Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | October 1, 2017

Central United Methodist Church
Have This Mind in You
Pastor David L. Haley Philippians 2: 1 – 13
October 1st, 2017

Let This Mind (1)

“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care — then do me a favor: 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.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He  had  equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead,   he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death — and the worst kind of death at that — a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth — even those long ago dead and buried —will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.” – Philippians 2: 1 – 13, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

Last Saturday evening, Michele and I had the opportunity to do what we’ve rarely done during 44 years of ministry, which was to go out on a Saturday evening – the night before Sunday.

What we went to was Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Love & Comedy Tour, here in our own back yard at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. Everyone knows Garrison Keillor is known for his stories about Lake Wobegon – “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average” – but perhaps not known so well known for his love of singing, especially acapella singing. He began by leading the full house in singing, “My Country, Tis of Thee” and “God Bless America.” Later, at what should have been the intermission, he walked into the middle of the audience and led us in singing songs from “Amazing  Grace” to “Fools Rush In” to Oklahoma to John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, and yes, Silent Night (even in September), sung surprising well by a predominantly Jewish audience. But what was most surprising was that everyone – especially older folks like me – knew all (or most) of the words, including “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt,” which I don’t think I’ve sung since Boy Scouts, fifty something years ago. As for the young people – what there were of them in an older crowd – they googled the words and joined  in.

There is extraordinary power in song, especially songs sung together. No wonder Garrison Keillor includes congregational singing as part of his nostalgia trip into the past. After all, where do we sing together anymore? In church, maybe, but not many people go there. In megachurches, nobody sings because nobody knows the words, so songs are mostly performed not sung. At sporting events, we may join in the National Anthem, not the easiest song to sing, and – as we saw last week – now we have to choose how we sing it, standing with our hand over or heart or kneeling. (I have a hard time singing it without tears, regardless of where or how I sing it.) Garrison reminded me – and all of us – that long ago we sang in public school, but I’m not sure that happens much anymore, especially in Skokie’s schools, where people are from everywhere. But isn’t it amazing, while we can’t remember what we had for lunch yesterday, when an old song comes on the radio, or someone starts an old hymn, we can still sing most if not all of the words. What is it about song that etches itself so in our minds?

Regardless of who we are, where we are from, or what language we speak, music and songs are a universal language. It stirs something deep within us, it moves us and motivates us, especially those songs we sing together.

Long ago, St. Paul knew this, and perhaps it is for this reason in today’s reading from his Letter to the Philippians, that he quotes an early Christian hymn. This is why in most translations – in the NRSV, for example, if not in Eugene Peterson’s The Message – it is written in verse.

The year was around 62-63 AD, some 30 years after Jesus, before the four Gospels were written (with the possible exception of Mark’s Gospel). Most people think Paul wrote the Letter to the Philippians while he was under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial, and unknown to him at the time, eventual execution.

Since we don’t know the tune and can’t sing it, Michael Perry, at The Jubilate Group, has put the text back into a liturgical form, so we can at  least say it. I’ll say a phrase, and then you to 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)

Questions arise. Was this a hymn known and loved mostly by Paul, as an inspiration to his own life and ministry, or was it a hymn known by early Christians and sung in Christian gatherings? Was there a tune (lost to us), that everyone would recognize and join after a few notes, like we do “Amazing Grace” or “How Great Thou Art?” Would they stand, sit, or kneel to sing it, expressing both reverence and allegiance to Jesus the Christ?

And what about the theology expressed in it: there’s almost no end to the questions it raises. What does it mean that Jesus had equal status with God; in a monotheistic religion, how is that possible? What does it mean that he emptied himself, of what? Divine status, power, even knowledge? We like to think of Jesus as a supernatural super hero, but doesn’t this say he gave all that up? To the degree that he not only died, but died by crucifixion, one of the most humiliating forms of death in the ancient world. Because he did this, not because God made him do it but because he CHOSE to, God raised him up, far above anyone and everything in honor. And what does it mean that all created beings, even those dead and buried, will bend the knee before him in worship and praise, to the glory of God the Father? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but they have profound implications for what we believe about Jesus, and – even more so – for how those of us who want to follow him conduct ourselves in the world.

Because, consider this: Paul didn’t quote this hymn for theological reasons; he wrote it for pastoral reasons. He quoted it because a Christian congregation he founded and loved was having a hard time getting along with each other, sometimes even treating each other unkindly.

We  get  a  sense  of  this  when  we  hear  how  he  begins  chapter 2.

Sounding like a Gospel preacher, Paul says:

“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ,” if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care — then do me a favor: “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.”

Paul is saying that as Christians, we should not be arrogant, self- obsessed, but rather humble, putting others first, pouring out our lives for others, like Jesus poured out his life for us. Imagine that? Do we live like this? Do we know Christians who live like this? Do we know people who live like this? Sometimes we pour out our lives for others in day-to-day living, and some few get the opportunity to do it dramatically, all at once.

Let This Mind (2)The story of Rick Rescorla, one of the bravest heroes of 9/11, illustrates both the power of song, and an example of pouring out your life for others. Although his story was written about extensively after 9/11, I regret to say I did not know his story until this year, when I read about him in the New Yorker magazine.

Rick was born in England, in Cornwall, on England’s southwestern tip. Growing up there, he learned the old songs, and loved to sing them in pubs with the old timers whenever he went back to visit. In his twenties, he was a decorated war hero in Vietnam, winning a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart, among others. Later in life, he became Director of security at the financial firm, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, whose offices were in the World Trade Center.

On the morning of 9/11, he rose as usual at 4:30 am, and his wife Susan heard him singing an English music hall tune in the shower. When he came out of the shower that morning, he continued singing and broke into a dance routine. Then he launched into an impression of the actor Anthony Hopkins. “I’ve never felt better in my life,” he told Susan. He grabbed her around the waist for a few dance steps before he kissed her goodbye. “I love you so,” he said, and then left for the train station.

Susan called him at eight-fifteen, as usual, and he was at his desk. A half hour later, she got a phone call from her daughter: “Put on the TV!” she yelled. Susan rushed to the set and she saw smoke pouring from the north tower.

In St. Augustine, FL, Rescorla’s best friend from as back as Vietnam, Dan Hill, was laying tile in his upstairs bathroom when his wife called, “Dan, get down here! An airplane just flew into the World Trade Center. It’s a terrible accident.” Hill hurried downstairs, and then the phone rang. It was Rescorla, calling from his cell phone.

“Are you watching TV?” he asked. “What do you think?”

“Hard to tell. It could have been an accident, but I can’t see a commercial airliner getting that far off.”

“I’m evacuating right now,” Rescorla said.

Hill could hear Rescorla issuing orders through the bullhorn. He was calm and collected, never raising his voice. Then Hill heard him break into song:

Men of Cornwall stop your dreaming; Can’t you see their spear points gleaming? See their warriors’ pennants streaming

To this battlefield.

Men of Cornwall stand ye steady;

It cannot be ever said ye

for the battle were not ready; Stand and never yield!

In the days and weeks that followed, his wife Susan heard accounts from many how Rick kept marching people down the staircase, singing into his bullhorn, as firemen and rescue personnel came up. At one point, he had nearly been overcome by the heat, and had to sit down on the stairs. But he kept singing or speaking reassuringly. “Slow down, pace yourself,” he told one group. “Today is a day to be proud to be an American.” He refused to leave the building until everyone else was out. Rick Rescorla, an American hero, is an example of a life poured out for others. (James B. Stewart, “The Real Heroes are Dead, The New Yorker, February 11, 2002, www.newyorker.com/magazine/2002/02/11/the-real-heroes-are-dead )

“Have this mind in you,” said St. Paul – before breaking into song – “which was in Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen.

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