Waimea United Church of Christ

 

Philippians 2:1-10              “Spirit of Service”

 

            This afternoon the Book Club here at the church will be discussing the book Crimes Against a Book Club, a novel by Kathy Cooperman. It is a story about two friends who are in need of cash and decide to sell luxury anti-aging face cream to the wealthy women of La Jolla, California. One of the women concocts a formula for the cream that includes a secret illegal ingredient. Actually it is a drug—cocaine.

            The women then claim that it is a secret formula developed by a French chemist by the name of Maurice Etinav. What I found humorous right away in the book is that Etinav is of course an anagram for the word “vanity.” So the cream, which by the way sold for two thousand dollars for a four-ounce jar, was in fact “vanity cream.” The ladies smeared themselves up with a “vanity cream.”

            What the world really needs is for someone to come up with an anti-vanity cream. Just smear it on, and you feel refreshed in humility before God and the rest of humanity. How much that would be worth to us? I would buy enough to smear all over the entire world!

 

            The first verse of our scripture starts strangely in a conditional clause: “If there be any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy. . . .

            We do not often stop to consider Jesus’ group dynamic skills. But, Jesus was a great encourager. This starts with the calling of his disciples. He calls the simplest of men, day laborers and fishermen, to become his protégés. He tells them, “I will make you now fishers of men.” He tells them that they will do “even greater things than He.” He tells Peter, the one who denies him three times, “on this rock I shall build my church.”

            We should feel that same encouragement today as followers of Christ. We should be encouraging one another as Christ encouraged others. We should be giving one another “Word Treats.” That is to say, we should speak to others with sweet words. Just as I came back to the US last week I came into conversation with someone who made that complaint about her place of work: “Every time I do something wrong, I hear about it again and again. Yet, when I do good things that might be noticed as a good job, nothing is said.” How hard it is to live in that kind of environment of negativity.

            I think it interesting to note that the toughest question asked last year during the presidential debates between the Republican and Democratic candidates was simply brought up at the end of the debate as: “Can you say something, anything, nice about the other candidate?” One could not help but notice that the stage went silent for a moment. Both candidates had not prepared for this kind of a question—Can you say something nice? They both looked kind of annoyed. They had to think hard before answering. “She is a tough lady,” came one response. “He has raised good children came the other response. After that, the negativity heated up again between them.

            We need to say our “word treats to others. We need to encourage others. Let me just say that you are all just such wonderful brothers and sisters of the faith for coming to church this Sunday. Many blessings on you for your love of Christ and His ministry! I thank God for you! I really missed you so much when I was away!

 

            Paul does not just lift up this idea of encouragement, that we need to send others “word treats,” but also that we are to console one another: “. . . .any consolation from love.” I want to start with the idea of “console.” Paramythos in the Greek is a word that denotes being close to others, not being alone. This is a word we do not use too often in English. I would like to bring it back into vogue!

            How can one be alone when coming to church? After all, we call this a “fellowship.” Is that even possible? When I was in Switzerland and Germany this month, I did happen to notice that the churches where I preached did not have any greeters at the door. The pastor him or herself were not there either. So, in essence, one could very well walk into those churches on Sunday morning and not be greeted or even noticed. How unlike our church here where not only will you be noticed, but Mike or Marlene will body-block you until you get your first-time lei on around your neck. David will run out to your car even with a church bulletin for you. He will seat you, too, if you let him.

            Once you are in the building, you will have to suffer through our time of greeting one another and our praise and prayer moment! If nothing else, one of the Deacons is going to hand you the offering plate! In Europe, they do not collect an offering. There is only a box in the back you drop your coins into.

            In the end, you can leave the church in Europe again without greeting the pastor or anyone else. Try to do that here!  We will usher you down to the Aloha Time. This is a very simple idea: The fellowship of Christ is a fellowship. To be a Christian means to be able to console others—that is to not leave the other person in utter loneliness.

            Today I have noticed that people are not speaking with one another anymore in public transit situations. I really noticed that with all of the travel that I did alone this month. Meeting other people used to be my greatest joy in travel. Now, everyone is got his or her face stuck looking down at some handheld computer device.

            Some folks today will say that they are more connected to others than ever because wherever they are they can be in conversation with their friends. Yes, maybe one can converse, but you cannot “console” through a device. You cannot give a hug. You cannot be physically in the room with another. You cannot wipe away a tear or share really in laughter. The bible here is clear on this point. We have to be able to truly console, be with, one another.

 

            Looking now at verse three of today’s scripture, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” Jesus himself makes this point again and again in his ministry, but perhaps the greatest example of all is when Jesus bows down before his disciples and washes their feet, saying “unless you all do likewise to one another, you will have no part in me.” (John 13)

            When I was in Zurich, I got to meet with some other pastors. My host, Pastor Andrea Marco, suggested that I meet with one pastor in particular because he seemed to be the most successful pastor in the Canton. In fact his worship service was being broadcast every Sunday on the national television station.  I did have a chance to meet with him. I asked him why his particular church ministry seemed to garner so much attention. Do you know how he responded? He told me: “It is because I am the best of the best!” Andrea Marco and I just kind of looked at each other in disbelief.

 

            Let us know refer to verse 5 of the text: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” I was thinking, I missed that part of the gospel where Jesus professes that he is “the best of the best.” Do you recall when Jesus is on the Cross with the criminal on one side of him questioning why such an innocent man was being crucified? Does Jesus turn to him and say “because I am the best of the best”? Instead he accepts the man’s faith and brings him into heaven.

            To be sure, and do not misconstrue, Jesus is absolutely the “best of the best” who ever walked on the face of the earth. And, we would do well in our own lives to remember who is and always will be the “Best of the Best” in this world. If I have anything at all that I can be proud of in my life, it is for and from Jesus. He is my Lord. To Him I will bow down. If one day my soul is to be exalted in heaven, then it was only because I bowed myself down to Jesus in this life today. Amen?

            I know that I do not always see things as Jesus does. I know that I got some human pride blurring my vision. I only see through a glass dimly, as we read in First Corinthians 13:12. Yet, it could be that Jesus is looking down at my life right now and giving me just a passing grade. Maybe I am not that A+ student that I hope to be from a heavenly perspective? Yup, I need to look at my own life through the mind of Christ! When I do that, my only response is to get down on my knees, or flat on my face, and ask for forgiveness for my own self-conceit.

 

            Look at verse 9. Jesus is “the name that is above every name.” Some people say that they have trouble with my name. It is too foreign. It is too long. Nobody can pronounce it. That is GREAT! But, can you speak the name of Jesus?!  What was that other guy’s name who claimed to be the greatest of his time?   Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus Augustus? Jesus never took a great title like that. He is just Jesus. And, he is the best of the best. It is to that simple name that we bow down.

           

            Be encouraged this day. Jesus is Lord. Be consoled this day. Jesus is Lord. Be exalted in heaven. Jesus is Lord. Just rub off that vanity cream and be real.

 

Amen.