Sermon, Palm Sunday, St Petri
Philippians 2:5-11 Christ – obedient servant and exalted Lord Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
THE GOOD LIFE?
Over this 40 days of Lent we have pondered the Good Life and what it looks like for those the average 21st Century Aussie and what it is for those who have the mind of the crucified Christ.
We have thought about how we are often caught up in this Utopian Dream to live some perfect life in which nothing ever should go wrong and everything can be planned and controlled as if we are in charge of life even to the point of trying to avoid all talk of death or make death some kind of friend as we all speak of is “passing away”.
We have heard from Hugh MacKay and his thoughtful work on us Aussies who know that not everyone gets equal share in the good life and some have no chance of acquiring the symbols of the good life. In response we seem to just go harder at acquiring the symbols of a good life in this golden age of entitlement and ease we spoke of.
We have spoken of the ultimately futile pursuit of personal happiness as an over arching ticket to the good life. We have spoken of positive psychology with its more helpful focus on wholeness as an approach to life – but still lacking if it is only a human centred wholeness without connection to the Divine life – to Jesus.
We spoke of many people adopting one of Jesus’ own overarching approaches to life in the golden rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, and yet found that wanting. We concluded that without the grace of Jesus in the picture the golden rule only gives us what it is – another rule – which can easily be used to judge others and not help us find God’s good life.
We spoke of the good life having a good ending – a good death and we remembered Lazarus and Jesus and resurrection God’s way and how death is no friend without Jesus’ death and resurrection.
ALL WITH JESUS
Friends, we have done all of this with Jesus – from that temptation up on the lonely hungry mountain, to the rural area where we were not supposed to be talking with a woman who we were not supposed to talk with, to the city and the Pool of Siloam and a mock trial of a man who was given new sight by the Light of the World, and to the tomb of a dear friend, Lazarus and that might moment of mercy and resurrection power on display for all to see.
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
And now we get to the beginning of the end for Jesus’ earthly ministry: Palm Sunday, a day of huge contrast. A day of triumph and belief that the good life will finally arrive as promised and a day that begins all that is to come as the first Easter draws near – pain, suffering, loss, death, grief, sorrow, abandonment, blood, the end of the dream…
And in walks our home text for St Petri in 2014; Philippians 2:1-13 – the song about Jesus and the raising up of him and what he about do and what the Father dos as a result as the model for the good life together as Christians.
It is quite incredible that the positive psychologists and an Aussie sociologist like Hugh MacKay end up where Jesus leads us in our home text.
See, Mackay concludes his work by saying this; “The key to a good life is to acknowledge that our essential nature is social, not individual…. Know yourself, by all means, but, above all, know this about yourself: you are one of us” “Who am I” turns out to be less interesting and less significant than “Who are we?” he concludes. “The good life is more a case of “Who needs me” rather than Who am I?” (Mackay, The Good life, Postscript)
A LIFE LIVED FOR OTHERS
In other words the good life is not about the experience of personal happiness, the finding of human wholeness in individual terms, the acquiring of certain “must have things” our culture encourages to simply “must have”…. The good life is a life lived with and for others.
BUT WHO DOES THIS?
Who does this best? Who helps us do this best?
Only one who lived a self-giving human life to the point of taking all of our self-fixation, individual self-seeking and God denying heart with all of its fighting, shame, hurt, destruction, violence and sorrow to the grave to stay there forever as he rose to be the first of many to do so.
Jesus entering this city, this suffering, this road to this cross is the good in life and the life that is good. He lives a communal life for others to the last degree even paying the ultimate price for the life of us.
That is why Paul holds him up as THE model of the good life. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:6 Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross…
He has to do this because the community of Christ is not like him enough.
In Philippi there is a community of faith that has an excellent track record of supporting each other , Paul and other communities in other places. In the past there have been great moments of self-giving that comes from trust in a self-giving God revealed in Jesus.
But as with all communities, they leak! They get filled up with the grace and love of the Holy Spirit and they act in this love, but they leak. They get depleted. When they get depleted they find themselves back in the old way of self-serving, group against group, judgemental spirit, cliquiness and etc. That is why Paul writes to these people. He writes to fill them up again with the good life of the godly man so they can remember that they are at their best when they trust in him and follow his way in their relationships with each other and the surrounding community.
KEEP AT IT IN HIM
So, what does the Holy Spirit point depleted Christian communities to do together?
“Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,”
This does not mean our salvation is a thing of fear that we must fearfully try and achieve before a holy God. No this is a “fear and trembling” not before God, but before each other. And it is “fear and trembling in the sense of awe inspiring humble respect for each other. So, we are to live this Good life we have been given together and we are to live it together with a healthy and humble respect for each other.
13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
And this humble and respectful living together is God-centred and God-powered – a communal life in which God is present and active.
BUT STILL, HOW?
How should I live my life? How are we at our best and how is our congregation at its best? How do we continue to live out the gift of life we have been given in the death and resurrection Jesus with healthy and humble respect for each other?
Take the encouragement, unity, comfort, common sharing, tenderness and compassion and joy from the crucified Messiah of the world and be like-minded, have the same love, be one in spirit and of one mind.
And the way this is done in our congregation?
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
There it is, the Good Life God’s way. There is it, the mind of the crucified Christ in the 21st Century Australia he has placed us.
Members of a local missional community of Jesus: People living in Christ for others, making small and large decisions on a daily basis with Jesus as not only our ultimate example of what we should do but the living, breathing present power for doing it.
COME TO THE DARKNESS AND THE LIGHT
Friend, come now this holy week into the dark and into the light. Come now and find again that your life is only good as it is lived in Christ for others. Your life will be the best it can be as you live it regularly repenting of your idols and God replacement things and receiving Jesus freely given forgiveness and life that you already have in your baptism and are sustained in this community in body and blood and the mutual encouragement of the Word of God we share.
Friend, a good life is a life lived in faith in Jesus for others.
That is the pinnacle of life for us human beings and it is the life that continues on beyond our own tomb from which he will bring us and we will be immersed in this good life this Easter.
The good life only can be good when it is lived with others in mind.
The mind of Christ is serving others in his name – that IS the good life.
What do you think of Hugh Mackay’s conclusion that knowing ourselves as part of a community and living for others in all our relationships id more valuable and meaningful than viewing life in individual terms all the time?
Do you think that most people live with a very individualistic kind of view of themselves and the world? If so, share an example of what you have observed/experienced in this area…
Read the text carefully noting down any questions raised and noting the very communal nature of Paul’s use of this special song about Jesus. I find it interesting that in the attempt to get various groups within a local Christian community to pull together and continue to work out their life in Christ with great respect and honour for each others interests, Paul uses a song. he gives them a song to sing together. What does this say to you about the value of singing songs and hymns as we worship together?
I said that this text is very much about groups of people within a Christian congregation respecting and honouring other groups within the same congregation, rather than about a particular individual respecting another individual. This text is very much about groups relating to groups. So, where Paul says “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” means before each other rather than before the Lord (although everything is ultimately done before the Lord). What do you think about that view of this text? How do we as groups withing a larger church community need to take this text to heart in 2014?