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Rediscovering the Difference We Make (Dec 22, 2019)

Philippians 2:4-11

Last October, a woman came into my office. She sat down, started to cry, and told me her only brother had recently died in Mexico. Her family is poor, she told me, and so she sent most of her paycheck to Mexico to help with funeral expenses. She wouldn’t get paid again until a week after her rent was due. Is there any way I could help? Did I know a place where she could get some temporary housing funds?

I wrote down a few places that sometimes have funds for housing assistance, gave her the money I had in my wallet and sent her on her way.

A month later, in mid-November, she came back. None of the resources I suggested had panned out, as they were out of funds for the year. She had, however, borrowed rent money from a neighbor, so she had been able to pay November rent.

But now her neighbor needed to be repaid in order to pay her rent. So this woman sitting in my office was in the same boat she was in a month earlier. Was there any way I could help her?

I told her that I’d given her all the information on resources I had, and I didn’t know what else to do. I emptied my wallet again, which was nowhere near enough to cover the part of her rent she needed. She started crying again, and just kept repeating, “Pastor, is there anything you can do?” “Pastor, is there any way you can help me?”

I felt so helpless, so I sat with her while she cried. Every once in a while she’d catch her breath and ask again, “Pastor, can you help me?” Each time she asked if there was anything I could do, I would apologize and gently tell her no. Finally she left. I felt terrible. I said all the right things, but the bottom line is that because she was generous and I was not, her housing is insecure at best.

A few days later, it occurred to me that there is probably still some money in this congregation’s Pastor’s Discretionary Fund. Since her rent wasn’t due until the end of the month, I would have had time to get a check sent to her landlord.

Great idea, except I didn’t have her name or any contact information. She had told me her name when she came in the first time, along with all her rental documentation and proof of employment. Her accent was so heavy that I couldn’t understand her multi-syllable name, and even if I could recall her first name, I have no way of getting in touch with her.

Paul writes at the beginning of today’s text. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus . . . who emptied himself . . . humbled himself . . . became obedient to the point of death.” “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others,” Paul writes.

I certainly wasn’t operating with the mind of Christ that day. I was of no help to this poor woman at all.

We have opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives every day. That’s the mind of Christ Paul talks about. Showing love and kindness to even one person. Having the mentality that is paying attention to those opportunities. Looking at the world seeking ways to insert compassion into it. And doing this as a way of life.

We’re not called to change the whole world. We’re just called to see the world the way Christ sees it. And then do one thing to act on that. Just one small act at a time. Individually, it doesn’t seem like we can do too much. But collectively, when we pool all our kindness, compassion, and mercy together, the world is different. That’s why we gather as a congregation—because we can see what we can do together. That’s why we are part of the ELCA, so we can see even more the difference we make.

The needs are so great that it can seem overwhelming sometimes. There’s so many people who are hurting that it’s easy to turn it off, ignore it, acknowledge that my little contribution of compassion doesn’t matter. I think that may have been my attitude with the woman in my office last month.

But when we find ourselves thinking that the little bit we can do doesn’t matter, I find it helpful to think of a giant library, several stories high with long aisles. Rows and rows of books. All kinds, all sizes, all colors. There’s one volume in there that’s mine. Included in that one small book are the ways that I have lived in the mind of Christ. Each page has some contribution of kindness, compassion, of looking to the interests of others. I imagine my little volume is in Row MM, twelfth shelf from the floor, the seventh book in from the aisle. I don’t have to create the whole library, I just have to add one more page to my volume. Every little page, every small word of paying attention to the interests of others, of helping someone in some small way, of seeing the world through Christ’s eyes, contributes to the massive work included in this enormous library of the mind of Christ.

And every little volume matters, because it’s part of the whole work. Every page contributes. Every word is included. I have my little volume in there, and so do you. There’s one shelf in that section that’s labelled “LCM.” It’s a collection of each of our small volumes, all lined up together, and part of this whole collection. This imaginative library is the record of the world being changed according to the mind of Christ. It’s still expanding, pages are still being written.

Add a page. Check the announcement sheet for opportunities for generosity. Increase your offering on Christmas Eve/Day which we will give away to help immigrants and refugees. Find a way to write one more page this Advent.

As to the woman in my office:I hope she comes back one more time. I’d love to have her story included. If not by me, then by someone. I hope she meets someone with the mind of Christ. There are a whole lot of us, and a lot of pages left to be written.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2020 in Sermon

 

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Love: Our Gift to the World (October 1, 2017)

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, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 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. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, 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; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

This text from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi makes great sense, actually. You say you are disciples of Jesus, he says. You say you believe in him, trust him, follow him. So do that. Shouldn’t be a problem.You know what Jesus is like. Helping others, loving others, forgiving others, thinking about others, seeing others—even if it cost him. OK, Christ-ians, you’ve got the game plan. Go! Do that. Be that.

Paul’s writing here in kind of like the very first “WWJD” bracelet. What would Jesus do? How would he treat those outside of your church circle? There you go. Do that.It’s not extra credit. It’s not optional. It’s what it is to be a Christian. To be like Jesus. To follow that example. “Be of the same mind,” Paul says. “Have the same love.”

But this isn’t about trying harder or working at it more. It’s about God at work in us, enabling us to reflect Christ from our hearts, from our minds. In Christ we are new, we are changed, we are different. We have died and been raised into a new life. So it’s not that we have to work to make ourselves like Jesus. We simply have to let our own selfishness get out of the way, so that Christ in us can shine in the world.

Christ is visible in the world. As we live that new life, it is visible too. There are some signs that that is coming along, Paul says. It’s a process, we keep reverting to our selfishness. But we can take a step. We can move our own ambition and conceit out of the way on occasion. We can let the Christ within us come through once in a while.

We keep at it. We can watch for the signs of God at work in us. Christ is revealed in us whenever we act not out of selfishness but out of the interests of others.

We show that in our kindness, our listening, our compassion, our not insisting on our own way. And we do it with our money. That is the most straight-forward way, the simplest way to reveal Christ in us. Giving money away for the sake of others. Putting their needs ahead of our own.

I’m proud that as a congregation, we reveal the mind of Christ with our congregational budget. We are committed to simply giving away 11% of everything that comes in through the offering plate. Through that, we support new congregations, military chaplains, missionaries around the world, disaster relief, church camps, education of students and future pastors and deacons through our colleges and seminaries, and so much more!

We are, as a church body together, very generous every time there is a special appeal. We give graciously and unselfishly together in times like now when disasters strike and people are hurting. That’s what Paul is talking about. Living unselfishly, humbly offering some of what we have for the sake of others. Recognizing that the needs of people in Puerto Rico are more urgent than ours right now.

That is the heart of Christ. And it shows. And it is moving.

So the journey of being of the same mind as Christ continues for us. Showing the world what Jesus looks like is our priority as people who bear Christ’s name.

Take one more step in the journey with Christ this week. To the 121 households that are currently giving financially to this congregation, consider one of two steps: 1) Consider giving regularly. Electronic giving is the easiest way. Who woulda thought that the internet could help us have the same love as Christ? Most banks allow a scheduled transfer of any amount on any schedule. Set it up. Lois and I have done that for years, scheduling a payment to this church right after my paycheck is deposited. It’s easy. It’s simple. And it’s being of the same mind as Christ—doing nothing from selfish ambition or conceit.

2) Consider an increase in your giving. Either a larger dollar amount or an increase in the percentage of your income. Doing that can make sure our own interests aren’t taking over every aspect of who we are, but Christ within us comes through in our generosity!

And to the 38 households—24%–who are active members of this congregation who currently aren’t giving anything financially here, consider doing one thing. Fill out an “Estimate of Giving” card. Just take that step. Since you’re active, you received one in the mail (or soon will). Or you can pick one up here next Sunday.

Perhaps you are giving generously somewhere else. Cancer research or the Action Center or Foothills Animal Shelter. Great! That is showing the heart and love of Christ from within you! Keep it up! Increase it!

But fill out a card and turn it in here anyway. Even if it’s a big red zero on it—that’s OK. Even if you only commit to $1 or $5 a week. That’s OK. Just take that step. Be part of this congregational community that strives to love with Christ’s love and serve as Christ serves. Put something on that card and turn it in next week. It’s not about judgment, it’s about being part of a community that bears the name of Christ, being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. It is together letting  the same mind be in us that as in Christ Jesus. It is acting not from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regarding others as better than ourselves. It is God at work in us, enabling us to reveal Christ together to the world. Christ’s love, poured into us, making us new, is our gift to the world. Take one step forward on the journey of love.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2017 in Sermon

 

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