If you have ever felt encouraged because you trusted in the message of Jesus Christ; if you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by love in the arms of a spouse or a sibling, a parent, a new child in your family, a trusted friend … if you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by real love, and realized this is God’s love; if you’ve ever accomplished more than you ever thought possible because you happened to be working with faithful people striving alongside you; if you’ve ever been blessed by another person’s compassion when you felt most vulnerable, or by their genuine caring when you suffered a loss – then this sermon just might be for you.
I love the way this reading from Philippians begins. It’s so inclusive, in ever widening circles. It reminds me of a large piece of contemporary art that a high school student at Trinity United painted for the worship space there over a decade ago … a surreal image of the moment when a stone hits the water … with the words printed – “RIPPLE POSITIVELY.” If you’ve ever experienced any of these precious moments from Philippians, it’s like God’s pebble hitting a pond, creating the ripple that can be your life.
But most of us who have been around church long enough realize that the good news of the Christian faith offers encouragement balanced by challenge. God’s love is indeed free, but it’s not cheap. And when we experience the joy of God’s goodness in our lives, we’re invited into a partnership with God, and with each other, to share that goodness in the same way God shares it with us; which is when most of us realize the challenge. But the beauty of this reality is that no one of us bears the responsibility alone. We have Christ and each other. When the church is at its best, this is what we can be and do together.
Since last Fall our leadership at Orleans United has been engaged in an ongoing conversation about the “future directions” of this church. It began with a gathering of regular folks like many of us here today, who shared stories with each other about what’s at the heart of our congregation – what difference do we make? The church Council then met for a Saturday retreat where we named seven foundation stones on which OUC is grounded. You can see those online if you want, or by contacting Jean in the office, or asking me after worship today. The result of that retreat is a group of eight congregational people who continue to imagine what God wants to build on those 7 foundation stones.
One of the helpful phrases that has emerged, you’ve already seen in 2 newsletters and on our new website. It’s also the title of this sermon: Making Room for You and God (… in Worship, in Learning, in Serving, in Community). When I read this Philippians text a few weeks ago, I immediately thought of that image. OUC is here to help everyone who walks through our doors – whether you’ve been here 30 years since the beginning or just 30 or 40 minutes this morning, whether you feel confident about what you believe or are still working it out (maybe even with some “fear and trembling”) – we’re all here together to help each of you discover and develop your growing relationship with God, and to be the kind of community that creates the spiritual space and the faith friends for that to happen.
It’s that kind of church Paul saw among the Christians in Philippi – not perfect by any means, but there for each other in encouragement, in love, in community spirit, in compassion and sympathy. And what did he challenge them to do, after he encouraged them? He invited them to find common ground, their common purpose – God’s purpose – what God wants to build on the good foundation already in place. And if that wasn’t challenging enough, Paul then reminds them that if anyone is a “know-it-all” or “has-to-have-it-my-own-way” or “is-hyper-critical-of-others” – check your ego at the door. Because in this sacred place, everyone’s idea is a helpful idea, everyone’s beliefs are as valuable as the rest, everyone’s gift contributes to the health of all, and everyone’s efforts are respected, accepted, needed.
And that’s when he breaks into song. I suppose we could fuss over the theological content of the lyrics of the beloved hymn Paul quotes here. And if you’re interested in studying them more deeply, I’m certainly open to that conversation. But I’m not convinced that’s the point here. Paul doesn’t seem to be pushing a theological agenda as much as trying to touch the hearts of his friends. If humble, sacrificial love is good enough for Jesus, please let it good enough for you. That’s how you will find God’s honour, in humility.
And that’s how we work on our faith here in this sacred community. When we are at our best, we lovingly encourage and challenge each other, because we know that no one is saved until we all are. We strive together, from the youngest to the oldest, the longest to the newest, the simplest to the wisest, sometimes in fear and trembling, but always because we trust that God is our partner, at work in us, enabling us to will and to work in the Spirit of love. Together we make room for you and God. That sacred space, that loving partnership serves as both our highest calling and our deepest desire. So, ripple positively!
Orleans United Church
September 25, 2011 Philippians 2:1-13