Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday 2013...

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”

That is the whole Gospel story told elegantly and succinctly by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians.  Jesus was God.  He did not put his place in the Trinity above his obedience to God’s purposes for the world, instead he emptied himself, he put aside everything that did not line up with God’s purpose and became a slave to that purpose.  Part of that purpose was that he be born as a human…that is the result of his total emptying of himself and becoming a slave because he “found himself” in human form. He did not plan to be in human form, for the plan was no longer his to make. Once he emptied himself of his being God, God’s plan determined what would happen to him, not he himself.  Upon discovering this part of the plan he humbled himself, he accepted the role he had been given to be subordinate to God, to be dependent on God.  He was a slave, he asked for no special pass at the end.  He submitted to death the same way he submitted to everything else that made him human.

Jesus’ humanity makes it possible for us to aspire to similar obedience. Paul says, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”  Apparently Paul thought it was within our reach.  On Palm Sunday, we don’t just witness one person’s obedience to God, we witness the kind of self-emptying we are all capable of.  We can see ourselves in the same kind of relationship with God and the world as Jesus saw himself.  Sooner or later, we are all going to be called to be obedient to death and in that moment we will be slaves to it, having no opinion or action that will change the outcome. In the meantime, we are as free as Jesus was to decide how we spend our energy: on self-protection, or self-donation; on saving ourselves or on giving ourselves away.

What might it look like for us as individuals to become obedient like Jesus was obedient? It is hard to empty ourselves of ourselves.  We often squeeze God in around the edges rather than empty what we have so he can fill it all in. We hold a lot back for ourselves.  When we get busy and overloaded in our own forms, what is usually the first thing squeezed out?  Prayer? Church? God?  What if there was nothing BUT God in that space?   What if God occupied our entire purpose and all we had to do was be obedient to what God leads us toward?  I’ve heard people use the phrase, “Let go and let God”…this is what that really means….let go of our own ideas, preferences, purposes, etc and let God choose them for us. It’s not all that tough to “let go” and stop worrying about something when we choose to, but I wonder how many folks actually do the “Let God” part.  Let God do what?  Let God make my decisions for me? Let God take over my life? My bank account? My family?  Let God choose how I will spend my time and with whom?

 Most of us will read that proposition and think, “I like my life as it is, I just want to fit God in around the edges like I’ve always done.”  And the beautiful thing about God is that he gives you that freedom to choose.   Yet, this scripture passage today, from the book God has given to us to guide our lives, opens with “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”  So what might it look like for individual followers of Christ to have a mind that empties itself and finds itself in whatever form God has chosen and then lives obediently in that form all the way to death?  It’s pretty radical stuff…and not for the feint of heart.

Jesus didn’t go to the cross expecting some reward for himself, some new title or accolade. He was already God and gave that up…there was nothing left for him to achieve…he gave up everything. He held nothing back for himself.  

Paul then tells us what we need to know in light of all of this in the second part of this passage: “Therefore  (and therefore is important.  Therefore means that everything that came before is crucial to what comes next, so the whole part about being an obedient slave is crucial to understanding the rest) God also highly exalted him and gave him the name above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

While Jesus didn’t embrace his humanity in order to receive honor or recognition, God exalted him above every created thing.  Jesus didn’t get on the cross expecting to receive a crown or a prize at the end and yet God has made him King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the king of all creation, the highest name in heaven and earth.  Is this God’s reward to Jesus?  

No. It’s not a reward to Jesus.

It’s the inevitable outcome of obediently doing God’s will. 

When we are obedient to God, God does amazing things with our obedience.  Things we could never imagine.  Things we could never accomplish on our own.  Things that go beyond all expectation and hope.  This is the inevitable outcome of obedience to God.

It’s powerful when we recognize something like this.  When we honestly take a look at the outcomes of obedience.  Sure, the process for Jesus and his followers was painful and hard.  Yes, Jesus suffered and died, as will we all eventually.  The difference is that Jesus’ died in obedience….and with his death came grace and forgiveness that prior to him was unimaginable.  Beyond all expectation.  And not just for him, or his immediate followers, but for everyone.  For you and for me.  When we look at others who lived lives that were emptied of self in obedience to God …Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Oscar Romero, the girl in Columbine High School who was shot upon responding, “yes” to the murderer’s question, “Are you a Christian?”…we easily recognize that we are changed because of them.  Our lives are better, our world is brighter and we have hope because of their obedience.  Yes, they died.  And we will die. Every single one of us.  The real issue is, will we die slaves to God or will we die slaves to ourselves…and what will the inevitable outcome of either choice be?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Moving toward Easter...

There is no Easter without Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  As Christians, we know this and yet, often, we gear ourselves up for a huge Easter celebration and completely dismiss Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and, sometimes, even Lent as a whole.

Easter is much more fun than Maundy Thursday, and it is easier to get excited about a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection than it is to spend time in reflection about his betrayal and death.  The flow of Holy Week is important to consider, though, both in our worship together as a community and individually, as followers of Christ.  It is a model of what life often looks like and an example of a faith life that is rich and full.

In regular life, the big things we celebrate: weddings, births, anniversaries, achievements - all come through a process that includes struggle and pain.  Weddings are the outcome of a relationship between two people that has undergone testing and has endured.  The birth of a child takes 9 months, during which the expectant parents can do nothing to hasten the day of celebration, but can only prepare and wait patiently until birth itself comes with great struggle and pain.  Anniversaries and achievements are celebrations of relationships or situations in which people have endured both good times and bad, struggle and success.  It is a rare anniversary or achievement that celebrates a period of time that has passed without any pain, disappointment or challenges.

During Holy Week we ultimately celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, but first we travel through some challenges and difficulty.  We must spend time reflecting on Judas’ betrayal of Jesus on Maundy Thursday.  Often in our lives we will feel betrayed by those close to us, we will experience the pain of discovering that someone we care about, and who we thought cared about us, had a different agenda and was willing to hurt us in fulfilling that agenda. 

After dealing with the loss of a betrayal, we must then experience the pain and suffering of the cross.  We all experience pain in life to some degree or another, particularly when there is something important at stake.  Jesus’ death on the cross was one of great suffering, agony, pain, and humiliation….all feelings we would like to ignore in our own lives and do what we can to avoid them.  Yet the story of Easter includes them, and so we must remember in our own faith lives to recognize the necessity of times of suffering and agony, pain and humiliation, on our way to the glory and promise of resurrection.

In our own lives, often the struggle comes and we can’t see how it will turn out, we don’t know whether or not the next part will bring joy and celebration.  Sometimes the struggles in our own lives don’t end in celebration. During those times we can look to the Easter story and remember that the disciples didn’t know that Easter was coming, they only knew the struggle and pain of betrayal and uncertainty.  They did their best to be faithful followers of Christ and we can do the same and we can do it even more boldly because we know how the story ends…we know that after suffering comes joy and that our God has been faithful to keep His promises.