Damariscotta Baptist Church
Thursday, May 24, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

04/17/11 Sermon

Philippians 2: 5-11

 
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Thy sight O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer, Amen
 
In Copenhagen, Denmark, stands one of the most famous statues of Jesus called, "The Christus."  It was created a century and a half ago by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvalsden.  When the statue was first shown, people weren’t quite thrilled with it. Something about it didn’t seem right.  The problem they said was that when you were standing there looking at it or just walking by it, you couldn’t see Jesus’ face. Because it was looking down.  When Thorvalsden was asked about it, he explained that he created it that way intentionally. He said: "You cannot see His face unless you kneel at His feet."  Thorvalsden was referring to the humility that is needed to be a follower of Christ.
 
In our scriptures we heard today, we see the theme of Christ’s humility.  We hear the story once again of Jesus humbly riding on the back of a donkey and Paul’s description of the humility of Jesus in his letter to the church at Philippi.  And as a Christians, it is this humility that we are to imitate. Paul tells us that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.
 
Of course humility and bowing down is not something we like to do a lot in our western culture.
 
I can recall in the news a few years ago the controversy that started as a result of president Obama bowing to another leader of an eastern country.  That was a “no no” for a lot of Americans. We Americans see ourselves as strong and confident; we bow down to no one.
 
Well known preacher Leonard Sweet says that we Americans are more of a “thumbs up” society than a bow down one.  He said “Everyone, from astronauts about to take flight, to 5-year-olds about to swing the bat” knows the thumbs up sign.  The thumbs-up sign means confidence; it means everything is OK.  And of course there isn’t anything wrong with this confidence.
 
Jesus had this same kind confidence as he was riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey on that first Palm Sunday. In spite of what lied ahead he knew all would be OK.  But along with that confidence he also had humility.  And that’s the challenge that most of us Christians are faced with. We are called to be both confident and bold while also choosing to be humble; to be people who bow down.  And it’s a difficult task just as it was for Jesus because the culture in which we live calls us to cross over the line of confidence to become people who prefer power over others.  We are often tempted to be arrogant, to be right, to be strong individuals, to be selfish and self-centered, to be greedy and powerful and important. 
 
Jesus knew of these challenges. When he faced Satan in the wilderness he was confronted and defeated the same temptation that the crowd waving the palms wanted him to embrace:  The temptation to be a powerful world leader; to be a conqueror, a warrior king who would defeat the Roman oppressors.
 
The people in the crowd waving the palms knew of Jesus’ power, they had seen and heard of him healing and feeding and raising people from the dead. They admired him and saw Jesus as a superman who could give them what they wanted.  And while Jesus did come to give them what they really wanted, it was 180 degrees from what they expected.
 
Jesus was on his way to defeat the cosmic demonic power that leads us human beings to want to oppress, and defeat and conquer.
 
His journey to the cross was about defeating the sins of arrogance and self-centeredness, greed and self-righteous.
 
His death march would ultimately defeat what the world puts a premium on and replace it with peace and harmony, community and thoughtfulness, love and self-forgetfulness---the ways of the kingdom of God that we all long for.
 
If the palm wavers only knew what Jesus was actually coming to do they might have dropped the palm branches and instead got down on their knees.  But then again, we can’t be too hard on them. After all you and I know the rest of the story and we can still choose the ways of the palm wavers. We like the idea of power and winning.  We like the idea of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood giving the bad guys what they deserve.  We pull for the underdog who takes a beating to get up off the canvas at the last second and defeat the bad guys.
 
And this manifests itself in many ways:
 
Many of us Christians still choose to argue and fight to be right. We still look out for good old number one and use whatever advantages we can to get ahead. We like privilege and for others serve us and brag about us.
 
We’re ambitious and want our kids and grandkids to be the envy of others by scoring the most points or hitting the most homeruns. 
 
And even though we KNOW that humility is best. Even though we know there is strength in choosing the way of Jesus, we still like the way of the world.
 
But today as we celebrate Palm Sunday, we’re being called once again to reflect on who Jesus is and who he is calling us to be.
 
We’re being called to not simply be admirers of Jesus waving our palm branches but rather to be his followers.  Followers of Jesus are people who bow down to Jesus. We bow down not only to worship him but we also follow his humble ways.  Paul says we are to have the same mindset as Jesus. In other words we imitate him.
 
So what does it look like to take a bow to Jesus’ humble ways?
 
Well one of the first things we see about Jesus (in verse 6) is that Jesus didn’t use his status as being God as something to use to his advantage.  In other words Jesus didn’t come as royalty. He didn’t come to be more than us or better than us. He became one of us.
 
Jesus didn’t use the perks of being God to sit in first class.  Instead, he was born in a stable, among animals, he’s born into poverty as a commoner, his disciples are ordinary, he comes riding into town on a donkey to be executed as a common criminal.
 
What we see is that Jesus is not about trying to be somebody or getting ahead.
 
He’s instead in the middle of the harsh realities of life. He’s focused on being with the underprivileged, those in need. He’s not trying to be a rock star, or a politician and he’s not just simply minding his own business.
 
So how does this relate to us?
 
Well for us to take a bow to Jesus, to be humble as he was humble, means we also look to be present and involved in the lives of those who are underprivileged than us.  Now you and I live in a world where many don’t have the same privileges as we do.  And I’m not simply talking about money or tangible things.  There are many underprivileged people who are starving for attention, who need a friend, someone to listen to.
 
I was so happy to hear of those in our congregation who are involved in the lay pastor program at Miles. They are able to be in a place to be in relationship with those who are sick or lonely…..
 
You and I are called to get down off our privileged places and take a bow to be with those who are in need. Not just give them our finances, but to know them, to be in relationship with them.
 
If Jesus can come down from heaven to be with us, can we not be in relationship with those who are our brothers and sisters?
 
Now the next way we take a bow is when we imitate Jesus’ servanthood. (verse 7)
 
To serve doesn’t mean we go around fixing people. That’s what church people can often do. Church people can have the savior complex.  When people are struggling and share their issues they’re quick to come up with the answers for them.  And the quicker the better---after all they’re busy with their own lives and don’t really have time for them.
 
We see this same kind of savior complex when church people say they’re going to go out and win souls for Christ. They have no real care for people; they simply want to feel good about their ego.
 
What’s interesting is that the Jesus they claim to follow didn’t have an egotistical savior complex. Remember Jesus rejected the temptation to be spectacular and powerful.  He didn’t try to fix people to get them out of the way so he could go on to bigger and better things. Instead he met people where they were. He was in relationship with them.
 
For us to take a bow to Jesus means we become the kind of servant he was.
 
We get down with people where they are in order to suffer with them and lift them up so that they might claim the fullness of life that God wants for them.
 
Jesus was the quintessential servant because he gave himself for us that we might have eternal life.
 
So ask yourself, what needs to happen in my life in order for me to be a servant of others instead of being a fixer of others?
 
Ask yourself if you need to let go of trying to be the extraordinary and spectacular warrior savior that Jesus himself rejected? 
 
To bow down to be a servant not only gives others new life, it does the same for us too….
 
Now the final way we go about taking a bow to Jesus is when we imitate his self-forgetfulness.
 
In verse 7 we see Paul say that Jesus made himself nothing. Jesus emptied himself. He forgot about himself and as we read in verse 8 he became obedient to death.  He was so in tune with doing God’s will that he gave himself up for us.
 
So how do we go about being self-forgetful?
 
Well first of all it’s important to understand that being self-forgetful is not thinking less of ourselves. Again we are to be confident.  Instead, being self-forgetful means we simply think of ourselves less.
 
I’m reminded of the 14th century archbishop Francois Fenelon, who spoke about the 3 stages of humility.  He described the first stage as a mechanical kind of humility. We’re humble out of a desire to be obedient to God. It’s like a legalistic humility.  The second stage is when we are acting in humility but we’re thinking about it.  We’re unsure if we’re doing things for the right reason or not. We’re unsure of our motives. We worry about being seen as arrogant.  We worry if people will think we’re patting ourselves on the back. (I don’t want any recognition; servants of God don’t do it for pats on the back).

Now even though that is an honorable thing, Fenelon says that to be self-forgetful like Christ we must move on to the third stage. 
 
The third stage according to Fenelon was to move away from this self-preoccupation to a complete focus on doing God’s will. That means we act in humility toward others because we are simply focused on doing the will of God.  When this happens you don’t even think about what people are saying one way or another. (Now we don’t say it in spite because this is the worst kind of pride).  Self-forgetfulness is about being so focused on God that you don’t even think about yourself or what happens.  So people can pat us on the back or they can resent us and it doesn’t sway us because we are just consumed with God’s will.
 
It is this kind of self-forgetful humility that we’re called to be growing toward.  This only happens when our whole way of life is focused on walking with God. God is the center of our thoughts. God is our purpose. It was this kind of self-forgetfulness that led Jesus to make that journey on the back of a donkey to the cross.  He was so focused on his Father’s will and trusted in Him so much that he could give up his life for you and me. 
 
You and I are called to take a bow to this self-forgetfulness. We are called to make our sole purpose in life about following God wherever he calls us to do.  And as we do, we will grow in our faith and learn to embrace the true humility that God has in mind for us……………
 
Over 2000 years ago, our humble Lord rode into town on the back of a donkey. He resisted the temptation to be the warrior king that the palm wavers wanted.  He stood firm against the call to be spectacular and powerful and chose to not lash back at his enemies.  Jesus was on his way to defeat these ways of the world by not using these ways of the world.
 
And he calls us to do the same; to follow him by taking a bow and yielding to the ways of the kingdom of God-------Ways of entering into relationship with those underprivileged, -of being a servant who lifts others up -and by being self-forgetful, focused on doing God’s will.
 
This week, as we move forward into Jesus’ passion, let us put down our palms and our unquenchable desire for the powerful warrior ways of the world and get down on our knees.  Let us bow down that we might look up into the eyes of the one on the cross, who humbly gave himself up for us…And let us take a bow of thankfulness by following his humble ways.
 

 
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen