1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
Sometime in 1614, we are not sure the exact date, a French mother and father welcomed an infant boy into their home. They named him Nicolas. His parents were peasants and economic straits pushed him into the military where he would get regular meals and clothes. But the price would be high. He fought in the Thirty Years War, left the army with an injury to his leg and pain in his soul. He took a job as a valet in the household of the French national treasurer but, by his own admission, was bit of a clumsy oaf. When his time of service was done, he decided to pursue holiness in earnest. He entered a Carmelite monastery as a lay brother and spent the next fifty years cooking and making sandals. (The vows of his branch of the Carmelites mean they do not wear shoes, even in winter, so there was always a need for more sandals.)
Upon taking his vows, as is usually the case, he took a new name. He became Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. Even though his duties were humble and his education minimal, people began showing up in the kitchen and the workroom where he made sandals. They came just to talk to him. If they could not be there, they sent letters and he replied. He knew peace and was wise. When he died the Abbot collected his letters and the records some had made of his conversations. You can still read this little book. It is called “The Practice of the Presence of God.” The bishop who approved the book for publication said this about Lawrence:
He forgot himself and was willing to lose himself for God, that he no longer thought of virtue or his salvation … that he had always governed himself by love without interest.
In this reading today, Paul notes his absence from the Philippians, but he also notes the presence of God “who works in you, both to will and to work for his pleasure.” In the middle of the 17th century the presence of God meant this young French veteran joined a rigorous monastic community where he shone as a light in the world. In this day, your life of humble service will be different, but the same God calls you to shine with Christ-like humility. We work out our faith with fear and trembling for it is God who is at work in us. You might add Lawrence’s little book to your readinglist. Certainly, read these words of Paul and know that they are also directed to you.