Christ’s Spirit, Christ’s Mind: A Deeper Stewardship

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Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents (Phil. 1:27).

 Thus Saint Paul writes to the Church at Philippi, encouraging them in their practice of the faith.  He is bold in the way he describes both what a deeper practice of the Christian faith embodies—and what it will cost.

The community gathered there in that Greco-Roman city sought to understand what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ in their time, and St. Paul sought to help them understand the significance of their identity.

I have to tell you that I have really struggled these past few weeks.  When I sat down last week to begin reflecting on this sermon, I honestly couldn’t do it.  When we prepare for sermons, we are called to take ingredients from at least three different places (to put it in terms of a recipe): the appointed text for the day that is assigned, the circumstances of the world around us, and—a critical piece to be sure—our own prayer that the Holy Spirit might somehow give us a glimpse of how the Word of God, the presence of Christ in our lives that we experience in and through these texts, connects with the struggle of our existence.  This living dynamic is how sermons work—so you can see how they can make us uncomfortable, when what our faith tells us doesn’t support how we are choosing to act.

And struggle we have.  Storm after storm that has swept through abnormally warm waters and into Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, the Caribbean, and so many nations in the Pacific.  Wildfires out West unlike folks have ever seen.  Half of Bangladesh was under water at one point.  Two earthquakes in Mexico with hundreds killed.  Political craziness with ordinary folks worried about healthcare and protection and the chance to live a life in a place where they were brought as children, and too many politicians worried about shoring up a re-election campaign.  And, appalling words daring to lay out the annihilation of a country—and thusly its people—as an option in the world today.   Violence and confusion on Georgia Tech’s campus and questions—again—about mental health and identity and acceptance in society.  The raging opioid crisis.  Protests in St. Louis and elsewhere with people of color yearning for others to see them…to really see them, see their pain and frustration and come to grips with what truly is America’s Original Sin—racism.  And close to home, loss of electricity and funerals here at Grace and in Gainesville/Hall County, the daily life we share right here under our noses with single mothers of four coming in to find gas and food for their children and so many hungry and without affordable housing in the midst of comfort—and how so many are already working so hard to engage with this struggle.

 So much struggle.  Is it more than usual?  Perhaps. Perhaps not.  What matters is that the struggles are real, the pressures are real, the frustration is real.  And we struggle to make sense of it.

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents (Phil. 1:27).

This text has become very important for me, because it lays out a vision for how we face the problems of the world:

Standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind…

It is a beautiful image for us to meditate on—especially as we step into this season of our lives commonly known as “stewardship season” but which I see as a Season of Reaffirmation, in which we recommit ourselves as a community of faith to live as a community of faith

Standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind…

Of course, what is assumed in this text is what we need to constantly reaffirm together: that the one spirit is Christ’s Sprit, and the one mind is the mind of Christ which we are called to share, as St. Paul describes a chapter later:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, or exploited, but emptied himself…

I look forward to this time of year!  I’ll tell you not many rectors, priests, do.  Many folks dread it because they think, “oh lord, now we have to go and make phone calls and convince folks to give to the church so we can meet our budget.”  What an spiritually emaciated way to approach it!

In January, I will begin my fifth year as your rector, and I continue to stand in absolute awe of you as a community, how you are willing to give of yourselves.

We do not “give money to the church,” as if it were some organization in another place than ourselves.  No.  We ARE the church.  We are the Body of Christ.  What we give: money, time, talents, gifts, ideas, energy, we give as the Body of Christ to live fully into Christ’s call on our lives.  We share the Good News in a world that is struggling.  We bind up the broken hearted.  We proclaim release to the captives.  We comfort the sick.  We bless the dying.  We pity the afflicted.  We shield the joyous…and all for Christ’s sake.

And we do this standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind.  Christ’s Spirit.  Christ’s Mind.

We are always tempted to step back into our own individual agendas and anxieties, whether it be a resistance to live into the tension when our daily life and assumptions are judged by the Gospel or even something as petty as the service running too long and us feeling somehow that that is a personal affront to us.  We think we are going to lose out on the buffet!

You continue to show me what is possible when a community of faith listens, deeply, to the call of Christ and pledges to work and minister and pray together.  Risking relationship in a world of estrangement.  Pledging community in a world of rampant selfishness. Promising compassion in a world of greed.

There was a time when, it seemed, being a Christian must have been easier in our society.  That time has passed, and we realize that the call of Christ upon our lives puts us in dissonance with the music of the broader world…

So, we stand firm in the Spirit of Christ—not firmness in the sense of overpowering, but firmness in the sense of rootedness, of groundedness, of a mindfulness of who Christ is in our lives and who Christ is for our lives.  The living reality, not the polite idea.  And we strive side by side with one mind, the mind of Christ, that calls us to empty ourselves, to risk and not to grasp.

Together…as our focus this year tells us, as a community of prayer, compassion, and belonging.  Prayer is our lifeblood, that connection between us and God that enlivens us.  Compassion is our call, to open wide our arms and share the love of Christ in this world.  Belonging is the framework out of which we do this—together, as this beautiful community of Grace.

So, in the pews, you will find pledge cards this year.  There is an image there of a heart made out of smaller stones, coming together to make something larger than themselves.  I encourage you to take this home—or, fill it out now and drop it in the plate.  Last year, 52 % of families pledged to our shared ministry budget.  Others contributed and did not make a pledge, but only 52% pledged, so the budget was restricted to that.  I’m doing something I’ve never done: this year, I’m putting out a challenge to the parish, for all of us to come together and reach the 70% pledge percent.  I’m asking at least 70% of the parish to make a pledge—any pledge.  Lean in.  Commit.  Share in the ministry budget as we all share in Christ’s life.  70%.  If we do this…it will send ripples of grace into our community like we have never seen, my friends…and I don’t say that lightly.

Here’s a final thought: The ministry we share as a community in our community is empowered by our willingness and commitment to live into Christ’s call on our lives.  The budget is, in a large sense, the mechanism through which we share this: community partnerships and compassion, liturgy and music, spiritual formation and Christian education, the stewardship of our campus, the Children of Grace preschool, funerals, weddings, baptisms, the Holy Eucharist we share, the air condition we need and the heat we enjoy, the electricity we take for granted but miss when it’s gone, the landscaping that catches the eye of the community, the staff and the remarkable presence they are in this place—the remarkable people I have the opportunity to work with each day.  For our shared ministry to grow and meet the growing challenges around us, our budget must grow.  And, for our budget to grow, both the total amount and number of pledges must grow.  And, for our pledges to grow, our hearts must awaken, I think.  And for our hearts to awaken, we must pray together, and give thanks…and remember that

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty…

The Rev. Dr. Stuart Higginbotham
Proper 20, Year A
Philippians 1:21-30
September 24, 2017

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