Why Aren’t We Singing?
Thoughts on Las Vegas, Unity, and the Philippians
The lectionary is a schedule of scriptures that some churches use to move through the Bible. A group of pastors and scholars sat down a number of years ago to create a three-year schedule that allows churches to experience nearly the entire New Testament.
First Church uses the lectionary. The scripture that we focus on in worship is often the same that churches all over the world are also studying. Some weeks we make changes, but for the most part the lectionary allows us to be united with other followers of Christ through scripture.
Last Sunday was World Communion Sunday. This is a specific day where followers of Jesus around the world share in communion together. We had a map with pins on it to represent where we have family and friends and other connections. Our community is global.
Scripture teaches us to live in community. The Bible contains numerous examples of the benefits of communal living. Unity was important to the writers of scripture. Community should be important to us.
The lectionary scripture for today comes from the book of Philippians. This, like many of the New Testament books, is a letter written by Paul to a church community. The people of Philippi that received Paul’s letter were struggling. They were arguing with each other, disagreeing over everything; they were a divided people.
We, too, are a divided people. Pick a topic and we’ll be able to split the room in disagreement. Our culture has taught us to pick sides. Our culture has taught us that whatever I think is right therefore anyone who disagrees is wrong. Our culture has taught us that division is the only way.
Jesus showed there was a different way.
Paul might as well be writing his letter directly to us. This is what he says in Philippians 2:1–11 (CEB):
1Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, 2complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. Philippians 2:1–11 (CEB)
Paul starts off by telling us that if we believe in what Jesus taught, we should live it out. If we believe that Jesus brings encouragement, we should live as if it’s true. If we believe that love provides comfort we should live in love. Paul is telling us that divided living is not really living.
This scripture isn’t telling us to let atrocities be ignored. We must stand up and speak out when injustice occurs. But Paul is telling us that the petty things that separate us are unimportant. Living in love and unity should be our focus.
Paul continues his letter by saying:
3Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. 4Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Philippians 2:1–11 (CEB)
Selfishness is the ultimate divider. When we only care about ourselves, we are the furthest we can possibly be from living in community. Selfishness is the opposite of living into love.
Last Sunday, after we had celebrated the community of the global church, a man in Las Vegas killed dozens of people and wounded hundreds more. His act of terror and violence was incredibly selfish and horrific.
Jesus taught hope. Jesus taught love. Jesus taught caring for others. Yet here we are dealing with another national tragedy where one selfish person destroyed these ideals with their own desires of hate and violence.
Earlier this week there was a vigil at Dr. Phillips, next door to the church. As part of the vigil, we rang the church bells for each person killed in the shooting. 59 clangs of the bell. It took nearly ten minutes.
As I stood there, listening to the bells, I started to get angry. Each ring of the bell was followed by a pause that felt like an eternity. Each pause felt like the final bell had rung. Then another bell would ring. Another person represented.
I stood there getting angry that we were ringing our bells again. It has only been three months since we rang them 49 times to remember the victims at Pulse for the one-year anniversary. And here we were again.
When the pause lingered long enough to know the 59 bells had finished, I didn’t know what to do. There was nothing planned, no speakers, or instructions. So I walked away. Angry that one person in their selfishness could ruin so many lives. Angry that this will probably not be the last time we ring bells for tragedy.
Then I heard singing.
A choir group happened to be at the church rehearsing for a concert. After the final bell, they sang. I don’t know what they sang, but it was beautiful. I was drawn back to the spot and my anger turned to hope.
The singing was an act of love. The singing was an act of community. The singing was an act of unity. These are the ideals that Jesus taught and that Paul explains in his letter.
Paul finishes the lectionary scripture for tonight by saying:
5Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: Philippians 2:1–11 (CEB)
Then Paul sings.
Ok, it’s a letter so he didn’t actually sing, but he includes a worship psalm. One commentary on the scripture I was reading said it would have been something the community of Philippi knew. Paul included a song to emphasize his point about community. Paul tells us to adopt the attitude of Christ and then sings.
This is what Paul included:
6Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
7But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
8he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
9Therefore, God highly honored him
and gave him a name above all names,
10so that at the name of Jesus everyone
in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
11and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:1–11 (CEB)
There are too many things in our world that divide us. Our culture tells us to ignore others, to only care about ourselves. Yet, if we are to follow Jesus then we are to live differently. We are to focus on unity and love. We are to put ourselves last and care for others.
We are to adopt the attitude of Christ and sing.