Sep28MonA sermon on Philippians 2 September 28, 2020
In our reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians today,
We read from an early Christian hymn, that Paul quotes.
The hymn talks about how
Jesus Christ emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
Jesus Christ humbled himself.
Jesus Christ had the Form of God
But took on the form of a slave, a servant, (by comparison),
That is, he was born like any human,
And lived a human life just like any of us,
even though he was God.
We say that Jesus Christ is the Son of God,
That he is the first of all creation,
Jesus Christ is all-powerful, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
But what does it mean to be truly powerful?
The normal worldly understanding of power does not apply to Jesus Christ.
There is a paradox, a seeming contradiction in his power.
One example of this maybe is a lineman in football
a lineman is a player positioned at the line of scrimmage,
where each play begins.
Most professional football linemen are tall, big men.
One would think that their success on the field is connected to their physique, the fact that they are bigger, and taller than their opponents.
However, it’s surprising, that the key to their success is not necessarily their height or their strength, but how low they can get as they execute a hit.
The lower a lineman gets, the easier it is to knock down his opponent.
(Brian D. Hunter)
We see that with Jesus Christ.
Jesus got down low, just like a good football lineman,
Jesus humbled himself by taking on human form.
And thus became much more powerful,
more able to take on the enemies of sin, death
and all that separates us from God and one another.
That Jesus would give up his divinity (for a while) to take on humanity,
is an astonishing turn of events,
He is an example of true selflessness,
He is emptying himself of his original divine characteristics,
for which he is worthy to be praised,
and every tongue confess him King of Glory.
God shows true humility when he became incarnate, taking on human flesh, born as a baby boy,
We can perhaps think of it another way:
That God is taking a gracious bow to us,
“I am not above you, lording it over you,
I’m willing to come down to your level,
And look at you eye to eye.
I want to partner with you,
Be a co-creator with you,
I want to use my power for and with you”.
Now Jesus Christ’s emptying of himself, this gracious bow to us,
did not end with his being born in a stable in the lowliest of conditions.
No, it came to a climax in his death on a cross.
Crucifixion was the cruelest and worst form of punishment in the Roman Empire,
reserved for traitors, slaves, rebels, and those with no status,
Those despised by the people and the state.
Jesus Christ knew what it meant to be completely rejected and suffer the cruelest fate.
There’s a story from the Second World War, about how,
in the Auschwitz concentration camp one day,
the SS guards hung two jewish men and a boy in front of the assembled camp.
The two men died quickly, but the boy’s strangulation lasted much longer, almost a half hour.
“Where is God? Where is he?” A man cried out.
The boy’s struggles continued for a few more minutes.
The man cried out again: “Where is God now?”
And a voice answered:
“Where is he? He is here. He is hanging there on the gallows.”
God on the gallows.
Jesus Christ crucified.
God knows human pain and suffering because God experienced it through Jesus Christ.
Whenever we see a picture of Christ on the cross,
we know that God knows our suffering, our pain and anguish.
Especially during this pandemic,
which is involving the whole earth with a virus nightmare,
We can fix our eyes on Christ on the Cross,
And know that God feels what we’re going through.
And God weeps when we weep,
Shudders when we shudder,
And moans when we moan.
All good and well,
And this is a consolation in times like these,
where the old normal we knew seems so far away,
and the second wave that was prophesied has come to past.
But what about us?
How do we live out this knowledge of Jesus Christ who emptied himself, taking on human form, and enduring all that there is to humanly endure?
Mahatma Gandhi, famous pacifist, once is reported to have said:
“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.
Your Christians are so unlike your Christ”.
(He said this in the context of “struggle for justice for a people in the face of occupation in his native India”).
As Christians historically, we have not imitated the humility of Christ:
The Christ who put down his power to associate with the poor and lowly.
All too often, Christians longed for the wreaths of empire, Christians have exploited power, trampling down on the outcast,
the indigenous peoples, the peoples of darker skin.
All too often, Christians have been haughty and proud,
and have focussed too much on the Christ in glory,
the dominating and judging Christ,
and have forgotten the Christ on the cross,
the Christ of the lowly and hurting.
Paul, in his letter, reminds the Philippians and us
to have the same mind of Christ,
to imitate Christ who took on lowly form.
He encourages us to have the same selfless love that Christ had:
To be humble, not selfish or proud.
To not look only to our own interests,
but also to the interests of others.
We should imitate the emptying of Christ,
who rejected traditional dominating power,
and chose instead persuasive, loving and partnering power.
While we may understand this in theory,
to actually practice it, is a different story,
And far more difficult.
It means rejecting the typical narrative of the supremacist culture which says:
“success breeds success,
toot your own horn!
Win, no matter the cost!”
Perhaps one example of radical humility took place in 1974 when poet Adrienne Rich gave her acceptance speech
for the National Book Award in poetry,
having beaten out fellow nominees Audre Lorde and Alice Walker.
She shocked the literary community when she began,
“We, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich and Alice Walker, together accept this award in the name of all women whose voices have gone and still go unheard in a patriarchal world.”
The statement had been written by the three of them, and no matter who was named recipient, this was their statement.
They said that they believed that by supporting and giving to each other they could enrich each other’s lives and work more than by competing against each other.” (Mike Graves)
As these three women decided to turn the competition on its head for a greater cause, and to reject the trophies of success for a nobler goal of collaboration,
We too need to set aside these petty markers of success,
these gold medals,
and selflessly, and with humility,
follow in the footsteps of our Lord and Saviour,
Who came down from heaven to the cross.
So we can join with those across time and space who
at the name of Jesus
bend their knee
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and with every tongue, confess
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. Amen.