9/26/99 P18A

“From Selfishness to Selflessness”
Philippians 2: 1-13

ne of the worst church bulletin bloopers of all time was, “The Low Self-Esteem Support Group will meet at the church on Thursday at 7:00 p.m., please use the back entrance.” Or worse, “Weight Watchers meets on Wednesday night at 8:00 p.m., use the wide double doors in back of the church.”

Some of us are laughing because we have been there. Lots of folks bounce back and forth between self-abasement, and self-worship. Either way its self-absorption, self-love, self-worship. The self seems to always be in the center.

But the people we want to be are those in whom we have observed selflessness.

Our little family was fortunate to be able to attend Sunday morning worship at Wesley’s Chapel on our vacation in London a few years ago. It was a little hard to find because it is not prominent on the tourist maps, and it is only 200 years old in a city that contains the ancient Tower of London. After worship, everyone was invited to lunch in the church hall (fellowship hall). The members were almost as friendly as are the folks at Atlanta First. We had a wonderful experience. The fellowship is somehow more memorable than the worship. After the lunch, everyone was invited on a tour. We were not about to miss out on that. Our guide was an elderly clergyman who was serving in an emeritus position. He was full of enthusiasm about John Wesley and spoke at a high and feverish pitch for over an hour. My children observed that he spoke of Wesley as if he knew him personally, or was his contemporary. The fact is that much oral history lingered in his home church and many of the folks had heard stories from their grandparents that had been faithfully passed on from their grandparents. One of the comments made was that, “...the people simply loved Mr. Wesley, a high-class Englishman, the only one that they had ever met, but one who showed his love and concern for every one of them, and was one of them. There was no loftiness in Mr. Wesley at all.” What an observation!

Genuine humility is not self-effacement, which is just another self-centered attitude, but humility is unpretentiousness, and honesty. Humility is to be willing to empty oneself for others, to risk vulnerability, to give one’s time and attention to others.

Although she does not want the title bestowed upon her, Mary Beth Talley has become a hero at Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. A volunteer caregiver to several mentally challenged youth, she was especially fond of Heather MacDaniel, a sweet youth who has Downs Syndrome. Gathered in the Sanctuary, they were singing the praise chorus “Alleluia” when a gunman opened fire. Selflessly, Mary Beth shielded Heather with her body and took a bullet in the back. Thankfully her wound is not life threatening, but her action is certainly life giving for us all. There is no greater love than to be willing to risk your all for another human being, out of selfless love.

Our text today contains part of a hymn, or poem, that was probably sung by believers, some of whom had known Jesus personally. Let’s line it out:

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 bow, 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.” (v. 5-11).

These familiar lyrics were repeated by Paul in his personal letter to the church at Phillippi as a way to encourage them to emulate Jesus’ selflessness life, and to remind them that “God was at work...” in them “enabling” them to “Let the same mind be in...” them. Humility is a byproduct of letting the Holy Spirit work to remold our attitudes and behavior.

My Dad used to tell the joke about the vain person who entitled his long autobiography: Humility, and How I Attained It. We have all known people who were about that vain and self-centered. And truthfully, we all may have our moments of bouncing back and forth between selfishness and selflessness, but we also can testify to the work that God’s Spirit has done, at least partially, in us to move us toward a more realistic view of ourselves.

Sure, we are all the product of our homes, genetics, education, family, and friends form us, good and bad; but the Good News is that through the Power at work within our lives, He can re-form us into a worthy instrument for use in His Kingdom. Our desire is not to be the center of attention, but to be in the center of God’s will and to know our purpose and calling. There is a place for holiness of heart and wholeness in living; but at the same time, we do not take ourselves too seriously. We are not the “self” that matters so much anyway. We can even continue to laugh at ourselves when we have to walk through those “double doors,” or, sneak in some “back doors,” still. It is after all not our “attainment” that matters most; but, “our faithfulness to His call upon our lives.” It is not that we measure up and work our work, it is that we fulfill our task as He gives grace and enabling power to do so. “...for it is God that is at work within you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (v. 13, NRSV).

This is why Mary Beth Talley is the reluctant hero of young Heather, and of us all as the world begins to hear about her selfless act of bravery. All of us would like to be grabbed by such a great selfless love for others--- To be a Little Christ for someone--- And we can!

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

9/26/99 P18A