Philippians 2:4-8, 14-15 (NRSV)
Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 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. … Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world.
Weltschmerz. It’s a German word that has made it into the English language. Weltschmerz describes what many of us are feeling this week. Welt, meaning world. Schmerz, pain. World-pain. Grief over the world. Weltschmerz is a word that has been used to describe the aching in our souls over the fact that what we see around us does not match up with what we believe our world should — and could — be. Pain in us coming from the pain in the world.
The bombing in Beirut, Lebanon on Thursday that killed over 40 people. Then Friday in Paris, a multiple-pronged attack that killed over 130. People who God loves and for whom Jesus died, doing terrible damage to other people who God loves and for whom Jesus died.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend that everything is all right. Because it’s not. It is just not.
Violence. Fear. Terrorism. Pain. Homelessness. Hungry children. Unemployment. Ennui and apathy.
I’m feeling heartbroken and just plain old tired as I write this.
Our scripture for today is from the 2nd chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, which starts with these words: “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”
In Mark 12, Jesus tells his followers to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength… And love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s that second part upon which Paul is expanding on in Philippians: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We are called to reach out in love to people around us. Out of love, we are called to serve.
At one time or another, you’ve probably thought about volunteering to help those in need. But your calendar is jam-packed with appointments, events, meetings, and commitments. How could you possibly add one more thing in?
And you’ve probably also wondered if it was really worth it. Because, after all, you know the reality of the world:
- For every dinner served to the hungry in our community, there are still thousands who spend the day wondering where their next meal will come from.
- For every school built in a remote village of Guatemala, there are countless others whose lives we can’t touch.
- For every person with whom you share God’s love, there is someone, somewhere, who is tearing the world apart with their hatred.
That is where weltschmerz turns into exhaustion, and exhaustion turns into being utterly immobilized.
How can our small acts make a difference? Why bother?
Since I turned on the news and heard about these most recent attacks, a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. has been running through my mind:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness;
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate;
only love can do that.
Philippians 2:4 told us: “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” Paul continues: “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.”
Into a world of oppression and distrust and fear, Jesus came to show God’s love. Knowing the betrayal and pain that lay ahead of him, he still laid down his life to demonstrate God’s commitment to us.
If you’ve kind of checked out while you’ve been reading, thinking of the million and a half things you have on your schedule today, I ask you now to check back in. Just briefly. Because I really want you to hear this…
God loves you. And God knows you. Knows the pretty face you put forward to the world, pulled together and attractive. But God also knows the ugliness inside you, the things that shame and frighten you.
And God still loves you. And always will.
And that is equally true of every person who walks this globe.
God loves each and every one of us.
We serve to help people know that they are fully known, cared for, that they have infinite worth.
This is what makes serving others — what makes sharing God’s love — such a powerful act of rebellion against the pain of this world.
Because by making the conscious, challenging decision to reach out in love, we are refusing to accept hatred.
We are making the courageous stand, the bold protest.
We are fighting back with joy.
We are stepping up and sticking a finger in the eye of evil.
So shake off that weltschmerz. And — please hear me — find a way:
In a world that doesn’t always care for individual people …
to say: “You matter!”
In a world where people seem kill without thought …
to bring healing and hope.
In a world there there is ample darkness …
to bring God’s light.
In a world filled with confusion and fear and hate …
to bring God’s love.
Each of us — every one of us — working together… can you imagine what we can do?
At the end of our scripture passage, Paul wrote to the Philippians that they should live as children of God and be like bright lights shining in the darkness of the world.
That is you.
That can be all of us.