As you know, over the next few weeks, I’ll be providing some sermons that don’t go along with the liturgy, and I do appreciate your indulgence for my class. I’ll make sure to post links to reflections that pertain to the liturgy or sermons from Karen on the web site, so you won’t miss out.
Today, we’ll be discussing the passage in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Chapter 2, beginning at Verse 5:
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 Father.
Paul is pointing out here that Christ emptied himself of his Divine status, of wisdom and power that He could have exercised, in order to lower his status to that of a servant, a slave – the lowest position in society. He set aside His Divine prerogatives and incarnated Himself as man. This didn’t deny His deity in any way, but rather, gave us an example that Paul held out to the church at Philippi to emulate.
Now if you’re like me, that’s a really intimidating example. Christ, in serving mankind, prepared by praying, studying and being baptized. He healed the sick, fed the hungry and preached the gospel. He selected people to learn from Him, so that His ministry for God would continue long after He was gone, training them for the day when they would take over for Him. He gave them clear instructions with the Great Commission, and He had them practice, sending them out two by two, while He was still there to supervise. Then He sacrificed His very life for entire world, taking our sins onto His shoulders to reconcile them with God and prepare a place for us when we choose to follow Him.
The thing is, if you allow yourself to be completely overwhelmed with Christ’s example, you’ll never be able to follow Him. But if you choose to follow Him, then start small. Choose one thing.
For instance, you might choose to prepare yourself, as Christ did, through prayer. There was a young man who had gone to Wednesday night Bible Study. His Pastor had shared about listening to God and obeying the Lord’s voice. The young man couldn’t help but wonder, “Does God still speak to people?” After service he went out with some friends for coffee and pie and they discussed the message. Several people talked about how God had led them in different ways.
It was just after 10:00 when the young man started driving home. Sitting in his car, he just began to pray, “God, if you still speak to people speak to me. I will listen. I will do my best to obey.
As he drove down the main street of his town, he had the strangest thought to stop and buy a gallon of milk. He shook his head and said out loud, “God is that you?” He didn’t get a reply and started on toward home. But again, he thought, buy a gallon of milk. The young man thought about Samuel and how he didn’t recognize the voice of God, and how little Samuel ran to Eli.
“Okay, God, in case that is you, I will buy the milk.” It didn’t seem like too hard a test of obedience. He could always use the milk. He stopped and purchased the gallon of milk and started off toward home. As he passed 7th Street, he again felt the urge, “Turn down that street.” This is crazy, he thought. It’s my own mind playing tricks on me, and he drove on past the intersection. Again, he felt that he should turn down 7th Street. At the next intersection, he turned back and headed down 7th. Half jokingly, he said out loud, “Okay, God, I will”.
He drove several blocks, when suddenly, he felt like he should stop. He pulled over to the curb and looked around. He was in a semi-commercial area of town. It wasn’t the best but it wasn’t the worst of neighborhoods either. The businesses were closed and most of the houses looked dark like the people were already in bed. Again, he sensed something, “Go and give the milk to the people in the house across the street.” The young man looked at the house. It was dark and it looked like the people were either gone or they were already asleep. He started to open the door and then sat back in the car seat. “Lord, this is insane. Those people are asleep and if I wake them up, they are going to be mad and I will look stupid.”
Again, he felt like he should go and give the milk. Finally, he opened the door, “Okay God, if this is you, I will go to the door and I will give them the milk. If you want me to look like a crazy person, okay. I want to be obedient. I guess that will count for something but if they don’t answer right away, I am out of here.” He walked across the street and rang the bell. He could hear some noise inside. A man’s voice yelled out, “Who is it? What do you want?”
Then the door opened before the young man could get away. The man was standing there in his jeans and T-shirt. He looked like he just got out of bed. He had a strange look on his face and he didn’t seem too happy to have some stranger standing on his doorstep. “What is it?” The young man thrust out the gallon of milk, “Here, I brought this to you.” The man took the milk and rushed down a hallway speaking loudly in Spanish.
Before the young man could leave, from down the hall came a woman carrying the milk toward the kitchen. The man was following her holding a baby. The baby was crying. The man had tears streaming down his face. He began speaking and half-crying, said, “We were just praying. We had some big bills this month and we ran out of money. We didn’t have any milk for our baby. I was just praying and asking God to show me how to get some milk.” His wife, in the kitchen, yelled out, “I asked him to send an Angel with some. Are you an Angel?”
The young man reached into his wallet and pulled out all the money he had on him and put in the man’s hand. He turned and walked back toward his car and the tears were streaming down his face. Now he knew that God still answers prayers.
So in that example, there are several things to focus on. The man made the choice to start listening for God. He prayed, and then trusted that God was guiding him. He humbled himself, knowing that he would look like an idiot, but still trusting that God had a plan, and he was the tool God was using to fix this particular problem, whatever it was.
Now there are many ways to serve, but they mostly fall into three main categories. The example before exemplifies charity – responding to an immediate need or problem. When the fire burned down the apartment building in town, all of the churches got together and responded to the immediate needs of the tenants. We, along with the Methodists, provided vouchers for food, temporary housing and gas. The Baptists used their large spaces to begin gathering and separating clothing and household goods. Many of the community churches provided transportation for the donations coming in from all over town, and taking people to hospitals to visit those that were injured. Still others made sure the firefighters were taken care of.
Advocacy, the second way to serve, emerges from charity in that we work and speak on behalf of others with the goal of changing social or political conditions. The Episcopal Church in Montana has been very active in helping folks get to know people in groups that are typically discriminated against. We’ve got a problem in some areas of Montana with groups that don’t want “their” kind around. And in speaking out, the Episcopal Church itself has been targeted, with St. James in Bozeman just last month being vandalized with images of swastikas on their signs and property. There will be persecution at this level of service, but we have the perfect exemplar who reminds us that the only response worth giving is love. We all know Roxie and Connie, and apparently the vandals chose a weekend when the deaconate school was meeting. St. James covered all of the graffiti within an afternoon with pink hearts carrying words of love. And they recommitted to advocating against racism and bigotry.
The third area of service is justice – working to change systems and processes that create conditions for poverty or limit self-determination. We all have opportunities to work in this area, depending on what our interests are. The diocese and the national church have multiple opportunities for volunteers. You just have to choose what you want to do.
In all things, God provides us with free will. We don’t have to do anything to improve ourselves, serve our churches, our communities, our nation, or the world as a whole. But Paul is asking us to follow in Christ’s footsteps, to fulfill our baptismal vows, to forget about status and being embarrassed or thought of as crazy. He’s asking us to humble ourselves because we love Christ, and to serve God’s creation here on Earth.
That Great Commandment that Christ gave us changes the reason we do things. Laws of the Old Testament were kept out of duty. Christ asks that His laws be kept out of love. And in that love, we provide an example to others.
Aristotle said, “you are what you repeatedly do.” Service ought to be a habit, not an act. Rick Rigsby, the man who wrote “Lessons From a Third-Grade Dropout”, which I highly recommend, by the way, pointed out that his father left the house every morning at 3:45 to go to his job as a cook. When his wife asked him why, he said, “Maybe one of my boys will catch me in the act of excellence.” He wanted his sons to go on in life, and achieve, but to always remember that “you make sure your servant’s towel is bigger than your ego.”
Remember the reason you serve. Remember Christ’s reason for serving. And remember God’s promise that because of Christ’s humility and obedience, “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 Father.”
Let us pray: Father, allow me to serve others with a joyful heart; never keeping score; always giving; never expecting to receive. Allow me to give of myself, to give of my talents and of my goods, to give of my time and of my energy, to give of my heart and of my soul. Help me remember to allow others to give to me when I need a helping hand. Assist me in understanding the needs of others, never criticizing, never demeaning, never scolding, or condemning. You have been so gracious to me, always loving, always forgiving, always restoring; never gloating over my defeats, even when I have been so wrong. Father, keep a condemning spirit far from my heart and further from my lips. Allow me to serve others as You serve, with gentleness, compassion, and tenderness, never diminishing the worth of another, choosing to extend mercy to the brokenhearted, like You have repeatedly shown it to me. Amen.