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Passion Sunday 13 April 2014 – a gracious self-abandonment

Readings: Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 27: 11-54

Sermon

We sang a hymn on Tuesday that is 1200 years old. We didn’t do a great job as the words on the computer were a little scrambled. But we got it right in the end.

The passage in Philippians 2 we heard today is even older.

And yes it is deemed to be one of the oldest hymns of the Christian church. We know that the early church sang hymns from the New Testament itself (as did Jesus – you may remember that they sang a hymn on the night Jesus was betrayed – before they went up the Mount of Olives?)

Mat 26:26  While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Mat 26:27  Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. Mat 26:28  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Mat 26:29  I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Mat 26:30  When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

We also know from Roman documents – like Pliny:

Pliny the Younger as governor of Bithynia about half a century later (c. 110 CE) reported to his superior, the emperor Trajan, that he was investigating the group who called themselves Christians. Among other harmless things that they do, he reports, they assemble very early in the morning, before dawn, to “sing hymns to Christ as if to a god” (Pliny, Letters 10.96.7).

Good reason to come to the sunrise service on Easter Sunday at 6.30am!

The Philippian passage is this:

Php 2:5  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Php 2:6  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

Php 2:7  but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

Php 2:8  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Php 2:9  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,

Php 2:10  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

Php 2:11  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Paul uses this hymn in a teaching way – not as a statement of what we are to believe about Jesus.

The distinction between believing ABOUT Jesus and believing IN Jesus is really important. We can say the apostle’s creed because it clarifies what we believe ABOUT Jesus.

We put our trust in Him and in that way believe IN JESUS.

Paul is writing to Christians and telling them what will make him happy – or give him joy.

The answer? Being like Jesus as you follow him.

Paul talks about being “in Christ” – “if anyone is IN CHRIST he or she is a new creation”( 2 Cor 5:17).

We participate in his death and resurrection.

We enter into the fellowship of his body – where all the parts matter (we rejoice with those who rejoice and suffer with those who suffer – 1 Cor 12).

So Paul says here – not as an ethical or moral injunction (follow Jesus and imitate Him because he was a good guy) – that we should make him happy (complete his joy) by being like Jesus! It’s the natural consequence of belonging to Jesus! Living in Jesus! Dying with Jesus. Being raised to newness of life with Jesus. Having eternal life now – knowing God through Jesus! What did I say last week about this? You can’t remain unmoved – un-animate! You come to life.

This life is seen IN JESUS.

SO listen to the first verses – verses 1 to 4: 

Php 2:1  If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,

Php 2:2  then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.

Php 2:3  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

Php 2:4  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

We began at verse 5 today:

Php 2:5  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus 

Verse 6 continues

Christ Jesus – who…. 

And then comes the hymn:

Php 2:6  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

Php 2:7  but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

Php 2:8  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Php 2:9  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,

Php 2:10  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

Php 2:11  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

There are a number of links that we can make with other New Testament and Old Testament passages here. Remember that we don’t interpret the bible in the light of what we think – but in the light of the rest of the bible!

  1. The suffering servant of Isaiah chapter 53. There are clear links to these verses about the one who “was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (53:3.) And in verse 12: he poured out his soul to death – like Phil 2:7  he emptied himself/made himself nothing. 

And the servant passages elsewhere in the gospels, like this pivotal passage:

Mar 10:43  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,

Mar 10:44  and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.

Mar 10:45  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

  1. The first and second Adam of 1 Corinthians 15: 21-22, 45-49 and Romans 5:12-14. And of course Genesis 3 – the first Adam grasp at power – the second one relinquishes it.
  1. Humility in other passages:

2Co 8:9  For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

  1. The call to obedience in Scripture and in post-biblical Judaism. There was an understanding that the righteous were called to suffer- especial between the testaments in the time of the Macabees where people were tortured and killed for their faith, but expected vindication in the next life from the Lord.

This is Jesus who empties himself – this is the incarnation that John describes in these verses:

Joh 1:14  And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Thus Jesus is exalted! Here’s the dangerous part for us:

Php 2:9  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,

Php 2:10  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

Php 2:11  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

It’s the one place that Paul talks about Jesus at the head of the whole universe – as opposed to head of the church.

He has the name that is above every other name!

At his name every knee should bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord – to the glory of God the Father.

What is this confession?

A faith statement ABOUT HIM – “o yes Jesus is the one”

A believing statement IN HIM (Do you remember the song “he is Lord?” – we used to sing in the early days of personalised ascriptive singing: “You’re my Lord, you’re my Lord….” And it felt SO NICE!

Does it mean – what I think that many people believe it means – that one day they will all be forced to bow before Jesus (as we rub our hands together with glee feeling that we too will be vindicated?).

Paul uses this hymn – which is clearly a hymn about Jesus as Lord (remember Pliny’s letter about Christians who  “assemble very early in the morning, before dawn, to “sing hymns to Christ as if to a god”?)

Paul uses it to tell the Christians what will really make him happy! This is the heart of the Christian life – this will make my joy complete! Remember he says:

Php 2:2  then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.

Php 2:3  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

Php 2:4  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 

And then verse 5:

Php 2:5  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus

When you hear the long reading of the passion of Jesus – that’s what Paul’s talking about.

Not a triumphalism. But serving like Jesus – in humility – without selfish ambition and vain conceit. In unity – like minded and being one in spirit and purpose.

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion… then do all this….

A commentator, Thomas A. Langford, has expressed this as clearly and as succinctly as is possible.

In Jesus we find embodied the self-giving of God to persons and the self-giving of a person to other persons. Jesus is the Lord who is servant, and Jesus is the servant who is Lord. As the Lord who is servant, Jesus identifies with human life so as to establish a redemptive relationship.

 As servant who is Lord, Jesus calls us to acknowledge his lordship through our servanthood. The grace of God in Jesus Christ calls us to a graciousness which is a self-abandonment to the love of God and the love of the neighbour.

 A graciousness

A self-abandonment.

So may it be with us.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 2 March 2014 – Don’t worry be happy

Readings: Isaiah 49;8-16  1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34

New International Version – UK (NIVUK) – Matthew 6:24-34

24 ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Do not worry

25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 ‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

So how are you doing when it comes to getting rid of worry?

In the last two weeks I have asked you about getting rid of anger! There are ways to change your response to situations that make you mad. If you develop the right frame of mind (or mindfulness) where you are not allowing things to get to you – but rather when you step back and reflect on what is happening (being led by the Spirit) – things can be different.

Worry is a tricky one. It’s a word similar to anxiety.

I’m not sure that we should start with worry though!

We need to start with God.

All three readings today are interesting as we look at this theme.

THE OLD TESTAMENT READING – a lovely reminder from the OT

Isaiah 49 is a beautiful passage about restoration and comfort.

The word that is repeated three times (vss 10,13 & 15) is compassion.

It reaches a crescendo with these moving  words:

15 ‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;

(your walls are ever before me.)

If you are worry-pot – God is being described as having compassion – “can a mother forget the baby at her breast? Of course we instinctively say “Nooooooo!”.

The prophet is more down to earth:

Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!

I love that assurance and it goes on to this most precious statement of God the mother’s brag book:

See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands (v16).

This is not a picture drawn on the hand – it is more like a tattoo cut into the flesh.

So the character of God is the point! Trust Him. Don’t worry.

THE GOSPEL READING – a stronger reminder from the Gospel reading today

The Gospel reading reinforces this of course. These comforting and familiar words:

25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

We used to sing a song from scripture ( in the day that we only really sang from scripture):

Jehovah Jireh, my provider, his grace is sufficient for me, for me, for me (eek a repetition!!)

My God shall provide all my need, according to his riches in glory, he will give his angels charge over thee,

Jehovah Jireh cares for me….

Can you guess the scriptures? (for a pat on the back – no more chocolates during church!)

Php 4:19  And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

Providence! God provides!

Of course the context in Philippians is that they provided Paul’s needs! They were generous in giving. Just a few verses before this he says.

Php 4:12  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Php 4:13  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

And then the other verse about the angels?

Psa 91:11  For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.

Never mind if you didn’t know that one. It’s about protection.

The key concept is providence!

I love watching sparrows. Any birds. But especially sparrows – because of Jesus’ attention given to them:

Mat 10:29  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.

Mat 10:30  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

Mat 10:31  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

No comments please about the numbered hairs on my head!

The sparrows are provided for. The birds don’t have to shop at Countdown (they would boycott it anyway as they are kiwi sparrows!).

So again:

26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Of course it’s not that easy when you’re unemployed or homeless.

The funny old thing is that he calls us who are provided for to provide for those in need!

“Chip off the old block” is an English idiom that applies when God’s children share his compassion and provision!

Or “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”.

So worry and anxiety are not the characteristics that we should be manifesting.

And yet we do! A lot! We frantically scramble for quick solutions to all kinds of things!

The solution is usually in the stockpile we have. We have enough to help those in need – who need not be afraid of asking!

Are you going to have an answer at the judgement? Listen to the words Jesus uses when he describes that judgement:

Mat 25:35  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,

Mat 25:36  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

You know how it goes? They say “when Jesus?” And he says – whatever you did not for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did not do for me (verse 45).

Sheep and Goats  are separated in this judgement scene. Sheep and goats featured in our children’s song today – ” I just want to be a sheep” which has the line  “I don’t want to be a goat, no no no no”.  (Will the parents every forgive me for teaching them this??)

Out of the nature of God’s providence, we are called to provide for others.

Hospitality and generousity are key qualities of the Christian.

I don’t have to say more about the gospel reading today. Just read it!

28 ‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

And of course the first verse of the reading – don’t forget the first verse:

24 ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Speaks volumes.

Seeking first the Kingdom of God involves the dollar. No way around that one friends!

It’s a funny old thing how he provides even more creatively when you are generous to those in need – and faithful in tithes and offerings.

THE EPISTLE READING – Paul and the Corinthians

It would be easy to overlook the reading from Corinthians. We’ve looked at this book over the past couple of weeks.

How they were divided and partisan – one lot following Paul, the other Apollos. And Paul tells them – the only thing that counts is God causing the growth. And how our work will be judged – the building of our lives. Remember?

Did you read the verses left out last week? Here they are JUST IN CASE you forgot:

1Co 3:11  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

1Co 3:12  If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw,

1Co 3:13  his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.

1Co 3:14  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.

1Co 3:15  If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

Good stuff. What’s your life built on?

What’s the quality of your work like – Kingdom of God wise?

Now that’s got you worried.

Don’t worry!

Look at how Paul handles this. It’s just another angle on things. These verses from 1 Corinthians 4 are usually ignored – but they are quite profound:

1Co 4:1  So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.

1Co 4:2  Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.

1Co 4:3  I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.

1Co 4:4  My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.

1Co 4:5  Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

So let’s have a look at these in more detail. There are treasures here. Last’s week’s passage (the end of chapter 3) ended like this:

1Co 3:21  So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours,

1Co 3:22  whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours,

1Co 3:23  and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

There is this great provision for us in the Kingdom of God – we live in another place in terms of what we value.

Today’s passage goes on in chapter 4:

1Co 4:1  So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.

Who is he talking about? In Matthew 13 we read this –  a good reminder and support of 1 Corinthians 4”1

Mat 13:52  He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

Ministers – church (apostles in those days, Paul, Apollos and Cephas) are to be regarded not as treasures themselves (that’s how cults begin) but as stewards of God’s word.

Paul elsewhere says to Timothy:

2Ti 2:15  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (KJV)

(ESV)  Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Rightly handling the treasures – like custodians at a museum – or people discovering who they are on TV – they put on white gloves before handling special things.

1Co 4:1  So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.

1Co 4:1  Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

So this is a freeing thing. It fits well with the concept of Provision and not worrying in all kinds of fascinating ways.

He provides His word of truth. We are stewards – especially those ordained to preach and teach. The secret things of God – the mysteries of God – are entrusted to me. And countless others. I take it very seriously.

And by the way the steward is the oikonomos – from which we get economics.Oeconomia – Latin.

Good hey! The real economics is not battling the dollar books but the spiritual books in the kingdom! These are the treasures of truth we are custodians of.

But the word before is more important. We are to be regarded as servants

And this is nice. This is not your average word for servant – diakonos – from which we get deacons. Our Board members biblically are deacons. They serve by ministering in the practical ministries of property and finance, and also care for the poor. Read Acts on deacons.

This isn’t even that well-known word.

1Co 4:1  So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ

This word is good!  ὑπηρέτης Huperetes.

Listen to this description:

The word translated “servants” came from the description of a particular Roman slave. On the great galley ships there were slaves whose work was to row the ship. Those slaves who were on the lower bank of oarsmen were called “under-rowers.” They labored only as the master directed. Paul felt that he and the other apostles did only as God directed them as His servants. In a sense, every Christian needs to see himself or herself in this relationship with God, whatever our position in the work.

We – as preachers especially – are accountable to God. Just as we will all give account for any careless word spoken (remember last week from Matthew 12?) – those who teach from God’s word are under scrutiny.

This is the liberating thing for me – when it comes to worry. There’s worry about food, drink and clothes (don’t!). Then there’s the worry of public speaking! And what to preach every week! That’s a lovely challenge.

James understood the responsibility. In chapter 3 he soberly says:

1  Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (NRSV).

The liberating thing for Paul (and for me) is that while people get all caught up in their heroes (following Paul, Apollos or Cephas) they – we are only servants.

Under-rowers in a boat. Labouring as the master directs as we sail the kingdom journey together.

The rest of the passage makes sense now. Listen again:

1Co 4:2  Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.

1Co 4:3  But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.

1Co 4:4  For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord.

1Co 4:5  Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.

Don’t judge me – says Paul. I don’t even judge myself! The Lord judges me!

Verse 5 is challenging:

1Co 4:5  Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.

That’s a liberating thing!

  • Know God’s character – his motherly compassion and brag book – tattoo on his/her palm
  • What is required is gratitude for his provision!
  • Being like Him in sharing what he gives us! Hospitable and generous people he wants!
  • Acknowledging this provision for all the world! That makes it all a treasure which needs to be looked after (since Adam and Eve who were given dominion over creation). So some need to join Greenpeace! Caring for the world and the environment does matter!
  • Realising that the Kingdom that we seek first is the real treasure (you can’t love two masters!) . The gospel of Jesus is the treasure!
  • Coming to terms with the fact that if Paul – amazing as he was and still is today – was okay with being subject to God’s judgment – so should we! We are His stewards and His servants – the under-rowers. He guides the boat as the captain or pilot.

No good worrying about it. About all these things. We have to trust him for physical and spiritual provision!

And we have the spiritual one anyway: All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. (1 Corinthians 3:21-23)

And we are stewards of the secret things of God – the mysteries that have in fact been revealed to us as the Church. Paul speaks in Colossians about this:

Col 1:24  I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church,

Col 1:25  of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God,

Col 1:26  the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.

Col 1:27  To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Col 1:28  Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.

Col 1:29  To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.

This treasure – ultimately – is Christ in us – the hope of Glory!

What amazing provision.

What a great reason not to be a worry-pot.

Amen!