October 1, 2017

In the Interests of Others

“No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life.”

These are the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, cultural critic, and poet, whose work has exerted a profound influence on Western philosophy and modern intellectual history.

“No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life.”

It is a haunting thought, really.

It is one that we all have, though we often bury it, and when it surfaces we try to run from it.

But sometimes we find ourselves in a reflective mood, pondering what life is and who we are. Perhaps we are up late at night enjoying a cup of tea after others have gone to bed and we reflect on life. Perhaps we are out looking at the night sky, realizing that each of those tiny lights in the sky is a star as big as our sun, around which there are worlds and planets and who knows what else spinning through space.

Wherever and whenever this thought comes, it haunts us--the realization that “No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life.”

Many who have come before us have faced this darkness and spoken words into it, words that we can use to guide our journeys.

Nobel-winning poet Seamus Heaney offered the advice that “The true and durable path into and through [life], involves being true … to your own solitude, true to your own secret knowledge."

Emerson echoed this when he issued his famous exhortation to “trust thyself.”

Author and playwright E. E. Cummings offered some insightful advice on the topic in a piece published in a small Michigan newspaper, entitled. “A Poet’s Advice to Students.” He wrote:

"Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself. To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting."

He suggests, like Nietzsche and Heaney and Emmerson, that the only way to navigate through life is to find who we truly are and to live those values, values that can only be found through feeling.

The words that Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippians, as we read this morning, can be understood in this same way.

He writes, "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  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."

He goes on to make the case that the way to navigate through life--our calling as Christians, and the true selves that God has created us to be--all center around looking to the interests of others, and not just to ourselves. We are created to be communal beings, not individuals who race to the top to get what we can shoving aside others like cows at a feeding trough. We are created to be people who feel for others; people who care for others. When we really live like this, we will find that life has a tone, life has a feeling that so resonates within us that we fill find that fulfillment we so long for. It is this compassion, this love for the other. It is this that will help you build that bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life.

These thoughts have been swirling through my mind over the last few weeks as the Stewardship Committee and I have been working on this year's stewardship campaign. For stewardship isn't primarily about the ministries of this church and how we can support those ministries through our time, talent, and treasures. It is, of course, concerned with those things, but stewardship is primarily concerned with the choices that I make as an individual--the choices that we all make as individuals. It is about the choices that we make in building our bridges to cross the river of life. Stewardship is to honestly and intently answer the question, "who am I and what am I going to do with my life?" It fundamentally includes the questions, "what am I going to do with the time that God has given me, what am I going to do with the talents that God has given me, and what am I going to to with the treasures that God has given me?"

Stewardship reminds us that to the extent that we can invest these things in what really matters, our lives with humm with a beautiful resonance.

Stewardship also has to do with the church, for the church is the place where we gather together, pooling together all or our collective time, talent, and treasures to work together, for we know that we can do much more together than we can on our own. We know that by joining hands together through the church, we can change more lives than each of us working on our own.

That belief is why we have programs and ministries and activities here at the church, because lives are changed through our collective efforts. As your Session and church committees have begun making plans for next year, we hope to pool all of our collective resources and invest $61,000 in compassion efforts, like hurricane relief and working with orphans in the Ukraine. We hope to invest $148,000 in Christian education efforts like our youth group and Sunday school classes. We hope to invest $90,000 in caring for those in need through our Deacons and pastoral care work. We hope to invest $246,000 in our worship and music ministries. We hope to invest $121,000 in programs that build the community we have in this church and to widen our welcome to the community around us so others can join with us.

We hope to invest more in being a place where people of all sorts can feel God's love and welcome, find hope and peace, and joyfully serve others.

All this is possible because we give to this church. We have decided that this is the place where we want to give of ourselves, because we believe that God is alive and working through this church to change the world and to change lives.

But again, all this is possible because stewardship is fundamentally about the choices that we make, regarding how we as individuals and as families will spend our time, our talents, and our treasures.

In this stewardship season, the invitation is for all of us to consider what we will give to the ministries of this church. But more than that, we are invited to consider what we will do with the life we have been given. No one else can answer this question for us. It is the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life.

As you find time to consider this question, may the words of Paul guide you: "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."

In the name of the father and the son and the Holy Spirit.

Amen.