread out over a thousand miles, we still enjoy being one in our partnership with Christ and the gospel.

All of this is because of the love of Christ. His love motivated him to come into this world, live, and die for you. God’s love for you brought you to faith in the Word. God’s love continues to care for you in this life. 100 years has been a wonderful blessing for our Dakota-Montana District. It has been wonderful because it has been 100 years of God’s love for you in Jesus. Amen