The Sunday Sermon: April 25, 2021 – Fourth Sunday of Easter
Scripture: Philippians 2:1-5
Easter Life: Interested in Others
We believe that in Jesus Christ the process of making the world a just place has already begun and we need to get with the program. That’s where we started on the Sunday after Easter and that’s where we’re beginning every Sunday this Eastertide season, up to Pentecost Sunday on May 23rd. If these opening words aren’t already familiar, they will be after the next couple of weeks.
Jesus disclosed the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. He didn’t proclaim the “soon to come” end of evil, and injustice, and violence here on earth. He announced that the ending of the old had already begun and the Kingdom of Heaven was already among us. It wasn’t yet complete, this kingdom. Jesus proclaimed that as well. There was, and there is, still work to be done. He called his followers then, and he calls his followers today, to participate cooperatively with God to see that God’s Kingdom comes fully on earth.
Jesus was crucified for the way in which his “revelation” challenged and defied the religious and political establishments of his time: First Century Temple theology and the Roman Empire. He was killed. But not before some experienced his revelation and were resurrected themselves, given new life, and joined his Way of changing the world, even after his death. One such person was Paul. We’re traveling with Paul in these weeks before Pentecost, visiting a few of the first communities who heard Paul’s proclamation and who were, themselves, getting with the program.
Two weeks ago we were in Thessalonica, the provincial capital of ancient Macedonia, as Paul appealed to them and to us to get with the program by respecting … esteeming … encouraging … helping … and being patient with one another … by not repaying evil for evil but always seeking to do good to one another and to all.
Last week we were in the province of Galatia listening as Paul appealed to them and to us to live into the freedom that is our Christ. Freedom to love and to serve, “to become slaves to,” one another – not to the world around us and the fear it encourages us to respond to by buying, medicating, trying to fix everything, or trying to conquer the world around us. As Easter people we live with and through “God” who offers us every day our freedom in Christ.
This morning we’re in Philippi. According the Book of Acts, Paul first arrived in Philippi sometime around 50 C.E. and founded a church whose members he regards with a special affection and deep longing. He is in prison as he writes this letter (1:7), location unknown, but not in Philippi, for he writes that he “longs for that community” (1:8). From the letter we learn that the Christians at Philippi heard about Paul’s imprisonment and responded with prayers for his release and gifts to supply his needs. For most of his letter, Paul rejoices in the continued advance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But he also spends some time warning the Philippians about other missionaries he calls “dogs,” “evil workers,” and “enemies of the cross of Christ.” These are, perhaps, some of the same ilk that we met last week – the “agitators” and “troublemakers” in Galatia. To the Philippians, in light of the so called “evil workers” among them, Paul writes words of encouragement.
Listen for the Word of God … Read Philippians 2:1-5
Now you might guess by the sermon title which phrase from this passage struck me hardest this week. “The Interests of Others.” One of the biggest “issues” that Paul writes about to all his communities, that he addresses to church after church, from Thessalonica, to Galatia, to Philippi, and beyond, was how in the world any group of individuals could “communally associate for the mutual benefit of all those involved.” In other words, he wrote to express over and over again what it must mean for a church not only to get together for worship and study and to take care of one another, but to actually be interested in one another. And that’s where we are this week with the Philippians: Since we believe that in Jesus Christ the process of making the world a just place has already begun, what are we doing about joining the program? How are we “interested” in one another, in others, and in the world?
Let’s start with our own community. I want to make a bit of a distinction between “fellowshipping” with one another and “being interested” in one another. The realities of this past year not withstanding, we have spent a lot of time together over the years – having coffee in the Gathering Space before Sunday school and between Sunday school and worship services. We “fellowship” even as we learn in our Sunday school classes. Choir practices; Small Group; church picnics; Fall Festivals; Trivia nights, Fish Frys; Ministry Team meetings; even Session meetings. In all of these ways, and more, we have gotten together and we’ll do it again. We have and we will “fellowship.”
But at how many of those gatherings do we genuinely get “interested” in one another’s lives? Are we getting together for the “mutual benefit” of all involved and with a “genuine interest” in those we are with when we gather at these or other times you can think of? Are we emptying ourselves to others, and seeking to know them better? Are we serving and being obedient to the call of God in Christ and “denying ourselves” in service to others?
Sometimes … surely. But honestly … On Sunday morning with coffee in hand we often hear: “While I have you here, let me tell you what we need to get done.” Or at a church picnic or around the bonfire at the Fall Festival, we may declare: “This is better than last year … or maybe not.” And at choir practice you might overhear: “…” Well, I don’t really know what you’d overhear at choir practice. What happens in that room … But you get my gist. We too often use our times of “fellowship” to get more work done not to get more interested in one another – to find out more about someone else or what they care about.
True fellowship is a “communal association for the mutual benefit of all those involved,” and should include a sharing, a “taking an interest,” in others. All of our gatherings have this as a goal, we trust that, we know that we include this “ends” to some degree. But we also know that very often we put fellowship events on our calendar, even worship, with a greater sense of obligation than anticipation. And we leave our gatherings too often feeling like we just fulfilled a duty, rather than shared a life. Not always, and to greater or lesser degrees, but many of our “fellowships” activities are too easily exhausting. And if they are exhausting then perhaps they’re not true fellowship – perhaps we haven’t lived into our call to consider others interests, to “be interested” in others.
Consider the wider world, now. We know from the Thessalonians that we are called to respect it … to esteem, encourage, help, and be patient with it; to not repay evil for evil in it, but to seek to do good in it … for it. We know from the Galatians that we are free in Christ to love and serve it. But are we really interested in it? Do we really care why sea levels are rising and storms are getting more intense? Why so many people are feeling their lives don’t matter? Why so many children are finding themselves alone at a border somewhere? Why so many are picking up weapons and walking into grocery stores or places they worked? And why so many others are picking up the pieces of their lives after the latest mass shooting?
You see, there’s a difference between getting together with someone and being interested in them. There’s a difference between understanding global realities and being interested in them. There’s a difference between doing something because you know you should and doing it because you genuinely care – about a person or a problem. There’s a difference between understanding our call as Christians and taking a genuine interest in it.
Jesus called us to do both: Let each of you look … to the interests of others. I suggest that what he means is that we are not just to try to fill their needs, we are to try to understand why they have these needs in the first place and then work for change. As Easter people “getting with the program,” we are to take an interest in those around us, especially those with the greatest needs.
What difference might it make if – what difference does it make when – we are actually, genuinely interested in why our children are sad; in why our friend is anxious; in why our fellow church members are hurting; in why our world is dealing with floods and droughts; genuinely interested in why our black, brown, and people of other color brothers and sisters feel their live don’t matter; in why common sense gun control and responsible ownership arguments are met with so much resistance; or in why international peace is only sought through war after war after war?
I’ll tell you what difference. A world of difference. The difference between knowing about someone or something and understanding them so that you can make a difference for good in their lives and in the world.
In the verses that follow our passage this morning, Paul includes what is most likely a poem, or hymn, that pre-dates the writing of his letter. Our reading ended with Paul’s exhortation to “let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus. The poem that follows describes that “mindset,” and while it’s so much more, it includes caring, emptying, and humbling yourself with others. Taking an interest in them and in a world that needs our attention.
Our journey this Eastertide finds us asking the question over and over and over again: Whose Kingdom are we committed to? The earliest Christian communities are helping to answer that question for our own community. This morning, like the Philippians we are called again: To look … to the interests of others. Figure out what that looks like for you this week and add it you list. The Kingdom of God is among us seeking full expression. May it be so.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / April 25, 2021