Do Battle Where We are Standing

Psalm 25:1-9, Philippians 2:1-4 and Excerpts from Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde

Hello and happy Sunday, thank you once again for being here and for connecting, however you are able.

As we bring ourselves to this time, let us breathe. And as you are so moved, I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer. God, let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, wherever they are, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

“Stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel,” that’s what Paul writes in the first chapter of the letter to that the first century community in Philippi as he sits in jail. The guards of the Empire have put him behind bars because of the new movement. But still, he is eager to get some instructions to them. As you heard from this section in the second chapter, Paul implores them to stay focused, to seek encouragement, to be consoled by love, to share in Spirit, to be about compassion and sympathy, to have enough joy to feel complete, to do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others.

As if to say, whatever happens with me or with you or with this, don’t forget, to seek, to console and be consoled by love, to share, to accompany one another, to be moved and to dare to feel completed by joy; do not let the ego lead, instead stand firm in one Spirit and strive side by side.

But with all that is going on right now, this could be easy to forget. It’s too loud. There’s just too much. It has gone on far too long.

Some of you have shared how you laughed and cried and got angry along with me last week. And some of you have also shared with me how overwhelmed you are- either with days with screens overflowing, or work and lists of to dos growing…longer, new responsibilities of caring for children and parents and spouses because now everything is just harder. Overwhelm with bad news about the climate and anxiety about the election or the financial stress of what is and what is yet to come- between all of this, we forget- to seek, to console and be consoled by love, to share, to accompany one another, to be moved and to dare to feel completed by joy; to not let the ego lead, to stand firm in one Spirit and strive side by side.

Between the fact that this is all hard enough on its own and still life needs to happen, bills paid and meals made, things decided, things accepted. Between the surge of the Corona virus and the surge of racism, there is a din that has no end…in sight. The guards of the Empire have put some of us behind bars because of the new movement. And some of us have already died because of the state. And some of us are dying because of the state of the economy. And some of us are still in the streets because of love and because of hate. And some of us aren’t sure what our role is or which battle we need to show up for, when there are battles inside we are fighting too. So some of us haven’t been able to hang on. Some of us have found it too much to keep showing up, but not everyone, because here you are.

And part of why I believe we are here today is because we all need to quiet our minds and open our hearts to remember what we already know: whatever happens with me or with you or with this, don’t forget, to seek, to console and be consoled by love, to share, to accompany one another, to be moved and to dare to feel completed by joy; do not let the ego lead, instead stand firm in one Spirit and strive side by side.

Elizabeth Johnson, theologian and professor contends that Paul, “is thankful for the Philippians' care for him and support of his ministry (1:3-8), yet there are some problems in the community” she says. In particular, Paul is speaking and writing about "opponents" who preach a righteousness based on circumcision and observance of the law (1:28; 3:2-3, 7-11, 18-19).” And “Paul urges the Philippians to live "in a manner worthy of the gospel" so that he will know that they are (as he says in chapter one of this same letter) "standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel" (1:27).

Stand firm in one Spirit and strive side by side.

And it seems like Paul is saying that if we know anything about God, we know that the Spirit of Love, the Spirit of Peace, the Spirit of Christ is a Source, a Presence that we can turn to, that we can draw from, that we can learn from. And if we know anything about God, we know that we can be renewed by It, encouraged, consoled and connected by It and through it, to one another.

Stand firm in one Spirit and strive side by side.

This feels similar to the words we heard from Audre Lorde, “You do not have to be me in order for us to fight alongside each other. I do not have to be you to recognize that our wars are the same. What we must do is commit ourselves to some future that can include each other.” And she said, “Sometimes we are blessed with being able to choose the time, and the arena, and the manner of our revolution, but more usually we must do battle where we are standing.”

Stand firm in one Spirit, strive side by side, fight alongside each other, commit ourselves to some future that can include each other, do battle where you are standing.

But what does this really mean?

Especially when we are tired and sore and overwhelmed and traumatized and out of our comfort zone? As I mentioned last week, if our grief for what is being lost, asks to us to cry and then act, what does it look like for us to hold on tight and fight like hell for who and what is left among us, for who and what is here right now?

What if part of the answer is listening for the wisdom in and experiences of one another? What I mean is that often our impulse as intellectuals, experts, teachers and leaders is to read more books or attend seminars and webinars, when really what is needed is proximity, really what is needed is relationship, really what is needed is for all of us to notice the battles that each of us are fighting is to listen and cry alongside others, to really hear!

You might have heard that quote often attributed to Plato that goes something like this, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle you know nothing about.”

So what if part of our call right now is listening deeply to one another?

What if, what we need for our inner and outer battles in this moment is more openness to the stories of those right where we are standing of those right here, right now? What if insights and inspiration are waiting all around us? What if what is needed is already among us and within us? What if understanding the battles others are engaged in is how we can love one another through this? And what if standing firm in one Spirit, striving side by side, fighting alongside each other, committing ourselves to some future that can include each other, what if doing battle where we are standing is being willing to listen and be moved? What if it means learning from and following maybe even people whose battles we are just learning about, whose might not be our own?

I don’t think we should stop lobbying our Council and our Senators for justice, or bringing socks and soup to those who are unhoused, but I also think changing the world right now and holding on tight and fighting like hell for who and what is left among us might require us to renew our compassion for one another and our commitment to hear one another’s stories. Perhaps holding on and fighting harder asks us to stop listening to the news and to start listening to one another. What hard battle are you fighting inside and out?

Beloved of God, whatever happens with me or with you or with this, don’t forget, stay focused, seek encouragement, console and be consoled by love, share in Spirit, be about compassion and sympathy, have enough joy to feel complete, do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others.

Be moved and do not let the ego lead, instead stand firm in one Spirit and strive side by side, fight alongside each other, commit yourselves to some future that can include each other, do battle where you are standing and we will grow stronger. None of us fights alone. Listen. May it be so.

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