Sunday’s reading is an invitation to humility. Humility is not humiliation, nor is it self-flagellation, but instead it is a healthy way of living that honors others and seeks their best interests. We’ll read from Philippians 2:1-13.
In verses 6-11 of this passage St Paul – who wrote the letter to the Philippians – quotes a hymn or confession of faith that was already familiar to the Christians at Philippi and likely in regular, if not weekly, use in their liturgy and worship. In addition to being a beautiful passage from the Bible, Sunday’s reading gives us a look at the earliest days of Christian worship in the years immediately after Jesus death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven.
And in those earliest of days what did the church emphasize? The radical humility of our Lord Jesus, the one who did not cling to his privilege as God’s own son but who instead “emptied himself” to become human (vss 6-7). It is our Lord’s nature to empty himself, to give, to make himself vulnerable – even to the point of death (vs 8). This is the fundamental commitment of our faith – we believe in a God who gives of his own divine self to the world. In Sunday’s reading, Paul invites us to follow that same example.
The weekly Sermons in Progress Podcast has been less-than-weekly recently. I apologize for that! A new podcast should be up by Thursday afternoon or Friday morning, at the latest.
“Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others” (vss 3-4). Christian living is nothing if it is not this: watching out for the interests and well-being of others. The ethical impulse of our faith turns our eyes and our works outward, toward the needs and concerns of our neighbor. As Paul writes in Galatians 6:2, “Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
This commitment to seeking the good of our neighbor is articulated as “neighbor justice” in a draft social statement on Women and Justice produced by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Neighbor justice is at the heart of Christian living in faithful response to the One who calls us to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8). Christians are called to seek justice for their neighbor. In this draft social statement, the church considers our call to seek the needs of justice and dignity of women in our society and around the globe. Initiated before the start of the #MeToo movement, this draft statement is timely in its invitation for us to consider issues of justice and gender.
This faithful activity of seeking neighbor justice is what I believe Paul is talking about when he encourages the believers to “carry out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (vs 12). This “carrying out of our salvation” is not an effort to earn our salvation by our works, but instead is an invitation to live as people who have already received the promise of our God’s salvation. Carry out, cash in, make use of your salvation by serving others. Having received God’s promises, we trust and live into those promises by seeking justice for our neighbor, by seeking their best interests (vss 3-4).
Our church mission statement reflects this calling: New Joy Lutheran Church is a spirited community called by God to extend a radical welcome, share a generous grace, nurture transforming faith, and live God’s promise. We live God’s promise by trusting in that promise as we give of ourselves for the sake of our neighbor.