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First Reading = Galatians 3:19-29
19Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring would come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained through angels by a mediator. 20Now a mediator involves more than one party; but God is one. 21Is the law then opposed to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed come through the law. 22But the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
We are continuing our series about real relationships. Our goal is to give you the principles for relating with each other in love, decency, respect, and honesty. Last we talked about accepting ambiguity. We all have some marble and some wax. We are all ambiguous and complicated. Jesus loves us anyway. So we can accept ambiguity in our relationships.
This week we are focusing on commonalities. Jesus called his followers brothers and sisters and family. Can we see each other with those same eyes?
Our main text today is one of my favorites in the whole Bible. Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi includes this incredible second chapter which summarizes so much about being a follower of Jesus. If we relate with each other as Jesus related with us, we will find much in common.
Sermon Text = Philippians 2:1-11
2If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Worth the Effort?
While I worked for my parents in various forms beforehand, my first non-family job was at the ripe old age of 14 when I was hired to code websites by a local designer. At the time there was pretty much one way to view a website: Internet Explorer 6. If you want to mess with your techy family and friends, go up to someone who was programming in the late 90’s and say “Do you remember Internet Explorer 6? That was the best browser!” And then watch them twitch! It’ll be fun…for you.
But then Firefox came onto the scene. And websites would look beautiful in Firefox and clunky and painful in Internet Explorer. And then Google Chrome added another way to view websites. And Apple made this thing called the iPhone – don’t know if you’ve heard of it. So then we had tiny screens to worry about.
And there were two basic ways to handle this problem of websites looking so different for everyone depending on how they were viewing it. One way was the cheap and easy way: put a written notice on your website that it should only be viewed one way. Internet Explorer 6 required!
The other way to handle it, which became the accepted standard, was to see your website on a lot of different browsers and devices and sizes of monitor. New ways of making websites were created to make them shape-shift. So on a big screen you see a big website. On a tiny phone, the menu shrinks down to a single button, and the images stack up vertically instead of sprawling out horizontally.
And that came down to a fundamental choice about what was the “right” way to view your website. What was worth the effort to make it work? The people who put notices that a certain browser was required? They thought their way was the only “right” way to be on the Internet. Theirs was the only way that was worth the effort. Everyone else was different and wrong.
The people who made new ways to make websites look good on lots of screens and devices? They saw all these different ways of viewing a website as worth the effort. It took more work. It took new technologies to let things shape-shift automatically. It took a while to get the hang of it. But now most websites work decently no matter how or where you’re viewing them.
You can go to a website on your phone or your tablet or your laptop or your home computer. You can use Windows or Mac or iOS or Android. If the developers and designers did their job, it will look different but good on all of those platforms. But that’s only possible because people decided it was worth the effort. Those different ways of being on the Internet mattered.
And early on, that wasn’t a guarantee. Early on, it wasn’t uncommon to hear someone say, “I don’t care about those i-whatevers! People can look at my website on Internet Explorer 6 on Windows like I do!” That was pretty common for many years. It took lots of people deciding that it was important to view websites in many different ways. It took smart and dedicated people working really hard to make it work. And they did it because they thought it was worth the effort.
We invest in what we think is important. And we tend to ignore whatever we think is unimportant.
The early church had a lot of debates – and fights – about what was important. It’s a good thing we got that all figured out, right? Churches never debate what’s important anymore, because we all agree, right? Yeah, right!
In our first text, they were debating how much of the Jewish religion and culture the Greek converts to Christianity should embrace. How much did the Greeks need to look and act and eat like the Jews to be included? How much did the Greeks need to be Jewish to be worth the effort?
And here’s what we heard: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Baptism into Christ. That’s it. That’s all that was required to be considered worth the effort – to be considered important. Jews couldn’t lord over Greeks. Free couldn’t lord over slaves. Men couldn’t lord over women. “For all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
That sounds like the websites to me. Before Jesus, Jews were the only ones with a clear view of God. After Jesus, the Gospel exploded across the world. It was important for Jews to know Jesus. It was important for Greeks to know Jesus. Phillip was sent to an Ethiopian, because it was important for Africans to know Jesus. Thomas and Bartholomew went East, because it was important for India to know Jesus.
An Ethiopian sees Jesus from a different perspective than a Roman. But it’s worth the effort to give both of them a clear view of Jesus from wherever they’re standing. A website might look different on an iPhone and a Windows desktop computer, but it’s the same website content. Someone from India and Jerusalem might approach Jesus a little differently, but they can still approach Jesus – the same person, the same content, the same God, the same Spirit.
In our second text today, we heard Paul write to the Philippians, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
The interesting assumption here is that we have a choice. We have the choice to think like Jesus. We have the choice to look to the interests of others. We have the choice to do all the things Paul says in this chapter. We have the choice to encourage others in Christ. We have the choice to console others in love. We have the choice to see each other as sharing the same Holy Spirit. We have the choice to demonstrate compassion and sympathy. We have choices!
Our first text said we have clothed ourselves in Christ. Did you choose your clothes today? I’m certainly glad someone chose clothes for you! I’m glad we all chose not to have birthday suit Sunday! Tomorrow, can you choose different clothes? What about the day after that? Can you have a third set of clothes? Heaven help us, so many choices!
As often as we clothe ourselves, we can choose to put on Christ for the day or not. As often as we clothe ourselves, we can choose to demonstrate compassion and sympathy and love or not. As often as we clothe ourselves, we can choose to see the same Spirit at work in other people or not. As often as we clothe ourselves, we can choose to be as humble and low as Christ or puff ourselves up as more important than other people. As often as we clothe ourselves, we can see other people as worth the effort or not.
It’s a choice. It’s a daily choice. Are other people worth the effort, or not? That’s a daily choice.
Late last year we had our sermon series about dreams, and we encouraged you to put your dreams on the board out there. I typed all of them up for the annual report, so if you haven’t taken a close look you can see them there. But let me share a few of them with you, and see if you can pick up a theme.
“That we would all be a family.”
“Be well, be you, be strong, help one another, be tolerant!”
“Communicate, work together as a family, be a ‘we’ and not an ‘I/me’, remember we are a family and that there is more that unites us than divides us!”
“More diverse members and families”
“Everyone to be kind and healthy.”
“After church pot lucks and chili lunches! Yum!”
I would say there’s a clear dream for this church to have real relationships that are like a family embracing one another in love. But that takes an important choice. That takes an important choice over and over and over again – as often as we clothe ourselves! We have to see each other as a church family for that to work. We have to see other people in our community as part of our family if we want them to join us at those pot lucks and chili lunches and Thanksgiving meals and Community dinners.
Do you have any family members you wouldn’t choose as a friend? Do you still try to treat them as family? That’s a choice!
When you invite family over for Thanksgiving or Christmas or a birthday party, do you get your house ready? Do you prepare some food? Do you pick up? Do you clean? Do you try to make them comfortable? If someone with food allergies comes over, do you think about the menu differently? If there are babies coming over, do you try to find baby gates? How do you get ready for family or special guests? My family always tries to put on our nice attitudes, not just our nice table settings and clothes.
That’s what you do when the person coming over is worth the effort. Even if you wouldn’t choose them as a friend, family is worth some effort.
Is the person sitting in another pew worth the effort? Are they church family? I choose to say yes.
Is the person who is still watching online at home worth the effort? Are they church family? I choose to say yes.
Is the person who lives three blocks away from the church worth the effort? What about the people in the apartments nearby? What about the downtown condos? What about Highlands Ranch or Ken Caryl or Centennial or Englewood or Lone Tree? I choose to say yes.
Is the person who looks different or sounds different or dresses differently or smells different worth the effort? Are they church family? I choose to say yes.
Martin Luther King, Jr, said, “We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.” To have real relationships, we have to choose to see other people as worth the effort. As family. As a brother or sister. That’s what Jesus said about us – we’re his brothers and sisters and family.
Martin Luther King also gave us a great summary of how to bridge the chasms that might spring up between us. He said “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” Let me say that again: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” Force can defeat an enemy, but love is the only way to turn an enemy into a friend.
Jesus could have defeated us. Jesus could have judged us. Jesus could have overcome us. But he chose to love us so that he could call us friends and family. Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.
So if you feel like we are divided, how can you step into that gap with love? That’s the only way to transform an enemy into a friend.
If you feel like you wish more people were at this church, how can you expand your love to more people? How can you make more people feel like friends and family?
If you feel like you want more families at this church, how can you expand your love to more families in your neighborhood? How can you make more people feel like friends and family?
If you feel like you want more people to think “we” instead of “I,” how can you expand your love to them? How can you make them feel like friends and family?
Love is the only way to transform people. There are other ways to win, other ways to defeat or overcome someone. But love is the only way to transform an enemy into a friend. That’s what Jesus did for us. Jesus chose to see us as worth the effort, as friends, as family. Will we make the same choice to see other people as worth the effort, as friends, as family? Will we choose that as frequently as put on our clothes?
Love is what motivates the Community Dinner team. Their simple mission is to feed the hungry and lonely. That love infuses the Community Dinner and makes people feel like friends and family. That same love infuses the Thanksgiving Dinner team who give a reason to be thankful to hundreds of people each Thanksgiving.
Love is what motivates our Whiz Kids tutors and volunteers. Love is what turns “those kids” into “our kids.” Love is what motivates tutors to pick up and drop off kids instead of saying, “Well they should come to us if they want tutoring!”
Love is what motivates me to volunteer at the Options School in the maker space. The Option School was designed to teach social-emotional skills to students struggling with academic, attendance, and attitude problems. And the #1 objective is to develop a strong sense of community and a support system for all students. Students who might be just kicked out or abandoned as too difficult have a community of teachers who choose to say, “you’re with the effort.” Love transforms.
Love is what motivates us to try to engage with the Afghan refugees resettling in our area. We’ll be collecting donations for welcome baskets soon, and we’re also exploring a partnership with some local churches to support a family being resettled very nearby. Jesus said this in Matthew 25:
“34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
It’s a choice to see other people as worth the effort. It’s a choice to see the least of these brothers and sisters of Jesus as worth the effort. It’s a choice to transform with love. It’s a choice to engage instead of sitting back like back seat drivers and Monday morning quarterbacks. It’s a choice, as Paul says in our text today, to “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
Sisters and brothers, we have a choice. Who will we see as worth the effort? Who will we see as friend and family? Who will we engage with love? That’s a choice. Just as much as it was a choice for websites to see phones and tablets and desktops and Windows and Mac and iOS and Android as worth the effort. It’s a choice for us to see other people as worth the effort, as worth our love, as friend and family. Jesus chose that when he saw you and me. What will we choose? Amen.