Matt. 21:28-31 and Philippians 3:17, 4:9
“Actions Speak Louder” by Chelsea Page
I wonder if you’ve noticed by now that we have been reading Philippians every week during Aart’s sabbatical. If you’ve come to church regularly you are probably tired of hearing Philippians by now. We’ve actually now read the entire letter together, minus a few words here and there. That’s a lot of words! 2,350 to be exact. The ironic thing is that despite all these words, when we read Scripture in church, it’s not actually about words all. What’s it about then?
Paul addresses this in the verses we read today. He’s taken the time to write the church at Philippi this long letter from prison, dictating all these words, and then at the end he turns around and says, whether or not you agree with me doesn’t matter, what matters is what you do with it. What will you do with this message as a community? Are you striving to live according to the example of Christ? Or is it something else you’re after?
What exactly are we doing here in church? Why do YOU come week after week? When we come together as individuals in this place, at this time, what do we add up to? The reason I wanted to read through Philippians together is because so much of the Bible is meant to be addressed to a community, and Paul’s letters make that really clear. After all, they usually begin with the phrase, “to the church at so-and-so.” I sometimes wonder what it would be like to read, instead of Dear Philippians, “Dear Parkview.” “Dear Parkview, keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in this proclamation, and the God of peace will be with you.” It’s like Paul is saying, I have shined a light for you on the path. What do you see? Are you going to step on?
I have enjoyed interpreting the word for you in my preaching, but I don’t feel it has been a message from my specific life spoken into each of your lives as individuals. Rather, God has provided the Scriptures for us to listen to together as a message for our Parkview Community. What has God been saying to us as a group during Aart’s sabbatical and this season of our church’s life, right here, right now?
First of all, I hear the Scriptures saying that the life of faith is about action, about living life in a particular way seven days a week. The parable from Jesus today is about workers in the vineyard. One worker is all talk, no action. The other worker doesn’t say the right things, but actually gets the job done. The second one is clearly more obedient to God’s will. So this made me think, if being a Christian includes action and work, is being a Christian like having a job? Do all of you who still work actually have two jobs, whatever you do for money during the week, on top of whatever you do for Christ during the week? I think most of you would say it’s more like they overlap. Being a Christian isn’t something you do separate from the other things you do. It’s more like a flashlight you carry with you everywhere stuck in the “on” position. If things around you are bright, your little light of faith probably won’t even be noticed by others. But when things get really dark, like how California was dimmed by thick smoke during tragic, terrifying fires this week, or like in the life-threatening endless power outage in Puerto Rico, everyone around you would be glad if you can show them a little light of faith. Think of how it would feel to be lost in a dark forest. You see a light in the distance, it gets bigger and bigger, and suddenly you realize it’s coming for you. Someone has come looking for you and you are not alone.
So I think the operative word in the parable today is “go,” when the parent said “go into the vineyard.” One son carried his light out into the blinding daylight of the vineyard and got to work shoulder to shoulder with others. The other merely said he would go, but instead stayed indoors in the cool dark and played with his pretty shining light all by himself. Remember Jesus was speaking to religious leaders, to Pharisees and priests, who had the status to appear close to God no matter what they actually did for other people. Jesus shocked them by saying that they were like the character in the story who they identified as being in the wrong. Because they are complacent with their religious title and think they have it made and have no need to go anywhere, no need to reach out, no need to walk a mile in others’ shoes. Jesus gets even more insulting and says that the tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the kingdom before them. Those were folks who didn’t have a well-respected job to hide behind. They had to take their light and their love of God out with them into whatever kind of stigmatized jobs they could get.
How is your light today? Lately I’ve been taking my light into a place that is difficult for me in my daily life. I’ve been going to the hospital as part of my chaplain training and I find hospitals a really difficult place to be, full as they are of solitary suffering, family drama, and unfair life outcomes. As a person I tend to be shy, I’m private with my feelings and I hate being sick, so now my job is to talk to strangers about how they feel about their illness! In these situations I find my flashlight to both be essential, and to flicker. The other day a patient was praying for God to be her headlights, to show her just as much of the path ahead as she needed to see, but no more because she could not bear the thought of her possible death. As a chaplain I have the opportunity to help people see the light of God’s love for them. It’s like what Maurine Huang’s friend, a Yaqui artist named Stan Padilla, said at our Interfaith Council event here at Parkview this week. Spirituality is pointing out “the extraordinary in the ordinary.” I don’t get to be a chaplain just by wearing the chaplain services badge. I am a chaplain to the extent to which I bring my light into dark places to join with the light of others. Just like I am not a Christian by bearing the extraordinary name of Christ, but when I try to live like Christ in all the ordinary circumstances of my life. Do you know any non-Christians who act Christian? Who somehow manage to be trusting, hopeful, kind, inclusive, welcoming, forgiving and willing to share, regardless of whatever they say about what they believe? I know a lot of people like that. I find it easy to wear the extraordinary title of Christian and harder to act like one. Just like we’ve learned you can wear the title of President and not act like one.
So what are we up to at church? Who is God calling us to be in this place, in late 2017? I don’t know. That’s for all of you to express and to do. I suspect based on past visioning you have done that I have read about, and the fact that you hired a multicultural resident, that the call from God you’re hearing has something to do with outreach, diversity, and inclusion: a kaleidoscope of multi-colored light. I am excited to be part of living into the specifics with you. One thing that’s obvious to me is that we come to church to recharge the flashlights that we will carry back out with us into our weeks. But that’s not all, for as we have seen, even non-Christians have found ways to keep their flashlights charged. No, the significant thing is that together as church we bring a lot of light together into one place. With all these flashlights put together we make a bright light, even a burning light, but one that warms and purifies, not one that harms. You know how it looks to drive by a high school at night and you know there’s a football game going on, because the field is lit up with blazing lights? I picture Parkview church just like that. Can our neighbors see our light?
It’s been a pleasure preaching to you, but preaching and being your pastoral resident doesn’t make me a minister. Ministry is what we do together as a church, and what each of us does all week long, out there in our big uncomfortable world. It’s a pleasure bearing light with you and among you. Let’s see what God will do with us. Amen.