All summer we will be looking at Philippians and this week (June 10, 2017) we looked together at Philippians 1:3-11. Because we are not recording these we will try to post reflections on some of the homilies.
I was writing this sermon in my office (i.e. a local coffee shop) where a friend of mine, an employee there, was running around frantically. It was 9am and a long line of people formed, staring at the employees with eyes half-open, eagerly awaiting their liquid sunshine. My friend walked back into the employee area to get something and then came back out 30 seconds later.
As she approached the bar, she had her cell phone in her hand. Trying to put it back in her apron pocket, she fumbled it. The phone hit the floor, bounced one, twice, then plunged deeply into a red bucket of soapy sanitation liquid. She screamed, pulled the phone out — somehow it still worked — and threw it in the back room, wadding it up in paper towels. After this, she still had to come out and make drinks, so now in embarrassment she had to explain this story to half-awake customers staring at her with piercing embittered stares. She has just wasted 3 minutes because she was in a hurry. We so often live our lives at this frenetic pace where hurry makes us err in prioritizing our days. My friend could have cleared the deck of drinks and then checked her phone. Tasks and lists can potentially strangle our ability to prioritize, hold conversations and to be creative.
The Problem of Priority
We can often prioritize tasks over people because it’s easier — an instant gratification. It is hard to struggle to prioritize people because love takes time. And time is something we struggle to find. So we rush.
The Philippian church needed to grow in this as well. This church which was small and young, was one that gave Paul joy as he thought about them. This little church had been sharers in the Gospel, by giving their resources to other groups of Christians in Corinth and in Thessalonike. Paul is writing from prison, and despite death’s dark shadow standing before him, his mind is drawn towards what God is doing with this little community.
But his prayer for this church is that they would continue to have their love overflow with greater knowledge and insight. Like any other church, this community had to make decisions about what is vital and what is secondary, both corporately and individually. Our ability to prioritize is in direct proportion to the knowledge and discernment we gain from loving people. And people often become the most nebulous and difficult thing to prioritize.
Jesus and Listening
As a community, we want to introduce our neighbors to the love of Jesus, but this involves seeing people as Christ does. This kind of love takes time and a lot of listening. This is the reason we have asked so many questions of neighborhood leaders and spent time emphasizing a community more than service style, programming, or building. To love people as Christ does involves really listening to them. What keeps me from loving people and listening to them are often thoughts about things I’m not accomplishing while I’m meeting with them. My mind just fixates on all the things I could be doing if I were not with this person in front of me. But this does not help me love them more.
This is a great prayer for us: that our love would abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that we might approve what is a pressing priority. The decision about what is pressing should continually be driven by love for others.
How are we to Build a Church?
We need to be prayerful and curious about what is in people’s hearts and lives. If I can take some time to examine my days, to listen to people, to see them as an end and not a means, then the harvest will be like a beautiful field of fruits ready to be picked on the day of harvest.
Henri Nouwen in The Wounded Healer reminds us that we are most effective to the masses when we have spent our time getting to know a few people well, “ Those who have spent many hours trying to understand, feel, and clarify the alienation and confusion of one of their fellow human beings might very well be the best equipped to speak to the needs of the many, because all of us are one at the wellspring of pain and joy” (79). Like the Philippian church, may we become a Church that listens to people well with loving curiosity, growing in our ability to prioritize so that we grow in seeing the world as God does.