By Michael Smith
A Reading from Philippians 2:12-30
12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
14 Do all things without murmuring and arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. 16 It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you — 18 and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me. 19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you. 20 I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But Timothy’s worth you know, how like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him as soon as I see how things go with me; 24 and I trust in the Lord that I will also come soon. 25 Still, I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus — my brother and co-worker and fellow soldier, your messenger and minister to my need; 26 for he has been longing for all of you, and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 He was indeed so ill that he nearly died. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, so that I would not have one sorrow after another. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, in order that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 Welcome him then in the Lord with all joy, and honor such people, 30 because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for those services that you could not give me.
Between the time we come to faith in Christ and the time we are called from life in this world through death, this is when we “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling.” In other words, it is the time God has given us to live out our lives of obedience to the Holy One.
Today the Church commemorates the “Martyrs of Memphis.” Among them were monastics of the Community of St. Mary who had been invited by the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee to establish a school adjacent to the cathedral and a home for post-Civil War orphans. As these endeavors began, however, the city of Memphis was visited by an epidemic of the Yellow Fever which killed thousands and caused thousands more to flee. In a scene reminiscent of 9/11, when police, firefighters, and other first responders ran toward the danger, ignoring the danger to themselves, the Sisters of St. Mary changed course and adapted to the new situation by becoming nurses to assist the suffering masses in their midst. Their selfless actions cost many of them their lives.
While we may not be called to risk our lives in the face of deadly diseases or to run into burning buildings for the sake of rescue, some are. In whatever way we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, remember that “it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
(It has recently been a blessing for me to meet the spiritual descendants of the Community of St. Mary at their convent in Greenwich, New York. The charism of their foremothers lives through them. May their tribe increase!)
Michael G. Smith served as bishop of North Dakota for fifteen years and is currently the Assistant Bishop of Dallas. He works with the Navajoland Iona Collaborative and is a Benedictine Oblate and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Community of St. Mary, Greenwich, N.Y.
The Diocese of Southern Ohio
The Diocese of Esan (Church of Nigeria)