Thursday, October 30, 2008

Twenty-second Sunday After Pentecost Year A 2008

In the tradition of Disciples there is a rich heritage of lay leadership. In recent years, Philippi has been blessed with many signs of the Holy Spirit's blessing, among them the growing passion of various of our members to lead God's people. One of these is Fred Dant. Fred is a retired veteran with many gifts, chief among them a warm and loving heart, a passion for learning and a great sense of humor. Fred recently was endorsed by our congregation as a candidate for licensed ministry, a form of service oriented to those for whom seminary is not a viable option. He has been studying hard, taking online classes and meeting with our denomination's leaders.

This sermon was his first effort, delivered with joy during Pastor Mike's vacation. We think you'll enjoy it.

MATTHEW 22:1-14

The reading today was from Matthew, and again Christ has spoken in parables.

In Matthew 13:10-11 the disciples asked Jesus; “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He answered,”To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.”

Jesus gives the people room to wonder about what the setting and the characters represent. I guess this was so the people would have to think and figure out themselves what he meant. This way they could get a better understanding of what He was trying to get across to them.

In this story, Christ says that the kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king that made marriage for his son. The king planned this fantastic party where everyone would have nothing but joy and happiness. He sent out his slaves with invitations to the wedding party, but no one came.

Hard to believe, isn’t it? A king invites you to a party, and you snub him. You know, this special and powerful person has reached out to you and invited you to something that is very special to him and you ignore it. I won’t even turn down a cookout, not that I get invited out that much. Well, if you’re gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough.

Can you imagine having a wedding party, and no one shows up?

I was invited to a wedding party once that was supposed to be the biggest event that ever hit town. You can believe when I got my invite, I was gonna go. And I did go. Of course back in those days I was a Beatnik. You know, before the hippies. We dressed weird, had goatees and listened to poetry that made absolutely no sense at all. We joined anything anti-establishment, thought Maynard T Krebs, before he became Gilligan on Gilligan’s Island, was the coolest person alive, drank coffee with a stick of cinnamon in it, said things like, Cool and Right on, and some even smoked those left handed cigarettes. Of course I can honestly say that I have never even tried them, unlike some, that said they just didn’t inhale. I never did smoke them because my good friends made sure of it. Back in those days, I was a little chubby, now I’m just a little thick. Isn’t it great what a little time will do? My friends kept telling me that it would give me the munchies, and if there was one thing I didn’t need back then, or now I really didn’t need the munchies.

Any way this was going to be a great wedding feast and the theme was going to be Adam and Eve. This party was going to be on the up and up. Everyone wore fig leaves covering the correct places, so everything was very appropriate. Lots of people came to the party, and then a couple showed up, and to the amazement of everybody, we immediately knew they had to be the original Adam and Eve. Now, it wasn’t because of their age, because they must not have aged since leaving the garden, but because of physical characteristics both of them had, we had no doubts about their authenticity. Now that was a party to remember.

Well, back to our parable.

Anyway, the king sent out more invitations to the wedding banquet by way of his slaves. He told them to let everyone know that everything is ready, and it’s free. Nothing to cook, no dishes to do, the drinks are cold, and the band is playing. Just come to the party.

But again they refused to come. Too busy, I guess. One had to go to his farm and another to his business, and the rest, THEY BEAT UP AND KILLED THE MESSENGERS. Well, you done it now honey!!! You done really upset the king, and somebody’s gonna pay.
I’m sure you have heard the old saying, ‘It ain’t smart to mess with Mother Nature, Well, it ain’t smart to make a king mad at you either.’

So the king sends his army out to punish them for what they did.

And punish them he did. He destroyed their cities, burned their temples and those he didn’t kill, he scattered to the four corners of the earth.

Then the king returns and says everything is still ready for this party, so let’s have it. So again he sends out his servants and tells them to tell everyone they meet they are welcome at the party.

Everybody is welcome. Look everywhere and tell everyone they see. Tell the good and the evil, I don’t care, just let everyone know, everyone is welcome. And his servants did as he said. And finally they all show up. And the king is very pleased. Everyone is eating, drinking, dancing, and having a fantastic time. His party is a success.

All of a sudden, he notices someone that doesn’t exactly fit in. It that looks like a party crasher. He must be a party crasher, because he is not dressed properly for this wedding banquet. So the king asks him how he got into the banquet without having proper attire, but he was silent. Bad idea to crash a party put on by a king.
The king says bind him hand and foot. I think that is how they tie you when they run you out of town on a rail. The king says throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Not just the darkness, but the outer darkness. Where do you suppose that is? I’ll just leave that up to your imagination. And what about that weeping and gnashing of teeth. Now that’s definitely not the kind of place for me. How about you?

So what did we just learn, besides a lot of things about me that I probably shouldn’t be telling in church anyway?

God has summoned us to his feast, which is his church. This is a feast of mercy, grace, and forgiveness. We are offered all the privileges of church membership, the blessings of the new covenant, the pardon of sins, the favor of God, peace of conscience, the promises of the gospel and all the riches contained in them access to the throne of grace the comforts of the spirit and a well grounded hope of eternal life. There we partake of his sacred foods, those that are filled with grace of the holy mysteries.

But for the feast we must prepare. We must attire ourselves with the proper garment, or we shall be cast, like the man in the parable, into the outer darkness, with all that weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Now the question is, have I been wearing the wedding garment? Have I ever not been wearing it? Have I refused the invitation? Did I come when I was called, or did I have other things to do that I thought were more important at the time?

If I come to the meal with hate in my heart, or my faith and love is cold, or I attend church for social reasons, or to show off my brand spanking new suit, or to visit acquaintances, or any other reasons not consistent with the love of God, then spiritually speaking, I am not dressed in a wedding garment pleasing to Jesus Christ. The garment is a spiritual one. Without it, without preparing yourself for the feast, we are no better than those who rejected and crucified Christ.

We are blessed by God to be members of his church, and we have been invited to partake of the feast and have accepted the invitation to share in this feast Christ has prepared for us, and in doing this we prepare ourselves for an eternal feast in the life to come.

Remember: Throughout Jesus’ ministry, it is obvious that great crowds came to see him at various times, but that far fewer people really accepted his rather difficult path and we do not hear about them anymore.

But still, God continues to call us over and over and over again, and some still don’t answer.

Only a few listen and end up wearing the wedding garment that is pleasing to God.
Do you think there is much difference among these people?

Many are called, but few are chosen. Few are chosen because so many refuse to answer the Invitation, or try to answer it on their own terms, and that is something God abhors.

God calls and God chooses. I know I want to answer his call.

By the way, the reason everyone at the Beatnik party recognized Adam and Eve immediately, was because they didn’t have BELLY BUTTONS.

Remember, they were the only ones not born; they were created by god, so they were not born of the womb, hence, no Belly Buttons.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Twenty-fourth Sunday After Pentecost Year A 2008

24 Pentecost A 08 (Heritage Sunday)
October 26, 2008
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 (NRSV)

1 You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, 2 but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. 3 For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; 6 nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, 7 though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. 8 So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.

Obedient Leaders

Thirty years ago, on November 18th, a Disciples congregation gathered for a worship service at which almost all the 1,000 members committed suicide, and at which a few were murdered.

Some may be too young to remember Jim Jones, a minister of an independent congregation who transferred into the Disciples in the sixties. If we are to evaluate a ministry based on its success in attracting many racially and ethnically diverse people and involving them in real working ministries, Jim Jones was wildly successful. Obviously, the tragedy that ensued raises some issues with this method of evaluating success.

This month’s Disciples World has an excellent series of articles on this tragedy. One of the biggest questions raised by it is of course accountability. In a denomination that so richly values freedom, how does one develop real community without holding one another accountable?

Disciples run into this question at every level of the church’s existence. If every member of the church has a different idea of what constitutes faithfulness, how does a pastor or staff or board set standards of excellence? How are programs evaluated? How are members disciplined? How are troublesome members understood? Are they prophetic voices providing new insights, or are demonic voices undermining the church’s health?

On the regional level, how does a regional minister or board address the problem of a renegade pastor or congregation? What if a congregation is doing real damage to members and to the church at large? One of the learnings gleaned from this whole tragedy was that Jones was attracted to the Disciples and affiliated with them precisely because they so valued the freedom of congregations to shape their own lives. But when is a pastor being innovative and when is he or she being destructive?

On a general level, if all the units of the general church are independent, how does the church operate in a strategic and economical manner?

Even more confusing, when is the opposition from authority a matter of persecution and when is it a helpful discipline? Jones and his followers fled to Guyana believing that hostile newspaper articles and the growing concern of the denomination was a persecution similar to the opposition Paul mentions in his letter this morning.

Our country is now selecting a leader, and I sense a lot of fear and anxiety about this decision. And it came to me this week as I reflected on this tension, that the good news is that we are in essence bringing about a revolution, but one that is free of violence and bloodshed. This is the greatness of the American system of democracy. We have a limit on how long a leader can lead us, and then we have the opportunity to go through all the debate and mudslinging and fierce argument typical of any revolutionary process, but we have ordered it so as to exclude actual violence. Whether you are arguing for McCain or for Obama, whether you are passionate or only mildly interested, the one thing you can be sure of is that your town will not be bombed, your homes burned, and your children murdered, which in the past was the only way to replace one leader with another.

At the same time, as great as our process is, we who are Christian think of leadership in a fundamentally different way than human governments and institutions. To put the finest possible point on it, we already have a king, and that king can never be replaced. He is risen from the dead and he reigns forever and ever, amen.

There’s a wonderful book out right now called Jesus for President. I encourage you to read it. One of the things it says is that the values of the kingdom are miles away from the values of any human idea of statehood. Nations encourage economic competition, but in the kingdom there is forgiveness of debts. Nations encourage killing the enemy, in the kingdom we are taught to love them. Nations encourage private ownership, but in the kingdom everyone shares all they have. Nations need leaders that are warriors, but the kingdom has a leader who will not bend a reed to break it, will not blow out a dimly burning wick, and will suffer and die rather than lift a hand to defend himself. Can we really pledge allegiance to both ways? Can we really have two such different masters?

The law of the world is the powerful rule the powerless, usually to benefit of the powerful, and usually through the threat of violence. In the kingdom of God, the powerless are lifted up and the powerful are thrown down, and vengeance is God’s alone.

And the only criterion for leadership, the only qualifications for heroism, is faith and obedience to the one God, who was made flesh in Jesus the Messiah. On October 20th, a British woman named Gayle Williams was on her way to work in Afghanistan, where she was serving the church as an aid worker. She was shot down in the street, and the people who shot her later said it was because she was a Christian. She wasn’t carrying a gun, she wasn’t wearing armor, she wasn’t trying to convert anyone or hurt anyone, and she wasn’t serving the British government. She was serving Christ and she gave her life for him. Remember her name. She’s the Christian idea of a hero.

Also, what she did was not suicide.

And what about leadership among Christians? We’re currently wrestling with that question as we approach our annual meeting with its nominations and elections. If Christ our king is so different from all human rulers and governments, what is it that distinguishes those who lead the congregation?

What about success? Many early American churches were run by those in the community who had made a success in business and gave liberally to the support of the church. Many of these leaders drew members who hoped to link themselves to the successful leaders. Today, to hear it told on the news and in Christian media, the success of a Christian leader is based on how many people he or she can get together for worship, how big their church building and parking lot is, how many books they sell on the open market. Those leaders are richly rewarded with million-dollar homes and sixty thousand-dollar cars. Some of those criterion applied to Jim Jones, and even earned him the approbation of the denomination early on.

In Deuteronomy 34, Moses is named the greatest prophet who ever lived. The reward for his faithfulness was to die just before the fulfillment of God’s promise to the wilderness-wandering Jews. He got a glimpse of the promised land and was then told he wasn’t going to go there. He had spent his entire career in ministry living in what most of us would call poverty, eating bread and drinking water and living in dusty tents in the desert, being more or less constantly challenged by the ingratitude and discontentedness of his followers. Their numbers, by the way, decreased exponentially from the time he took over until the time he left, and he divided most of his time between yelling at his followers in disgust and begging God not to wipe them off the face of the earth.

None of these things were why he was the greatest prophet who ever lived. He was the greatest prophet because the Lord knew him face to face, and sent him to perform signs and wonders in the sight of the people Israel. He was a great leader because God knew him, and God sent him.

And what happened as a result? Moses was changed from a stuttering, angry, frightened and anonymous shepherd living in exile into the wisest and most powerful religious leader in Israel’s history. And through him, God transformed a huge band of frightened slaves into a much smaller nation of priests to the living God.

Jesus is our king and Messiah not because of the great success of his ministry. He managed to get only twelve people to really commit to his path. He was able to get some crowds to rally, but they turned on him as soon as the going got a little tough, including even one of the twelve closest to him. He had not place to lay his head, much less a million-dollar home, and he never wrote a word or sold a single book. Most of the leading religious thinkers of his day, that period’s version of today’s televangelists and mega-church bishops, thought he was a blasphemer and a heretic. He was rewarded with a cross and a tomb.

But God sent him. God transformed him. God worked through him. God raised him from the dead. And when he rose he became a Lord who transforms bumbling fools into great preachers, hateful persecutors into loving apostles and diverse populations of lost sheep into unified communities of love and grace.

So when we choose our leaders here in our Christian community, we’re not looking for material success, charisma, popularity, sense of humor, good looks, organizational skills or the ability to eloquently speak, although these abilities are sometimes bestowed by God in service of God’s mission. We’re not looking for people who are good at flattery or manipulation. We’re looking for people who are sent by God, transformed by God, and through whom God works to transform others.

But we’re also looking for someone who takes seriously the authority of Holy Scripture, even if they don’t fully grasp it yet; who takes seriously the great tradition of the church; who takes seriously the authority of the whole body of Christ.

Of course we need leaders who are courageous enough to speak a word that isn’t already popular or mainstream; but we’re also looking for someone who prays with fear and trembling for God’s guidance in all things; we’re looking for someone who struggles to serve rather than to dominate and through whom God can gather a bunch of diverse individuals and transform them into a communion of love.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Twenty-third Sunday After Pentecost Year A

23 Pentecost A 08
October 19, 2008

1 Thess 1:1-10 (NRSV)
1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
2 We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. 9 For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

Turning the World Upside Down

The Book of Acts tells us that Paul spent very little time in Thessalonica. He was on the run and could only preach three sermons there. He went to the synagogue, as was his custom, to try to convince the Jews there that Jesus was the Messiah. Of course, some people believed, among them a certain Jason, and the local Jewish leaders went to the authorities and said, "These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also." You can find the story in Acts 16.

This first letter of Paul to the church in Thessalonica is thought to be the oldest document in the New Testament, the earliest letter of Paul that we have. It tells us a lot about that first flush of missionary work, probably within a few years of Jesus’ resurrection.

Even after Paul left, it seems local authorities continued to harass the new congregation. It’s difficult to understand today what exactly the offense was. But despite the controversy the Thessalonicans kept the faith and even became stronger, so that Paul was able to write to them giving thanks for their impressive work, work that was so remarkable that news had travelled all over Macedonia and Achaia about the faith of this little congregation.

They were turning the world upside down. What does that mean?

Today, the news is full of conflict. The political race right now is full of accusations being flung back and forth across party lines, effigies are being burned, insults are being hurled, threats are being made. A war is raging halfway around the world. This sect and that sect vowing unending hatred and opposition. The global economy is in a tailspin and people are pointing fingers right and left, blaming this one, blaming that one.

And even in the lives of families in our own community, there are stresses and strains being felt. It seems to me that almost every family with an elderly or ailing older member finds itself torn by conflict, people blaming each other, defending themselves, going out of their way to hurt each other. Families stricken with alcoholism or drug addiction struggle with each other and with themselves; who is to blame, who is responsible, who’s supposed to fix the problem?

Some of us gathered to watch a movie last night called Crash. Some others of you may have seen it. It had to do with how racial and ethnic stereotypes are deeply ingrained in people and cause them to completely misunderstand each other. To me the film is really about people denying other people’s humanity, and in so doing, denying their own.

The world of Thessalonica in the ancient Roman Empire was no different. We are accustomed to thinking of the world’s religions as some kind of pleasant diversity, but in fact they are lines of separation, ways of elevating one group over another, one type of person over another. In the same way, ethnic culture, while sometimes rich and wonderful, is often simply a way of defining us over against them.

What turns the world upside down is a God who comes in the flesh to die for the Roman oppressor and the poorest of the poor under his feet, a God who comes in the flesh to die for the Pharisee and the sinner, the traitorous collaborator and the rebellious zealot, the slave and the slave-owner, the male and the female, the adult and the child, the rich and the poor, the Jew, the Greek, the Parthian, the Ethiopian and the Arab.

What turns the world upside down is the proclamation that all of us, every one, belong to God and to no one else.

And this is what turned the Thessalonican’s world upside down. When people turned away from the idols, they were turning away from every human excuse for denying some other human being’s humanity.

Philippi became an example and a beacon to the whole of District IX in their passionate commitment to helping a family fleeing the war in Iraq. This is turning the world upside down.

This week, we heard a wonderful story from Lyle Predmore about the mission in Bali and on the tiny island of Timor, about how the faith of one tiny person, one even shorter than Hiroko, became a fountain of life for a whole community. He was a man who had escaped from a desperately poor community and had made a life for himself in a better place, but whose deep passion for God’s kingdom led him to become a conduit of grace for people the world has forgotten. This is turning the world upside down.

Today Habitat for Humanity will be dedicating a house for a poor African American family. That alone I know from personal experience enrages racists in our community. I don’t know the family, but I would bet that if one examined them closely, one might find many reasons to deny them such a wonderful thing as an affordable new home. But Becky and Page and Lyle and a number of other people in our churches and our community have labored long and hard and have donated money and materials to make it possible. That is turning the world upside down.

In the coming week, Global Ministries, our joint effort with the United Church of Christ, is asking us to give consideration and attention to the plight of the Republic of the Congo, where an unjust regime is raping the land and its people, so that the poor are literally starving in a land of plenty. To pray for them, to urge our government and the United Nations to intervene, this is what it means to turn the world upside down.

In the gospel of Matthew, the Jewish leaders tried to trick Jesus into trapping himself when they asked him about paying taxes to Caesar. Jesus answered by asking them to produce a coin. Of course, it had Caesar’s image on it. Jesus said, “render unto Caesar what is Caesars, and render unto God what is God’s.” In other words, if the coin belongs to God because it bears Caesar’s image, we belong to God because we bear God’s.

This is a radical and offensive and world-shaking truth: everyone belongs to God. Because everyone belongs to God, whatever evil there is anywhere is everywhere. Whenever one practices evil, everyone becomes a part of it. And likewise whenever one practices goodness, everyone is a part of that too.

Beloved, and you are my beloved, when we give our lives, we are given our lives.

The idols of the world are all the things that make one person or group of people more important or more valuable some other person or group. When the Thessalonicans turned away from them, they turned the world upside down.

And so are we.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost 2006

20 Pentecost A 08
September 28, 2008

Phil 2:1-13 (NRSV)
1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Who We Sing About

Paul is thinking of the Philippians because he himself is enduring persecution at the hands of the authorities, probably in Ephesus. You may remember that Paul’s preaching was so successful there that he undermined the local idol-manufacturing business. People stopped buying idols.
And there he was suffering, apparently pretty horribly, as death seemed a genuine possibility. Yet he seemed genuinely hopeful that he would be released, especially when he remembered his beloved congregation at Philippi, whom he had heard were enduring similar persecutions.

It’s hard to imagine isn’t it? But when people begin to really be threatened, when people begin to get arrested, beaten, thrown into jail or even killed for believing in and acting on something like the kingdom of God, it’s got to be hard on a congregation. Particularly if you throw in some families with children. Most people who have children are pretty protective of them. They might be willing to sacrifice even their most deeply cherished beliefs for the sake of children. Some Jews in Nazi Germany converted, not because they believed in Jesus, but to protect their children from the camps. Who could blame them? How many families with children do you think were at Philippi?

And so there were arguments, I’m sure.

“Why do we keep taking food to the people in the jails? It draws attention to us!”

“Why does that prophet Syntyche go into the city marketplace and carry on about Jesus? She should keep her mouth shut. She’s putting us all in danger.”

“Rome keeps us safe. All of our business opportunities are because they patrol the roads. We haven’t had any warfare near us for years. What harm is there in kissing the emperor’s statue? Why not have one up there on the altar, next to the cross?”

“None of you really are Christians anyway, because you don’t keep the Jewish law. If we just kept the purity laws, we could forget about all this political stuff.”

“Who needs law? We’re free! Why not go to the pagan dinner parties? What harm is there in it?”
And then of course there was probably some wise old guy in the church who would stand up and say something like, “Hey, we all love each other. We take care of each other. That’s all that matters. Forget about all that other stuff. We can just be quiet about all that, ignore it, and take care of each other.”

And everyone nods and thinks, “Wow, we sure are glad we elected him to be elder.”

And someone wonders what the apostle Paul would think about it. It’s like that moment in a church’s life when somebody says, “I’ve got a radical new idea. Let’s look in the bible.”

And Paul hears about all this somewhere sometime, and it’s not until he’s in a filthy, disease-ridden jail in Ephesus that he remembers what’s going on there in Philippi.

And Paul, consummate pastor that he is, begins with Philippi’s strength, right where the wise old elder left off. “OK,” he says, “you’re right of course. Love one another, take care of one another, bear with one another. It’s clear you’re doing that already, and that’s wonderful. And if you’re already doing that, let me urge you to go just a little farther.”

What if all this wonderful stuff that is going on among you is really and truly only because the Spirit of God has come among you?

And everyone goes, “Well, duh.”

“Yes, yes,” Paul says, “of course, you acknowledge the Spirit. That’s good. But when you think of God, what words come to your mind?”

And everyone looks at everyone else, and we say, “Glory.”

Lots of nods. Yes that’s it.


Yes, yes, of course.


We like it, yes!


That’s the best of all!

And Paul says, “Have you thought about: ‘Obedience’, ‘Death’, ‘Lowly’, ‘Pathetic’ or ‘Shame’?”

And everyone looks at each other and thinks, “Paul is such a downer.”

And Paul says: You sing this in your hymns every week when you get together for church!
You know people believe what they sing more than what they read or hear.

I went looking for this hymn that Paul quotes here in the passage. We know it’s a hymn because in Greek it is composed of metered lines with rhyming couplets. I went looking for this hymn in our hymnbook.

Did you know there’s not even a category in our hymnbook index for “humility?” I think that’s kind of a problem.

Let’s look at the hymns that are based on Philippians 2. Open your Chalice Hymnals.

Hymn 92: “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.” Well, that’s a good one. That’s the verse that’s on our bulletin cover too. Anything in here about humility? Well, I guess when we sing praise to Jesus we are kind of humbling ourselves. Anything in here about being of the same mind as Jesus? No, no, I don’t think so.

Then the index says that Hymn 107 is also from Philippians 2. We don’t know this one; it’s one of those Spanish hymns. It’s good though. Always good to praise the name of Jesus. Anything in here about being of the same mind, humbling ourselves? Hmmm.

How bout 117, also based on Philippians 2. Yep, there’s “every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Anything about why? Because he humbled himself? Because we should too?

Here’s an old chestnut, a favorite that supposed to be based on Philippians 2. 625, “Precious Name.” It has to do with the name of Jesus, how powerful it is. Why is it powerful? Anything about emptying, serving, obeying, death?


Many will say, “Lord, Lord,” Jesus said, and many do. But do they know whose name they are saying?

But wait, here’s one, #208. “He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word.” Well now. Here’s a song about a humble savior. Here’s a song about suffering, bleeding and dying. It seems someone knows who they are talking about when they say the precious name.

Whatever is wonderful about Philippi, and there are many wonderful things about Philippi (there’s about a hundred of them who have come here this morning), whatever is good, whatever is attractive, there is a reason for every one of them. The reason is God. And this is the wall we run into when we start bragging on what a great bunch of people we are, or how much better we are than other congregations in the area, or how superior our village is, is that whatever is good about us God is doing and God alone.

Moreover, it is the same God who emptied himself and became a slave to God and to all of humankind in a suffering obedience that led to execution by the powers of the world. So Paul is saying to us this morning, “be very, very careful: this is God we’re talking about here.”

In our hymnal, there’s one more hymn based on Philippians 2. It’s an old hymn, and by old I don’t mean fifty years. I don’t mean a hundred years. I mean a thousand. Yes, I said a thousand year-old hymn. It’s number 127.

Creator of the stars of night, your people’s everlasting light
O Christ, redeemer of us all, we pray you, hear us when we call.

To you the deep travail was know that made the whole creation groan.
You came, O Savior, to set free your own in glorious liberty.

When this old world drew on toward night, you came, but not in splendor bright,
Not as a monarch but the child of Mary, blameless mother mild.

At your great name, O Jesus, now all knees must bend, all hearts must bow;
All things on earth with one accord, like those in heaven shall call you Lord.