“Is there any North Star toward which your life navigates? For Paul the Apostle it was the words ‘For to me, to live is Christ,’ ” said the Rev. Joel C. Gregory at the 9:15 a.m. Wednesday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. His sermon title was “It’s About Time: Waiting in the Desert” and his Scripture was Philippians 1:12-21.
There are some people who are known by their initials, he said. T.R., Teddy Roosevelt; F.D.R., Franklin D. Roosevelt; MLK, Martin Luther King, Jr.; J.F.K., John F. Kennedy.
There are other celebrities with one name, Gregory said. Lebron (James).
“No one asks, ‘Lebron who?’ ” he said.
Paul the Apostle was a “one-thing” person for Christ, Gregory said.
“Some people say that, ‘For me to live is church,’ but the church is filled with folks like us, like the driver of a gas delivery truck who ran out of gas while delivering gas,” he said. “There is a mysticism to live in Christ. The air floats around us but the air in a piston is concentrated. The water in Lake Mead runs deep and slow but concentrated in a small area it can become power.”
What happens to a person who is a one-thing person? First, that person sees disappointment transformed. Paul wanted to stop in Rome and then go on and found the church in Spain. But his situation was incarceration, and he wanted the Philippians to know that his imprisonment had furthered the Gospel.
“If I was ever in jail for my faith, the first sentence of the first chapter of my letter would be, ‘Get me out,’ ” Gregory said. “Paul never said that.”
It is salutary, he said, to look at what some people wrote in prison. When Hitler was imprisoned, he wrote Mein Kampf, and at least 200 people died for every word in it. Martin Luther King Jr. went to jail and wrote “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote Letters and Papers from Prison, and John Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress.
“You can put a person in jail, but you can’t put the jail in the person,” Gregory said.
Paul was able to transform his disappoint because his life had a larger purpose.
“People come to me and say, ‘But you don’t understand my situation,’ ” Gregory said. “All God’s children have a situation. The question is whether it is transformed or not.”
According to the pastor, the composer Dmitri Shostakovich wanted to join the defense forces in Petrograd (Saint Petersburg) during World War II. The authorities decided he was needed as a composer, but they gave him a job as fire warden at the music conservatory. He wrote his Symphony No. 5 while Petrograd was being bombed. He would write, go out to extinguish a fire, then return to composing.
A one-thing person can overcome difficult relationships, Gregory said. There were people preaching right outside Paul’s cell who seemed to want to make him chafe. Their mistake, Gregory said, was they thought Paul was small, but Paul thought, “ ‘What is that to me? They are naming the name of Jesus.’ The answer to things that gnaw on us is to lift them up to the atmosphere of singularity. The formula for misery is to wear your feelings on your sleeve.”
Peace, poise and purpose come from raising frustrations up to the atmosphere of singularity, the pastor said.
“The grace of the relatives of the Charleston 9 in saying ‘We forgive you’ is an example of what comes from the habitual, higher, singular purpose,” Gregory said.
A singular purpose also helps people face an uncertain future.
Paul faced an uncertain future for at least four years. He wanted to be with Christ but would stay in this world so that there would be more fruit from his labor.
“He was Hamlet in reverse,” Gregory said. “Hamlet’s soliloquy presents two bad choices: To be and face the mess in the palace, or not to be with death and judgment. For Paul to say, ‘To live is Christ and to die is gain,’ gave him peace in uncertainty.”
And when Paul stood on the celestial shore and felt the familiar hand of Jesus on his shoulder, he knew that indeed, it was good to be a one-thing person, Gregory said to conclude the sermon.
The Rev. George Wirth presided. Peter Dawson, fire service chaplain and a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Jamestown, read the Scripture. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship, directed the Chautauqua Choir. The Choir sang “Rejoice in the Lord alway” by Henry Purcell, with text from Philippians 4: 4-7. The Jackson-Carnahan Memorial Chaplaincy and the Geraldine M. and Frank E. McElree, Jr. Chaplaincy Fund support this week’s services.