Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | March 29, 2015

2015.03.29 “Following Jesus: Do We Have What It Takes? – Humility” – Philippians 2: 1 – 11

Central United Methodist Church
Following Jesus: Do We Have What It Takes?
Humility
Pastor David L. Haley
Philippians 2: 1 – 11
March 29th, 2015

Palm-Sunday

“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: 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,
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 also 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.”
– Philippians 2: 1 – 11, the New Revised Standard Version

Palm/Passion Sunday – maybe more than any other day in the church year – is a day we find ourselves in the middle of the action. And what a day it is! We begin with shouts of “Hosanna,” and end with up with “Crucify him!” We begin with a parade, and end up with a funeral procession. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, and ends up being carried out in a body bag – or the 1st century equivalent – laid in a stone cold tomb. How did this happen? And more importantly, what does it mean?

In real life, when we experience such traumatizing events, we never forget. Whether it is a experiencing something like a car crash, an assault or rape, or the traumatic death of someone we love, it affects us deeply, sometimes irreversibly. Even traumatic historical events which we experience at a distance unsettle us, leaving us to revisit them over and again in our minds. As a multigenerational congregation, there are those among us who remember Pearl Harbor, the assassination of John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., and 9/11/2001. Have any of us who lived through these events ever forgotten where we were that day?

The death of Jesus was such an event, long ago, and on days like today, Palm Sunday, we re-experience it. How could Jesus – one we have come to know and love – who showed so much love and did so much good for so many, be so unjustly and brutally executed? What could it mean, and what possible good could come from it?

Some 30 years later, a man writing a letter to a church in Macedonia pondered the same thing. His name was Saul of Tarsus, or Paul, as we know him, and at the time believe he was most likely under house arrest in Rome, soon to face his own execution, although he did not know that yet.

There is no evidence that Paul ever met the human Jesus, and even less that he was there that day Jesus died. Not long afterwards, however, he met the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus, and it changed his life.

Paul had founded the church in Philippi, he loved the church in Philippi, and like most churches, it was a good church with good people. At the same time, like all churches, it had its problems. So, as Paul wrote to them in regard to their relationships with each other, he reminded them of one of the most important qualities in Jesus’ life that Christians should emulate, which is Jesus’ humility. Humility is the sixth quality of Jesus that we seek to emulate in this year’s Lenten series, “Following Jesus: Do We Have What It Takes?”

The word humility comes from the Latin humilitas, a noun related to the adjective humilis, which may be translated as humble, but also as grounded, from the earth, or low. It is related to the word humus, or earth, a word we know. So to be humble is to be grounded, which is not only what Jesus was, it was also what he did: he came to earth, to ground. (Kids and youth will perk up to hear, “What? Jesus was grounded?”)

St. Paul – good pastor that he is – introduces Jesus’ humility not as a theological point, but as a pastoral virtue. And so he says to the Philippians: “Have this mind in you . . . .” (By the way, that is a plural “you,” so what Paul is saying, as we would say in the South – is “Y’all have this mind in you that was in Christ Jesus . . .”

Except, at this point, St. Paul stops writing and begins to sing. He begins to sing what was almost certainly an early Christian hymn (that’s why it’s written in stanzas rather than n prose), which he may even have learned in Philippi. It’s an early Christian hymn reflecting thirty years of thinking about Jesus, about who he was, and what his life, death, and resurrection meant.

Michael Perry, at The Jubilate Group, has put the text back into a liturgical form. I’ll say a phrase, and then if you will, respond with “Jesus is Lord.” Adjust your loudness to follow my hand.

(gradually getting quieter)
Equal with God:
Jesus is Lord
Emptied himself:
Jesus is Lord
Came as a slave:
Jesus is Lord
Found as a man:
Jesus is Lord
Humbly obeyed:
Jesus is Lord
Went to his death:
Jesus is Lord
Death on a cross:
Jesus is Lord

(getting louder)
God raised him up:
Jesus is Lord
Gave him the name:
Jesus is Lord
Higher than all:
Jesus is Lord
Every knee bow:
Jesus is Lord
All tongues confess:
Jesus is Lord

(Jesus is Lord, based on Philippians 2:5-11; text by Michael Perry © The Jubilate Group (admin. Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188)

In other words, Jesus’ mission was not to impose some top-down program on humanity. Jesus’ mission was hand-to-mouth, foot-to-road, grassroots, down-in-the-trenches, out-in-the-stable, camping-in-the-wilderness, everyday-to-everyman/woman/child. Out in the heartland, if not of Illinois, of Galilee and Palestine, not only to take the pulse, but also to feel the pulse of life in his arteries, until that pulse pumped for the very last time.

Because of Jesus’ willingness to do this, the triumph recited demonstrates the heights to which God exalted him, heights which have nothing to do with topography, but everything to do with doxology. The one whom soldiers kicked and crowds spat upon now invites every knee to bend and every tongue confess. The one who sank the lowest is now elevated to the highest.

Paul’s point – whether for Jesus, the Church, or for us – is clear: The way up is down. If Jesus exhibited such humility, how could we who follow him not? At the beginning of the passage, St. Paul spelled it out this way:

“Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” (Philippians 2: 2 – 4, The Message)

Cross-Holy-NameWhen all is over and said and done, how can we remember this Christ Jesus mind, that Paul invites us to have? Go into any church – preferably a Roman Catholic one – and reflect upon a crucifix, Christ on the Cross. One of my favorites, for example, is the Resurrection Crucifix at Holy Name Cathedral, a simple wooden sculpture by Ivo Demetz, which hangs suspended in the sanctuary.

When we lose our way, when we forget who we are or what we’re about, when we’re tempted to believe ourselves treated unfairly or even worse, to treat others less than fairly, all we need to do is to slip into the sanctuary, sit in a pew, and reflect on the crucifix. You don’t need the Scriptures, you don’t need a priest, you don’t need a sermon. All we need to do is to reflect upon a crucifix, remember Jesus, and have this mind, which was in Jesus Christ. May God give us this mind, the Christ Jesus mind, the virtue of humility. Amen.

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