September 27th: Proper 21, the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for Sunday, September 27th, was based on the below manuscript. The sermon was preached on Philippians 2.1-13.

In our epistle reading today,
Paul is writing from prison.
Despite his frequent imprisonments —
some sources suggest it was as many as seven during his ministry —
the theme of this letter
is joy.
The Philippians have sent one of their own to Paul,
someone to attend to his needs.
He got sick.
He’s better now,
and Paul has to send him back,
carrying this letter.
Imprisoned and now without a companion,
Paul writes about
encouragement in Christ,
consolation from love,
compassion and sympathy,
and his complete joy:
be of the same mind,
having the same love,
being in full accord
and of one mind.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit.
Then Paul quotes a hymn
that the people may already have been singing,
a hymn that praises Jesus’ humility
and encourages that through humility
Jesus’ reward for humanity
has been gained.

This summer has given us
a lot of opportunities
for showing humility.
Black, indigenous, and other people of color
have been telling us for centuries
about police’s selective use of violence
against their communities.
They told is in 1965
in the Watts Uprisings.
They told us in the early 90s
after Rodney King was killed.
The first season of Law and Order
has an episode about
police violence against Black folk.
White people can’t say
that we didn’t know.
Almost six years
after Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson —
igniting nationwide protests
against police brutality in 2014 —
George Floyd was murdered earlier this summer.

The response to that killing
has been protests
that have not stopped.
These were another opportunity for humility.
Gathering was discouraged
because we are still in a pandemic,
and people felt they needed to take action.
So they followed safety protocols
as best they could.
I am not an infectious disease specialist.
None of you is to my knowledge,
and I know the bishop isn’t.
Americans as a whole have been given an opportunity
to exercise humility like Jesus
in listening to the experts
or as Paul warns again
acting from selfish ambition or conceit.
People are making…choices.

It’s also an election year,
including for the President.
Despite Paul saying explicitly,
“Let each of you look not to your own interests,
but to the interests of others”
a cynicism and nihilism
dominates discourse.
“I’m only out for myself,
so surely everyone else
is only working their angle.”
“They’re all corrupt,
so may as well play that
to my maximum advantage.”

This nihilistic cynicism,
valuing self above all else,
rejecting people actually caring for others
is not the eschatalogical hope
of Jesus’ resurrection.
In the Philippian Hymn to Christ
which we both heard and said today
Jesus’ humility is what is exalted.
Jesus who was and is God
came to live as one of us
so that we might be redeemed
and restored to unity
with God and one another.
The mission of the church
is to continue to that work.
After living as one of us,
he let himself be killed
in an extremely shameful way —
death on a cross,
humiliated like a criminal.
This. This humility,
this obedience and self-offering,
pouring out himself
is what God exalts in Jesus.
It’s not with coy words
or snarky memes
or angry tweets,
it’s not owning or triggering
the empire that God exalts in Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t need the last word,
doesn’t need to be right.
God’s love for humanity
poured out in Jesus’ life and death,
makes Jesus higher than the emperor.
His amazing humility
is how he is raised
to have the name above all names.
Jesus’ humility conquers death itself,
opening to all of creation
the newness of life.
This Paul tells us today
is the life we are called to live,
a live worthy of the gospel
he says elsewhere in the letter.

I’m tired.
I’m tired of nihilistic cynicism
that doesn’t care about anything
except making people who believe in something mad.
I’m tired of feeling like Craig from Parks and Rec,
“Oh, oh, I have a medical condition all right:
it’s called CARING TOO MUCH!
I’m tired of feeling like the sacrifices we’ve made —
whether you’re in-person or gathered remotely
you know the sacrifices we’ve made —
are for nought because others ignore experts.
I’m tired of police killing people of color
and being charged for shooting the wall
but not the person.

This is where Paul tells Jesus’ followers
to let the same mind be in us
that was in Jesus.
Paul tells us to stay humble —
or get humble —
if that’s something we need to work on.
We’ve been grafted
not into the cynicism of death,
the last tool of the empire,
but to Jesus’ resurrection,
the defeat of death and the grave
by love and humility.
We have Christ’s Spirit in us,
sealed with it at our baptisms.

Jesus is there in Word and community
to help us not get defensive
when we listen to people of color
share their experiences.
The wisdom of Sirach says,
“Honor physicians for their services,
for the Lord created them;
for their gift of healing comes from the Most High,
and they are rewarded by the king.”
We’re tired of this pandemic
and all the things its taken and taking from us
but we’ll keep listening to those
who know more than we do.
With God’s help
if nothing else.
I’m hoping you all vote
and that when you do you
“Let each of you look not to your own interests,
but to the interests of others.”

We’re called to be counter cultural,
to reject the notion that might makes right.
What we’re not called to do
is do that on our own
or even with our own thoughts and strength.
May the mind of Jesus the Christ,
whose humility and self-giving
triumphed over death and the grave
be in us. Amen.

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