"The Song that Sings You" - Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

"The Song that Sings You" - Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

Sep 27, 2020

Passage:Philippians 2:1-13

Preacher: The Rev. Jared Houze

Category: Discipleship, Humility



The Song that Sings You

One of my favorite movies is Almost Famous. It’s the biographical story of director Cameron Crowe’s experience as a teenager on his first writing assignment for Rolling Stone Magazine in the early 1970’s. At the beginning of the film the enigmatic music critic Lester Bangs emerges and becomes an unorthodox sage for the adolescent writer on his journey through the precarious world of music journalism. Lester Bangs has some of the greatest lines in the script. Like this one: 


Music, you now, true music - not just rock n roll - it chooses you. It lives in your car, or alone listening to your headphones, you know, with the vast scenic bridges and angelic choirs in your brain. 


I just love that – this idea that there are songs that live inside us, carrying us in unsuspected ways. 


We have this old white mini-van. That’s the one I take on road trips or for diocesan events. The cd player doesn’t work, or the tape player, it lacks whatever hook up is necessary to play songs through my iPhone, and headphones kill my battery – so I’m completely reliant upon the radio. When you’re out there on the highway between towns in this part of the world – the options can be limited: static, some angry preacher yelling at you, static, some pop-country song that makes Hank Williams roll over in his grave, static, Tejano music, static, contemporary Christian music, static…another angry preacher. I listen to so much Tejano music. 


But every now and then…you hear a song. A song you love. A song that takes you back and moves you forward at the same time, and you crank it up…maybe you sing, maybe you don’t. It doesn’t matter – it’s lives inside your car now, it lives inside you…and before you know it you’re a little further down the road. 


Today, we continue our four-week series in Philippians, and you know what old St. Paul is doing this morning? He’s singing a song. One he landed on shuffling through all the static and the stations in his brain while he’s living the last of his days in a Roman prison – a song that lives inside him and maybe it’ll live inside the people at the church in Philippi.  


But before he sings this song, he sets it up – he wants his dear friends in Philippi to know why this song. And he sets it up with a bit of an appeal…


“If you are in Christ, if you are receiving from the Spirit the gifts of love, compassion, and sympathy – make my joy complete.” Paul’s inviting them to keep growing in the faith. And what does growth look like and what is it that would complete Paul’s joy? 


Being of the same mind…(repeat) 


Now, we might hear that and think the old apostle is instructing us to have the same thoughts or the same opinions, but that’s not what “mind” means. It is an appeal to be of the same disposition, or the same attitude, the same way of being with one another…and it looks like humility. Humility, a word we often associate with virtue but in the Greco-Roman world Paul is writing from humility is a bad word – for in that world the noble person asserted by exercising the powers of rhetoric and leveraging position. So before Paul sings this song, he’s grabbing their attention with the counter-cultural request to live in such a way that regards others as better than yourself – this isn’t a false humility, which is just a backdoor way to get what you want nor is it an invitation to be a rug for toxic people to walk over. C.S. Lewis said, “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” 


You see, I wonder if Paul is looking back, the way people do when they sense the end is near and he’s remembering the times when his prerogative got in the way, or the times when he chose to assert his own position…or the arguments in Jerusalem or with his fellow leaders in the churches. And he’s awakened to something…that the mark of faith is about being of the same mind, and not just any mind – the mind of Christ. And then he launches into the song…you can see it in the passage itself, Paul moves from the didactic to the poetic…

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…” 


Who, though he was in the form of God, 

He didn’t assert himself 

Or throw around power

Or leverage position 

But emptied himself…

Humbled himself

And was obedient 

All the way to the cross.  


“Have that mind…be of that mind my dear friends in Philippi.” 


And Paul sings his song. Like Johnny Cash’s album Live at Folsom Prison, this is St. Paul Live from a Roman Prison and he’s singing people into freedom, and joy, and growth…where the same mind that was in Christ in in them too. And it becomes one of the first recorded hymns of the early Church. A song that reminded them to think of themselves less, to not cling so tightly to their agendas and opinions, to make room for one another, and to embrace the humility of Christ. 


Yall notice that there’s a lot of opinions being thrown around these days? Have yall noticed that everyone seems to be an expert? If we imagine our daily lives as a kind of radio dial, does it feel like shuffling through static or stations with angry voices, and the old tired songs of partisan conflict, and the one hit wonders of arrogance and meanness – that for some reason keep getting played? You know there’s another song we can sing…it might take some shuffling through all those other stations, but we can land on it. It’s a song that can live inside us, the way it lived inside of Paul, the way it lived inside the early Church. 


A song of humility. 


And maybe it needs to be a song because there are some things we can sing that we can’t yet find the courage to say. 


This hymn, this song at the heart of Philippians…sing it out. This song chooses you. It wants to live inside your car, or alone listening to your headphones, and not just with the vast scenic bridges but even through the frightening landscapes of a shaken world. It might become a song we not only sing but sings us. That sings us into a new reality, that sings us a little further down the road, into a depth of joy and growth. 


A song that sings us into the mind of Christ.