We started with this YoutTube video…
If you can get your mind back to the beginning of that video, I wonder if you can relate to the kind of day that guy was having: mostly petty stuff; one inconvenience after another. Annoying things like the skateboarding kid, traffic, parking space, a long line to get his decaf macchiato. Everybody here has had those moments (except maybe having to wait for the decaf macchiato!).
And I know that you are one of those people he begins to see once he puts on the magic glasses. When someone asks you how you are, what do you usually say? Fine. I’m fine. Really, I’m okay. But we all know better. You are recovering.
Chances are, you came in here this morning needing something. A word, a smile, and okay, maybe a hug. That’s why I like saying, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” (common UCC quote)
You can have a new beginning, and it can happen right now. A simple yes to God is all it takes. “God, I am yours; Jesus, you are my Lord and I give myself to you.” A prayer of surrender and your soul can begin to heal now.
Our God is all about new beginnings and that’s what we’ve been looking at this month. God’s people have escaped slavery in Egypt with a lot of God’s help and God continues to help them on a long journey to the Promised Land.
This morning, we’re going to look at how God leads us through faith in Jesus today. Listen closely to this reading and let it teach you.
Philippians 2:1-13. If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
12Therefore, 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; 13for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
I learned an interesting little piece of language this summer during our mission team’s week in the Dominican Republic. I have a very disjointed grasp of Spanish; I can do the basics pretty well, but communication can become challenging very quickly. I would ask, “Como estas?” How are you? Most people treat that question the same way we do. “Muy bien.” Very well. But sometimes someone would say, “En la lucha.” It’s another common way to respond to that question. It means, “In the struggle.” Not having an easy time right now. It strikes me as being a bit more honest, especially if it’s the truth! So we say it around our house a lot now. En la lucha. At any given time, any of us and all of us are en la lucha (practice saying it!).
You are the church. How many times have you heard that? The ancient translation of church is “assembly.” The people who come together to be followers of Christ. The building is just a convenience. That’s chapter 1 in a course we could call Church 101. When the Apostle Paul was writing to the Philippians, he would have sent his letter to someone in the church and found it a strange idea that any church would have a street address.
Buildings were not something that early church concerned themselves with. For a number of reasons, they did not have that luxury. They needed to meet in each other’s houses, so early Christians were much more focused on relationships – and how God’s presence in Christ was creating new kinds of relationships among believers. God was creating a new way to live with God, and a new way to live with each other. The church is….
“built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Paul was trying to get believers minds away from buildings and on to relationships.
God builds the church. God keeps the church maintained. Want a healthy church? Keep Jesus at center. It’s about the relationships, but I kind of like the picture of God the builder, a guy in a flannel shirt, canvas overalls, and work boots, walking into the church (us), looking around, pulling out some plans, looks around some more, and says to himself, “Hmmm. Got some work to do here.”
It’s an episode of This Old Church, like the PBS show “This Old House.” He measures (us), goes into his shop to use some tools nobody else has, and after some shop noises, some glue, nails, a few whacks with a hammer, we’re perfect!
It’s a kind of a fun picture, but Paul’s situation is pretty serious. From house arrest in Rome, the Apostle Paul is writing to the new Christian church in Philippi, which is on the northeastern coast of Greece.
Paul is closing in on the end of his life, not from illness or anything we would consider natural. He is in Roman custody and there are many people who want him dead. He probably knows it’s only a matter of time. He’s older, so he’s more mellow, but his words have a different kind of importance. He’s a little clearer. A little more to the point. More apt to say what needs to be said. Concisely.
I’m picturing a well-to-do group of Romans who have gathered, probably in someone’s house, to hear the latest word from Paul. Someone begins to read…
5Let the same mind be in you that was* in Christ Jesus, (then quoting what scholars think was the earliest Christian hymn ever recorded…)
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Philippi is a Roman colony in northwestern Greece near the coast, a place where Roman army officers might go to retire. For its time, it would have been an upper middle class place to be. Wealthy. Upscale. Romans – be like Jesus, who humbled himself to the point of death on a what? A cross. The ultimate humility. The ultimate humiliation! How do I “have this same mind?”
Shocking! When the Philippian Romans heard this message, what did they do with it? Were they asking, “How, exactly, can we look to the interests of others?” That probably was not something they were accustomed to thinking. God needed to do some strong, revolutionary work in these people. Did some new idea spring into someone’s mind right then? Were some of them thinking about slaves in the church, or women, or beggars outside the door?
These Romans would have been people who knew what crucifixion was all about. There may have been someone in the room who had helped facilitate crucifixions! More than that, the one writing these words is Paul, a prisoner of Romans, writing to Romans, the killers of Jesus. He has learned to love his enemies, which may be the one of the best definitions of humility there is. That is exactly what Jesus does on the cross. Yes, it was Jesus who said, to follow me, you must pick up your own cross.
This is why we talk about the new beginning of faith as a surrender, an emptying. A surrender, an emptying of yourself so that you can be filled with God.
Paul said, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend…” We claim that we’ve bowed our knee to God here on earth. We pray every week, “Thy will be done…” But all of us can point to patterns and habits and attitudes in our life where we’re not honoring Christ as we should. To have the mind of Christ means to look continually for areas that need to be brought into submission before God. To preface every decision we make as a church by asking God, “God is this what you want? In what area of our life do we need to bend a knee to Christ?
Paul said, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (v. 12) This is a partnership between God and God’s people. God is at work in us, and we’re to work on that partnershipt with God. God didn’t create us to be robots; we are partners together with God in our spiritual growth. A good partnership takes open, honest communication and a willingness to follow. Then the Spirit of God living in you gets your eyes off of yourself so that you can see the other people whom God loves.
The full ones feed the hungry ones. Those with water give a cup to the thirsty ones. Those with faith find a way to encourage those who are going through an empty place right now. We are sensitive to issues of injustice, willing to do something that makes a difference. We are all “en la lucha” together.
A couple of months ago, some church leaders asked me to describe my vision for the church. It’s a challenging question, and the answer didn’t just trip off my tongue. And I thought it would be easy. So I’m putting on a pair of “See Clearly” glasses. My vision? It’s starting to look something like this:
I know that these just look like church meals, but they are way more than that. This is us having fellowship and inviting the neighborhood to be part of it. A lot of new people have been coming and most of them don’t live very far from this building. (Our monthly free community breakfasts began in February, 2014)
We are taking St. Paul’s to the streets. By now you know that we have a Farm Show food stand. And we are having a Make a Difference Celebration Dinner on Saturday, November 1 at the Farm Show Exhibition Hall (Manheim, PA). It’s shaping up to be a fun evening when we can celebrate all the things God has been doing with us and share all of it with the neighborhood. It’s another chance to share Christ with the neighborhood.
What we are doing is invitational ministry. To cut to the chase, it is a statistical truth that many of the “mainline” churches that are growing these days are the ones that reach out to their community and intentionally invite the neighborhood in.
You know those rubber bracelets people have been wearing for a few years? One of the first was WWJD. What Would Jesus Do? I think God might wear a bracelet that says WWYD. What Will You Do?
What will you do? You have an opportunity every day to represent God and our church to the people where you work, the people you go to school with, the people you live with. What will you do?
How about your vision for the church? Like any remodeling project, there are things we love about our church, things God has done that we don’t want to touch; things that need some fixing; and things we aren’t doing that we want to do. We’re all in it together. What will you do? WWYD.
What’s your vision for us, God? We need to be asking you. What’s your vision? God, you are able to do miracles in people’s lives. You are able to heal, you are able bring peace. We believe; help our unbelief. Give us the courage, and the willingness, and the circumstances to step out for you. Take away our fear of commitment. Help us communicate to our world that we are Christians, not just church members. Then give us dark places to go where we can carry your torch, showing the world that life is not as hopeless as it might look right now. Through your Spirit, give us the supernatural ability to resolve anger in helpful ways, and the patience to be compassionate. Help us carry each other along the path you’ve given us to walk, following your son Jesus. Amen.