Saturday, April 8, 2017
Making Room for the Other: Reflections on Philippians 2.1-11 (9 April 2017)
Making Room for the Other
Reflections on Philippians 2.1-11
RCL Palm Sunday A
9 April 2017
Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
2.1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Growing up as I did on the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, I have always liked to have room around me. The happiest homes in which we have lived as a family always have had plenty of space around them or easy access to green space nearby. I admit to suffering a bit from claustrophobia, so the tightly packed streets of downtown Toronto hold no attraction for me. I do not like shopping during busy times because of the number of people crowding the space around me.
Sometime after Owen was born, Paula and I bought a Plymouth Voyager family van. All three children were in some car safety seat or another, so trying to fit everything into the Subaru station wagon was no longer an option. When our first van reached its limit, we turned it in for a new Voyager. We had become the typical urban family: three kids, a dog and a van.
One of the saving graces of a family van is space. Two children could sit in the back seat and have a space between them. One child could sit in the middle seat and have space to her or his right. Between the driver’s seat and the front passenger’s seat was space for whatever needed to be close at hand. On longer road trips we had room for Paula’s box of musical noise-makers which she would produce at just the right moment. The kids would sing at the top of their lungs and play their instruments. Energy was discharged and harmony was maintained. Rarely did Paula and I have to suffer the dreaded words: ‘He touched me. Move over. I don’t have enough room.’
Some theologians have described creation as God’s act of making room for others. During the season of Lent we have heard these words every Sunday: “At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home; by your will they were created and have their being.” (BAS 201). All that is, seen and unseen, exists because God has chosen to create rather than remain supremely alone and self-sufficient.
And why did God choose to create? The writer of the First Letter of John gives us the answer in three simple English words: “. . . God is love.” (1 John 4.8b) Love is not possible in isolation. Love requires someone who loves and someone who is loved. The relationship between the lover and the beloved creates what we call love. Augustine of Hippo, the fifth-century Christian theologian, once described the Holy Trinity as ‘God the Lover, God the Beloved, God the Love’.
When genuine love is present, the lover makes room for the beloved. In this space the lover hopes that the beloved will become more truly herself or himself. And the beloved is also the lover who creates space for the other to grow and to mature. Most conflicts in loving relationship, I think, arise when we crowd the space of the one we love. We struggle to love the other as he or she is. We try to crowd out the person we know at present with our image of who he or she should be. We may do this with the very best of intentions, but our efforts run the risk of failure and disappointment.
Paul’s words in today’s reading from his letter to the church in Philippi are among the more familiar texts in the New Testament. Paul quotes an existing early Christian hymn that describes Jesus emptying himself in order to accomplish God’s loving purposes. We might want to say that Jesus made room within himself for humanity by putting aside the prerogatives of being God’s promised one. Jesus lets go of his rights in order that our relationship with God can be put right. This is the attitude that Paul believes should inform the lives of every Christian: “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 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. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus . . . . “ (Philippians 2.1-5)
What Jesus has done runs counter to much of human culture. I dare to say that xenophobia, ‘fear of the other’, is built into the cultural DNA of many human societies. It’s understandable: survival as a community requires a certain caution in welcoming someone who is different, someone who is not like us. For example, the Saxon settlers who came to Britain called the Celts ‘walesc’ --- ‘foreigners’. We know too well the stories European colonists in the Americas and Africa told about the ‘savages’. Making room for the ‘foreigner’ and the ‘savage’ is never easy. One Christian writer described the Gospel according to Luke as being filled with the belief that ‘the stranger is my friend’, a truly counter-cultural view in the tribal world of humanity. Rather than exhibiting xenophobia, Christians are meant to live out an attitude of xenophilia.
Making room for others is at the heart of evangelism. You and I have promised on multiple occasions that we will “. . . proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ” (BAS 159). Proclaiming the good news of God in Christ challenges us to make room for the other. Making room for others is never easy. ‘They’ move the furniture. ‘They’ put kitchen utensils in the wrong drawers. ‘They’ don’t understand ‘our’ jokes and ‘they’ frequently speak in languages ‘we’ do not understand. ‘They’ ask questions that ‘we’ may not wish to answer and ‘they’ invite ‘us’ to undertake initiatives ‘we’ may not have considered. But if Saint Faith’s is to live out its promise to be a place of ‘help, hope and home’, then making room for others will be a priority.
We are proclaiming the good news of God in Christ through Saint Hildegard’s Sanctuary by providing a space where contemplation and the arts can touch the lives of people who, for one reason or another, have not always experienced the Christian community to be a place of ‘help, hope and home’. We are proclaiming the good news of God in Christ through the Community Pastoral Resource Centre by providing a space where access and advocacy touch the lives of people who need a place of ‘help, hope and home’. Next week we shall take the first steps to reach out to families with younger children.
But making space for others takes time and commitment. After all, it’s been billions of years since God made space for creation --- and God’s work is not yet finished. It’s been two thousand years since Jesus made space for humanity --- and Christ’s work is not yet finished. It’s been seventy years since the Spirit made space for Saint Faith’s in this neighbourhood --- and the Spirit’s work is not yet finished.
So let us “(draw) the circle wide . . . let our loving know no borders, faithful to God’s call”. For this is the mind of Christ; this is the mind that is ours.