God Acting in Jesus

The Sunday Sermon: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 12, 2016

Scripture: Philippians 2:1-11

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God Acting in Jesus

Last week, the first Sunday of June, we were summoned into the Summer of 2016. During the “lazy days” of Ordinary Time we are called to understand more deeply what it “is” to be more truly, more genuinely, more fully Christian. Does anyone remember being summoned last week?

We read from the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, verses that follow immediately after Jesus summons the first followers, the first disciples. Matthew noted in those verses the “coming persecutions” for those who would follow him: Trials, floggings, betrayals, hatred, and even death. We then noted that, as those who follow him in the 21st Century, we honestly haven’t faced many trials or betrayals and even fewer floggings and deaths.

Why? Because, by and large, we have re-made Christianity to suit our own tastes. And being “hated by others” or “betraying anyone” doesn’t taste so good to us. So, we need to get back, if you will, get closer at least, Jesus’ program for the transformation of the world and of ourselves. We need to remember, or figure out for the first time, what it more truly, deeply, and fully means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, a Christian in the world today, to find the 21st century equivalents of floggings, betrayals, and deaths. (And not because we’re masochistic and are seeking pain and hardships, but because we are Christians and are seeking to follow more nearly our Lord. We need to remember what that means and how to authentically do it. Lucky for us that Matthew’s writing (among others) reveals, in concentrated form, what the essential Christian life must include. The essential Christian life must be:

  1. A Confession of God’s act in the person and ministry of Jesus

2.  (Must be) lived toward God’s kingdom on earth through a concern for mission in this world

3.  (Must) let go of both material possessions and fear of what others might think about us or do to us

4.  (Must) place loyalty to the God revealed through Jesus above all other loyalties, even the deepest ones of home and family

5.  (Must be) a life that is non-resistant to violence, in any form. And …

6.  (Must) have full trust in and fidelity to God and God’s future.

Six essential components for any life that would claim Christianity as its religious association. All from Matthew.

That’s how we’re going to spend much of this summer, looking more closely at those essential components of the true Christian life and comparing them with the way in which we are living “the Christian life” … these three Sundays in June and then a couple in July. I’ll slip away in the later part of July and some guest preachers will offer a word of their own. That will give us all time to “get with the program” and as August begins we’ll be more prepared for the ministry year ahead and the transformations, personal and corporate, that are ours to make. Okay? That’s what we about in these “lazy days” of Ordinary time, Summer 2016. Let’s get started …

Pray with me …

Now, our scriptural companion for this morning may be our companion for these weeks ahead of us. It is the Christ Hymn of Philippians chapter two, verses five to eleven. We’ll read the first four verses of the chapter this morning, too. I’m not exactly sure how, or even if, these seven verses will serve the next five Sundays. But I’m anticipating using the same reading each week. Tough to nail the Spirit down, but for now, you can leave your bookmarks at Philippians two for most of the summer.

Listen for the Word of God … Read Philippians 2:1-11. The Word of the Lord … Thanks be to God. So, to work: Six essential elements of the Christian life, beginning with the first.

A Christian life (our life as a Christian, and we all claim that identity – too late now to take it back!) … the Christian’s life must be a confession of God’s act in the person and ministry of Jesus.

Spot-on … The only place anyone, inside or outside the faith, can begin to understand Christianity and the Christian life is to look to Jesus … of Nazareth … the Christ. This is foundational. It is what gives us our identity as a people of faith. It is what separates us from the “nones” (n-o-n-e-s, not the other nuns). It is what distinguishes us from practitioners of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or other religious faiths. The PCUSA’s Book of Order, the second part of our Constitution that lays out the way in which we are to govern ourselves, worship together, and discipline one another, begins with this: “By the power of the Spirit, God is incarnate in Jesus Christ.” This is foundational: The Christian’s life must be a confession of God’s act in the person and ministry of Jesus.

Now, all summer keep this in mind: According to Jesus himself in the Gospel of Matthew (among other places), that which makes us “Christian,” the “essential elements of the Christian life” we are examining this summer are going to get us persecuted, flogged, hated, betrayed, and even possibly killed. So to start us off this first week, we are told that “confessing God’s act in the person and ministry of Jesus” should get us in trouble, get us “dragged before governors and kings” to be ridiculed and reviled. But, we all confess the Lordship of Christ, that’s why we’re here this morning. But we aren’t being “ridiculed and reviled.” Why is that?

It’s because we’ve made this confession to our own tastes. We have accommodated it to Empire, watering it down to a statement of belief rather than ramping it up to a way of life. We make the confession of “God’s act in the person and ministry of Jesus” and then leave it right there … in the person and ministry of Jesus. It’s not about us, it’s about him. So all we need to do is say it and (quote) “believe it” (and quote). The problem is, the first essential element of our faith is not a summons to make a “statement,” but summons to lead a “life.” The Christian life must be a confession of God’s act in the person and ministry of Jesus. It’s simply not enough to believe Jesus did it and that does it. We must do it, too, or it will never get done. Two thousand years and counting we’ve been waiting …

If we are truly, deeply, fully Christians, then our life, too, must be a confession of God’s act in the person and ministry of each of us. And if we live that way, if our lives confess God’s presence and action in the world, the world is not going to like it. If we actually “do nothing from selfish ambitions” and “regard others as better than ourselves”?! If we honestly “look not to our own interests, but to the interests of others” letting “the same mind be in us that was in Jesus”?! The world would flog us: “Despisers of consumerism.” Our neighbors would revile us: “You arrogant do-gooder!” Our families would rise against us: “What do you mean I can’t have an iPhone 6?!”

And let’s not get this twisted up in an argument about the impossibility or foolishness of self-denial. Neither Jesus in his ministry, nor Paul in his writing, was opposed to individualism or self-regard. We must be responsible for ourselves, take care of ourselves and our families, and bear our own burdens.

But when being responsible for ourselves translates into an unwillingness to bear another’s burden; or when taking care of ourselves leads to a coldness to the way in which we are all members one of another; or when bearing our own burdens means distancing ourselves from others who are suffering, then individualism becomes egocentrism and self-regard becomes selfishness. Then the Christian confession of God’s act in Jesus becomes simply a statement of faith and not a commitment to life. Then our confession of God’s act in the life and ministry of Jesus becomes a means to an end – namely, our own personal salvation, rather than an end unto itself – notably, the transformation of our lives and of the world right now.

The Christian’s life must be a confession of God’s act in the person and ministry of Jesus, “who, finding himself in human form, emptied himself.” We are human. To confess God’s act in the person and ministry of Jesus is to empty ourselves, too. Our understanding “God Acting in Jesus” must be understood as God’s acting in the person and ministry of each one of us. “Let the same mind be in (us) that was in Christ Jesus.”

Don’t just believe in what God did through him. Believe in what God is doing, desperately trying to do, through you. Believe and get busy doing it! You’re whole life will change. You will change the lives of others.

And we’ve only just begun …

Amen … for now.

Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / June 12, 2016