Proper 21 ‘23A
1 October 2023
Phil. 2.1-13; Matt 21.23-32
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone <+>

Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up; In the Name of the Holy Three; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

In the neighborhood where I live, we are blessed with, and some would say cursed with, is an overabundance of Canada Geese. While they are beautiful birds, in such high numbers they cause a number of problems.

One day I was taking my daughter to school and all of a sudden, the cars in front of us came to a screeching halt. I quickly plied my breaks and thankfully I didn’t rear end the person in front of me. Who or what was the culprit, but a flock of geese that decided they would all cross the busy street in masse! Besides holding up traffic, they cause another problem by their prolific (as they would call it in England, ‘fouling’) of people’s yards and property. As a flock they can be at their worst, that is until they take flight. Then their beauty is on full display, as all of them together power themselves across the horizon in their characteristic “V – formation!”

Have you ever asked yourselves why they do that? Well, I’m glad you asked!

The short answer is that they are much better off together than they are by themselves. The genius of God is that all living things have togetherness programmed into their DNA, even trees live and work to maximize resources and by their roots communicate and share water and nutrients for the good of the forest.

In the case of Geese there are two primary benefits of flying together. The first is energy conservation. Each goose flies slightly above the bird in front of them, and by doing this they reduce the level of wind resistance. The lead goose at the front of the formation experiences the most resistance and periodically drops back allowing them to rest while another bird assumes the front position.

The second benefit is that they are able to keep track of every bird in the group. Their close proximity facilitates their ability to communicate and make any in-flight adjustments for the sake of their mission, which is – to achieve maximum distance with minimal effort and safely to arrive at their destination. 

The early church like the modern-day church was made up of individuals with many unique gifts, talents, and abilities, and were also broken with quacks and quirks, foibles and failings, and this was true of the Philippian church as well.

The backstory to the letter of Paul that we read today was a conflict that had arisen in that early Christian community between two of its members and was getting others caught up in the quagmire. Because of this Paul writes to them to remind them of who they were brothers and sisters in the family of God: If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete (and here it is the punchline) be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 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.” Christ is not Jesus’ last name but it’s a title meaning King – King Jesus, but what a different King and what a different Kingdom.

To encourage the flock to live in this new way of Christ’s Kingdom he remids the Philippians of one of the earliest hymns of the faith the Hymn of Condescension where the blueprint for Christian is celebrated. As I read these words see if you can think of shape or pattern the words are describing:


[Jesus] who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God as something

to be exploited, but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness,

 and being found in human form, he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.


Therefore, God has highly exalted him and gave him the Name that

is above every name, so that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


The shape of this early hymn? Jesus was in the form of God and equal with God

 [hold hand up in the air]

He emptied himself, born in human likeness [bring hand halfway down]

He humbled himself and became obedient to die on the cross [lower hand all the way down forming one line of a V formation]

Therefore, God has highly exalted him [make the second line of the V formation moving hand back up in the air]

The shape? Its a ‘V formation.’ As with the King so goes the Kingdom in Christ’s Kingdom the way up is the way down. St. Paul through music and poetry points this early community [and us] to the antidote for the poisons of “selfish ambition and conceit” – “humility and obedience.”

The word humility comes from the Latin humilis and means “lowly” the same root for hummus which means “earth,” so humility brings us down to earth, close to the ground. 

The word obedience comes from the Latin word “audire” which means listening, and so together St. Paul reminds us of how to live in Christian community by staying down to earth, and listening to God, each other and with the same mind and with the same love, letting the very mind of Christ permeate our being.

As the American cartoonist Frank Tyger put it: “Swallow your pride occasionally, it’s not fattening.” And, be a good listener. Your ears will never get you in trouble.”

In a nation and a world that prides itself on rugged individualism, fueled by selfish ambition and conceit, the body of Christ is counter cultural. The local churches are the outward and visible sign of this grace that enables us to live together and by humility and obedience, grow together as a community. Community is messy because it consists of broken people but when the individuals come together and stay in formation sharing comfort, encouragement, our resources, and guidance, and seeing, that something beautiful comes out of our brokenness as Christ dwells in our midst and to our surprise, we will find that: “It is God who is at work in us, enabling us to will and work for God’s good pleasure.”

Just like those geese, accomplishing more together than we could ever do by ourselves. Amen!