Fearless First Responders, sermon by Pastor Fred Kinsey
Are you fearless? Do you live your life confidently? Or, hesitantly afraid of the unknown sneaking up on you from around the corner, out of nowhere? What’s holding you back from being fearless? Are you one of God’s Fearless First Responders?
Once upon a time, there was a man who bought himself a cemetery plot, and a lawn chair. Then he took a week of vacation so that he could sit on his chair, on the beautifully manicured green lawn, amongst all the grave stones, in front of his brand new plot! But it wasn’t because of the view, or because he was especially proud of his new property, like you might be, for example, buying a new house. He did it because he wanted to, see his life from the point of view of his death – and his death from the point of view of his life.
There are whole spirituality Retreats that take up the theme of, death and dying, of going deep into the meaning of life and death, so as to begin to unlock the mystery and meaning of faith and hope and love. If we never take the time to come to terms with the fact that we are finite creatures, and that death is going to be in our future at some point(!), we will be prone to, as St Paul said, “selfish ambition and conceit.” But in the face of death, we learn better who we are, and more importantly – we are not everything!
5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6who, though [being] in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7but emptied himself,…
8[and] humbled himself.
As we begin our Fall Stewardship “Fearless First Responders” Campaign, we ask God to help us be of the same mind in Christ Jesus. God fearlessly gave his only child, Jesus, to the world, knowing very well what might happen: humbling and emptying himself of the form of God, refusing to live his power in, selfish ambition or conceit – that the world just might eat him alive!
This often puzzled the disciples. Why don’t you fight back? Why don’t you revitalize and reorganize the Jewish tradition of the Maccabees, who successfully rebelled against their Roman overlords and took Jerusalem and the Temple back, for a number of years! Why do you insist on a war of words without weapons? You courageously speak truth to the selfish and conceited powers now ruling us, like no one we have ever known! But you let yourself be arrested and tried like a common criminal! What’s up with that? “He humbled himself,” as Paul said, “and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”
It is, Jesus-like, I think we could say, to take a week’s vacation and a lawn chair, and sit down in the proverbial spirituality retreat of contemplating your grave stone. While to our American culture, this looks foolish or ridiculous, weak and unnecessary, to Jesus, and the followers of Jesus, it is an empowering obedience and necessary journey, on the way to finding our greatest strength!
Are you fearless? Are you a Fearless First Responder? When the Twin Towers were aflame and billowing smoke into the beautiful blue sky of September 11th, why did First responders willingly enter those buildings? Why did they climb so many steps up to so many floors, in pursuit of rescuing so many hundreds and thousands trying to flee? Why do first responders – Police, and Fire fighters, and Rescue squads – risk their lives day-in and day-out on our streets of Chicago? How do they continue to face their grave stones, in a real and raw risk-taking to save others?
There’s probably lots of reasons. Many are pedestrian. It’s not, usually, to become a hero. Maybe it’s just because a parent – a mother or father – did it before them. Or maybe the pay seemed attractive, at least compared to working at Dunkin Donuts. It’s hard to say. Good training helps! Helps to build a team, working together, and helps keep you safer.
Do we know why we’re here today, in this place – an exercise which seems more and more irrelevant in today’s world, risky even? Why do you worship? What do you get out of it? When did it first feel right to you, and why? Do you come to save yourself? Or do you come to be part of something bigger than yourself?
Sharing the love of God takes more than just ourselves, individually. You can’t sit at home all alone and experience love. Love only happens in relationship with another, and in community, whether it’s human love or love from God. And bringing love alive, takes sacrifice, self-sacrifice. And I don’t mean Selflessness, which is always putting others first, a kind of reflexive care-taking of others, without seeing the bigger picture and knowing what the sacrifice if for. Selflessness, will eventually lead to burn-out, and is the polar opposite of selfish ambition and conceit, which, of course, only cares for #1, and is given, way too many rewards in a capitalist society like ours, usually at the expense of those who are Selfless. But Self-sacrifice has spent a week’s vacation with their gravestone, and acts clearly out of love for the betterment of God’s creation. These, are God’s Fearless First Responders!
First Responders are ready at all times to make a sacrifice in order that others may have life, and may live in community safely, to experience love – for that is the only way life and love, come back to us. And without love, we might as well stay put in our lawn chairs, for life will feel like being trapped in the cemetery! First Responders are willing to stand up to Selfish Ambition and conceit, and so do not give away their power in being selfless and stepped on.
As Jesus teaches us, there are those among the rich and powerful, then and now, who sow seeds of fear-fulness, an act of pure selfish ambition or conceit. We have seen it more clearly in these times of economic recession, how Fear causes confusion about where our loyalties lie. And the power of this evil, only causes us to be poor Stewards, and to hold on to, or make impulse decisions, about our gifts of time, talent and treasure.
But Christ’s act of emptying and humbling, teaches us a better way. One that sees our life from the point of view of our death – and our death from the point of view of our life – which is the way of God’s only-begotten Child, and the way of God’s Fearless First Responders. And as we come to walk in this way, we learn fearless-living, fearless-giving, and fearless-service.
So, let’s review: “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete” says St. Paul: “be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves” – be fearless in your living!
I suspect, it’s not out of selfish ambition or conceit that you are here today, nor out of self-destructive Selflessness, but to strengthen your Self-giving and sacrifice, as Christ teaches us, that you may see your life from the point of view of your death – and your death from the point of view of your life, and that you may be Fearless in your living, giving, and service. And if you want, you can book your next vacation, and take that lawn chair, and fearlessly sit a spell with your gravestone!