As is often the case in my life, ideas converge in ways that remind me that God has a lot to teach me. This week while perusing through a thrift store I came across a great $1 find, a collection of poems written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Her story is amazing, even apart from her poetry. As a vibrant and active 15 year old she injured her spine in a throw from a horse she was riding. It was a serious injury and rendered her an invalid. In rapid succession she lost her mother to illness, one brother to a sailing accident, and another one to a tropical fever. Living within the confines of her own room she began to reflect and write, spawning some amazing poetry over the span of her life.
As I paged through her poems I found one I had never read before. Work and Contemplation.
What a powerful message, and one that I found within my sermon text for this week as well. In Philippians chapter 2 Paul is reminding the church at Philippi that their calling is to “hold out the Word of Life” to the world around them. (Phil. 2:16) As he reminds them he comes coming back to the truth of how we are to do that - following the example of Jesus. Far too often the church “holds out the word of life” from a place of control, judgement, condemnation, and power. And yet Jesus lets go of power, becomes a servant, empties himself and humbly and obediently dies in our place. Paul says to us - that’s the way we need to hold out the Word of Life to a dying world all around us. Maybe the reason that so many people don’t find the gospel we share to be good news is that the way we share it makes it look like bad news. Maybe we need to hold it out while “…our souls pursue some high calm spheric tune, and prove our work the better for the sweetness of our song.” I think what brings our method and our message to a place of congruence is to first receive and rest in the love that God has for us. That’s why Paul has just prayed in Philippians 1 that the people in Philippi will have a “love that abounds more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” (1:9). Experiencing that overwhelming love of God at the darkest places of our lives is what actually focuses and clarifies the beauty of the Word of Life we hold out. The personal experience of the love of God for us becomes the song that makes our “work” all the better. So for you this week I hope first of all that you hear that song, that deep, powerful song of God’s love for you as you are, not as you wish you were. And that as you join in the singing of a song that is far bigger than you, that you can hold out the Word of Life to others in a way that invites them to join in.