During Ordinary Time this year, I will be reading and meditating on Eugene Peterson’s new book, As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God. This book captures sermons from Peterson’s twenty-nine years as a pastor in Bel Air, Maryland (where I happened to graduate from high school).
I have always learned and benefited from Eugene Peterson’s teaching about pastoral theology — how to live and serve as a pastoral presence in people’s lives. Now, this summer, I will take the place of a parishioner and hear, through this book, his teaching on how to live a fully human life in Christ.
The book is organized according to the biblical canon and some of its main teachers. In this volume, we have sermons from Peterson sharing what he has learned by walking in company with Moses, David, Isaiah, Solomon, and the apostles Peter, Paul, and John.
We begin today with an excerpt from a sermon on Paul’s letter to the Philippians. This is Eugene Peterson’s perspective on the verse that has often been used as a Christian cliché: “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). I think you will see that Pastor Peterson’s comments are anything but trite. He forgoes banal spiritual bromides and advocates for true maturity and depth when considering the meaning of this scriptural sentence.
Starting next week, we will have a weekly Bible study during Ordinary Time on the epistle to the Philippians. Consider this a bit of an introduction and foretaste.
All…documents a solid maturity. “I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (4:11-13).
In our vernacular, Paul has been around the block a few times. He has been up and he has been down. He is a veteran. He is solidly mature. There are surprises that neither adversity nor success could deal him. He has visited the extremes. And what he knows is that what God has done within him is far more important and lasting and real than anything that could be done to him from the outside by weather or government or persons.
Immaturity is that in-between innocence and experience, when we think that by changing what we have or whom we are with or where we are, we can change ourselves. Maturity arrives in a way of life that has form and substance developed from our insides and that knows the significant acts are our responses. Christian maturity experiences that responsiveness when shaped and renewed by faith in Christ.
Mature Christians are able to do all things because they know they don’t have to do everything. They acquire strength to live because they don’t have to be anxious and constantly attentive to trivia, and they don’t have to take responsibility for the whole world on their shoulders.
There are a great many things we can do little or nothing about. The weather is out of our hands. Other people’s emotions are out of our hands. The economy is out of our hands. Mostly we have to live with what families or our bodies or our government hands to us. But there is one enormous difference that is in our hands: we can offer up the center of our lives to the great revealed action of God’s love for us. We can discover that each of us is an absolutely unique individual. We can cultivate the vitality and centering of life that develops out of risking our lives in a relationship with God.
When we do that, we find Paul’s statement neither extravagant nor fanciful: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (verse 13, NKJV).