The Sunday Sermon: Twenty-seventh Sunday after Pentecost – November 25, 2018
Scripture: Philipppians 2:5-11
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Of The Same Mind
I do find myself reminiscing every year on this Sunday. It is the Reign of Christ Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year, the first Sunday I preached from this pulpit to this community. Ten years ago … And it’s nice to once again have a little extra time this year between Thanksgiving and Advent. Just as New Year’s Eve leads us to think backward and forward over the year past and the one ahead, this Sunday allows us to do the same.
We think of all the things that we went through last year and of the people: Members, visitors – one time or returning, those who have died in this past year (Sally, Emily, and Betty). I wonder again how we as a church could have been “more” to our community, in our Presbytery, and for our denomination. I think of everything we accomplished since last Advent Season, and all the things we didn’t get done. And, of course, my mind moves to the year ahead that will inevitably be filled with the joys, challenges, life and deaths of any year spent in a community like the church.
So join me, again, in remembering the year past and our lives together in broad strokes: We rehearsed again, in one way or another, the story of Christ’s coming and God incarnate in the birth of Jesus during Advent and on Christmas Eve. We remembered, celebrated, journeyed with and mourned Jesus’ life though Epiphany and his Baptism, through our first weeks of “Ordinary Time” and into our Lenten journeys right up to his Last Supper, celebrated here on Maundy Thursday. We marked Jesus’ arrest, passion, and death from that night through Good Friday and Dark Saturday. We celebrated the Resurrection on Easter, the ascension in the 50 days that followed, and the arrival of the Holy Spirit that birthed the early church on Pentecost. And we journeyed through the entire summer and early fall in the second period of “Ordinary time” – an ice cream social, Montreat Youth Conference, guest ministers, and our annual picnic. Rally Day, World Communion Sunday, and another Stewardship Season that this year recognized the abundant rain – the abundance of the time talents and wealth of this community. Just last week my annual plea for “four more days.”
All of these celebrations and remembrances, everything we have accomplished, and anything left undone, comes to a climax on this last Sunday of the year for us, this Sunday, as we prepare for Advent next Sunday. But before we start again, before we go back to work to accomplish what we haven’t gotten done and to envision new possibilities and dreams, we remind ourselves of the final word of all that we do, our Good News and what it is that Gospel calls us to do and to be. But first let’s pray …
And let’s read our morning’s scripture … Read Philippians 2:5-11. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
We are called to be “of the same mind.”
This is a scripture passage selected very deliberately for this morning because it not only articulates the message for this day and our Gospel Good News for all days, that Jesus is Lord for us. But because it also calls us to allow the same mind that was in Christ Jesus to be in us. His Truth, his Way, his life is not only what guides us, but what should define us. All year long we get caught up in theological, spiritual, and even political debates about what “God with us” in Jesus Christ means and how it transforms our lives. We did it last year and we’ll do again in the year ahead, but the earliest confession of the earliest communities that gathered around “The Way” is still the foundational confession for us: Jesus is Lord. And one of the earliest pleas to us is to be “of the same mind as Christ Jesus.” We are in human form, and we are called to be Christ for the world, God’s anointed, too.
I know that for some this Sunday can be bit difficult. The hymns we sing and the confessions we make, the scripture we read, and the sermon you have to listen to can be difficult. Too many hear the claims made about Jesus as divisive. We’ve all experienced the Christian confession as exclusive and even condemning. But we all must know that when our confession are used in this way, they are used incorrectly. Whenever “Jesus is Lord” has been used to exclude and to condemn any of God’s creation, it has been used improperly. To say Jesus is Lord” is a not a statement of exclusion, it is one of identity. To say “Jesus is Lord” is not a statement of condemnation, it is one of commitment. When we say, sing it, or hear it read we are identifying ourselves and our promise to “be of the same of mind as Christ Jesus.” What might that look like?
For two millennia we have discerned, discovered and tried to determine the most effective and practical way to express our confession and our call to live, love, die, and experience resurrection life as Jesus did. We’ve come up with some pretty creative ways to do it, justifying some pretty destructive practices, but finally, this confession of ours and of the church “simply” affirms that, for us, there are no other lords – not another human, not another ideology or philosophy, not money, or any worldly government, not even time itself. In this confession we promise to live, not the self-protective, self-preserving, time-controlled way of the world and its empire’s, but the self-sacrificial Way of Jesus. This Way, this Love, believe it or not, is rooted deep in our Judeo-Christian tradition. It was envisioned quite a long time before the historical human, Jesus of Nazareth, embodied it.
In the sixth century before the Christ event in Jesus, a nameless writer, known to us only as Second Isaiah because his words were placed in the partially filled scroll of Isaiah, responded to destruction of his country Israel by the Babylonians not with a vision of violent retaliation, but with one of peaceful restoration and reconciliation. He sketched out for the first time, in recorded history at least, a new role for his people, indeed for all people, based on the ancient truth that peace and justice will never come through war and violence, whatever their form. Never again should his people, or any people, dream about being rulers and kings of nations. Never again should his nation, or any nation, expect to be powerful and formidable in military might. In the words that he penned, words found in his deep discernment and surely inspired by his dear God, Second Isaiah’s seemingly defeated and downtrodden Jewish nation was personified under a symbol he called “the Servant,” a light to the nations.
This “Servant” will bear affliction; endure the pain of being among the world’s outcasts – the prisoners, the blind, the lame; but this Servant will never respond to hatred with hatred or to hostility with hostility. This “Servant” will absorb the attacks upon his dignity and person and return them as kindness. From the forty second chapter of Isaiah:
Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom I delight … He will not: lift up his voice … or break a bruised reed … or quench a dimly burning wick.
In this way, and in this way only, will the world be drained of its anger, and its hatred, and its fear – in other words, be saved …
He will: open the eyes that are blind … bring out the prisoners from the dungeon and the darkness … and faithfully bring forth justice.
In this way, and in this way only, the world’s anger will be transformed into love and its fear into trust. Wholeness, unity, community, and hope will never come any other way than through sacrificial Love.
Fast forward about six hundred years. In the first century of our Common Era the disciples of a Jewish man named Jesus found in Second Isaiah’s portrait of the “Servant” a way that enabled them to understand and interpret him. Their experience with Jesus taught them that “to love as God loves” is to embrace even their enemies and to absorb the world’s anger and hatred in order to transform it, and hand it back as love. This revelation was expressed in the earliest and “simplest” of confessional statements: Jesus is Lord.
That confession is more a reminder, it seems to me, than a bold proclamation these days. Mostly because we know how the scriptural stories of the “Servant” ends. She/he pays a price. Read the fifty-third chapter of Second Isaiah later this afternoon as a further mediation and reflection on this day and our call. The one we call Lord was, of course, crucified for his “Servanthood.” But here’s the thing, the “confession” again: In so doing, we believe, he brought life to the world. We confess that truth together, on every single Sunday of the year, even if we only focus on it this Sunday. I know it’s frightening to truly believe and then to faithfully follow, to “be of the same mind as Christ.”
I look into the eyes of my children, and many of yours … I look into your eyes and the ones that stare back at me in the mirror and I seek the courage to speak those words and to live as Jesus lived everyday. And I know I fail to do it, over and over again. But I know as clearly as I am standing here this morning that our answer will never be found in retaliation and retribution, revenge and reprisal; that if “survival of the fittest,” so natural to all of us, is allowed to become our purpose for living in any instance, large or small, then the generations that follow us are doomed. I know without thinking about it anymore that “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” will only leave us all blind and toothless. And with that knowledge, I continue to seek the courage to speak and to live into our confession in the year ahead.
That’s what this Sunday reminds us of and prepares us for. We’re getting ready to start all over again, to try to “get it right” this time. This year during Advent we’re going to explore in more depth what “incarnation” must mean for 21st Century Chrtiians, for you and me. We really begin this morning: To say “Jesus is Lord” is to confess that his Way “saves us” and to promise that we will not only seek to follow his way, but that we will seek to understand how we, too, are the Way, the Truth, and the Life, too. That Way, Jesus’ Way, of life saves us by showing us how to love. We must save others by being the Way ourselves. These reminders, these words this Sunday, don’t make it easier for us, we know that. But they give us hope, they give us a peace that passes our understanding, and they give us the promise of a love that does exist – that has existed from the beginning and that echoes through the world still today. Life is a gift that is meant to be given in love for one another.
So let us look to the year ahead as we sing our song of faith and commitment.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church, November 25, 2018