Here in this place, new light is streaming,
now is the darkness vanished away.
See, in this space, our fears and our dreamings,
brought here to you in the light of this day.
Gather us in – the lost and forsaken,
gather us in – the blind and the lame.
Call to us now, and we shall awaken, we shall arise at the sound of our name.1
A little over a week ago, many of us here in this room, gathered to listen for the Spirit’s call to us. By the end of the morning the walls of the parish hall were covered with paper—paper holding our cherished moments in worship, our dreams for this community, our deepest values, our boldest hopes. Throughout the day the room was ricocheting with cross-cutting currents of energy—hopes and fears, caution and boldness; currents pulling forward, currents holding back. At the end of the day, I looked at all the thoughts and all the words posted on the walls, and I was struck by two things: the energy, hope and sense of identity on the one hand; and, on the other hand, the tensions and contradictions—tensions between acoustic guitar and taize music, between going outside the box and valuing tradition, between quiet worship and kid involvement, between people chomping at the bit and people hanging back wondering what all this will mean for us. Then I heard the song playing in my head:
Gather us in the bold and the cautious,
Gather us in the wild and the wise,
Gather us in who hold to tradition,
Gather us in who venture outside.
How do we live as a community deeply committed to and justly proud of our bi-cultural and bi-lingual roots, our diversity and our inclusivity while feeling our way into the future? How do we make room for those who are ready to bolt ahead and for those who are content with things just as they are? How do we bring together our fears and our dreamings and, as a community, follow God’s call to us?
The early Christians faced a similar challenge. Time and again in Paul’s letters we hear of the tensions and divisions that faced our forbearers in Christ. Factions, rivalries, genuine differences of opinion were part of life in these communities. And yet they struggled together to find a different way of living together, a way of working out their salvation together, a way of living into God’s reign, a way of living into God’s kingdom in the here and now. That’s hard work—for them and for us.
In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul tackles this question head-on. To that mixed bag of people doing the best they can to live as part of the body of Christ, Paul writes, “Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel….” In the passage we hear today he adds, “…make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”
I don’t think Paul is saying to the Philippians, “Look at things the same way.” I don’t think Paul is talking about uniformity in thought. “Being in full accord and of one mind,” means something else—something far bigger than agreeing about the particulars of things. Paul goes on to say, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus….” Christ Jesus who gives up so much, who loves us so much that he shares our struggles and our pain. Christ Jesus “who though he was in the form of God” humbles himself taking on the lowliest of human forms. The mind of Christ Jesus—the mind of extravagant love, the mind of shifting perspectives, the mind of walking in another’s shoes. That mind Paul calls us to—the mind of Christ Jesus—is one that looks not to its own interests, but to the interests of others.
We, as a community, have lots of ideas about the direction in which the Spirit is calling us. Our morning of soundings opens us to a season of listening deeply to the Spirit of God working in us and through us. While some themes are emerging, disparate ideas still clash with one another. Now is the time for us to adopt the mind of Christ Jesus. Now is the time for us to look “not to our interests, but the interests of others.”
That’s not easy. That’s so counter to our culture that tells us in a thousand different ways—watch out for yourself, watch out for number one. Looking not to our own interests but to the interests of others takes practice—practice in things little and big, practice in genuinely trying to see things from a perspective other than your own, practice in acting in ways that benefit not you but others, practice in living and looking through the lens of love Himself.
One of the themes that ran through our morning of listening deeply was the theme of welcome—being welcomed as we are, being welcomed at the table and welcoming others into our midst. This week two songs have been playing in my head. You know the first one—“Gather us in”. It’s the one that opened our morning soundings. The second one you may also know—Marty Haugen’s wonderful hymn “All are welcome.” It speaks not only to who we are but also to where we are being called. It goes like this:
Let us build a house
where love can dwell
And all can safely live,
A place where
saints and children tell
How hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions,
Rock of faith and vault of grace;
Here the love of Christ shall end divisions;
Let us build a house where prophets speak,
And words are strong and true,
Where all God’s children dare to seek
To dream God’s reign anew.
Here the cross shall stand as witness
And a symbol of God’s grace;
Here as one we claim the faith of Jesus:
Let us build a house where love is found
In water, wine and wheat:
A banquet hall on holy ground,
Where peace and justice meet.
Here the love of God, through Jesus,
Is revealed in time and space;
As we share in Christ the feast that frees us:
All are welcome, all are welcome,
All are welcome in this place.2
1Marty Haugen, “Gather Us In,” GIA Publications, 1982.
2Marty Haugen, “All Are Welcome,” GIA Publications, 1994