Sunday, June 29, 2014

Balm of Gilead

Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul

Acts 12:1-11; Psalm 87:1–3, 5–7; 2 Timothy 4:6–8, 17–18; John 21:15–19


            How many of you have heard of Balm of Gilead? Did you know that you can make it? It’s a kind of salve made from olive oil combined with the resin of a certain tree’s buds.  Guess what tree is used to make Balm of Gilead? Cottonwoods. The frustrating trees that make us sneeze, which blow their fluff around in the summertime, which we consider little better than weeds. The buds of the cottonwood tree can be steeped with oil to make an antiseptic and healing balm. From such a frustrating tree comes a magnificent medicine. 

            In the Bible, the land of Gilead is where the family of Gad (one of Jacob’s twelve sons) had settled. They traded in spices and balms. By the time of the prophet Jeremiah, however, most of the children of Israel were struggling and had lost sight of God’s own role in their healing. Jeremiah wrote, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has not the health of the daughter of my people been restored?" (Jer. 8:22) The prophet is asking how people who are known for their medicines can still be sick in a spiritual sense? From such a tree, rooted in God’s promises to Jacob and others, there should have been powerful soul medicine.

            The song we know, There is a Balm in Gilead, comes from the African-American spiritual tradition. Traced back to pre-Civil War era, enslaved Africans and their descendants answered Jeremiah’s question. There is a balm in Gilead. There is healing for the soul. It is found in the person of Jesus- in the life, teaching, healing, death, and resurrection of Emmanual- God with us. The people who first sang, “Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work’s in vain, but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again” knew something that Jeremiah didn’t. They heard, trusted, and lived into the truth that Jesus had and would bring healing to their souls, the balm of salvation, hope, and renewal.

Sermon Wordle

            How did they come to know this? How did the story of an itinerant rabbi from the backwater of Nazareth come to the ears of African people and their descendants on the shores of the New World some 1800 years later? Who moved that story forward?

            Among the people who did that work, two names stand out: Peter and Paul. We are so used to hearing about Peter and Paul, about their work, about their faith, that we often think of them as redwoods in the forest of Christ’s followers. They were surely head and shoulders above everyone else, even with their foibles. Peter helped to organize the sharing of the gospel to Jewish people. Paul spread the good news, after his awakening, to Gentiles throughout the Roman world.

            However, these two men were the people equivalent of cottonwoods. They annoyed people. They popped up where they weren’t wanted. They frustrated each other. And, finally, when they could no longer be tolerated- they were chopped down. However, the lives of the fisherman from Galilee and the tentmaker from Tarsus were not ended without a significant spreading of the salve they had come to trust as healing for the mind, the body, and the soul.

            “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter rejected the idea that Jesus would suffer and die. Peter denied being with Jesus to save his hide. Peter was not waiting at the tomb, in faith, for resurrection. And, yet, he still knew the truth of who Jesus was, “You are the Messiah.” The sap of faith was fermenting in Peter and would be tapped for the sake of the world on the day of Pentecost. God knew what this cottonwood could do.

            Paul held the coats at the stoning of Stephen, according to Acts. He demonstrated his strength in the traditions of his birth by persecuting Christians, until Jesus blindsided him on the road to Damascus. Paul literally had to learn to trust God, through Christ, all over again by being cared for by Jesus’ followers. And, then, he was off. Sometimes I wonder if Paul ever stopped talking, between dictating letters, preaching, discussing, praying. It’s a wonder God didn’t restore his sight, but once in a while consider making him mute for a period. But God knew the balm that would flow from the pen and the mouth of this cottonwood.

            We often are confused when we use the term “saints”. It is easy to think of people we know in our lives or in history who seemed outstandingly good, able to resist temptation, and wholly devout in all they do as saints. Essentially the redwoods of faith are who we think of, people standing head and shoulders above the rest of us. But it ain’t necessarily so. In fact, it necessarily ain’t so.

            Saints come to being through Christ’s own work. God’s perseverance, through the Holy Spirit, in continuing to steer us right, to use our gifts for healing in the world, to show us the truth of our life and death in Jesus through baptism, communion, and work together… these things make up the lives of all the saints. God does not give special skills to just a few. God gives a few select skills to all- the ability to speak to the love of Jesus, the strength to offer assistance, the courage to keep on going with hope and trust.

            You are no less important to the kingdom of God than Peter or Paul or Jeremiah or the enslaved people who persevered in faith. It is not a weaker balm that comes through you. You are as much cottonwood as they! (Good news- as annoying, as prolific, as strong, as much healing balm!) The life of faith is never about who you think you are, but about who God knows you are and God is working to shape, save, and use you for the sake of the world around you.

            What’s the second verse of the hymn? “If you cannot preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul, you can tell the love of Jesus and say he died for all…” There is a balm in Gilead. It is the life and love of Jesus- Lord of Life now and forever. His story offers healing to the world, but it must be told. It gets told by God’s saints- who are only majestic in that they have died and been raised to new life- even right now- in Jesus. The healing salve of Jesus’ story pours into and out of God’s saints- cottonwoods that we be. Weedy, frustrating, and healing- created by God- just like Peter and Paul (and cottonwoods)- to share the good news and be part of the healing and flourishing of the kingdom of God.

Amen.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Sweet Charity

Yesterday, my cell phone rang as I was packing my bags in my office. A breathless woman began to tell me the story of how her young son had been on a trip with friends, but they left him in a town about 250 miles from Anchorage. She left a big pause in the conversation after that.

I sighed. I hate doing this, but I said to her, "I need you to tell me what you need or how I can help you." We don't have cash in the church and every situation is a case-by-case basis of how I can figure out if and how to help someone.

"I'm trying to collect money for gas to get to [place] to pick up my son. I have about $20. I go to [church in Anchorage], but no one's there. I've been driving around, trying to get money together."

I peeked out my office window. I can see her sitting in the church parking lot, in her car, looking frantic.

Here comes the part where people either hang up on me or take me up on an offer. "Okay," I reply. "We don't have any cash in the church, but if you go over to the Safeway- I'll meet you there and fill your gas tank."

- Pause -

"Seriously?"

"Seriously. The Safeway across the street. I'm parked behind the church right now. I need to get my things together and then I'll be over there in a big, green truck. I can fill your tank, but that's about all I can do right now."

"Oh my gosh, that's so much help. Thank you so much. Thank you..."

I gather my stuff and head to the truck. I feel jittery with the pressure of the decision. Is she lying? Is that important? Should I offer to get her some food as well?

I drive across the street to the Safeway. She's already parked next to a pump. She's counting change in her hand. I approach her open window, "Hi, you're trying to get to your son?"

She looks up at me, "Yes."

I walk around the car, put in my credit card, and start pumping gas. She gets out to thank me again. She tells me how far it is to the town and how this tank will get her there. She'll figure out how to get back once she's got her son. I ask who he is with and if he's okay. She names names and assures me that she knows how to get there.

She shivers in a tanktop. I can't remember if I have a spare jacket or sweatshirt in the car and then I remember I have my husband's truck. "Can't do everything," I tell myself as the pump cuts off, indicating that her tank is full.

She thanks me again. "Drive very carefully," I say. "Good luck. I'll say a prayer for you."

I walk away. I don't look back to see what direction she heads or what happens next. I don't want to know. I don't need to know.

A few weeks ago, a woman in the congregation I serve spoke to me about the panhandlers she passes when walking to work. She said she feels badly ignoring them, but she doesn't want to be in the habit of always giving out cash. And she doesn't necessarily want to encourage panhandling. However, she finds herself constantly wondering, "Am I ignoring Jesus when I walk by and give nothing?"

First, prayers aren't nothing. You can always pray for every person you encounter during your day, in whatever situation.

I expressed sympathy for her plight, having found myself in the same situation many times. Particularly when people call the church office, I have to decide, often in seconds, how to respond. Each response feels like a judgment on the person, even when it's a truthful statement about the church's current resources or my own.

I reminded this woman that she works for the Food Bank! She is aware and regularly participates in the community organizations and resources for people who need help. We acknowledge that, for a variety of reasons, not everyone is able to gain access to these resources, but they are there.

We also noted that we cannot respond to every request in the same way. She might decide on an amount of small bills to keep in a pocket to give out in a day or a week. When they're gone, they're gone.

In close proximity to this conversation (possibly even the same day), a homeless veteran (Desert Storm) stayed in the narthex of our church during the service. He came up to me after the service, after speaking to several parishioners. Long story less long, his PTSD makes it difficult for him to be in shelters. He wanted to stay in a hotel for one night, to have some peace and quiet, and to take a shower. Through a member of the congregation, we worked out a place for him to stay. I wrote a check for the place, but the manager comped the room when she found out what we were doing.

This veteran, a former military chaplain, gripped my hand just before two parishioners drove him to his accommodations. Looking me in the eye, he said, "Thank you for doing for the least of these."

My knees nearly buckled.

We are all doing the best we can. Weighing each encounter, attempting to discern truth, hoping that we aren't scammed, hoping that we aren't enabling, praying that our help actually helps.

Whatever the result, we are not called to stop helping. We are additionally compelled to think through our help, to weigh what seems best, and to ask God to help and guide us.

Penultimately, even in giving, we must still seek forgiveness for our debts and trespasses, forgiving those who are indebted to and have trespassed against us.

And, finally, this:

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. 1 Corinthians 13:12-13 (Sounds different when we don't say love.)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Book Review: Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death at a Storm-Ravaged Hospital

I frequently find myself with good intentions for finishing one book, only to be sidetracked by another book. I eventually finish the first, but if the latter is amazing or absorbing- all bets are off until it is done. So it was this week in preparing for book review time. I have a stack of things that are finished or almost finished and ready for review, when I just happened to check out Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death at a Storm-Ravaged Hospital. Frankly, it’s amazing that I still paid attention to my family, work, and personal hygiene while reading this book. So it passed all other comers for today’s review because it is both an excellent book and because it raises some serious ethical questions that must be considered. 

Sheri Fink (M.D., Ph.D.) is a correspondent for the New York Times on a variety of issues, but especially on medical issues and crises. Five Days at Memorial is six years of painstaking research, interviewing, backtracking, and piecing together what happened at Memorial Medical Center between the actual storm of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and when all living people were evacuated from the hospital five days later. To be absolutely fair and clear, Sheri Fink was not in the hospital during that harrowing time frame. Neither was I. Most likely, neither were you. What we think we might have done is only speculation. 

The truth is that at least one hospital administrator, at least two doctors, and at least three nurses made the decision to divide patients up according to a survivability prognosis. Patients who were not likely to fare well in transferred to another facility, according to the decision of this small group, were administered heavy doses of morphine and a benzodiazepine sedative (Versed). This cocktail was administered with the intention of hastening death. Those who administered the drugs only know whether that goal was a secondary result of a primary desire to comfort the patients. 

The book details the fears and frustrations in the aftermath of Katrina. The reader is pulled along in the tumult of frantic messages for help, combined with hospital personnel sending empty helicopters away so that they (the personnel) could rest. There was a point during my reading when I said to my husband, “This is the worst train wreck ever and I can’t look away.” Ultimately, though Memorial Medical Center still had plenty of bottled water, food, and medicines, people panicked and a mentality of scarcity took over and ruled the day. 

It was not unusual for people to ride out a hurricane at the hospital and so many staff members were sheltered there, with family members and pets. Under the stress of no air conditioning or lights, frustrations were high. One doctor began to worry about her cat and several people asked for doctors to euthanize their pets, lest they suffer unduly by being left behind in a rescue (if that ever occurred). Once the word had been uttered, some people wondered why there was more consideration for the comfort of the animals that the people. 

Fink captures one doctor’s reflection: 

This is the United States, she thought, and was surprised at what was being said so frankly, out in the open, with maybe a couple dozen people around. She wondered how smart that was, but she thought euthanasia needed to be considered. It was obvious to her, although she couldn’t, in her normal life, have imagined it being a viable option. Now it seemed, while not the only option, perhaps the only humane one. She felt confident it was the right thing even before this conversation… She could no longer envision what would happen when life returned to normal… Having an end would give them a reference point for their options. Yes, she had heard they would all get out that day, but she couldn’t see it, couldn’t believe it, wasn’t convinced by [the leaders]… (p. 193) 

Fink carefully documents that in the months and years to come, people will differ on what they remember saying and who they remember saying it to and when. Some people will admit to participating in the conversations about euthanasia, about who should die and how. Other people were adamantly against it at the time and continued to be later. Others were ambivalent at the time, but would regret their actions, one way or another, in time to come. Regardless, people were killed in the hospital, by those who had been entrusted with their care, just as rescue was imminent. Almost all those who were injected with the drug cocktail died on Thursday, September 2nd. The hospital was emptied of its live occupants by that evening. 

As the book goes on, the reader learns that the Cancer Center at Memorial hospital continued to have some working generators. The upper administrators of the hospital stayed in office suites and comfortable waiting areas there. For stress relief, some nurses in the main hospital used oxygen masks to blow on their faces, cooling them and, temporarily, making the situation more bearable. Outside the hospital, chaos reigned. The local, state, and federal government scrambled and discovered the true gaps in their disaster preparedness, including and especially the lack of interoperable communications. The main doctor in the story, Anna Pou, later reflected that New Orleans during and after Katrina was “not America”. 

The first part of the book details the activity in the hospital. The second part details the legal investigations in the aftermath. It also contains the grief of the families of the patients who died, plus the struggles of the doctors and nurses who had been in Memorial. Memorial Medical Center was not the only hospital or nursing facility to have patients die in unexpected numbers, under suspicious circumstances. 

The interesting part of the book comes during the epilogue. Fink was present at a hospital in New York during Hurricane Sandy. Despite being years after Katrina, many of the same plant issues remained- electrical grids on the ground level floor or in the basement (at risk in flooding), inadequate generator fuel supplies for more than a couple days, lack of clear chain of command. Most disturbingly, Sandy revealed that the hospitals had worked on a plan to ration access to ventilators and, possibly, other life-saving equipment. 

The conversation for this plan (pre-disaster) happened within and among doctors and nurses. Patients and their families were not consulted about their wishes in creating the plan or during the disaster. While the situations that came out of Katrina mostly managed to be avoided with Sandy, some of the flotsam left behind these storms is the need to have these conversations in our community. 

Do you know the natural disasters (and/or manmade events) that are most likely in your area? 

Do you and, if applicable, your family have a clear plan and/or resources for this situation? 

Are you aware of community conversations regarding evacuating nursing homes, mental institutions, prisons, or other community living spaces? 

Do you know the protocol in your local hospital for providing care, triage, and/or rationing medicine? 

Fink writes, “Emergencies are crucibles that contain and reveal the daily, slower-burning problems of medicine and beyond- our vulnerabilities; our trouble grappling with uncertainty, how we die, how we prioritize and divide what is most precious and vital and limited, even our biases and blindness.” (p. 462) 


The thing that sticks with me about this book is that perhaps all the patients who were killed would have died soon anyway- during transport, awaiting care in another facility, in the chaos of the other locations to which people were transported. Perhaps they would have been hot, in pain, disoriented, alone. Was the death that came better? Ultimately, we must leave that question unanswered to pursue what truly matters- preventing that situation from occurring again in New Orleans, in your town, in mine, in the world. 

Psalm 8 Revisited

One: O Lord our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
All: Majestic, magnificent, marvelous, mysterious is our God.

One: The angels sing of your glory.
All: Children recognize your power.

One: Your enemies do not prevail. The fortress of your love lasts forever.
All: Majestic, magnificent, marvelous, mysterious is our God.

One: When I think of all creation- space, animals, plants,
All: People, music, fish, mountains, oceans, and deserts.

One: It is more than I can comprehend- that I am born out of the same mind as whales and galaxies.
All: Who are we, that you have thought of us, made us, loved us, saved us?

One: Majestic, magnificent, marvelous, mysterious is our God.
All: You made people- all people, all kinds of people

One: You gave people, us, the work of caring for, of stewardship over
All: Flocks and herds, fields and forests, lakes and rivers, the wild and the tamed.

One: O Lord our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

All: Majestic, magnificent, marvelous, mysterious is our God.

Cutting the Cord (Trinity Sunday)

Matthew 28: 16-20


A few weeks ago, I was crocheting a baby blanket during text study, the weekly get-together where pastors chat about all kinds of things (sometimes, even, the Bible). I was using two skeins of yarn at the same time and, somehow, a horrible snarl had happened. Thus, most of my time on that particular day was spent untangling the snarl, attempting to salvage the yarn. I pulled at the tangle, carefully weaving one free end over and around, up and down, through and back again.

The other people thought I was crazy. One pastor thought I should cut it and be done with it, knotting two free ends back together and then going from there. I didn’t want to do that, I reported. I wanted to undo the knot. I knew that I could. It just took patience and a lot of effort. I knew untangling that hideous knot would be worth it in the end, I just had to stick with it.

I worked on it for two hours that day and for an hour and a half during a meeting the next day. Of course, during the time that I was working on the knot, what wasn’t I doing? I wasn’t working on the baby blanket. I was ignoring my main task for this side project, which was slow. Focusing on untangling the knot gave some real pleasure, but I did not make any ground on the real work of finishing the blanket so that I could put it in the mail.

Should I have just cut the knot as soon as I saw it?  Maybe.

Should I have set an amount of time to wrestle with it and then gotten back to crocheting? Maybe.

Should I have made more of an effort to remember that creating the blanket was my main goal, rather than untangling what was likely about six feet worth of yarn that cost $4 a skein? In my mind, now, definitely.

This knotty problem kept bubbling up to the surface of my mind this week as I reflected on the mystery of God’s own self as Trinity and Unity. I used to thrill at attempting to explain the Trinity, even if you didn’t love my attempts. Unraveling that knot, making useful yarn out of it, seemed so worthwhile and valuable. I loved the possibilities that seemed evident in considering the questions and the answers of how God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- are together and separate in an eternal dance of love, creation, redemption, and grace within their own relationship to one another and within their relationship to us.

Suddenly, this week, I realized the more time that I spent on explaining the Trinity, the less time I spent on talking about or doing the actual work of making disciples, of bringing people into the Way of Jesus. Whoops. Since 325 and the first church council at Nicea, when believing in the Trinity became a hallmark of orthodox Christian thinking, there has been immense significance placed on the intellectual understanding of God’s relations within God’s self. Getting the knowledge correct replaced actually doing what Jesus commanded of his early disciples and expects of his present disciples (that’s us).

Frankly, it’s too easy for us to feel like we have to work out the knot, that we need to have everything neat and perfect and completely understood before we could begin to share the good news of Jesus. After all, what if we were trying to make disciples and someone asked us about the Trinity? What would we do then? What happens if there’s a question we can’t answer?

We make a cut, tie the ends together, and keep crocheting (or knitting or fishing or whatever).

Yesterday, several people from this congregation stood in the drizzle on the Park Strip and manned (and womanned) a booth for the PrideFest. The sign on the booth read “People who love Jesus and you, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America”. For hours, we stood- handing out bracelets, inviting people to church, selling children’s bibles and cookbooks, and listening to stories. We answered all kinds of questions. We listened with sympathy to how people had been hurt by church people. We encouraged.

Not once in 8+ hours, as far as I know, was anyone asked about the Trinity.  (Rats!) Not once we were asked to explain our understanding of how God could have three expressions. We weren’t quizzed on any Bible passages related to the Trinity (though we did get questions about some other things).

Does it mean that dogma doesn’t matter? No, but it does mean that if we sat here for the same amount of time yesterday, struggling to completely understand that teaching- we would have missed those interactions, those stories, the chance to witness to the hope that is within us. In any kind of work, there is always a little side project that needs to be done or that can be done. (Ask me how often I clean my desk rather than work on a hard text.) The side project in itself is not a bad thing. It’s worth untangling some knots. It is when these little things become our focus that we have a problem.

The relational existence and outpouring of Godself seems enticing, in that we can delay action on anything as long as there is something in our faith that remains less than completely understood. Understanding the Trinity is the Gordian knot of contemporary theology. We must cut it, rather than seek to untie it. We celebrate who God is and who we are to and in God. That's something to think about!

Trusting that God is Source, Savior, and Sustenance moves us into the realm of the life of faith, rather than only the study thereof. In a time and place that calls for actions, we need a God of movement, of internal and external activity, of past action, present guidance, and future clarity. That, fortunately is the God we serve. God’s way of revealing the Divine nature and ability to meet those needs is expressed through what we have seen and experienced true in the movements of the Holy Parent, Holy Son, and Holy Spirit.

We have work to do, specific work to which we have been called. Nowhere is that work defined as total comprehension of the nature of God. There is no shortage of ways to stand with and for the little, the least, and the lost. We take what we trust is true about God, even with our reservations, and we run with it, for the sake of the common good, for the sake of our communities, for the sake of communion, for the sake of Christ in the world.


What Matters Now

This was originally posted for The Pastoral is Political here at RevGalBlogPals.



A few years ago, Holy Trinity Sunday was my favorite Sunday of the church year. I welcomed the chance to frolic in the mystery and share my enthusiasm for God’s beyond binary boundaries. Sometimes I would write blog post after blog post, in addition to a sermon, to have space for my effervescence to overflow.

Then, due to travel, I didn’t preach on Holy Trinity for two years. Now I’m facing it again, but stirring up the old fervor is not happening. Why can’t I get excited about this?

Frankly, I think it would be a waste of time in the pulpit. Should I allot 15 minutes to a dogmatic statement that eludes and excludes more than it welcomes?

David Brat, primary winner in Virginia 7th Congressional district, does not believe in the common good. So, it is every man, woman, and child for him or herself? With no common good, there can be no agreement on general civility. We’re essentially living a large-scale Survivor series, but no one is voted off the island. Instead, they are gerrymandered, ID-required, and otherwise disenfranchised. This presumes that the person in question can survive the daily shootings in schools, malls, theaters, and places of worship.

Capitalism must be the answer, rather than a common understanding of relationship and community. If it were otherwise, we would likely not need the existence of products like bulletproof blankets for kids or lockdown magnets to secure classrooms. We have decided, instead of a common good or a serious national discussion, to allow a hysterical, bullsh*t argument about gun rights, psychotropic drugs, and “kids these days” to prevail.

In the meantime, security firms are marketing to schools and black powder (for loading ammunition) is sold out everywhere. This sector of our economy is growing, fed and watered by the blood of children, racial minorities, sexual minorities, and “others”. While cool heads can generally agree that this is not necessarily a one-solution situation, no one is willing to lay down their arms (so to speak) for the sake of others.

Instead, a sense of entitlement prevails. Apparently, as the modern United States stands, my pursuit of happiness is actually defined as ability to attain. I’m entitled to attractive persons with whom to have sex (at my whim, not theirs). I should get the grades, jobs, money, opportunities, which I believe I am due. This is not merely the attitude of my peers (Gen X) or those younger than me, but an attitude that I experience daily from Boomers and the Greatest Generation.

What “used to be” was not good for many people. What “is” is terrible for many.

And there is the Trinity. The relational existence and outpouring of Godself seems enticing, in that we can delay action on anything as long as there is something in our faith that remains less than completely understood. Understanding the Trinity is the Gordian knot of contemporary theology. We must cut it, rather than seek to untie it.

Trusting that God is Source, Savior, and Sustenance moves us into the realm of the life of faith, rather than the study thereof. In a time and place that calls for actions, we need a God of movement, of internal and external activity, of past action, present guidance, and future clarity. God’s way of revealing God’s own nature and ability to meet those needs is expressed through what we have seen and trusted as true of the Holy Parent, Holy Son, and Holy Spirit.

We have work to do, specific work to which we have been called. Nowhere is that work defined as total comprehension of the nature of God. There is no shortage of ways to stand with and for the little, the least, and the lost. We take what we trust is true about God, even with our reservations, and we run with it, for the sake of the common good, for the sake of our communities, for the sake of communion.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Humble Thyself (Sermon)

Philippians 2:1-13


            A few weeks ago, I watched a great local production of the play Charlotte’s Web, put on by TBA. The play, based on the book, is about a little pig named Wilbur whose bacon is saved by Charlotte, a spider, who spins words in her web that describe Wilbur. Coming up with the words requires some help from other animals.

            When Wilbur has been carted off to the fair, because he’s not just some pig, Charlotte and Templeton the rat go with him. Charlotte tasks Templeton with finding piece of paper with a good word on it that she can use as inspiration. Templeton comes back with a paper scrap that he asserts has a great word, “Humblé”. (“Hoom-blay”- like it’s French.)

            Charlotte rolls her eyes, “The word is humble!” There is a big audience laugh at that moment. Humblé sounds like the categorical opposite of what we understand “humble” to mean. In particular, we do not have a great cultural love of humbleness (or its partner, humility). When humble is used to mean “subservient” or “insignificant”, no one wants to sign up for that. When people say, “In my humble opinion”- they usually mean, “I definitely know what I’m talking about and if you had any sense, you’d listen to me.” On the whole, people would rather be humblé, even though it’s not a real word, than be humble.

            Thus, we come to today’s reading in Philippians and we read about Jesus being willing to humble himself. Was Jesus insignificant? Was he demeaned or low in status? Yes, he was friends with many who were on the lower rungs of society. He was from Nazareth, a bit of a backwater. However, Paul is referring to Jesus’ humbleness, his humility, in that he did not exploit the power that was within him (equality with God) while he was walking among us. He healed, he multiplied food, he raised people from the dead- but he didn’t smite, he didn’t heal for status gain, he taught so that minds and hearts would yield to embrace of mercy.

            Jesus had the skills and the opportunity to be humblé, whatever that would mean, but he did not seize them. He, instead, was humbled- modest and unpretentious- to be God- enfleshed- in the flesh, walking among us. And what was in his mind? Love for creation, a desire for reconciliation, hope for God’s people, knowledge of God’s faithfulness- this is the same mindset that Paul calls for the Philippians to have in themselves. It is the mindset that we are called to have as well.

            Too often, we as a church (and as people) are more about being humblé than humble. More time spent worrying about the building, about finances, about who does what and gets credit for it… all of this is humblé. We no longer live in a culture where we can be certain that people know who Jesus is, where church has a priority in people’s lives, where a relationship with God and God’s people is more common than not. Since this is the case, since the good news of Jesus needs to be spread far and wide, there is not the time or the room for humblé.

            Paul writes to the Philippians, “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” When he says, “If then there is…”, it is not actually an argument to say, “If these things exist…” It sounds that way in English, but Paul’s argument is actually more along the lines of “Since we have encouragement, consolation, love, compassion, and sympathy in and out of our relationship with God… let us have the same mind together.”

            Having the same mind does not mean that the Philippians, or any other Christians will agree on everything. Having the same mind means a kind of lifting up and privileging the care of one another. It means having a deep consideration for the feelings and experiences of one another. It means setting aside all that is humblé and being willing to be humbled by caring for one another.

            If we do this for each other, within the church, it will easily become our habit. Habits carry over beyond specific spaces. Our church habits can become our home habits and then our out-in-public habits. In consistently praying for and seeking to have the same mind with Christ Jesus, and then having that mindset together as a family in Christ, all traces of humblé will fad away- self-importance, frustration, superiority, disdain. Humbleness becomes the perfume of our lives, the song of our hearts, the tint through which our eyes see the world.

            Humbleness is not about being a doormat or groveling or do anything and everything for anyone and everyone. It is about working out, coming to a deeper and broader understanding, of our salvation- of what God has done and called us to in Jesus Christ. To know what and how we have been forgiven, to consider that we are daily gifted with help for faith and service, to trust that we are never alone… if that doesn’t cause you to tremble, tremble, tremble, what will?

            We are humbled by stepping out into the world on the faith that the One who knows us best, loves us most. That’s humbling. When we are at work with one another, when service busies our hands and prayer consumes our lips, as we work toward having the mind of Christ individually and together… as humbleness takes deeper root- it’s not that there’s no room to be humblé. It is that it is no longer necessary.



Amen.