Sermons are meant to be heard. There is something that gets lost in just reading one. The following sermon was written to be spoken aloud which explains why the writing is not always perfect and the punctuation is at times nonexistent. Nevertheless, I pray that it speaks to you.
October 4, 2017
I think my ability to mourn is dried up. I think my capacity to feel shock has been depleted. Even my desire to speak out has been reduced to a shrug. And I hate that - because events like what happened Sunday night should not be normal – even though they are. They should shock us to our core – even though they don’t. They should produce in us a cry of lament – when instead it just seems to prepare us for the next time.
And it seems like we are just collecting souvenirs on some sort of Grand Tour where the names of places remind us of what happened there once upon a time: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Pulse, Vegas. And it’s not just shootings. You could add to that list this summer Charlottesville, Houston, Irma, Puerto Rico. North Korea.
And so tonight I want to confess to you that I’m tired of the world. I’m tired of the fallen-ness of this place. I’m tired of feeling like I need to constantly be on guard for the next piece of bad news.
But my tiredness is not hopelessness. Instead I find myself praying these last few days and weeks and months that my exhaustion with the world will remind me of my hope in Christ. We don’t need a reminder that the world is messed up. But sometimes we do need a reminder that the answer has already been provided.
And so we find ourselves in this strange place where we know that the kingdom of God has come in Christ Jesus. But we also know, in our bones, that the kingdom of God is not yet here.
Tonight the lectionary has done us a favor and has lead us to consider a portion of a letter that Paul wrote in which he reminds us that in the end – there is hope. And on that day every knee shall bow – and not because we are ducking gunfire – But every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is Lord.
Let us pray.
God give us ears to hear and eyes to see and a heart to understand what it is you want us to learn this night. We pray in the name of the one who gives us hope. Jesus Christ.
Our scripture passage tonight is found in Philippians 2:1-13. Please read along in your Bible or on your device or on the back of your worship guide.
2 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be 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 regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Here’s the bottom line: As followers of Christ we must follow the example of Christ and do something that is very unnatural to us - namely: don’t be selfish. Don’t be selfish. Sounds easy. But it’s not.
First, some quick background on Philippians. We know that Paul founded this church in Philippi and it was made up of mostly Gentile, or non-Jewish members. We also know that Paul wrote to them from prison. We aren’t sure which time in prison this was for Paul (he went to prison a lot). But we know that the Philippians got word of his imprisonment and sent a member of their congregation with a gift and we think Paul sent this letter back with that person.
So this letter is part thank-you, part exhortation, and part teaching. And so there is a lot we can learn from it.
But in our particular passage tonight Paul starts with a list of things that are true about believers in Christ. It starts in verse 1 of chapter 2 where Paul starts by using the word “If”. Now in English “if” means “maybe”. But in Greek there are two words for “if” one of those words means “maybe” and the other one means “this is actually true.” So really the passage should say “Since there is encouragement in Christ, since there is consolation from love, since there is fellowship in the Spirit…”
So we start with this list of things that are true:
We are encouraged in Christ
We are consoled by love
We have fellowship with the Holy Spirit
We have compassion and mercy through Christ.
These are things that are true about us. Therefore, Paul is saying, make my joy complete, or make me happy by letting those things that are true make a difference in how you live.
SINCE these things are true THEN act in this way.
And what way is that?
~ Being of the same mind – not thinking alike like robots but being united in the way we see the world.
~ Having the same love – recognizing that the love we have for each other come from the love God has for us.
~ Being in full accord and of one mind – being united in purpose, not divided by the trivial.
And then in verse 3 we have the core of Paul’s admonition: “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 interest, but to the interests of others.”
Now, let’s just stop right there. Because, if you’re like me, you’re going to fly right past this part and say “Ok, yeah, got it” Don’t be selfish.”
But I think there is a reason Paul is putting such an emphasis here. It’s because he knows we don’t get it. Do NOTHING from selfish ambition or conceit? NOTHING? How is that even possible?
I don’t know about you, but I’m a pretty selfish person. I like when things go my way and will usually try and orchestrate life to maximum selfish benefit. We are not normally self-less people. Instead we have these egos that always seem to be in control.
And as a result we end up with blinders on about how other people are affected by our actions. We get scared when faced with something that might be a threat to us and end up hunkering down instead of reaching out. We become easily injured when someone says something remotely negative about us and usually over-react like they had questioned our very existence. We do everything possible to make ourselves look good in the eyes of the world. (Including taking that “just right” profile pic.) We make sure that we are not vulnerable in any way or show weakness or are open about our struggles and fears because – well, it doesn’t make me look good.
The other day I had a friend post on Facebook that her son was in recovery. She said it was the hardest post she has even had to make. But she did it because she was tired of protecting this image of her perfect family.
Let’s face it. We are in the business of ego protection and we will do anything to make sure that ego is protected. We are in the business of self-protection and will almost always construct our lives to put ourselves first.
But what Paul seems to be saying to us is that living this kind of selfish life is antithetical to being in Christ. It’s the complete opposite of living as a follower of Christ.
And so he ends this call for unity and doing nothing from selfish ambition with a truly remarkable statement: Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.
In other words, if you want to live this life of selflessness, if you want to put ego in its place, if you want to do nothing out of selfish benefit, then you must develop the mind of Christ.
And then Paul goes on to unpack what the mind of Christ is like. And he does so by referring to a hymn that was most like sung by the early Christians and maybe was even a favorite of the Philippians. There can be a lot of bad theology in hymns, but there can be a lot of good theology as well. And in this case Paul quotes the good theology of this hymn basically saying “This is what I’m trying to tell you.”
We could spend several sermons on this amazing hymn that starts in verse 6 so I’m going to have to give you a basic, bottom line summary. The whole of this hymn can be summed up in a Greek word called “kenosis”.
Kenosis literally means “to empty”. It means laying aside something. So in the words of the hymn we are told that Christ empties himself, kenosis, or lays aside himself and instead takes on the form of a slave and the form of a human.
Christ Jesus was with God in the beginning. All things that have been created were created through him. He is the very son of God – equal to God in all ways. He did not deserve to take on human form. He did not have to take on human form. He could have exerted his rights and exploited his position. But he did not.
Instead he emptied himself and humbled himself and was obedient to God to the point of death on a cross.
This is having the same mind as Christ: to humble ourselves, to lay aside our ego claims, to do nothing out of selfish ambition.
Just think how amazing this is. We tend to want our gods like we want our superheros: a little cocky, able to throw their weight around, able to step in and save the day. We want our superhero gods to act like they are in control because they ARE in control. And yet, Jesus is just the opposite. He INTENTIONALLY lays aside that power. He INTENTIONALLY empties himself to be born in human likeness. He INTENTIONALLY goes to his death. Do you see how radical that is?
We have a God who humbles himself in order to bring us to himself. We have a God who comes to us and lives as one of us in this messed up world in order that we might be part of what God is doing to make all things new. We have a God who loves us just for us – not for what we can do for him. We have a God who proves his strength by becoming weak. That’s crazy, ya’ll!
And to top it all off – Paul is telling us to act the same way.
This is hard. It goes against our nature as humans. It clashes with what our egos think we should be doing. But by developing the mind of Christ, by doing nothing out of selfish ambition, by treating everyone as more important than we are, by looking out for others interests instead of our own, we become part of the solution. We become part of the plan. We become part of bringing God’s kingdom to the here and now.
And maybe that’s what I need to think about when the living of this life gets me down. Maybe when faced with the evil and the mess and the anxiety of the world the answer is not to ignore or become numb as I seem to have done. Maybe the answer is to become a little less selfish; to focus a little more on the needs of others instead of the needs of myself. And maybe it goes further than that. Maybe the answer is also to take a knee before Christ – who takes a knee with us so that in the end every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Let us pray