This Feast Is for You!

Passage: Philippians 2:1-13
Date: October 1, 2017
Preacher: Rev Laurie M. Newman
Guest Preacher:

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Sermon

This is not the age of information.
This is not the age of information.
Forget the news,
and the radio,
and the blurred screen.
This is the time of loaves and fishes.
People are hungry,
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.

       From The House of Belonging: Poems by David Whyte
       (Many Rivers Press). Copyright © 1996 by David Whyte.
       All rights reserved. Posted with kind permission of the poet.

 

What good word will bring us peace of mind? What will inspire us to live humble compassion, like Jesus? The apostle Paul urged the church in Philippi: “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 ... He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.”

If we are paying attention to the world, it is clear that humility and service are not qualities that are praised. Humility: it was a difficult word for the early church in Philippi. It’s a difficult word today. But perhaps this is the best “good word” that we could hope for, in a time when our nation, our community, our planet needs unity of purpose and care. Pride isolates, where humility connects. Pride is interested in the self at the expense of others, whereas humility is interested in others at the expense of the self.

Self-emptying love is the very core of Jesus’ life and death and a model to us.

Right now, you may be tempted to think of others who really need to work on that pride problem. But, honestly, don’t we all struggle with this in some way? Is it hard to discern where pride might be a problem? Then ask: where is isolation or separation happening in my life? Where is my pride an obstacle?

Not all separation is about pride, though. I was separated from you, from Westminster, for three months, while on sabbatical leave. And there were times in that separation when I hated being away. During that time, the skies of the Pacific Northwest were heavy with ash. Hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes drowned and shook communities. World leaders flung threats in each other’s faces. People we loved died. How does humility fit into this world of loss and suffering? Here’s the good word: when we are overcome with suffering, love moves us to compassion and action. Christ’s love empowers us to give up something of ourselves for the sake of relationship.
A little over a week ago, our friend Ann Huntwork died. She knew about giving up personal freedom for the sake of others. She was schooled in nonviolent protest. She marched, sang, and wheel-chaired in protests up to near the end of her life. In her eighties, she served prison time for six months for repeatedly crossing the line at the School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia, in her efforts to bring peace. Her actions to help others who were oppressed demonstrated the Christ-mind. “Look not to your own interests but to the interests of others.” Thank you, Ann.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote from prison. He wrote about unity and joy. He was open about his affection for the Philippians and their concern for him. The tone of the letter is warm: people who have learned to share their lives and appreciate one another. Strangers had become friends. But Paul was worried by news about conflicts within the young community. He invited them to take even closer to heart the gift they had received. He wrote of having a “same mind.”

We know that there are powerful things at work in all our lives which can destroy the gift of unity. But the power of Christ’s risen love can make us whole. Have we ever seen how love can turn strangers into friends? Paul says, “OK, got the picture? Good, now go and be like that!” If Jesus means anything to you, if his Spirit and compassion occupies even the smallest corner of your heart, then make humility your life.

We packed a lot into sabbatical time. I want to share so many stories! Have you got a few hours? Well, now—just a bit about some traveling I did in September in Italy, with a group gathered by poet David Whyte. Thirty of us from different nations met in Florence, to spend a week together, hearing the words of David and walking the countryside. We came from Singapore, British Columbia, Pittsburg, Mexico City, New Zealand, Whidbey Island, California, and Kansas. It was a diverse and good group: artists, two Olympic athletes, teachers, nurses, therapists, a yoga teacher, a Zen priest, administrators, and business leaders (and a minister!). All of us were drawn by the poetry. But even in the company of wonderful people, pride and self-interest can interfere. I was reminded of that, being in a group of strangers. It takes a lot of energy to be among strangers.

First, there is being out of your own context. In this group, I was not the pastor, mother, or singer. On the first day, the nervous little child inside me was wondering: Are my needs going to be met? Where am I going to sleep? Where do we get fed? Who are these people I’m sharing the week with? What if no one likes me? I noticed that when we loaded into the three vans that dropped us off at our hiking spots, I needed to check my desire to grab the front seat every time. At mealtimes, I also stopped myself from going through the lines first, and grabbing the table with the best views. I hate to admit it, but when faced with a new situation, it just seems natural to jump in, elbows out, and to vie for the best for self. “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

Pride is the opposite of God. Pride isolates. We are called to humility. Humility leads to service, to love, to kindness—indeed, to life itself. “Having the mind of Christ” goes back to the golden rule: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” When we look to the interests of others, we have the mind of Christ, and that builds community.

Can you recall a time of vital unity? Maybe during a meal with friends or a family gathering. Everyone is talking and happy to be in one another’s company. Past differences or misunderstandings fade and lose their strength as the bonds of affection are shared. Unity becomes a living reality. And we realize that this is what we desire deeply—this unity. It brings great joy!

Over the course of a week, with my new friends in Tuscany, I was reminded not to make snap judgments on first impressions. Some people who I thought might be difficult became my best friends. Some who appeared to be “perfect” had real challenges in their lives. We learned about each other’s losses and fears and hopes. In the course of walking many miles together, we had a few difficult moments and many beautiful experiences.

One day, we drove through the Chianti region. As the vans veered around curves as we climbed into the hills, I looked out the window and saw a man in a wide field with a little weed whacker, making a clearing. I couldn’t figure out what he was doing, out there in the middle of the field, in the middle of the country. We drove up to a Volpaia, a hill town, parked, and began our ten-mile walk back through the country to Panzano. As we walked, we shared stories, sometimes walking in groups of two or three. Sometimes, alone. It was a long walk, and we were tired and hungry. As the sun began to set, we rounded the bend and saw that tables and chairs had been set up in the field, facing the glorious sunset. It was the very field I had noticed earlier. There was a long table spread with olives, cheeses, pork, vegetables, bread, olive oil, and bottles of Chianti and water. The butcher who laid the table welcomed us with open arms. It was a feast to share with strangers, who had become our friends. Unbeknownst to us, love had been working all afternoon to surprise and delight us. After our long, thirsty walk, we were invited to sit and eat and drink together, and soak in all the beauty.

It’s that way at the communion table, where we gather today, as strangers and friends. Remember, and be glad: This feast is for you!

In closing, I share this poem I wrote:

How to Love Life
Here is how
to love life:
Hold it as tenderly
as a mother carrying her
newborn, warm with sleep.
Feast on it with loved ones,
with strangers
even people you don't
agree with.
Let the flavors melt on your tongue.
Sing it with a grand chorus
letting your soul shimmer out.
Paint it with bright colors
really pausing to see,
without preconceived notions.
Dance all night with it
letting the beat
vibrate through you
making your sternum hum.
Sit comfortably in silence
with it
breathing deeply
trusting that all the love
you give and receive
shapes what we have
and share.
We make life
together.

@Laurie Lynn Newman