31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
May 13, 2018
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
A small business owner, a low wage side show worker, and a corrections officer. On the surface, they didn’t have much in common, and yet they called each other brother and sister.
They were different genders. Different socio-economic statuses and levels of privilege in society. Likely different abilities, interests, and views of the world, too. And still, they were all members of the same church, part of the same Christian community, bound together in Jesus Christ.
And despite their differences, they were a shining example of what Christian community looks like when we are at our best. They lived faithfully. They lived lovingly. They were comfort, encouragement, and consolation for one another and for others.
They got it so right as a Christian community that Paul could not stop using the word joy in his letter to them. Paul rejoiced just thinking about the supportive, loving, caring community in Philippi; which was no small thing because at the time, Paul was imprisoned under a death sentence in Rome. This church made Paul’s joy complete though. Their common attitude of putting others first, doing nothing from selfish ambition or for the sake of empty glory, their shared belief in loving others as themselves made Paul’s heart sing with joy.
I wish the Church always got it right. I wish the church in Philippi was the norm and not the exception because it’s sad when we don’t get it right, but when we do…..it’s a beautiful, wonderful thing. People who are vulnerable, hurting, and lost find welcome, a home, a family to belong to, a community that nurtures their gifts and inspires them to become the one who reaches out to others who are vulnerable, hurting, and lost.
When the Church gets it right, we are encouragement and inspiration for one another. We are not only comfortable with our differences; we celebrate and honor our differences. The business owner and the minimum wage service industry worker are sisters in Christ. The corrections officer and the recently paroled are brothers in Christ.
When the Church is at its best, we accept others having different thoughts, because it isn’t important that we agree about the issues as long as we share the same mind, the same attitude, the same way of discussing our differences, a way based on Jesus. A way based on love.
When the Church is at its best, we are of the same mind, the same attitude, the same love as Jesus Christ, who we believe that even though he was in the form of God and was God, did not use that as a reason to boast or lord it over us. Through Jesus Christ, God chose to humble Godself. God came to be like us, to be with us, to even suffer humiliation and death, all to show us the depth of God’s unconditional love for each one of us.
When the Church and its members are at our best, we speak, we act, we live in love. We don’t grasp for our 15 minutes of fame or make jokes at expense of others. We don’t use what we have to take more. Instead, we encourage others; we recognize their gifts and abilities. We look to the interests of others that we might all live in harmony and peace.
This was how the Church, the Christian community in Philippi, was living, and it made Paul’s joy complete. This is how, we, too are called to live as Christians, filled with love, bringing out the best in others, nurturing and being nurtured, transforming our world for the better.
This is how God wants us to live. This is how we want to live – so how? How do we live this way? How do we be our best as Christians and as a Christian community?
We focus on Jesus. Focus on his generosity, on his kindness, his acceptance and humility. We focus on his unconditional love. We remember why we are trying to care for our neighbors and live in harmony with them – because God first loved us, a love made known to us through Jesus the Christ. And when we know that love, when we let that love fill us up completely, we are also filled with joy and able to be a joy to others.
Spiritual practices, like prayer, meditation, and worship are wonderful ways to focus on God’s love so we can be more loving in our daily lives, in our family lives. This morning, I share with you two spiritual practices that will nurture your awareness of God and God’s love and also make you physically healthier, and when we are physically healthier, we are emotionally and mentally healthier, better able to be our best, sharing kindness and love with others.
First, sing. Sing the words that Christians have sung since the beginning. “He is Lord. He is Lord. He has risen from the dead and he is Lord. Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
When we sing a song like “He is Lord”, we remember all Jesus did for us, how much Jesus loves us, and when we sing, we have the added benefits of strengthening our immune systems, improving our postures, lowering our stress levels, reducing the amount we snore -thus improving our sleep, and singing improves mental alertness. Yes, singing might reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia because it allows more oxygen to reach your brain, thus improving mental alertness, concentration, and memory.
Singing “He is Lord” every day in the shower, in your car, while walking the dog, can improve your physical health and remind you of God’s love for you at the same time.
The second spiritual practice is called the Jesus prayer. As you breathe in, you say to yourself “Jesus Christ, you are the light of the world.” And as you breathe out, you say, “Fill my mind with your peace and my heart with your love.” It’s like taking a six second vacation, and there are moments when we need those six seconds. Moments when we need to take a depth breath and remember Christ’s peace and Christ’s love before we speak or act. “Jesus Christ, you are the light of the world, fill my mind with your peace and my heart with your love.”
Take six seconds to close your eyes; breathe; and say to yourself. “Jesus Christ, you are the light of the world, fill my mind with your peace and my heart with your love.”
Like singing, taking a deep breath makes us mentally, emotionally, and physically healthier. When we take a deep breath, we let go of stress, and let oxygen and energy flow to all parts of our body. I recently learned another health benefit to breathing. Our lymphatic system, which is responsible for riding our bodies of toxins and waste, does not have a pump like the heart in the circulatory system. The lymphatic system uses the diaphragm muscle, located under your lungs and above your stomach, to help it circulate. And you know what activates the diaphragm? A deep breath, like when you say the ‘Jesus Prayer’.
When Christians and the Christian community are at our best, we take care of our neighbors, putting their needs first. We offer compassion and inspiration, hope and healing to those in need. We are of the same mind, the same attitude as Jesus Christ, one of peace, respect, acceptance, and humility. When Christians and the Christian community are at our best, we make our world a better place.
So be your best. Breathe in Christ’s love and sing out his love; for the sake of your children, your friends, your parents, your partner, your co-workers, your brothers and sisters in Christ, your fellow human beings.
Focus on what is important – God and God’s love as made known through Jesus Christ; so that you, we, can be our very best, transforming our lives, transforming our homes, transforming our world with Christ’s love.