Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sermon for Sunday of the Passion - Phil 2:5-11

                                                                   Sunday of the Passion
                                                                           Phil 2:5-11
“Self esteem” is a great watchword of modern western culture. You see it everywhere when people talk about the well being of individuals, and especially of children and youth. The idea that people need to feel good about themselves in order to be healthy and function well is taken for granted.

Now certainly, there is truth to this. A person who thinks they have nothing to offer and can’t succeed is unlikely to attempt anything. Or if they do, they are likely to fail. After all, if you think you are going to fail, you probably will.

However, the desire to produce good self esteem yields some rather silly outcomes. Some youth sports programs don’t keep score because they don’t want there to be winners or losers. After all, losing is not good for self esteem. Or in a similar manner, it is common today that everyone gets a trophy, or as they are called, a “participation award,” for much the same reason.

The problem is that in our narcissistic world the focus on developing self esteem often ends up producing selfish people. When a culture spends so much effort making me think that I am special and important, I may really take that message to heart. And clearly if I am special and important I need to get what I want. I need to be the focus of my own world.

I recently saw a great quote from C.S. Lewis related to this topic. Writing from a Christian perspective he stated that we don’t try to think less of ourselves. Instead, we try to think of ourselves less. We attempt to think of others. We do this because that is what Jesus Christ has done for us.

Today marks the beginning of Holy Week. The whole of the Church year has been driving towards this moment. During Advent and Christmas we rejoiced in the fact that God the Father sent his Son into the world in the incarnation. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. During Epiphany we rejoiced in how the saving glory of Jesus Christ was revealed in the world through his teaching and miracles. During Lent we began preparations for this week.

And now we have arrived. In the events of the Passion of Our Lord which was just read, we hear how Jesus has served us. Sent by the Father to be the sacrifice for our sin, he willingly stayed the course that led to death on a cross for you and for me. The apostle Paul describes this in our epistle lesson this morning. He begins by saying, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
Paul begins by referring to what we celebrated during Advent and Christmas. For our sake, the Son of God emptied himself and took on the form of a servant. The creator of the cosmos took his place as a baby in a manger. Though never ceasing to be God, he took humanity into himself and became the incarnate One – true God and true man.
In his baptism Jesus took on the role of the suffering Servant. He identified himself with us. He stepped into our shoes so that he could die in our place. The temptations in the wilderness that we heard about during the first Sunday in Lent were the devil trying to get Jesus to serve himself. They were the devil trying to get Jesus to abandon the role of a servant.
But Jesus remained true to the Father’s will. He was obedient out of love for the Father and love for us. That is what we see in our Gospel lesson today. The Son of God who had emptied himself and taken the form of a servant, humbled himself as he submitted to taunting and torture. He humbled himself in a way in a way that amazes. St. Paul says in our text, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Jesus humbled himself to the point of death on a cross. He took on our sin – he became sin in our place – and died by crucifixion as he received God’s judgment against our sin. Because he did this for you, you are now forgiven. Because Jesus sought to serve you, you are now a saint.
In the development of Christian theology, Philippians 2 has received much attention because of what it tells us about the incarnation of Jesus Christ. But the interesting thing is that this is not really Paul’s intention. Certainly this text does teach us about Christ. It appears that Paul is taking up a something that already existed in the Church. It was perhaps something that was sung about Christ.
But Paul is using that text about Christ in order to teach the Philippians about how they are to live. Immediately before our text Paul wrote, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Paul says that we are to be concerned about other people. We are even to put their needs ahead of our own in order to serve and care for them.
The reason we are to approach things in this way is Jesus Christ. More literally, the first verse in our text says, “Think this in yourselves which also was in Christ Jesus.” The apostle is saying that what Jesus has done for us is now to characterize the way that we live. Like Jesus we are to in humility count others more significant than ourselves. We are not only to look out for our own interests, but also to the interests of others.
I don’t need to tell you that our lives don’t always look this way. The old man is a selfish jerk. He only cares about himself and will do anything to get his way. He will do anything to look out for himself. And when we act this way, we have to call it what it is: sin.
Because of what Jesus did for us during Holy Week, we know that there is forgiveness. Yet the power of Jesus Christ’s saving action extends beyond the fact that we have forgiveness for this and every other sin. It has also defeated the result of sin – death. Paul goes on to say, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
In compressed form Paul expresses what was not included in our Gospel lesson … in spite of how long it was. Jesus was buried in the tomb. But on the third day God the Father raised him from the dead through the work of the Holy Spirit. He defeated death through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And then the One who humbled himself in service for our sake was exalted by God the Father in his ascension as he was seated at the Father’s right hand. Jesus is Lord and every knee will have to bow before him and confess this fact when he returns in glory on the Last Day.
In the Gospel lesson today we hear about how Jesus humbled himself to the point of death on a cross in order to serve us and give us salvation. Certainly, Jesus is an example, and Paul is using him as such. But if that was all that was going on, it wouldn’t be much help. It would be like showing a video of Michael Jordan scoring fifty points in a basketball game, and then telling a person, “There’s your example to follow. Now go do that.”
But instead, Paul says that the work of the Spirit in the resurrection of Jesus has meaning for you now. In Holy Baptism you received the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. You have been made a new creation in Christ. It is the Spirit of Jesus who leads and strengthens you to follow Jesus in serving others.
Paul says in Romans chapter 6, “How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Just as the Spirit raised Jesus from the dead, so the Spirit now enables you to walk in newness of life – life that serves others.

Admittedly, you won’t be able to do this perfectly. The devil, the world and your sinful nature will trip you up. They are very tough, determined and resourceful opponents. And so when this happens, we admit it. We confess it. And we return in faith to our baptism. As Luther says in the Small Catechism, such baptizing with water “indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” The new man who emerges and arises daily is the new man created by the Spirit. He arises to live again in the world because it is the Holy Spirit who gives this new life.

And this is not the only rising that the Spirit will bring about. The Spirit present and working in you to help you follow Jesus’ example in serving others is also the first fruits of your resurrection. Paul told the Romans, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

As we hear in our epistle lesson Jesus Christ humbled himself to the point of death – even death on a cross – in order to win forgiveness and salvation for you. Already now the Spirit who raised Jesus has given you new life and enables you to serve others, just as Jesus served you. And because the Spirit raised Jesus, he will raise you too. But I am getting ahead of myself…. If you want to hear more about that, come back after we have walked with our Lord through Holy Week.

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