Humility and Community: October 1, 2023

October 10, 2023

 Philippians 2:1-13                                    Year A, Pentecost 18                                     

My last church was situated in a lovely and relatively small city
called Hampton. We didn’t have a minor league baseball team, much less a major
league team.  We had a team that was made up of college baseball players
who were looking for places to play in the summer.  The games were a lot
of fun because you were able to get close to the action.  The people in my
church were big supporters of the team.  There was one night where the
baseball organization made a specific invitation to churches.  We decided to attend and someone finagled me
an invitation to throw the first pitch along with another pastor from a
different church. 

This was horrifying prospect for me.  I played soccer. The
only time I had thrown a baseball was at a dunking booth and that was
embarrassing enough.  I practiced a little, but when the time came, I was
overcome with anxiety and the ball didn’t make it over the plate.  It was
humiliating. So of course I posted the picture on facebook— of me on the
pitcher’s mound with my head in my hands and wrote, “Another opportunity for
humility.”  At the time, I perceived any failure as an opportunity to gain
more humility…which isn’t entirely wrong…but I will explain later why this
experience wasn’t a great example of humility. 

One of the themes you will find throughout Paul’s writings is the importance of
community, unity, and humility.  Our reading from Philippians starts with
the very beginning of chapter 2, but it’s very much connected to what he said
in the first chapter.  There he said, “I will know that you are standing
firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the
Gospel.”  He returns to this idea of being in the same mind or of one mind
several times in our reading for today. 

It’s natural to assume that Paul is telling everyone that they
need to agree with one another and even think the same way.  But the Greek
that is translated to “be of the same mind” is tricky to translate.  A
more accurate interpretation might be “having a depth of understanding and
practical wisdom, to know how to act correctly, even in complicated
situations.”  That kind of makes just agreeing with one another sound a
bit easier. Wouldn’t it be easier just to agree with someone rather than try to
understand them? I have had a lot of practice in trying to understand people
who I disagree with and it can be a brutal experience.  Rewarding—but

What does it mean to be of the same mind if you don’t have the
same exact beliefs of others in your Christian community? Paul answers that in
the direct yet indirect way he excels at. 
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard
others as better than yourselves.”  Regard
others as better than yourselves.  Now
that sounds a bit much.  It’s one thing
to respect others and serve others, but why do we assume everyone has to be
better than us?  It sounds more like
self-degradation and self-deprecation, which can often lead to insecurity and
even self-hatred.  Jesus loves his
children.   He doesn’t want any of them
hating themselves.  So what does Paul
mean? I don’t think he intended to focus on how we feel about ourselves, as
much as how we feel about others.  Paul
wants us to see ourselves and others as beloved children of God.  Sometimes we are good at that, sometimes not
so much. 

I saw a bumper sticker that said, “God loves everyone, but God
loves me the best.”  And you know, I
think we sometimes think that.  We think
there is a tier system and surely we are on the top.  When I am really upset with someone, I try to
remember, “God loves them too.”  I say it
to myself, but I am not sure I am convincing myself. Because if we truly
believe that God loves all  God’s children
equally, we wouldn’t be able to look down on people.  That’s humility—it’s not about lowering
yourself, but raising up others.

When we are able to truly humble ourselves, then we can live in an authentic community.  We can be of the same mind without agreeing
about everything.  Because we can
acknowledge, “Ok, we might not agree and I am may be absolutely right…but they
are still loved by God and they deserve my respect.”  That is what a true Christian community looks
like—always remembering that God loves us all equally.

So what does this have to do with my first pitch?  It was humbling and I remember adoring the
people of my church as they cheered while the ball rolled across the
plate.   They didn’t care that I threw a
horrible pitch. They just appreciated that I tried.  But here is where I failed at humility.  You see…the other pastor, he had clearly
played baseball. He had the right clothes and he threw a perfect pitch and I
was not happy about that.  Because he was
from the huge Baptist Church that didn’t allow women to be ordained.  Now I could have been a good Christian and
gone up to him and introduced myself.  I
could have invited him to lunch so as to get to know him and find some common
ground.  But I didn’t do any of
that.  I just muttered under my breath
about his fancy pitch and found the people I knew loved me.  Because of my inability to see him as a
beloved child of God, I missed a chance at being in a community with a different
kind of Christians 

Now in my defense…since you don’t know me and might be thinking I
am incredibly petty, I did get to know a lot of pastors and Christians from
other denominations in my time in Hampton. 
I became friends with pastors who I disagreed with on all kinds of
levels, but we all cared about serving  people and bringing God’s love to those
people.  We raised one another up and we
formed a genuine community.  We formed
that community when George Floyd was killed three years ago.  We knew that we could not help a diverse
community heal without a diverse group of pastors coming together.  That was one of the times when I really
learned how important humility is when forming a community of people with
wildly different opinions.  It’s not
about thinking less about yourself.  It’s
about thinking more of others.

I have been here for less than a week, but I have been blown away
by your kindness and hospitality.  You
have brought my family food and offered to help unpack boxes. I have also seen
how you care for one another through Good Shepherds, Parish Life, and small
groups bringing communion to those who are homebound.  While I don’t know you, I am going to take a
wild guess and assume you all don’t agree about everything all the time.  That’s ok. That’s actually good.  The church is the one place, the one community
where you don’t have to have anything in common except faith or a desire to
have faith.  You don’t need to vote for
the same people, you don’t need to have the same level of education or the same
amount of money.  You might not have
anything in common with the person behind you.  You don’t even have to all like the Eagles!

That makes us unique and exquisite.  It also makes it hard to stay in community
and you can tell from Paul’s letters, it was hard for the early Christian
community as well.  But it’s worth
it.  If we can just try to see others as
God’s see them, then we will discover what humility really means.  It’s putting the needs of others above our
needs.  I know you already have a good
community, but my hope for my time with you, is that we will build an even more
diverse community that is imbued with the Holy Spirit….a place where we can
really know one another.  That is what we
all crave, being known and loved for who we are. We can do that together, with
humility and love.