• Dr. Bruce A. Havens

Complete Joy


A message by the Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens

Arlington Congregational Church

September 20, 2020


Philippians 2:1-11

1If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

What a joy to be back together! So glad to see as many of you as could be here and so grateful for this congregation and the faithfulness to it that you all have shown. I know it has been hard for many of you and believe me it has been hard not seeing you and hearing you and everything. I thought this passage reflected a little of that joy and so I wanted to look at it with you and see what we might learn from it.


Paul loved the Philippian church. He felt a great deal of affection for them and his words reflect it. Elsewhere we can read those great inspiring words he wrote to them - “rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!” Given that and these upbeat sounding words we might think everything is “hunky dory” in the church there. The reality is it probably isn’t. The fact that Paul is urging them to “make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind,” and he returns to this issue throughout the letter to them, so it may be that it is the reason he is writing. Most of his letters that we have in the Bible are actually to churches in conflict and having difficulty. Shocking, right? Or maybe not.


The great preacher William Willimon tells the story of his first church. He was a student at the time. He drove out to the church on the Saturday before his first Sunday and met with a leader of the church. He met him at the little one room church, then named, ‘Friendship Methodist Church.’ Willimon says that that was “a misnomer if ever there were one!” He goes on to explain why he says that.


He said, “I got there before my host so I thought I’d go in the church and look around. But I was surprised by a big padlock and chain barring the front door. When the lay leader arrived I said, ‘Glad you are here to open the lock on the door.’


The lay leader said, “Oh, that ain’t our lock. The sheriff put that there. Things got rough here at the meeting last month. Folks started yelling at one another, carting off furniture they had given to the church. So, I called the sheriff and he came out here and put that lock on the door until the new preacher could get here and settle 'em down.” Welcome to the ministry, Will! But he survived and went on to become one of the most noted preachers in America.


So a small example of how things are not always perfect joy in the church. Today there are many more and far more disturbing issues and challenges and rifts in the body of Christ – far more than I could talk about in any one sermon. But that isn’t my point this morning. My point is first how joyful I am that this church has generally concentrated on the mission of the church and not on quarrels and disagreements. We have found ways to work together over differences on many things. That is the kind of unity the church needs the most. There are churches that are being torn apart arguing about opening or closing for in person worship because of this virus that is among us. The church is just a microcosm of the world in which we live.


So how can we fulfill Paul’s admonition to “make [his] joy complete:[to] be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind?” Well, Paul gives us his advice in the next few verses about how to do it. He says,

3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

THAT is challenging. That is a splash of cold water in the face. Do nothing from selfish desire? Regard others as more important than yourselves? Humble ourselves and seek to serve others? Not something I see being trumpeted much in 2020 COVID- infested, fire – ravaged, hurricane devastated, politically divided America. Even the church is divided by all these issues and by the lack of “having the same mind in [us] that was in Christ Jesus.


Voices of open division have spoken loudly. But the problem isn’t always in the speaking. It is the lack of listening enough to care, enough to see that the person I disagree with is still a brother or a sister in God’s eyes. There is a real problem with refusing to listen to those who are suffering from the effects of racism. Too many people are simply dismissing, instead of acting with humility and compassion and seeking to understand. Worse, we have been driven by voices who have ulterior motives to divide who speak and act with arrogance. We have been encouraged not to seek common ground or right actions but to that ignores suffering and pretends all complaints are invalid. These voices say my argument and my experience is all that matters. Those who suffer most have never been listened to, have always been dismissed as unimportant or of being “too demanding.” All this leads us away from unity because we have not humbled ourselves to first ask ourselves “Am I thinking the way Christ thinks, seeing this the way Christ sees it?”


I believe that what it means to follow Christ’s example would mean not to claim our right, our power, or our privilege but to empty ourselves and find joy in lifting up the other. Paul said this was Christ’s example. He emptied himself, despite his right to glory and privilege as the son of God, and even chose to suffer to show us a higher way to glory. As I thought about this I was struck by an example I read about recently. It comes from the Navy SEALs, one of the most select, elite groups of warriors in the U.S. armed services. But their greatest strength may come from an exercise, a training method that requires total commitment to being aware of and what I would call “positively responsive” the people around them.


Daniel Coyle writes, if you go to SEAL training sites, you will find telephone poles. “They are stacked in the dunes near the SEAL obstacle courses in Coronado and Virginia Beach. They look like remnants from a construction project, but SEAL commanders consider them sacred objects.” The SEAL commander at one of their training sites says “it’s about teamwork.”


“Log PT is not complicated. Basically, it consists of six SEAL trainees performing an assortment of maneuvers [with the logs]. They lift, carry, and roll the log. They move it from shoulder to shoulder and push it with their feet. They do sit-ups while cradling it, and they stand for long periods while holding it overhead with extended arms. There is no strategy, no technique, nothing that calls for higher levels of thought, skill, or reflection. What sets Log PT apart is its ability to deliver two conditions: intense vulnerability along with deep interconnectedness. Let’s take them one by one. First, vulnerability. In SEAL vernacular, you do not do Log PT. You get Log-PTed. In the vast storehouse of pain that comprises SEAL training, Log PT delivers some of the highest, purest levels of agony.” The SEAL commander says “There are times when the instructors will tell you to be at the O-Course in thirty minutes, and that’s when you realize: ‘Holy [heck], we’re getting Log-PTed,’ ” The instructors send the trainees to lunch before the training for two reasons: so you have time to fuel up and so you can dread what is coming. “The worst part is the anticipation. You’re thirty seconds into a ninety-minute [test], and your shoulders are burning, and you’re realizing that you’ve got an hour and a half more to go.” That’s the vulnerability part.


“Second, interconnectedness. The weight (around 250 pounds) and length (ten feet) of the log lend it massive inertia; executing coordinated maneuvers requires each team member to apply the right amount of force at the right time, and the only way to do this is to pay keen attention to your teammates. A physically weaker team that’s working in sync can succeed in Log PT, while a bigger, stronger group can fall apart, physically and mentally.” Together this produces “the point where vulnerability meets interconnection. You are in immense pain, inches from your teammates, close enough to feel their breath on the back of your neck. When a teammate falters or makes a wrong move, you can feel it, and you know that they can feel it when you do the same. It adds up to a choice. You can focus on yourself, or you can focus on the team and the task. When Log PT is done poorly, the log bucks and rolls, the trainees fight each other, and emotions rise. When Log PT is done well, it looks smooth and quiet. But that smoothness is an illusion, because just beneath the surface communication is happening. It takes the form of almost-invisible exchanges: Someone weakens, and the people next to him adjust their efforts to keep the log level and steady. Someone’s grip slips, and the teammates instantly make up the difference. A conversation travels back and forth through the fibers of the log: A teammate falters. Others sense it, and respond by taking on more pain for the sake of the group. Balance is regained. Everything is done as a group. Trainees must keep track of one another at all times; there is no greater sin than losing track of someone. In short it requires a commitment to each other that is extraordinary.” Isn’t that what we ought to be able to say about Christians?


Listen to what their trainer says is the bottom line on this. He says, “They cooperate well because the training program generates thousands of microevents that build closeness and cooperation. ‘It’s more than just teamwork, you’ve left yourself wide open. Everybody on your team knows who you are, because you left it all on the table. And if you did well, it builds a level of trust that’s exponentially higher than anything you can get anywhere else.”

If we want to find complete joy, not just in church but outside, we face a daunting task, but Paul tells us how. Listen to these verses again:

3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

Let those with ears to hear, hear. AMEN.


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