Proper 21, Year A, 2014
St. Thomas’, Whitemarsh
May the words I speak and the words you hear be God’s alone. Amen.
One of my favorite things about working at St. Thomas is that I get to spend time every weekday morning greeting teachers, parents, and their children at the Nursery School. To be honest, as the weeks have gone by, I’ve done less greeting and more playing. Children are born with incredible imaginations; their worlds are full of new experiences, and playing is how they make sense of what’s happening around them. Now, I’m no expert on children, but I’ve done my fair share of babysitting and even worked at a preschool when I was in college. What I have learned is that in order to successfully engage with them, you have to get down on their level, both literally and figuratively. Even someone my height can appear a giant to a 3 year-old, so it’s important for me to either bend to their height, sit on the floor, or sit at their little table, in order to look at them eye-to-eye. This helps them feel more like equals, like their viewpoint matters to adults. In addition to physically meeting them where they are, it’s good to meet them where they are developmentally, as well. It wouldn’t make sense for me to discuss with them the disagreements between Keynesian economics and proponents of the Laffer Curve. Or describe to them the theories of atonement, theosis, and sanctification. Or enumerate the nuances of third-wave feminism as compared to first and second wave feminism. The idea of introducing those things to children is obviously ridiculous. So instead, I spend a lot of time talking with them about colors and numbers and Thomas the Tank Engine. These are things that are familiar to them and discussions in which they can contribute; these are the kinds of things nursery school children can grasp.
In the early days of creation, God walks in the Garden of Eden to talk with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:8). As the ages pass, people no longer have such an intimate relationship with their Creator. After Moses, with God’s direction, leads the Israelites out of Egypt and into the wilderness, they turn around and beg Moses to speak to and represent them to God, because they are afraid of speaking to God themselves (Exodus 20:19). Each successive generation grows further and further away from God, and they begin to forget the many things God has done for them. At times, the people even turn to other gods for comfort and assistance, breaking their promise to worship God alone. The relationship between God and the chosen people comes to its lowest point during the years of Exile; God has never seemed further away.
God, ever faithful to the wandering, confused, and fickle people of Earth, longs to repair this broken relationship. In order to get reacquainted with them, however, Paul tells us that God empties God’s self and comes to Earth as one of us (Philippians 2:7). God wants to be more accessible, and so God literally comes down to us on our level. God is born to a human family with human parents. Jesus learns how to crawl, then walk, then talk, then read and write. In the person of Jesus, God walks our dusty roads and worships with people in the temple. In the person of Jesus, God experiences life’s ups and downs, feels joy, pain, loss, confusion, and sadness. In the person of Jesus, God demonstrates God’s faithfulness by laying down his life for the people he loves so desperately.
How do we respond to this incredible and undeserved show of love? What can we possibly do or say that could demonstrate our desire to be faithful in return?
Paul suggests we can begin by emptying ourselves of our selfish desires in order to make room for God: “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). God, though Jesus, humbled himself and spent his life serving others; we are called to humble ourselves and spend time in service to others. Jesus welcomed the marginalized; we are called to treat everyone we meet with dignity and respect, for they are a beloved child of God. Jesus spent time in prayer and worship; we are called to deepen our faith through communal as well as personal prayer.
If this seems like an impossible task, Paul reminds us that we are not alone; God is ever-present in our lives: “it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (v. 13). Psalm 25 reiterates this: “[the LORD] guides the humble in doing right * and teaches his way to the lowly” (Psalm 25:8). The same God who created everything that is, who freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, who emptied God’s self of all power and knowledge and came to us on our level, that same God remains with us today.
God, in Jesus, came to us when we could no longer relate to God and showed us how to repair our broken relationship. If we follow God’s model and empty ourselves of the things that separate us from others and from God, we leave space for God to work through us. God has poured God’s self out for us; may we also do the same for God.