Last Sunday afternoon Elizabeth and I hopped into the car and headed east to North Carolina to check on my dad and to spend a couple of days with him. The time with my dad was meaningful and I loved the time driving back and forth with Elizabeth. One of the serendipities of the trip was that Elizabeth and I had the opportunity to have breakfast with my nephew, Chris. Chris is a gifted artist in his own right, but has found another love that is shaping his career. He has started riding bicycles competitively in something called Alley Cat Races. As a result he has become a bicycle technician at a major sports store in NC. He helps build and repair pretty high end bicycles. He told us about one of the things that sometimes happen to him that drives him a bit crazy. He told us that when he is building or repairing a bike that inevitably you come to a moment when you will have one set of parts in one hand, another cluster of parts in another hand, and you wished you had a third arm to help pull some other parts of the puzzle into the act…and in the moment when everything is in that precarious position just about in position but not yet in place– a customer will ask for help. He has to drop everything, meet the customer need, and start all over again. I can picture Chris standing up and leaving a pile of parts on the floor, all important, but unless they are put together in just the right way they lay their pretty useless.
We come to week four of a six week sermon series entitled; “Pursuing God – Pursued by God.” The intention of this series is to look at the unfolding of the gospel story throughout Scripture. The first week we looked at Genesis 1 and 2 and heard that we are created in the image of God to walk in relationship with God. Kristin Rogers brought our second message from John 1, Chapter 1 and proclaimed that God’s redemptive story begins at the beginning. The heart of God is a redemptive in nature. Last week we looked at the story of Adam and Eve and that tree in Genesis 3. The story helped us hear that humanity – that we - makes choices that break our intended relationship with God.
If the story ends with the fall, or in our failures, we would only know hopelessness, heartbreak, and despair. If the story ends with the fall, or in our failures, we would gather on mornings like this one to sing songs of agony and woe. But this morning’s service has taken a dramatic shift, pulling us from the earlier stories born in the dawn of creation to songs about Jesus. Our time at the table this morning declares without apology that just when the things seem darkest God stepped in to make a way change the story.
I keep thinking about that pile of parts, each of value but useless until someone does something. I come with a fundamental belief that we are all broken in some way. On our own we find ourselves stuck in a pile of broken parts longing for someone to do something. Sometimes our brokenness is obvious to others. Sometimes we have become good enough at disguising it that others might think we are whole. But down deep we know better. We know our secret shames and our quiet pains. We know where we struggle with a broken heart, a broken trust, a broken marriage, a broken faith, a broken spirit, or a broken way of life. We know that over and over again we have promised to do better – to be better – only to find ourselves living in brokenness again. We know who we want to be and how we want others to see us, only to fall short. Just when we think we have got it almost all back together something happens. We keep trying to fix ourselves and we find ourselves in a heap again.
In Philippians 2 Paul brings a word to his favorite church. I can imagine him picturing each face in that small congregation as he writes them. He thinks through and spells out different ways each of them have found wholeness and joy in Christ. Paul wanted them to understand that whatever of merit they found in their lives started at the feet of Jesus. They were people that had been redeemed and restored, renewed and rebuilt. The source for their renewal found in the encouragement, the comfort, the fellowship, the tenderness, the compassion known only in a right relationship with God. They could only know these things because of Jesus. They were to be a Jesus people in how they lived and how they expressed themselves to others. As redeemed and restored, renewed and rebuilt people they were called to live lives beyond themselves – lives reflecting Christ’s love and selflessness.
With these words still floating in the air, Paul takes another step. He wants them to understand the real power behind their lives. Jesus came not because of whom they were – or who we are – but instead comes because only God could change the story. Only God could fix what was broken. Paul offers one of the most powerful gospel truths; God was willing to become like us for us to know his love and grace. When we were powerless to do anything about our spiritual condition – when we were fallen – broken beyond repair – God, in an incredible act of divine humility, chose to become one like us that we could see him face-to-face. God understood we would never find our way back to Him unless he walked beside us and called us by name. In this grant act of divine humility created the bridge between our brokenness and His holiness and made the way for us to be restored to the relationship with God we were created for. I want to come back to the closing half of our focal passage and look at it again. It reads; Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus; Who being in very nature God. did not consider quality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in the human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Christ did for us what we could not do. In the midst of the agony of brokenness Christ makes the way for our salvation. Mark 10:45 tells us: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
But, we must be clear. For Paul, and for me, there is always and forever a linkage between the grand act of divine humility and grace and God’s expectations of His children. Paul tells that wonderful church in Philippi that the same attitude – the same humility – the same selflessness – the same willingness to sacrifice oneself for the sake of the others – seen in Christ - is to be on display in their lives. There is no room for arrogance. If you are sure you have all the answers then you are on the wrong side of the Jesus story. There is no room for selfishness. If you think the story is all about you and what you want, you are on the wrong side of the Jesus story. If you are looking for status, power or position, you are on the wrong side of the Jesus story. If it is about what you can command or control, you are on the wrong side of the Jesus story. As redeemed and restored, renewed and rebuilt people we were called to live lives beyond ourselves – lives reflecting Christ’s love, humility, and selflessness.
We were created by God in His image to walk in a real and intimate relationship with Him. God’s heart of redemption is seen at the beginning of the beginning. We make choices that break our relationship with God and others. In a grand act of divine humility and grace, through Jesus, God makes the way for our redemption- makes the way for us to come back home. I keep thinking about that pile of parts, each of value but useless until someone does something. God could have chosen to leave us in our brokenness but God acted on our behalf. This is not a new story, but rather is the Jesus story, the Gospel story; its our story. As we prepare for Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter morning may we choose to live lives that are a reflection of the love of God that makes us who we are.