FRIDGENOTES FOR SUNDAY SEPT 28TH
Philippians 2: 1-13 SEPT 28 2008
What is the church?
Some memories are worth revisiting again.
Eight years ago, a few weeks into my time here at Trinity, I gathered a group of adults under the Mahogany tree in front of Charter Hall with some trepidation. It was to be my first Adult Sunday school class and I wanted to make a good impression. Fresh out of seminary, chomping at the bit to dive into God’s word with others to see what the Holy Spirit might stir up, we met on wooden benches in the summer heat, with a bit shade and a bit of breeze helping us along. I began with one simple question: What is the church?
Answers came quickly: “The place where we worship” (a building); “Where I come to be with other Christians” (a place of fellowship); “A place where we learn about God” (a teaching center); “A place where we experience the sacraments” (a place of grace-infused ritual); “A place where I can escape from the world and be at peace” (an oasis from life); and so forth.
OK, maybe it wasn’t such a simple question, but still, it was and is an important one.
What is the church? Take a second and in your own minds form your answer. Your own hypothesis as it were, like the folks did under that Mahogany tree those eight years and an odd month ago. Complete the sentence as simply as possible: The church is…what?
Beth worked in a dry cleaners a few blocks away from a church that I served years ago. She had one daughter, Gracie, maybe seven years old, and every Sunday morning she dutifully brought Gracie to the steps of the church in order for her to attend Sunday school. And by every Sunday morning I mean every Sunday morning. But Beth would never stay for worship – she never even passed the threshold of the main church door that led into the sanctuary. She would walk up the granite steps, one, two, a dozen rising up from the sidewalk to the threshold and then stop as if a light had turned red and then broke, never to find its way back to green. As if a sign said “Danger! Road closed Ahead!” She would send little Gracie on her way and take the steps, one, two, twelve, back down to the side walk and was gone.
What do you think that the church was for Beth?
Not much? A babysitter? A place for children to learn about God and for adults to perhaps tolerate if the they so chose? A placed to be feared? Boring? Strange?
If asked, Beth would tell a story about having worshiped at the church years before and being made to feel as an outsider, unwelcome. Yet despite this, she wanted her daughter to learn about Jesus and she knew of no other place, and so every Sunday morning, she climbed the steps, one, two, twelve in all, and stopped at the great door that led inside.
What the church is is important.
Paul and the Fabric of the Church
Hear again from our second lesson, from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the congregation at Philippi:
If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, and compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
There is something for Paul that is in its essence the very fabric of the church – that if soiled or worn out or ripped or torn asunder would painfully damage the church’s mission and form of the church an image that does not reflect Christ to the world. Instead of shining with his glorious light, it flickers and dims and perhaps even blends fearfully in the darkness of night.
Hear the words: be of the same mind, have the same love, be in full accord, of one mind (yes Paul mentions that twice).
And what are we to hold the same?
What are we to be of one mind, one accord about?
This is where churches get lost in the woods.
Some might say worship – we should agree how worship should be.
Some might say Sunday school – we should all agree how Sunday school should be.
Some might say how a pastor does his job – we should all be of one mind about that.
Or the budget or our communion practices or what doughnuts to serve during coffee hour or what hymns we should sing or how the bulletin should look.
Now Paul has planted numerous churches. Guided by the Holy Spirit he found leaders, opened up for them the good news, helped to form them, mentored them, taught them and then moved on and planted another church and another and another – all the while dealing with conflict after conflict, questions and controversies, arbitrating disagreements and disputes. Many of these have at their heart misunderstandings about what composes the fabric of the church.
The Mind of Christ
See, what the church is to each of us is one thing, but I think we might be able to agree that what the church is to God is of no small significance to us. What the church is to God is of no small significance to us as individual Christians and collectively as a faith community, a congregation, a church.
What is the church to God?
Paul says that for us to understand this we must look to Jesus. What God wants to say about the church, God speaks to us through and in the person of Jesus.
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” Paul says.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.
If we consider all of the junk floating around in our minds at any given moment (Do I need to pick up another gallon of milk on the way home? Did I remember to lock the door when I left? What is the status of the laundry? Whose birthday am I forgetting this month? Did I buy that gluestick that my child needs to finish their project for school due tomorrow? And so on), when we consider all of that – what might it mean for us to have the same mind that was in Christ?
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.And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.
An Empty Life Re-Examined
Is your life empty?
Paul tells us that it needs to be.
Empty of the rampant navel gazing that haunts us.
Empty of the “do good because it feels good” mentality
Empty of the need for power and control.
Empty of the need to always be right.
Empty of judgment and reluctant praise for the success of others.
Empty of jealousy and fear.
And empty of pride.
Our lives need to be empty of all of that and more so that humble and obedient to God, God in Christ Jesus might fill us. As servants of the Gospel embodying the good news, we, too, become part of the fabric that holds together the church. We become the Body of Christ. We become the church.
The church is…us when we take on the mind of Christ, his humility, his obedience, his sacrifice for the other. For people like Beth.
Crossing the Threshold
That Christmas Eve I stared out into the sanctuary filled to three times its normal size. The children of our Sunday school walked out to sing. And there was Beth with her mother and others, finally having crossed over the threshold and through the door into a place of once unwelcome. We invited her, of course. In person. Humbly and gently. Lovingly. When one has the mind of Christ, the fabric that holds the church together becomes a rich tapestry indeed!