13 May 2018 The God of downward mobility Martin Baker
Two really really big challenges for us. Challenges especially appropriate for mother’s days. Humility and unity. The founder of mother’s day, Anne Marie Jarvis, lead the establishment of mother’s days as a way of honouring the service and sacrifice of her mother and all women. And then spending the remainder of her life protesting it’s commercialisation.
So let’s look back over these last few weeks.
We’ve been following Paul’s travels.
He was a highly educated Jew. We first hear about him as he watched, or even participated in the stoning to death of the first Christian martyr called Stephen. Stoned to death by an angry crowd. Accused of blasphemy. Stephen died in his mid 30’s not long after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Paul was in that crowd. A supportive member of a lynch mob. The righteous anger of a crowd. The stoning to death of a man because his belief is different from yours. Powerful forces at work.
Paul has skills and abilities, and he gets permission from the religious authorities in Jerusalem to organise and plan the persecution of the early Christian community which has now expanded 240 kms from Jerusalem to Damascus.
A city now famous for the ways people go about killing each other today – justified by differences in beliefs and culture and history.
And on the way there, Paul has this extraordinary encounter with God, he sees the risen Jesus who asks him why he is persecuting his followers. He is struck blind. And finally we hear that Ananias, one of the very Christians who Paul has come to arrest and torture and imprison, is sent by God to lay his hands on Paul, curing him of his blindness . Paul is filled with the Holy Spirit and is Baptised.
And then Paul turns around, a wonderful word in Greek, metanoia, repents. And comes to use his skills, his genius, his faith to become the most outstanding missionary to the Greek and Roman worlds.
He is imprisoned several times , he speaks at the Areopagus in Athens, the same place centuries before Socrates had spoken, and explains this faith to some of the most learned people in that ancient city. He establishes new churches, encourages believers, writes these letters for teaching. One of his favourite churches is in Philippi up the north eastern side of Greece. And he writes to them today in this letter.
It is quite likely that he is writing in the early 60’s from Rome where he once again is being held in prison for his beliefs. It is perhaps not that long before his own death by one Nero’s’ executioners. And possibly he even knows that this is going to happen before too long.
So let’s think about this, this remarkable background and history, as we listen to words which may have been a kind of hymn used by those early Christians in Philippi. But really important words today that in many ways sum up like no other writing, who Jesus was and what he did.
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.
Two messages today from Paul.
The first is the message of Unity. Paul says ‘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’
It’s not unity found in being all the same. One of the most powerful witnesses to the work of the Holy Spirit was actually a diverse community of language, culture and social status coming together.
It’s unity found in a common purpose. That Jesus is Lord. That we are not the centre of the universe.
This unity is found in the key quality, the key character of Christian discipleship, and that key quality is humility.
Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
We thought it would quite cool to have an electric bike out at the Barrier were we have a house. And I called in to one of those shops that sell electric bikes, one just off K Road.
And we were looking around, and there are some quite nice ones there. And I looked at the price of one that I thought looked really good.
Have you ever looked at a price tag of something - and thought surely not? That can’t be right?
And what do we say to the salesman whose standing there?
I probably said something like – well that doesn’t sit within the price range that we were considering.
How many of us would be okay about saying something like, look I can’t afford that.
Or I don’t have the money to pay for that.
Or I’m really looking for something a whole lot cheaper.
It is quite a deeply personal thing to admit to another that you can’t afford something.
I say to you that I don’t have enough money, or that I can’t afford that – what are you going to think of me?
That I am not successful, that I have failed in some way. Maybe even that I am a loser.
It is only in quite recent times that we use that language of people being consumers. We are what we buy . But what happens if you don’t have the money to be a consumer. Does that mean that you have no value, no place?
The reasons I’m going on about this this morning is because I think these views, this language is deeply embedded in our culture.
And this is perhaps one thing we have in common with the people Paul is speaking to those centuries ago.
Paul is quite likely writing from Rome. From the centre of imperial power, where wealth was seen as a sign of worshipping the right Gods. Look at the God’s Paul sees around him. If you want evidence of the power of Rome, there it is . The idols, the temples, the statues. And the power of Caesar giving him the status of a God. Paul imprisoned by Emperor Nero. In the Roman Empire, dominance, victory, and ascendance signalled power and authority. How is it possible for humility, servitude, submission, even death, to signal power and authority?
Think about that context. Think about our culture.
Paul wrote about Jesus
“but Jesus 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.
And he says to that tiny community, surrounded by all the signs of wealth and power he says
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.
I can’t even tell the guy in the bike shop that I can’t afford the price of the bike he is trying to sell me.
How deeply engrained in us to appear successful wealthy.
And yet we find that the quality of humility is the central attribute of those who would seek to follow Christ.
This is the really tough point. The centrality of the cross in our faith.
What shows us that Jesus is the Christ? It’s not miracles, not power, not domination.
It is vulnerability. The word comes from the Latin word for wound. That which may be wounded.
At the centre of the reading is Paul’s theology of the cross.
The most difficult thing.
Judging people on their success or their wealth or their looks or their achievements, using those criteria are all anti God. The nature of God is most fully revealed in the cross.
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.
So the two central themes in the reading today.
The first is unity. Being of the same mind.
And the second teaching central to that community is the quality of those who follow, one of humility. Jesus said whoever wants to become great among you will be your servant,
Humble ourselves. Living lives of love and service.
At the men’s group on Wednesday we heard the speaker tell us that it’s calculated that a person born today will likely take 60,000 selfies over the course of their lifetime.
And just two weeks ago another report which I mentioned at our budget meeting - about epidemic of loneliness and social isolation.
Paul talked about the evil done by what he called the powers and principalities, those forces in our society that seem to come together and overwhelm us and lead us to death and destruction.
No individuals can resist these forces. It’s us coming together as followers of Christ that can make a difference.
Paul says work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; The 'your' here in Greek is the plural. He is speaking to the community, the church. We can’t do this alone. This salvation thing is something we do together.
Paul, through all that he has faced, through all those changes in his life, possibly just a short time before his own execution. He says today, for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure.
Would you like to share in our purpose and mission? We believe that good relationships, open discussion and a genuine desire to seek God’s calling allows us to grow as people and a community together.