Sing Out and then Serve!
Sep 10, 2023
15th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Philippians 2:1-11
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Today is about serving and singing.
It’s the ELCA Day of Service, an event that has been scheduled for the Second Sunday in September for 10 years now. The goal is for ELCA congregations across the United States to be involved in serving their community on this particular day (or weekend). Here at Faith Lutheran Church, we have observed the Day of Service in a variety of ways; in recent years by joining in First Serve activities organized by Hudson Congregational Church, as well as other projects. That’s the case today too, as was noted in the announcements.
But, for us it’s also a day for singing, as we participate in Favorite Hymn/Song Sunday using 11 of members’ most selected hymn or song choices in worship. (We proved ourselves to be a solidly Lutheran congregation since, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”, by none other than Martin Luther received the most votes.)
Now…it may seem as if serving and singing do not have much in common. However, the reading from Philippians about the humility that leads to sacrificial serving is, in actuality, an ancient hymn, thus making a neat connection between the two topics. So, let’s begin by considering the purpose of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, which was to help the church in Philippi stay on track as followers of Jesus. It seems that circumstances at that early congregation were mostly running smoothly, given the tone of Paul’s letter. After all, he referred to their partnership in the Gospel.
Yet, there are hints that there were bumps in the road as the Philippian Christians lived out their faith; pride was showing up now and then, as was the case in many early faith communities (and current ones too). Commentator Stan Mast notes that: “It is a perpetual truth of church history that where two or three are gathered in the Lord’s name, there in the midst of them will temptations to stratify the membership, to have some puff up their chests in front of others as being more vital, more central, more talented, more essential in the congregation than some others. Sometimes it was economics, sometimes it was spiritual gifts and still other times it was the practices of the more mature that were tripping up the weaker folks. But, at the bottom it was as often as not pride that was at the root of it all.” (1)
So, in the opening verse of Philippians 2, Paul does what commentator Scott Hoezee labels as a little tongue-in-cheek shaming of the Christians in Philippi. “If then there is any encouragement in Christ…” the chapter begins. Or, as commentator Hoezee translates it, “If Jesus means anything to you, if his love for you strikes you as being important, if it should happen to be the case that you find the Holy Spirit living in your hearts, if you can find so much as an ounce of compassion somewhere inside you, why then, why don’t you try to be unified in humility!” (2) Or, to sum it up, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
Then, Paul did something a bit unusual, he included one of the earliest Christian songs, one his readers probably knew well (similar to how well we know the songs we are singing today). Maybe Paul hoped that the familiarity of the song would drive home the point that their attitude – our attitudes – should be the same as Jesus.
As the tune ran through their minds, they recalled that Jesus, who was (to use a closer translation) in very nature, God, refused to exploit that equality. Instead, the one who was in very nature, God, became a servant, he humbled himself and became obedient to death. As commentator Mast points out, it is impossible to get higher than being God, yet it was “getting low that saved us, it was the humility of the Son, the ultimate humiliation of the Son, that got the salvific job done.” (3)
But that is not where the song ends; you can almost hear the music building as it proclaims that Jesus was then exalted, given the name above all names, the name to which every knee bends and that causes every tongue to confess, “Jesus Christ is Lord!” The song’s message is that we are most Christ-like when we serve, not when we are served. We look like the Savior when we defer to others, not when we push to always get our way. We see with Jesus’ eyes when we view each person as infinitely worthy, which is how Jesus viewed us. When we stoop low to serve others, we are better people, and our congregation is a better place.
Our songs today may not be the same as the one Paul shared with the Philippians, hoping they would be inspired to be more Christ-like. But, notice as you sing that each song drives home the point of who God is, how Jesus loves us and that the Holy Spirit empowers us … and what a difference all that makes in the world.
You have already proclaimed in song that in the face of the power of evil, “now a champion comes to fight, whom God himself elected,” who is, of course, “the church’s one foundation, Jesus Christ, our Lord,” and we are “filled with his goodness and lost in his love,” love that has “broken every barrier down”. As the service continues, we’ll sing our intention to serve, “I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.” The rest of today’s singing will remind us of why we do so.
Serving and singing have this in common – they unite people of faith, giving people of all ages and abilities the opportunity to do that which our culture often does not encourage, that is, to do use our hands (and voices) to do God’s work in the world. So … sing out … and then serve! Amen
“Commentary on Philippians 2:1-13” by Scott Hoezee, October 1, 2017, www.cepreaching.org
Same as #1
“Commentary on Philippians 2:1-13” by Stan Mast, March 25, 2018, www.cepreacher.org