9/28/2014 sermon: “Walking the Way”

Location: Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, Virginia
Text: Philippians 2:1-13
16Pentecost, Proper 21, Year A

Walking the Way

Logo_wtw_Resurrection2Today is the first day of our four-week stewardship campaign, which has as its theme “walking the way.” Jesus’ first disciples and the members of the early Christian church used the expression “the way” to mean “the way of Jesus.” “Walking the way” is how they—and we—live our lives of discipleship.

This metaphor of being on a journey is meant both individually and collectively.

  • I am “walking the way” of Christ, more or less.
  • You each are “walking the way” of Christ, more or less.
  • And we, as Church of the Resurrection are
    “walking the way” of Christ together, more or less.

Pray God that we each “walk the way” more rather than less. Or, to paraphrase a nice turn of phrase from one of our Bible studies this week, “Pray God that when all is said and done, we have “walked the way” more ‘done than said.’”

As we “walk the way” together through our stewardship campaign and beyond, we will be asking you to reflect on our journey:

  • How are we, in this place—together—
    growing in the knowledge and love and practice of God?
  • How are you—personally—
    in this place, growing in the knowledge and love and practice of God?
  • What are we doing to bring God’s Kingdom into reality right here in our community?

Station4aTo help you reflect on these questions, we have created “stations of the way” here in the church; look around and you will see where we have walked this year.

I was reflecting this week on our lessons for today, and on our stewardship campaign, to see how these all might fit together. I wasn’t getting very far, until I opened a fortune cookie with this message: “Successful leader knows the way, shows the way, and goes the way.” Well, we preachers take our inspirations however they come to us!

I am very grateful for our Vestry leaders, who are living the way, “walking the way” to show us the way. You will see them bring their pledges to the altar today to begin our campaign. Half of them turned in their pledges very early, first, in fact. Collectively, they have raised their pledges 25% over last year. I challenge you to follow their example, to the extent you can, as you make your own pledge. Together we can “walk the way” of Christ Jesus.

Now I know some of you don’t have money. Some of you are seriously ill. Some of you don’t have homes or other things the rest of us would consider essential. We welcome you as full and equal traveling companions in “walking the way” of Resurrection. Give as you are able, of yourself and of the rest of what God has given you.

Which brings me at long last to today’s scripture lessons. Our epistle reading is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, which he wrote while he was in prison. Paul had heard that there was a serious, heated disagreement going on in the Christian community in Philippi. So Paul’s letter gives what I call “rules of the road,” how to “walk the way” of Christ Jesus together in community. Paul says:

  • Be of the same mind.
  • Have the same love
  • Be in full accord and of one mind,
    the same mind that was in Christ Jesus.

Sometimes we have great difficulty being “of the same mind” with others. We might actually be better at the serious disagreements than the cranky stuff. In serious disagreements we each might go out of our way to consider the others’ perspective, to find ways of living with our differences until our differences don’t seem such a big deal anymore. No, the serious disagreements can be addressed. The small differences are harder precisely because we don’t pay enough attention to them.

By and large, Church of the Resurrection is a very happy place compared to the early church in Philippi. By and large, Church of the Resurrection is a very happy place compared with many churches, which in decline play the blame game. You know, the fault-finding exercises. The temptation is great because there are too few people to do the things we love to have done for us. How we’ve managed to avoid the blame game is to do what Paul suggested to the Philippians, “Have the same love [as Christ] and determine to agree.”

I once met a couple who were celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. When I asked them how they met, I was surprised to learn that they had met on their wedding day. Theirs was an arranged marriage. They told me that their secret to the longevity of their marriage was that they each had agreed to stay together “no matter what.” They had each determined, for the sake of the other, to be together.

Our churches are voluntary associations, as are marriages these days. We are a community precisely because we determine to be, for the sake of each other. Our joy is not what we get out of community; that would be a club. Our joy is complete when we all are of one mind—Christ’s mind, not our own mind. Our joy is complete when we work together to do whatever God has asked us to do, and when we do God’s work (to the best of our ability) as Christ would have done.

Paul describes the mind of Christ, which we are to emulate: Christ “emptied himself: of his ego, and “humbled himself,” becoming “obedient to the point of [a very painful and shameful death].”

We, too, in “walking the way” of Christ, have “emptied” ourselves of our feeling of superiority, humbling ourselves by telling the whole world of Resurrection’s terminal illness. And by “walking the way” of Christ, we are becoming obedient:

  • to tearing down our very comforting and comfortable church,
  • to changing our very comforting and comfortable routine,

as a gift to our community of affordable housing.

Station7aWe do these actions in love, in the name of God. And if we get weary, when we get weary, remember that it is God who is at work in us, giving us Christ’s mind and Spirit to will and to work for his good pleasure.

By the way, the last station in our “walking the way” series is in the narthex, the entryway to the church. I invite you to take a close look at this station in particular. Emily Ewing made the image during Martha Swearingen’s “Holy Collage” Forum a few months ago to express what she thinks God is up to here at Resurrection. I’ll bet she never dreamed you’d see her affirmation of our community this way. I am very grateful that she let me share her collage with you.

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An ancillary thought:

In 2009, [Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine] Jefferts Schori denounced “the great Western heresy — that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God,” which angered evangelicals and church traditionalists. (From a Huffington Post article)

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