Philippians 2:3-7a (3-13)
Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings.
My family had not had any contact with my brother, Bill, in fifteen years. My brother, the “genius” of the family, with an Ivy League education, had disappeared into the bowels of inner city Wilmington. Several years prior to this, Bill had gone from an atheistic PhD student to become a fervent member of an “off brand” spiritualist community in California. Later, he parted ways with them, feeling that God was leading him to a life emptied of selfish ambition, to live a life of poverty so as to love and serve the “lost and the least.” He felt that this call even required his homelessness and his separation from all worldly comforts, including his family.
My father especially lamented that such an “excellent” student, with “excellent” occupational prospects would choose such an absurd life of “downward mobility” (a term penned by Henri Nouwen). My mother and I worried about his mental health and mourned for him. Yet, when we received a phone call several years ago that Bill was hospitalized after a car/pedestrian accident, we were to learn that his downwardly mobile life had helped usher God’s love and grace to an entire city block—for 2 decades.
While with him in the hospital, then hospice, Bill was visited by former drug addicts, prostitutes, gang members, now grown “street orphans,” and currently homeless men. They reported that “Praying Bill” roamed the streets all day and night, caring for them, confronting them, praying with them. He rescued children from drug dealers in the parks, and sat all night with homeless men, dying of Aids. In twenty years, he was never sick and had never been assaulted.
Before Bill died a month later, God reconciled him with our family and provided him with a warm bed and hospice “angels.” His memorial service, on the city block, was attended by the huge street family he loved as “better than himself.” His “excellent” life was not achieved at the top of society, but at the bottom. It seems to me that my brother, Bill, exemplified true pastoral excellence, as he “adopted the mind of Christ” and emptied himself for others.
Lord, help us to be willing to take on the mind and heart of Christ, so that we might reach out unselfishly to others with the message of your saving grace and love. AMEN.
The Rev. Christine Archer
Spiritual Formation Team, Tennessee Conference