Sunday, June 24, 2012

What Every Church Needs

In Washington, DC where I have lived most of my life, we are surrounded by death--from handguns and knives on street corners; to the US Congress which contracts against the poor, votes for executions, builds new prisons and cuts health care; to the Pentagon, with its preparations for war, the greatest institution for the promotion of death in the history of humanity. Death gets the last word.

And yet, and yet, in our churches, we gather in prayer; we sing' we hear the word of God; we break bread and pass the cup; we join hands with one another; we offer a sign of peace; and we go forward into the streets to say 'no' to death and 'yes' to life.'"--Selected

If you were take a piece of paper this morning and make a list of what your church needs—what would you put on your list? Maybe more money—more money to pay the bills. Maybe more people—some folk to fill up these empty spaces. Maybe you would put down—we need to do some renovation around here. Or maybe have more volunteers—the work seems to fall on just a few. But I am sure that most of you would put: We need a Pastor. Of course you want a perfect pastor. Somebody who preaches 15 minutes or less. You want a worker: somebody who works from 8:00AM until midnight. Someone you could pay say, $200.00 a week and he would wear nice clothes, drive a nice car and give at least $75.00 a week to the church. He would be about 28 years old and have 30 years of experience. His wife would not only be beautiful but would do anything around the church anybody asks. She would attend all the meetings and most of the committees serve as church janitor in a pinch and spend her time keeping an impeccable house, perfect children and always have a smile on her face.

I want you to put your list down beside the second chapter of Philippians. For here I have discovered some very wise words from a Pastor to his favorite church. No wonder they were his favorite church. So they remembered their former Pastor with gifts and prayers and concern. They also sent Epaphroditus to be his companion while he was in prison. Epaphroditus had brought Paul news from Philippi. The church there was having a hard time. They were persecuted. Some had lost their jobs; some had been threatened with loss of life because they were Christians. They had begun to say—if Paul is in prison—then what in the world will happen to us? They were taking out their fears on one another. Little pockets of divisions were beginning to crop up. That was the news that Epaphroditus brought. And so Paul sat down to write. To let them know how he was faring in that prison cell. He also wrote a thank-you note for their care and generosity. But he also wanted to help them through a hard time.

The book of Philippians was a letter of joy. Sixteen times in four chapters he used this word joy. He told them, his favorite church: more than anything else he wanted Philippi to find the way. From what he heard from Epaphroditus he discovered they had taken some wrong turns. He thought a long time about what he wanted to say to his friends there. And so he began to write and embedded in those words I have discovered what Philippi needed and every church I know needs.

So we turn to that second chapter of Philippians. Fred Craddock has said that what we have in these verses is an appeal for unity and solidarity. What was this appeal? What did he write from that jail cell, across the miles, to his friends in Philippi?

A Proper Attitude

Every church needs a particular attitude. We might call it a Christian disposition. “Make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”(vs.2) This word attitude or disposition has come from something he had written several paragraphs back in the same letter. “Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel and are in no way intimidated by your opponents.” (1.27-28)

He used the word same twice in our text. Same mind, same love. If that thing called church was to work in Philippi their disposition, their attitude would be like their Lord’s. We need that don’t we, as a church and as a nation. People everywhere are angry. Most of the time it is not obvious but it is barely beneath the surface. Read the Letters to the Editor in your newspaper. We choose sides on everything. Us and Them. We and They. Listen to the TV commentators if you can stand it. A lot of anger out there. Did you know that 1600 pastors are dismissed every month from their churches? Think of the pain and the heartbreak for everyone. We all know that anger can be destructive and irrational.

We could all identify with a man who was driving home late one night. He decided to take a short cut. It was about 1:00 in the morning. And he felt the car lurch—he had a flat tire. He got out and opened the trunk lid and there was no jack. No jack. Where had he left it? He didn’t want to call his wife and bother her. But looking around he saw a light in a farmhouse way down the road. So he began to walk there. He hated to wake up the people but he was desperate. He needed help. So as he walked along the road he began to mutter to himself: “I’m probably going to make that man mad by knocking on the door and waking him up. Likely, the kids and the dog will rouse up. His wife would say: ‘What in the world?’ And the man kept talking to himself out loud. Even if he does own a jack he probably will be so mad that he won’t let me use it. “ By that time he was on the front porch of the farm house and knocked on the door. When the farmer finally opened the door the motorist shouted in his face: “You can just keep your old jack!”

We’ve got to turn down the temperature in our lives and in church and in the world. Anger is dangerous if it is misdirected. We all know that. So how are we with all our differences attain any kind of a unity that can help us down the road?

Humility is the Key

 Paul gave us a secret here. We all need to listen closely. He said:” 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.” (2.3) What Philippi needed is what every church needs. Christ’s motive. The key that opens the door is humility. Humility? That’s it. Humility. Paul wanted them to be doormats? Just lie down and let Rome or whoever else comes along just run over us. Just smile and take it. Grin and Bear it! Is this humility?

They misunderstood, as sometimes we misunderstand this word, humility. Paul knew that in Philippi there was more than a little self-seeking, looking out for their own interests, their own rights. Me! Me! Me! And so he says this is not the way of our Lord. Looking out for Number One. Winning is not just an important thing. Winning is everything. No. Paul said” Look out after the interests of others.

Frank Stagg wrote, in his commentary, humility does not mean self-hatred, self-despising, rejection of self. It does not mean to be pushed around by whoever or whatever comes. Humility does mean we refuse to let our personal interests or advantage govern the course of our life. One Sunday after Church a young woman stood at our table to take our lunch orders. She looked tired as she pushed her hair out of her face. “May I help you?” She did a good job. As I was going to the counter to pay my bill she came. “This must be a hard job,” I said. “Mister, you don’t know. I’ve been here since 6:00—had to wake up my little girl and leave her with a baby sitter and I didn’t sleep good last night.” “I’m sorry,” I said, “You did a good job” “Must be hard day after day.” And she said, “Sundays are the worst. I hate this day. So many people come in here after church and they are so hateful—not all of them—but a lot—and they almost always leave lousy tips.” Think she'll ever go to church?

Paul says that humility is to consider others. Give them the benefit of a doubt. That person in front of you or the one that tapped your car in the back. Maybe they are having a bad day. Have you ever had one? Maybe they carry a grief around that choking them. Maybe their heart is broken or they have the heavy burden of a sick relative.

We all get pushy and selfish sometimes. We all have bad days and sometimes bad weeks. We know how we want people to treat us when that happens. Someone to listen. To give us space. To care. To regard others. And sometimes to forgive us. Sounds like the definition of a Christian.

Humility saves us all from self-righteousness. And of all the sins in the Bible, Jesus was very hard on self-righteousness. Why? Because it constructed these walls between people. And you can’t get over and you can’t get through. But the humble know they are part of the human family. They work on their arrogance, on trying not to be so pushy—demanding their rights. Humility. Paul says we need it in church. But they did not know how to do this. They wanted to tear down the walls. They hated self-righteousness in others and yet it crept up on them like the flu. Did I say that? Did I really act like that?

Servanthood is our Model

Paul gave them a remedy. It is the third thing the church always needs. “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.”(2.5-7) We discover his secret is our secret. Like Jesus, we are to take the form of a servant.

Remember his words on the Sermon on the Mount? Saying the poor in spirit were blessed, the persecuted were blessed. They were to watch their anger. Everybody gets angry! They were to not only not commit adultery—but also watch their lusts. Our thoughts, that too. He talked about turning one’s cheek to an enemy and walking a second mile when a Roman soldier asked them to carry his pack one mile. Isn’t this just a little overkill? He talked about loving our enemies and pray for those who spitefully use us. Judging not, and all kinds of impossible things. G.K. Chesterton once said: “The Sermon on the Mount is not a beautiful discourse that our sad but sane planet cannot rationally accept. It is really sanity preached to a planet of lunatics.”

We are to serve one another. Jesus says that it will save us from lunacy and madness. Karl Menninger was a great psychiatrist. He was giving a lecture on mental health, as he often did. And he opened it up for questioning at the end. “What would you advise a person to do if that person felt like a nervous breakdown was coming on?” The audience knew he would say: “Consult your local psychiatrist.” He didn’t say that. He did say: “Lock up your house, go across the railroad tracks, find somebody in need, and do something to help that person.”

Paul pointed to Jesus. This is our model, he said. We are to put into practice this spirit of Jesus in the church. And we do that, as we do like our Lord. We empty ourselves; we take the form of a servant. 
Paul told Philippi in the letter that every church had to major on service. Reaching out and helping somebody else. An eighty-year-old man in Washington State volunteered to be a mentor in his church with new Christians. A friend asked him, "Why in the world would you do that at your age?" And the man said: “Some people come into our lives and quietly go. Others stay for a while and leave footprints on our hearts and we are never the same.” 

Could this be what Paul had in mind when he wrote to Philippi? Could it be what God has in mind here as we struggle to live in this hard age...trying to be the Church God wants us to be. Not me...but us. Not them...but we. Leaving footprints on someone else’s heart. 

No comments:

Post a Comment