Click on the audio file above to just hear the sermon.

Take it Easy on Meby

Rev. Dr Kristin Philipson

Philippian 2:1-13, Season of Creation 3

September 27, 2020

One of the most memorable theatre experiences I’ve had was at a play I attended about a girl who gives her heart to a stranger she sees on the subway.  I know it doesn’t sound all that imaginative, but the playwright interpreted the expression literally and wondered: what would happen if this young woman literally gave her heart to a stranger?  It wasn’t as gory as it sounds.  In the universe of the play she could do this and still live.  The stranger didn’t even realize he was carrying her heart; she’d somehow managed to keep it a secret – she’d stowed it in his bag – and he wandered around and went through his days for weeks without knowing he had this girl’s heart.  It was a creative way of capturing what love can feel like; love can be like having someone – maybe someone you don’t even know – walk around with your heart. 

 Imagine a world where all the expressions we use to talk about our inner emotional states were literal?  Imagine a world where the private anxieties and struggles we carry on the inside were visible to everyone around us on the outside; a world where we really mean it when we say, “he’s wearing his heart on his sleeve,” or “she’s shouldering a heavy burden right now?”  Imagine we carried our private sorrows and griefs around in reusable bags like groceries, so that when one of our friends said, “she’s just managing a lot right now,” they really meant exactly that?  Imagine you could actually see what others were struggling with, because it was all right there for you to see?  You take the dog out for its morning walk and notice a trim and distinguished man walking purposefully in his suit and tie.  In one hand he’s got his briefcase and in the other a bowling ball-sized weight on which you can see the words, “worried; my teenager is experimenting with drugs.”  You go out to run errands and there’s a woman struggling to open the door to the shop.  She has so many bags she has to put a couple of them down to grab the door handle and then she picks them up again and uses her elbow to hold the door while she pushes her way through.  One bag says, “unexpected bills,” and another says, “anxiety about the future because I live alone.”  Later, on a break at your neighbourhood coffee shop, the barista appears with something weighing on his mind – an actual gray cinder block pressing down on his head and strapped around his face and chin.  It’s says his father is not doing well; it’s time for him to come home, to say goodbye – his mother had called to give him the news.

Imagine how different our experience of each other would be if we could see the burdens each of us was bearing; if what was weighing us down was something we had to manage on the outside, like grocery bags; if what has us in knots actually had us in knots; if baggage from our past was something for which we needed a cart for to wheel around in our everyday lives?  Would we have a little more compassion for each other, if what each of us was holding was a little more visible?

A few weeks ago, I was out picking up school supplies with my daughter.  Directly behind us in the store was the greeting card section.  A woman came up to us.  “My son,” she said, “his wife is having a baby shower.  Can you find me a card?”  I thought this was a strange thing to ask and I hadn’t really wanted to be interrupted from my errand.  Grudgingly, I went over, thinking that after getting the school supplies, I still had to go here and there, and then this was Covid-time and I didn’t love having to stand close to a stranger in a store.  I pointed to a card.  “How about this one?” I said.  “I don’t know,” said woman.  “Well, how about this one?” I said, pointing to another.  The woman just stood there, and I looked at her and then I began to realize what was going on; she couldn’t read.  I pulled out all the cards I could find for a baby shower and read her the messages inside one by one until she her one she liked, wishing I had been able to understand what was going on a little sooner, but how was I to know?  It wasn’t like she was wearing a sign on her forehead!

Paul’s letter to the Philippians is relatively short and his reason for writing seemingly insignificant – a spat between church members – but the letter holds a cherished place in our cannon.  In addressing something small, Paul shares wisdom on something big: how to be a good person in the world, as a person of faith.  There was a time in his life, Paul says in the letter, when he believed that being a good person meant trying to be as perfect as possible in other people’s eyes; trying to be more on top of things than everyone else; trying to measure up; trying to check certain boxes.  “If anyone else thinks they have reason to put confidence in the flesh, I have more,” he writes.  Paul checked all the boxes for his society’s measure of “good,” “as for legalistic righteousness,” he writes, he was “faultless.”  But his relationship with the Risen Christ gave Paul a completely different criteria for what it meant to be good.  The story is the stuff of legend.  Paul was walking on the road to Damascus when he was surrounded by a bright light and heard the voice of Jesus talking to him.  The experience blinded him, and when he regained his sight it was changed; he saw the people around in a different way, with more compassion, as though what had been invisible in them was suddenly visible.  

I am someone whose brain is full of concern with how good I look to others – with the size of my waist, with the power of my intellect, with the successes of my children, with the number of views these messages get, with the number of people I can engage in church programming – but the goodness to which the Risen Christ calls us is concern with how others look and feel.  “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others,” Paul writes.  “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who…emptied himself,” taking the form of a servant indentured to others.  Just imagine what life is like for one another; why he’s so testy, why she’s so rude, why he’s so nervous, why she’s not.  An imagination might just be the most important gift we could bring to another person.  Imagine and curiosity breed compassion.

It seems a very small thing, in the grand scheme of things, to simply notice the people around us, to try to imagine their inner struggles, to empty a bit of our fullness in order to have some space in our consciousness for someone else’s experience, to look not to our own interests but to the interests of others, to practice compassion – but it is our conviction as people of faith that it’s through our compassion for others and our openness to others that the Divine Presence comes face to face with our world.  “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to God’s good purpose,” Paul writes.  You could say that we quite literally carry God’s heart.  May you find fullness in emptying yourself.  Amen.