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9 April 2020: Day 15 of lock down – Day 4 of Holy week also known as Maundy Thursday.

Reading for reflection: John 13:1-35

A lot has happened this week. In every sense. Around the world, in our country, in our homes, and hopefully in our hearts. Holy week has taken us on a journey with Christ from Palm Sunday into the temple which he cleansed, back to the temple for his teachings, and that time of waiting once Judas had gone off to negotiate his capture for money.

The Pandemic has dragged millions of people through stress, heartache, anxiety and separation. Nearly 90 000 families have been bereaved, many with little opportunity to mourn and farewell their loved ones in the traditional formal way. Add to this more people heading for poverty and unemployment than we would ever wish for. The prospect of failed businesses.

Each of us here In New Zealand has had to figure out how to manage our “bubbles” in the most non-anxious un-chaotic way. And for people who follow my vocation, it’s Easter. The most significant time of the year in our faith. Busy time indeed.

I lost track of the days yesterday. But I do know that tonight is Maundy Thursday. The night of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. The night in which ceremonial foot washing (I failed to get anyone to let me wash their feet last time I tried) reminds us of Jesus the servant leader. The suffering servant. The dying servant. The one who calls our name at tombs and dead ends (a little preview of Sunday’s message slipping in).

When I think of foot washing I think of much more messy stuff. The nursing and caring staff around the world who deal with bedpans, adult nappies, cleaning us up when in our frailty we become as dependent as new born babies. Suddenly washing feet doesn’t seem so bad.

“Maundy” has its roots in the word for commandment. Jesus gave one new commandment to add to and flavour the rest. Loving your neighbour as yourself always sounds like a kind of quid pro quo. Like the golden rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. A nice ethic of reciprocity.

The new commandment is more like the risks that our medical staff around the world live with now. Love one another as Jesus loves us? How did he show his love? Sacrifice. He gives his life for us. So are they.

It’s a bit too close to the bone really, and highlights the agony of a vocation that can kill you and leave your beloved family behind. I don’t know if we can get our heads around that. Clapping for them and cheering them on is good. (Get them the proper PPE stuff please.) Staying at home is better than just cheering and clapping – we do it so that we can kill off the spread of this Covid-19 scourge. Being on our own is not a great sacrifice compared to those who have given their lives for their calling. Given their lives for ordinary people like you and me who become patients through no fault of their own.

Have a lovely Easter weekend at home dear friends.
Be at peace.

We are not alone.

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.