The Best Platform Ever
Our epistle reading today is one of the most beloved in our scripture, teaching us to put others first, following Jesus’ example of putting himself last, in the role of a servant, instead of first, in the role of a king. Sometimes we don’t remember Paul’s context in writing this letter when we read this passage, but Paul is writing from prison — probably in Rome or in Ephesus, which is Ancient Asian Minor, now modern Turkey. Paul is writing to the community of believers in Philippi from prison, held there because of his work to share the way of Jesus — the way of love. Even though he’s in prison, Paul somehow shifts his perspective, telling the Philippians just the chapter before today’s reading that his imprisonment is his great asset. Being in prison, Paul writes in Philippians 1:12-13, has actually served to spread the Gospel, because it has given him the opportunity to witness to the Roman imperial guards — to teach them about Jesus and the way of love.
Paul probably makes this point to counter any inclination on the part of the Philippian Christians to interpret his imprisonment as evidence that God has abandoned him. But Paul’s alternative interpretation of his imprisonment is also a creative and hopeful posture of abundance and gratitude. Paul continues in today’s reading to urge the Philippians Christians to think expansively — not planning from the perspective of scarcity and limitation — each one for him or herself. Paul urges the believers in Philippi to make his joy complete through their unity and accord, thinking of each other and the whole community as a resource, rather than planning from the limits of each one’s individual resources. In other words, think about what you do have as a whole community, not what you don’t have in your own pockets. Don’t rely only on yourself, and what you can do alone, Paul writes:
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.
By now, each of you should have received your pledge letters and pledge cards, either by email or link to the weekly online newsletter, or by regular mail, if you’re not a computer user. We’ll bring our pledge cards to church on Celebration Sunday on October 29. If you can’t make it that day, you can mail or email your pledge card before Celebration Sunday. On Celebration Sunday, we’ll gather all of our gifts, give thanks to God for our great abundance, and celebrate God’s extravagant blessings. Stewardship is one of the most difficult tasks any congregation undertakes in its life together. Often that happens because we plan and give from a sense of scarcity. Money can seem short, so when we begin to budget and plan as a community, gathering up our resources to support our life in community for the coming year — worship, outreach, parish life, music, building operations, clergy and staff salaries — sometimes we focus on what we don’t have.
For example, we found a wonderful tenant for the Dearborn apartment after we had allocated resources to update the kitchen and bathroom, but not quite as quickly as we had hoped. Also, we continue to try to book more weddings to keep our beautiful nave in use. All that can make it seem like we don’t have enough, because we are focusing on what we don’t have — money from rentals and weddings — to pay the costs of our shared ministry here at Emmanuel. When we think and plan from the perspective of scarcity — looking at what we don’t have — we are not standing in a place of hope and creativity. What happens when we turn the image around, like Paul did? Like when he showed the Philippians (and all of us listening in today) that being in prison was the best platform ever for teaching and preaching the Gospel — instead of being helpless and chained up in a stone basement of a first century government building in Rome? What happens when we begin with what we do have — from a perspective of God’s great abundance — and plan from there?
What are our assets at Emmanuel? Every one of our gifts — and all of our participation — is essential to the health and connection of our community. We each have our own opportunity to make a difference! When we each bring our gifts and talents to our community, we have made our commitment to the community, connecting us all in God’s purpose.
So what other assets do we have? What about all of us — we’re kind of amazing! Our very name means God with us! All of you — all of us together, are assets. And our faith is an amazing asset. Also our relationships and connections in the community around us — our good will as Emmanuel Church — that is an asset. And our beautiful building and grounds, which give us a home and a place to gather, and even a community garden to connect us and nourish us physically and spiritually. We have the spiritual gifts that we each bring to our lives together in community. When we think of our assets that way, we start to feel rich! Because we are. When we begin from a place of abundance, and celebrate our gifts before God, we start with a sense of gratitude and fullness. When we gather our gifts together — sharing, rejoicing, and giving thanks — there’s always enough.
How does this look like as we gather and celebrate our gifts in the 2023 pledge campaign? Be like Jesus, Paul writes to us from prison. He’s re-imagined prison as the greatest platform ever for preaching and teaching the way of Christ. Be like Jesus, Paul tells us — do all you can for others. Every last thing. Gather your gifts, both spiritual and financial, before God and rejoice and give thanks for God’s bounty. Be like Jesus, and imagine like Paul. If prison for Paul can be the greatest platform ever for preaching and teaching the way of Christ, what is this beautiful building we have — Emmanuel Church?
Is it the hungry, expensive consumer of our assets? Or is this beautiful indoor space — acoustically perfect for music and performance, expansive, useful, and versatile in all seasons — the greatest asset we have — the best platform ever for living and sharing the gospel? Is it the greatest asset that we have — not just for the generation of income to support the space itself, but for sharing our space with Newport Classical to serve the wider community — from all places, at all times, and in all seasons? We begin our stewardship campaign thinking in a new way, gathering our abundant gifts before God and rejoicing. Amen