Life in Community

+ A sermon given for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)/Ordinary 26A at Fullness of God Lutheran Church, Holden Village, WA on October 1, 2017 +

Text: Philippians 2:1-13

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

First let me say what an absolute joy it is to be with you all here at Holden Village.
Growing up, I remember hearing my parents talk about their times here starting back in the 70s and 80s.
Somehow I never made it up here until a J-Term a couple years ago with my seminary – but when I did, I instantly knew this valley would always hold a special place in my heart. So when I was asked to serve as a sort of forerunner until your fabulous new pastors arrive in a couple weeks, I jumped at the opportunity.
And after tonight, this Village will also forever be the community where I first celebrated the Lord’s Supper as the presiding minister – permanently enshrining Holden’s place in my life.
So thank you, Chuck and Peg – and really the whole community – for the honor of being here and for welcoming me here to be among you all.

I will also say that this opportunity has come at a great time for me – it is a welcome respite from what may prove to be a lengthy wait for a call to pastoral ministry.
People have asked how I have been filling my time of waiting and unfortunately, much of that time has been filled being immersed in news and social media – constant reminders of our broken and polarized world.
And let me tell you, it can be pretty overwhelming.
It seems like almost daily we hear of fresh divisions in politics, American society, international relations, and more.
We hear of controversies about athletes kneeling, activist groups protesting, and even delivering aid to fellow citizens suffering in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

And one of the things that really overwhelms me about all this division is that almost without fail, each side is convinced that they are completely in the right – maybe even that they have God on their side.
And this self-confidence in their own convictions so easily leads to a lording over their opponents who are then regarded as inferior. We can see it when capitalists care more for profits than they do for the workers or environment they are exploiting.
We can see it when a majority population vilifies peaceful protests against racism or police brutality because they find it offensive.
We can see it when political leaders care for their own self-aggrandizement than they do for true service and compassion for their constituents.
This sort of triumphalism really can only ever serve the individual and does not allow for true compassion for one’s neighbors.

And unfortunately, divisions are nothing new.
Religion is a rather divided landscape as well. How many wars have been fought for the supremacy of one faith over another?
How many people labeled heretics have been excluded or even killed for their differing opinions?
And, as you may have heard, those of us who are Lutherans are preparing to commemorate the 500th anniversary of one of the largest schisms in Christian history as the Western Church was splintered into countless denominations.
Even among Christians, it can be difficult to form any sort of cohesive community.
And our second lesson shows us that these difficulties date back to the earliest days of the Church.

st-paul-ephesusWhen the Apostle Paul writes to the Christians in Philippi, he is well aware that he is writing to a divided community.
While it’s impossible for us to know for sure what the division is about, we can get the sense that they too are struggling with this need for self-promotion over the needs of their community.
Much like our own society’s insistence on self-reliance and bootstrap lifting, the Roman honor system familiar to these early Christians pushed the importance of the individual and a hierarchical quest for power and status.
At the top of this ladder was the Caesar – the self-proclaimed savior of the world and lord of his empire – and below him were various lords and rulers duking it out for higher standing.
And every elite who was in this social structure knew their standing and how they might improve their ranking – through self-importance and individual promotion.

So when Paul sees the divisions in Philippi, he reminds them of what he taught them about Jesus who rejected this honor culture.
He encourages them to be of the same mind as Christ, who, though he was God, chose to come to earth not in an exploitive quest for domination or obedience, but in the form of a fragile baby born in poverty and under the oppression of the Roman Empire.
His ministry was not one of military might but a life of service with the sick and the downtrodden.
He didn’t seek to build up his own honor by climbing the social ladder but chose to spend his time with the outcasts, the sinners, and the marginalized.
Even among his closest followers, he did not demand veneration but instead he bent down on his knees and washed their feet.jesuswashingpetersfeet
And when the Empire and religious authorities finally caught him, the true savior of the world did not fight back or flee, but in an act of perfect love gave up his life for his friends through execution on a Roman cross.
And by doing so, he showed us how to live a resurrected life in him.

Through this humility, through this ministry of service, Jesus shows us that there is a radically different social structure in the Reign of God.
Jesus shows us that his lordship is so fundamentally different than what we have experienced in this world that it redefines everything we know about what it means to be in community with each other.
That if we want to be followers of Christ, we cannot be concerned with our own “selfish ambition or conceit” but should live lives of service to our neighbors.
And in this reworking of society, the humble Jesus is proclaimed to be far superior even to Caesar. “So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God.”
He did not attain this rank by promoting himself, but instead by emptying himself for the love of those around him.
This is not a title that can be earned through self-reliance, but in service.
This is God’s flipping the systems we cling to on their heads until everything we know has been changed and we no longer care about moving up the ladder but instead reaching out in service to our neighbors.
This is God’s vision of a reordered world where community is formed through valuing all people as beloved Children of God – not selfishly promoting the individual.
A community where each person is loved and never exploited.
A community where love is stronger than hate and life overcomes death.
A community where racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, class, partisan divides, national boarders, and all other divisions are swallowed up by the unity we share as equal members of Christ’s new creation.

And because we can trust in Christ’s promises, we do not have to worry about our own status with God but instead are freed to partner with Christ toward a realization of God’s vision for the world.
We don’t need to spend time trying to earn a place in a distant heaven but we can instead work with God, following Jesus’ example, and focus on the needs of our neighbors around us.
As Paul writes, we are freed to work for our collective salvation that comes from living into this Christ-like community – here and now.

becd8-communion0Each time we gather around this meal, beloved, we get to glimpse the fullness of that community.
We can see Christ once again coming down and emptying himself by giving himself to us in an act of perfect love.
An act that joins us in communion with all creation and with every single saint across time and space who has joined in Christ’s body and blood given for you and for me.
Today, many in the global Christian community celebrate World Communion Sunday where we remember that even though we are divided theologically and denominationally, this meal unites us.
That even though we recognize different bishops or leaders, Christ who hosts this table is Lord of us all.
That no matter our schisms or disagreements, we all still yearn for the day where we will all be one in Christ’s perfect community together.

But if I’m being honest, I often wonder if this can really be enough.
If this meal, if this Christ-like service can really change the world.
The challenges we face can be so monumental and the divisions seem so wide, how can we address them through humility rather than domination?
But in these doubts, I am reminded of Christ’s alternative vision of lordship.
A vision of service and love and compassion as catalysts for fundamental change – and how this change was enacted on that lonely cross.
And as Paul reminds the Philippians, beloved siblings, he also reminds us – if we hold fast to God’s vision for the world, if we live into the same mind as Christ’s humble service emboldened by the Spirit, we may just be able to glimpse together God’s salvation on earth even as we wait for its perfection.

I also know that I am speaking to a group that is somewhat familiar with what it means to live in community – intimately aware of all the joys and challenges that it can bring.
It is not lost to me that this building we are gathering in, Koinonia,maxresdefault is named after the same Greek word that Paul uses to describe the community he is addressing – one of sharing and fellowship.
It’s the same word that names this Holy Communion that we will share in a few minutes.
It’s the word that describes the community we share in Christ Jesus.
By pausing here in this valley for a few days, some weeks, or even some years, we become part of a beautiful and sacred community centered in worship and service, compassion and welcome.
This Village helps give a vision for what a Christ-like community could be like.
And as is to be expected, our human failings continue to restrain us.
We have conflicts and shortcomings and strife.
I confess that I have a lot of work to do if I want to follow Jesus’ model of self-giving love – I imagine each of us do too.
But remember, beloved, that we are not in this alone, but we go together in Christian community empowered by Christ.
Despite our failings, we are still accepted and loved.
Despite our shortsightedness we are still strengthened and renewed by our God each time we gather for worship and around this table.
Despite the overwhelming work that remains, it is Christ that is working in us.
And if we find ourselves more concerned for ourselves than our community, we can look again to the example we have received from Jesus who empowers us to do this work.
The same Jesus whom we join with all creation in proclaiming as the servant-Lord of all to the glory of God.



To read the Eucharistic Prayer I wrote to preside at this liturgy, see this post.

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