I Want Your Songs, Not Your Stuff

Philippians 2:1-11

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, 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. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Good morning! When I was in seminary I had some wonderful opportunities to participate in short-term, international mission trips. And because today is World Communion Sunday, I thought I’d share a story from one of those trips. I offer this story today because it’s about mission and reconciliation and finding grace in unexpected places.

In 2014 I was part of a mission team that went to South Africa and the Kingdom of Lesotho. There were sixteen people on that team, including two seminary professors and fourteen students or recent graduates. It was a diverse group: half of us were white, half were African-American; the youngest member of our group was 23, while the oldest members were in their sixties.

I was interested in this trip because I wanted to visit South Africa. It had been twenty years since the end of Apartheid and I wanted to witness the new South Africa. I wanted to learn what the church was doing to be part of the reconciliation, the rebuilding of that nation. But that was only half of the trip.

I knew almost nothing about Lesotho before the trip. It’s an independent nation of about two million people and it’s entirely surrounded by South Africa. Lesotho is about the size of Maryland; it’s a very mountainous country and it looks a lot like Arizona, but with green grass and trees. It is a very pretty place.

The main reason that our team went to Lesotho was to work on a service project. We were in a little town in the countryside called Morija and we were there to help build a latrine at a nursery school. Glamorous work, to be sure. But most of the work on the project was done by four experienced masons; all of them were from Lesotho. At best, we were their helpers, but they could have done all of the work without us.

We weren’t there to preach and proclaim the Gospel—we couldn’t! We didn’t speak Sotho, the local language! Besides that, 90% of the population of Lesotho is Christian. What were we doing there? Why did we travel some 9,000 miles to assist a bunch of brick layers? We wrestled with these questions in our evening devotions. In fact, this morning’s lesson from the Apostle Paul was one of the scriptures that we chewed on in our devotions.

Philippi was a Roman colony in Macedonia, which is just north of Greece. That meant that land in Philippi had been given to Roman soldiers after they had completed their service in the legions. So, the Philippians must have been a very proud bunch of people. They were Roman citizens, they owned land, and they had earned it!

Instead, Paul urges the congregation at Philippi to be humble, to imitate Christ’s humility. That must have been really hard to do. Paul urges the Philippians to do “nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” But being a Roman citizen meant that you were better than most other people. It must have been a tough pill for the Philippians to swallow, when Paul told them to set aside their pride and imitate Christ’s humility.

This is also how we, as American Christians, must act when we engage in Christian missions. Generosity is a good thing, but when we give to others, we have to do it in humility. If we are not humble when we give, then the giving becomes about us. We must, as Paul says, “be sharing in the Spirit.” Compassion and sympathy are not acts of good will that start with us. No, this is t