My eyes filled with tears as I watched live coverage of events honoring the late, great Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I’m a sucker for well-done ritual, and a great admirer of Justice Ginsburg. But more than the events themselves, I was moved by the kindness and generosity expressed by her colleague justices. Though for almost three decades the justices daily challenged and disagreed, questioned and confronted, they share an underlying respect and affection palpable across the miles. And the aisles.
Who does that anymore? Who disagrees so agreeably? Who respects so respectfully? Who places the higher good above their own needs? Though I imagine the differences among the justices are deep and wide, at the end of the day, at the end of the session, at the end of a life, they regard one another with warmth, respect and genuine affection. Who does that?
As we prepare for Sunday worship, I can’t go where Matthew’s gospel wants to take us. (Matthew 21.21-32) The text reveals open disdain for Jesus from the temple leaders. While he was teaching, chief priests and elders interrupted Jesus mid-sentence, regarding him with jaw-dropping disrespect. “Who gives you the right?” they challenged. “What makes you think you’re so smart?” I couldn’t read any further. That’s as far as I can go. We see that sort of disrespect and disdain daily in our political systems, and I just can’t go there today.
So, I flipped the page, looking for something more comforting, less discouraging, and found this:
If there is any encouragement in Christ,
any consolation from love,
any sharing in the Spirit,
any compassion and sympathy:
be of the same mind, have the same love, being in full accord.
Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
Who does that?
The apostle Paul was writing to the congregation at Philippi, a congregation for which he had shameless affection. I think it is fair to say he loved them best. Rather than tearing them down, belittling or mocking them, he loved them, praised them, opened a window on to a new view of the world. Rather than finding fault he applauded excellence.
Perhaps there were deep divisions in the congregation in Philippi. But if there were, those deep divisions never overshadowed their common purpose and obvious love for one another. Rather than racing to be first, they fought for last place, “regarding others as better than yourself.” They longed to serve rather than to be served.
Who does that?
Here’s their secret. The congregation at Philippi didn’t invent humble service, or common purpose or sincere compassion. They learned it. They learned it from Jesus who, Paul continues, “did not equate equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, and became obedient.”
Most often, the world around us feels like the scene Matthew describes in Sunday’s gospel: pugnacious, delighting in another’s downfall, quick to find fault. And though we might be hard pressed to find models for faithful discipleship in the temple that day or among us now, we are not without opportunities to see, to live, to disciple differently.
Perhaps, like me, you find inspiration in the hard-fought cohesion and collegiality of the Supreme Court.
Perhaps, like me, you find inspiration in the loving, serving, mindful congregation in Philippi.
Perhaps, like me, you find inspiration in the model Jesus makes—servanthood, obedience, single-mindedness.
Who does that? Well, we do.
Following the Notorious JC,
Pastor JoAnn Post