Philippians 2:1-13If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Creator.
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; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for God's good pleasure.
Let's take a moment to think about the words we just heard. Paul was writing a letter to the church at Philippi. In our society, we have many other forms of communication- and letters, especially hand written ones, are in short supply, mostly because they are one of the least efficient ways of getting a message to someone. Usually if we take the time to write an actually snail mail letter to someone, along with birthday or greeting cards, we want the person's attention. If what we want to say is important enough to send an actual physical letter, and wait the 1-3 days for it to be delivered, it's most likely something near and dear to our hearts.
In Paul's time, communication mediums were limited- letters were the thing- and it took 1-3 weeks or even months to get delivered. something else that is important to know is that most of the people Paul was writing to, couldn't read. So when Paul or anyone would write a letter to a community, in this case a church, the letter was meant to be read out loud.
Does anyone listen to audio books? It's a very different experience having someone read a book to you than reading it yourself. The listener finds herself at the mercy of the narrator for inflection and for interpretation. I'm going through some of the classics i missed growing up and recently listened to Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. Though the narrator had Jane's voice pure and almost defiant, “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” the narrator made everyone else sound as if they were scolding and admonishing each other- even the man she loves: "But, Jane, I summon you as my wife: it is you only I intend to marry." Mr. Rochester couldn't have talked like that, or young Jane never would have fallen for him. But the narrator had an image of what each character may have been feeling, and used that in her choice of voices.
Now, when you apply that to Paul's letters, recognize that we are reading it centuries later, interpreting it through our modern experiences, it's important to note that we each bring our own perception of God into the reading. If we see God as a watchful character who punishes and rewards according to what we do and think, we will read today's passage as something of a warning. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus... work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;
Sadly many of us might think of God that way. And the reason is not just that we may have been taught God is, but also because many of us, when we think of who God is and how God feels, think of the way we are, and how we would act in a situation. We think, sure, God is better than we are, but like us, God surely has a limited amount of patience with us- as we do with most things. God forgives, sure, but exactly how many times is 70 x7... cause I must be at my limit by now.
I'm sure that's why most of Paul's letters to people and congregations he met, remind the readers of his own behavior, and Paul's own relationship with God, how God changed Paul's life and thinking about who God was, and what kind of a God he had given his life to. Paul had his world turned upside down by God showing him Jesus Christ. That through the example and teachings of Jesus, watching Jesus's compassion for others, advocacy for others, healing and forgiveness of others, Paul was able to meet a God he had never known. And the more he understood God, and the more God revealed to him, the more joyful he became, because he found a god that didn't have any of the human failings or punitive personality flaws that we do.
Paul found a God of pure love, who wants the best for us, and for creation. And Paul was so joyful about that, he couldn't help living in that knowledge- he became and imitator of Christ for the glory of God! And so in these letters to various churches, you'll see him calling the people to do the same- to allow God to reveal a new way, the way of Jesus, to each other them, and to live accordingly. And over and over in these letters to the churches he calls them to 2 things: Unity and Community.
Unity, that they be as much as possible in the mind of Christ- the live as Jesus did, humble and obedient to God, so obedient, Paul says, that it got him killed. That's pretty scary to most of us- that we would stand up for the rights of others, while not considering ourselves better than those we advocate for-that we don't worry about what people will think of us or our standing in society- our upwardly mobile career track isn't the focus- equity and fairness is... unity, that we stand with others to the point of putting their needs before ours. Recognizing the God who lives in us is in 'them" too- equally distributed, I might add.
It reminds me of a song from the Musical "The Book of Mormon: where Elder Price gets his call to ministry, and he's so thriled to be going out to mission to change the world- and he sings to his best friend : Now it's our time to go outAnd set the world's people free And we can do it together You and me, But mostly me!
Somehow we get to thinking that there is a spiritual hierarchy in the kin-dom of God. But all of us have the same spirit, all of us the same purpose- to imitate our leader in knowing that the least of these are a part of us.
And then Paul talks about community- it's where and how our acknowledgement of unity plays out. the very word comm-unity means "with/in unity" . It's where we show our love, compassion and caring for one another. It's why the church was formed- because you can't follow the teachings of Jesus by yourself. We need other people, flawed as we all might be, to make change happen. And I believe the reason Paul talked about community so often is because it's so difficult to maintain! I'ts so hard to live with an among other people- and have people upset you, and disappoint you, and hurt you and still stay in community with them, still have to LOVE them. UGH! What about the ones I can't stand? What about the ones who make my skin crawl? Yeah- us too... You expected me to say, them, right? I know.... the thing is, all of us make somebody's skin crawl- there are plenty of people who cant stand me, or you, or you...
It's why I'm always amazed that the Christian church has survived all of these centuries. All of us trying desperately to figure out a way for all of us to get along- for all of us to function as one body of Christ, each with a different role or gift, all of us trying to find our place, and not knock each other over in the process. Community is hard work. Everyone sitting around a common table, sharing this great amazing we call grace, and shouting pass the potatoes, and "no, dont put ketchup on that I hate ketchup on corn' and realizing your best friend took the last dinner roll, and sometimes you have to eat lima beans... but we all eat off each other plates and the food and conversation, somehow, never runs out. And somewhere in there, we still all come to worship on Sunday mornings, wherever we choose to go, and continue to attempt to make our lives more reflective of the loving spirit within us... There is a God...
I'm sorry, did you hear what I said "there is a God."
Look around this room and you can't help but know, there is a God. And whatever image you may impose on that God, whatever way you may project the God may love like you or I love, know this- that God's ways re higher than our ways, God's thoughts higher than our thoughts. We don't have to try to understand the mind of God- we only have to acknowledge that God is at work in you, and you, and me- and that there is, no matter how you feel about the people you are sitting next to, a call and a responsibility to stay in community in unity with one another.
And that notion may not be popular. We live in a very have it your way society. But it is the way of our God. You have a place in the kin-dom of God- you have a place at FBC Moorestown- you have a place in Christ. Or in the words of Jane Eyre:
“If all the world hated you and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved of you and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.” Worldwide communion