Oct. 1, 2017

Philippians 2:1-11


I think I may have mentioned before that I almost never post anything on Facebook. I’ll promote or celebrate a church event on our church’s FB page, but on my own personal page I hardly ever say anything because I just can’t think of something that I want to say to everyone and no one in particular at the same time.

Still, I can’t easily resist Facebook’s allure.  A week or two ago I was scrolling through my feed and I saw a video, which at first I figured was just another political rant, but I watched a bit more and to my surprise I saw the leader of a Trump rally invite a Black Lives Matter leader to the stage despite the protest he was leading.  The invitation seemed to be received by the crowd with mixed feelings.  Some clapped, some jeered.  Someone yelled out, “You are anti-cop.”  And he said, “No, we are pro-cop.  But, we’re anti-bad cop.  When a cop is bad that cop should be fired, not protected.”  Someone else yelled out, “All lives matter.”  And he said, “You are exactly right.  All lives do matter.  And that’s why when a black man gets choked to death we say, ‘Black lives matter.’”  He ended, saying that if we want change in this country we’ll need to do it together.  And then everyone together chanted, “USA, USA.”

The best part of the video was the interview that followed.  The man was clearly stunned, and softened, and blessed by the whole experience.  He said he expected a fight.  He expected insults and clashing tensions.  But, instead, when he spoke truth “a lot of those people agreed with me.”  He said the leader of a 4,000 person militia came up to him and shook his hand.  He said that a Biker for Trump leader asked if he would take a picture with him and his kid.  The whole thing was pretty incredible.  It was pretty incredible to the Black Lives Matter leader, and it must have been to the folks who extended a hand to him later, and it certainly was to me.  You got the sense that maybe all the heightened tensions and the apparent irreconcilable clashes between camps of differing perspective and experience could find more than common ground; they might even find actual kinship and mutual appreciation.

I thought, “Maybe Facebook isn’t so bad after all.” But, then the events of this past week came about and whatever faith I had came crashing back down.

President trump suggested that NFL players who kneel during the National Anthem are “sons of bitches” and should be fired.  This created something of a firestorm, which continues to rage on cable news networks and, of course, Facebook.  There was no shortage of strongly worded opinions on my newsfeed: People loving the president for his bold, tell-it-like-it-is, bluntness.  People hating him for his lack of dignity and regard for racial injustices.  People defending your right to protest and express your opinion, and people incensed that anyone would disrespect our nation, our flag, our veterans by kneeling for the anthem.  Honestly, this was the opinion I read the most.  Maybe that says something about the “friends” I keep on Facebook, but I wonder if they represent a majority opinion across our country: that rich football players who have done quite well for themselves because of the opportunities afforded to them by this country show great ingratitude by kneeling and disrespecting it.

So, what happens the next time you hear the national anthem?  Do you stand?  Do you kneel?  Do you link arms?  Do you look with disgust at your neighbor who does the opposite of what you do?  Do you turn to Facebook to tell everyone and no one in particular your opinion?  This, unfortunately, seems to be the state of dialogue these days.

Just Wednesday, I witnessed the falling-out of two cousins.  One posted a strongly worded argument for labeling those who still support our president.  The other cousin objected, saying how offensive it is to categorize people whom she doesn’t know.  The first responded without apology for speaking up for what is right.  The other responded that she would no longer waste her time engaging the first.  …You can imagine the fun that will be had at the next family gathering.  What saddened me was that they’ve known each other for almost 50 years, yet they couldn’t address each other by name, there was no recognition of their history or their relationship, nor did they seem particularly bothered that they were hurting the other.

Furthermore, I don’t think this is unusual.  It is all over Facebook, and my fear is that it will seep more and more into the real, in-person, interactions that we have with one another.  I fear that we are training ourselves for discord, for assuming the worst about one another, for too easily disregarding one another.

What do I think about standing or kneeling during the National Anthem?  I think that if someone kneels you should not call them names or look upon them with disdain.  You should listen to them.  You should try to understand their perspective.  You should pray for them or for yourself as you feel your anger rising.  If someone stands you should hear why it is important for them, why it offends them when you don’t, what they hear your protest saying.  I think we need to do a better job of humanizing one another, of listening to one another, of discovering that we are more than our opinions, of seeing that our neighbors are too.

“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 exploited, but emptied himself and humbled himself, and therefore God also highly exalted him.”  These are Paul’s words to the church in Philippi.  He writes them from prison where he’s been praying for his jailers and sharing with them the Good News of Jesus Christ.  He warns the Philippians that hardship and persecution will come their way too, and they will need to hold together as a community when it does.  The way to deal with it lies in modeling their lives after the life of Christ, humbling themselves just as Christ did.

Interestingly though, Paul’s words aren’t his own.  Rather, he appeals to a Christian hymn or creed that precedes his work of spreading the gospel.  Why that’s important and what that means is that the earliest collective response to the resurrection of Christ and the Good News of God’s unconquerable love was the Christ-like humbling of oneself.  It was the notion of dying to oneself, of accepting that risk, because more powerful than that death was the discovery of Christ alive within them, Christ working within them, Christ growing them and forming them in ways they wouldn’t have expected.

I have a colleague who admitted last week that she’s not strong enough to die to self.  Honestly, she doesn’t think anyone is.  We need help.  We need grace.  We need a God who has done it himself and who can face that death with us.  If we are going to subordinate our agenda’s to God’s, if we are going to relinquish control, if we are going to free ourselves for God’s work, if we are going to forgive, if we are going to listen to one another, we need help.  And, perhaps she’s right.  I think it was MLK jr. who spent three days in fervent prayer, praying not to convert his jailers but to forgive them.  It is hard.  We do need help.  But, the good news is that we have it!  Thanks and praise be to Christ who is around us, and within us, and beyond us, calling us all into the sacred truth of our own beings.  Thanks be to Christ who has commissioned us proclaim the sacred truth that is within others.  Thanks be to Christ whose church might show the world a different way.