Saturday, September 27, 2008

God At Work In You Philippians 2:1-13

I. Introduction
One of my favorite preachers in my childhood was Dr. Albert Edwards, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. The worship service from the previous week was televised early on Sunday mornings. I remember Dr. Edwards being a tall man with a big voice and a powerful Scottish brogue. It seemed that somehow he became not just the pastor of that church, but a pastor to the city. Several months ago my father sent me an article on Dr. Edwards that he thought I might appreciate. It told the story of one of the best remembered sermon from his long tenure at First Pres, it was a sermon that was never delivered.

Hear the story as it was told by the journalist A. C. Snow, a member of the congregation. He tells, “The incident occurred during the civil rights sit ins of the ‘60s, at the time when African-Americans were advocating equal access to community facilities, including the right to sit on the first floor rather than the balcony of Raleigh’s Ambassador Theatre…One Sabbath morn, Edwards requested that each member of us during the forthcoming week telephone Ambassador Theater manager, W. G. Enloe, a member of his church, and also the mayor of Raleigh. He explained he wasn’t telling us what to do or say but to express our feeling one way or the other on the theater’s segregation policy. Next Sunday, when he asked for a show of hands from those who had contacted the mayor, fewer than a dozen hands were raised. Edwards looked out from the pulpit at us for what seemed like a long five minutes. He then quietly closed his Bible and left the pulpit. We all went home with something to think about, something we had not given enough thought to in the past. The ‘silent sermon’ Edwards preached that Sunday has remained with me, pricking a guilty conscience, reminding me that in that historic time, I failed to take a stand for humanity, excusing myself under the guise of being on-the-scene ‘objective reporters.’”
[1]

As I put the article down, I could not help but how this sermon must have reverberated across the city. No one told Dr. Edwards where to sit in the theater, or where he could live, or where he could ride on the bus, but his heart was broken for those that faced these issues every day. In that moment when he stepped out of the pulpit, it was not about what Dr. Edwards said, but who he was. He did not claim a voice of authority born in his place of popularity or position in the life in the city, but rather acted out of a humility of faith born in what he that he was called to do as a follower of Christ.

There is a great hymn lodged in the heart of the New Testament known in as the “Kenosis Hymn” or “Christ Hymn” that speaks this kind of a heart of humility where God works in us and through us.
[2] There is a great deal of scholarly discussion on the original context of the hymn. “Catholic scholar Dennis Bratcher offers; “if we take seriously the fact that Paul is writing to a community of faith to deal with practical matters, then the original meaning of the hymn must be subordinate to its present context and function within the Epistle.”[3] In other words, what matters how Paul claimed this hymn to let the church in Philippi – and us – hear a song of unity, humility, and the promise that God will work in and through us because of the one named Jesus. Look with me at Philippians 2:1-13 and find your place in song.

II. Unity in Humility Vs. 1-4
The song begins; 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.

Paul starts with power. He wanted them to understand what he asks of them is founded on the strong foundation of their relationship with Christ. Hear again, If then there is any encouragement in Christ, (pause) any consolation from love, (pause) any sharing in the Spirit,(pause) any compassion and sympathy. Paul claims every image the song offers and that he can imagine so that the church will hear and respond. His call is to a unity born in humility that defines us by who we draw close in grace rather than who we send out in judgment; that marks us by who we serve rather than who serves us; the identifies us by how we act as one with common heart and spirit rather than in our protection of what we claim as our own. He invites us to find a unity in humility that is modeled in the very mission of Christ.

III. Modeled in Christ Vs. 5-11
The song’s crescendo summons us to see a humility modeled in Christ. Hear again verses 5 through 11. 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.

Paul speaks to the humility of Christ, depicting the Jesus’ remarkable journey from the throne of heaven to the hillside outside of Jerusalem at Calvary. Paul reminds the church that the God on throne is hard for us to comprehend, so Jesus came and claimed the skin and bones that define us, walked among us, to help us see the face of God. Then the words that draw us to the ultimate picture of humility, Paul writes, 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Can you imagine that God loves us so much he would not only take on the flesh of humanity but to a rugged cross between two common criminals – the picture of death that we might have life.

Think about Christ’s choices:
Ø to claim a cross as a marker of power,
Ø to claim a crown of thrones as the marker of majesty,
Ø to claim the price of death as the marker of the way of redemption,
Ø to claim the empty tomb as the marker of life and life eternal.

The picture of Jesus carries us from the babe in the manger to the agony of the cross, and now to the wonder of the resurrection. This stanza ends with one of the greatest confessions in all of history. Hear the power of verses 9 through 11 again. 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 confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. As followers of this one named Jesus, we see his model of humility, and it beckons us to feet of God.

IV. God At Work In You Vs. 12-13
Paul launches from the text of the hymn and offers the picture and promise of God at work in us. Hear the words, 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.

You can not separate verses 12 and 13 from the great hymn because Paul sees it as the natural response. If one has claimed a way of life centered in the unity and humility found at the feet of Christ, then the normal, natural response will be for God to be at work in your life. It is the working out – the living out – of the salvation story. I can only imagine the emotions Dr. Edwards must have been feeling as he walked away from the pulpit in silence. It is clear he understood that his stand would not be popular – but he did what he believed was right in the eyes of God. I imagine that he could relate to Paul’s words work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. It is sometimes scary to do what right. Sometimes other will question it or even criticize it. Sometimes it will call you to do the uncomfortable thing or go to uncomfortable places. But if God is at work through you, you step out in partnership with God. You step out as a living witness of God’s grace. It beckons you from positions of power and comfort and to act out in God’s power.

It is the living out of what the Sri Lankan theologian D. T. Niles famously proclaimed, that Christian evangelism is one hungry beggar telling another hungry beggar where to get bread.
[4] It is found when we listen to a hurting friend and offer them a story of grace and comfort. It is found in a cross cultural conversation when you reach out to those different than you to make them a part of the family. It is found in a moment of compassion when you serve at Good Shepherd. It is found in the picture of a loving adult teaching and caring for a child in our children’s ministry. It was demonstrated when our youth served in Cohoma, Mississippi and when they led us in worship moments ago. It is found in those moments when who you are and what you do is for the sake of the Kingdom, for the sake of others, for the sake of Christ. It is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure

V. God At Work Through You.

In an act of grand humility Christ came from heaven to earth to show us the way to God and the way of God. I have been asked by a number of people how they can know God’s will for their lives. They are looking for a burning bush or an echoing voice from heaven. What Paul tells us that we find God’s will when we come with humility and allow God to work in us and through us. This way is modeled in Jesus. It is to be lived out by the church. The desire of God is to be at work through you – and through us together as a family faith. Are we willing? Amen.


[1] Snow, A.C. “A Sermon to Remember,” The News and Observer, Raleigh, North Carolina, Sunday, May 4, 2008.
[2] Bratcher Dennis, “The Poured-Out Life: The Kenosis Hymn in Context,” available online at http://www.cresourcei.org/kenosis.html on September 26, 2008.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Yancey, Phillip, referenced in the article “Yancey offers comfort to ‘spiritual explorers” by Craig Bryd, available at http://www.abpnews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2531&Itemid=117 on September 27, 2008.

1 comment:

Sabrina said...

I want to thank you, thank you, thank you for what you didn't preach about last Sunday! We love this church and we love you. Thanks for being a true minister.
Sabrina Davis