Exodus 32:1-14; Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14
Preached by Rev. Jason Haddox
In the movie “Where The Heart Is”, starring Natalie Portman and Ashley Judd, the protagonist, Novalee, has taken her best friend Lexie and her four children into her home after Lexie’s boyfriend has beaten Lexie so badly that she is unable to work. In her despair at the state of her life, Lexie asks Novalee “What am I going to tell them? What am I gonna tell my babies, when they ask about why this happened?” Novalee pauses, and then says to her friend “You tell them…you tell them that our lives can change with every breath we take. You tell them that we’ve all got meanness in us, but we’ve got goodness too. And that the only thing worth living for is the good. And that’s why we’ve got to make sure to pass it on.”
We’ve all got meanness in us…yes, friends, we do. But that is not all to Lexie’s story, or to ours. There is goodness, and love, and joy, and peace, and patience and kindness and mercy and selflessness…all that is there as well. And all of that is worthy of our notice today.
Paul writes to the Christians at Philippi to remind them of these things, and to encourage them to remember. Not just remember, as in “call to mind intellectually” but to live into that reality. To commit an act of anamnesis.
“Anamnesis” is the vocabulary word for today—say it with me. It usually gets translated “Remember” or something similar, but that is too light a translation. “Anamnesis” means to remember something in the power of its reality. To be present in that power NOW, in the event that is recalled. When the Passover meal is eaten every year, and the children of Israel say of themselves “God led us out of bondage in Egypt into freedom” that is an act of anamnesis. When the cantor sings to us at the Great Vigil of Easter every year, “This is the night…when Christ rose from death and hell and delivered God’s people” that is a word of anamnesis. When we quote Jesus, concerning the bread and wine, “Do this in memory of me.” we are again speaking of anamnesis, the power and the immediacy of the event recalled is present and available to us right here, right now. We are there, in the upper room, ourselves.
Paul is doing something similar, reminding the Philippians of what they already know. Previously in the same letter, Paul has encouraged them: “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, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself, and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:5-8)
Paul is quoting what we think is an early Christian hymn, which presumably the Philippians knew and had in their collective memory. He’s inviting them to be unified—“let the same mind be in you (y’all) that was in Jesus”—as they work together as ministers of the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. He is inviting them to let go of their own agendas and need to be in control, and instead seek to discover what God is doing in their own time and place, among them.
Only against this background does the opening of our lesson from Philippians this morning make any sense. “My brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for…stand firm in the Lord in this way, beloved.” The way of Jesus’ unselfish giving of himself for others, the way of mutual gratitude and respect.
This way of self-giving, of gratitude and respect is not about some strange dismissal of our own identities or personalities, but rather an ongoing, daily, even moment-by-moment awareness of our primary identity as Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ, who modeled that giving over of himself into the world (we call that the Incarnation, by the way) for the salvation of the world. Think of water, poured out of a pitcher into more water, in a large bowl or container. The water is still water, it hasn’t changed character. But it is part of a larger reality than if it just stayed in the pitcher by itself.
Jesus is poured out into the world, and we are followers of Jesus. Paul calls upon his hearers to recognized that we are also called to be poured out—not to stop being who we are, as if that were even possible—but to be participants in this redemptive, reconciling work into which Jesus leads us.
You do know, of course, that you are all ministers of Christ, right? That when you had the water of baptism poured over your head, that you became forever after marked—scarred, if you will—by the cross of Jesus? That your ministry as a follower of Jesus is mostly not here in this building, but out there—as parents and grandparents, as teachers and physical therapists and television producers, as engineers and personnel managers and writers, as whatever it is you do the other 6.5 days of the week. That is where your ministry is located. Not here in this building—out there, with them people.
And out there, them people are in great need of Jesus. Not the Jesus of bumperstickers and sappy piety; not the Jesus of evangelistic tracts handed out surreptitiously at First Friday on Broad Street. The Jesus you have met, here at the font in baptism and at the altar in the Eucharist; the Jesus you have encountered in each other in this congregation—sometimes hidden, often elusive, but nevertheless present. The Jesus you come seeking, like Mary in the garden on Easter morning, even in desperation. “They have taken him away, and I don’t even know where to look for him!” And Jesus speaks, and calls us by name.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; I’ll say it again: Rejoice!” Don’t be afraid of anything; in everything (and always and everywhere) give thanks to God…and the peace of God, which cannot be understood or explained, which is not dependent on outward circumstance, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
We’re used to that last phrase, from the blessing at the end of the Eucharist. But it’s a bit different. We normally hear “The peace of God…shall keep your hearts and minds.” Here it’s “guard”…Guard from what?
How about fear? That’s a big one. Or jealousy, or bitterness. Prejudice, and violence, hatred and greed, selfishness, angry words and angry spirits. Just a few things like that, from which we pray God’s guarding and protection.
We need such guarding, for the temptations are all around. When I was fired from my position at St. Crazy’s in New Jersey, I was mad. And sad. And hurt. And I held on to all that for quite a while. I didn’t really want to forgive that woman for what she had done. You see I haven’t forgotten it. But I learned a lot in that experience—about myself, about being part of a community of prayer and support and love—and something else. Something about God moving in mysterious ways, something about that peace which passes all human understanding and logic.
The temptations to fear and anger and hatred were—and are—all too real, and all too common.
All of that was out there for me in those days; all of that is still out there; all of that is in here. (In here—in us.) We’ve all got meanness in us. But we’ve all got goodness too.
“Whatever is true; whatever is honorable; whatever is just; whatever is pure; whatever is pleasing; whatever is commendable: if there is anything exellent or worthy of praise, think about these things.” Think about these things; ruminate and meditate and feed your mind and soul with these things, for your own soul’s nourishment. The other thoughts and feelings—anger and fear and all the rest—don’t give those any more attention and nourishment than they are already getting.
“Keep doing the good things you have learned and received and heard and seen…and the God of peace with be with you.” Not just “the peace of God” given, as it were, from a distance somewhere far away, but “the God of peace will be with you.” Here, in the midst of a people who pray and work and long for peace—in the world, and in every human heart.
May it be so for us;
may it be so among us.