By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
April 5, 2020
Philippians 2:5–11 (ESV)
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so 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.
This is the third week that we have not been able to meet for worship, together. And as thankful as I am for the great technical advancements that have allowed us to continue to stay connected through live streaming on YouTube, Facebook, and zoom, I am beginning to feel the loss of being together. I am sure I am not the only one. Some of us have introverted personalities while others among us thrive in a group, but every one of us need contact. We are social beings; we do not function to our greatest capacity without other human beings around. I mention this because we are all anxious. We are beginning to get tired of our living rooms. We are beginning to run out of canned goods and will need to go to the store. We are wanting to get out.
I want to get out. I want to sing hymns together. I want to eat a potluck. I want to sit in bible study and laugh with the students. I want to get back to normal.
Today I encourage you to consider your feelings. Often in Christian circles we try to discredit our emotions, which often leaves our faith cold and dry. Then there are other expressions that focus on emotions to a great degree, to the point that any negative emotions are unholy. Well right not it is safe to say our emotions are negative. We are tired of being cooped up. We have completed the little tasks at home that we have put off, we have watched about as much Netflix as we can handle, we have put together every puzzle in our house, and played enough solitaire that the print is wearing off of the cards. I know that this is the case because we have sold more carpet cleaners at my store than I have ever seen in a one-month period.
I want us to consider our emotions, because God gave them to us for a reason. We have emotions so we can respond to the world around us. But how are we responding?
Today is Palm Sunday. Today we celebrate Jesus the king. Today we get caught up in the joy and celebration of the people of God as they remember God’s provision in history and excitedly claim Christ the king. Jesus sent two of his disciples into the city to bring a donkey back to him. They retrieved this beast of burden, and those around Jesus began to remove their coats, laying them on the and on the ground before Jesus. When they ran out of coats, they began to cut leaves off trees, and they jubilantly placed these on the ground as well. I have participated in enough Palm Sunday celebrations that I cannot fully grasp what is going on. Today we wave the branches around in the air as we sing and parade around the worship space (and I really hope that those of you with children are coloring palm branches and waving them around the living room). Yes, this was a celebration, but I think we do not fully grasp the image. We wave the branches, but instead of imagining that, think of the flower girl at a wedding.
The flower girl is more than your favorite young relative, this person in the wedding party is the one that is honoring the bride the most. This is the one person that is making sure the queen of the day has something clean and beautiful to walk on so that the dress is not soiled but honored. Jesus is coming into David’s royal city riding on a donkey and the people are laying out their coats and carpeting the pathway before him with palm branches, not just to celebrate but to honor the king. They are recognizing Jesus as being something greater than mere humanity, they see him as the anointed or chosen one of God.
Not too long ago many throughout the world watched as one of the Princes of the United Kingdom was married. We remember seeing the great excitement, the beautiful decorations, the amazing dress of the future princess. The amount of effort that was invested in that wedding is a picture of how humanity treated those we regard as royal. But Israel was not a kingdom like that of the UK. Israel was not free. They were ruled by another, but they longed to have a king of their own, they looked at the prophecies of old and held on to the hope that out of the linage of David their once great king, they would again see a free Israel.
Every year, the people of Israel would travel to the City of David, Jerusalem. They would go there to remember how God provided for them, they would remember their history, and see that they still had something to grasp on to. They had a grand temple, a temple whose splendor was the envy of the empire and they had nationalistic pride. They had this pride, but they were a divided people. There we those of the city and those that lived outside Jerusalem. Those in the city had the wealth, and those outside the city lived a life of subsistence. They did not have the red carpets that we would us for the famous today, but they celebrated with what they had. And they honored the peasant king by putting down their coats and branches of trees as their king rode into the city not on a war horse, but a donkey.
There is a great deal of imagery in the palm parade. The excitement of the populous and the poverty of their king who rode triumphant on a borrowed burro. This era of quarantine does give us a different perspective to this day than many of us had before. We do not have the luxury of great arrangements of palms that we can trim and wave. We do not have the luxury because we are at home. This year we, like the common people of Israel, must make do with what we have.
This has been where my mind has been this past week. As the quarantine extends, I begin to long for something more. I long for the days we can once again listen to our voices lifted in praise. I long to hear the scripture read aloud in English and Swahili. I long for the little bit of the kingdom of God that I call home, I long for the communion of the saints. This is the celebration we will participate in when this stay at home order is lifted. This is the celebration that we look forward to in heaven when the saints are gathered at the wedding feast of the lamb. But for now, we are here. We are isolated, separated from the people of God. Many say that we are not required to gather, and they are not wrong, but the gathering of the church is very important it reminds us of who and why we do the things we do. We are part of something greater, we are part of a family, a community and a kingdom.
Paul encourages us, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
This passage is a mystery. It speaks of Jesus as God and man. It speaks of Christ as being God from which all blessings flow, and a servant from which all work is extracted. And Paul says have this mind among yourselves. I read these words and as much as I want to say I understand, I can’t. We cannot fully understand because it is an image of extremes. God, the creator of heaven and earth and everything there in, holds the rightful title to everything in the entire universe, because it is His. He made it. Throughout history, God has been honored by the very best. While the children of Israel wondered in the desert, they gave all their gold, their best fabrics, and they commissioned their greatest artists to adorn the tent of meeting. As they entered the land of Promise and became an established nation, again they commissioned the very best to honor the God who owned everything.
The greatness of God is something that we cannot understand. When people try, they say things like the heavenly city is so spectacular that the pavement is gold, and the gates hewed from a single pearl. This is beyond imagination. It is beyond reality. We can imagine gold, but gold in such abundance that we would cover pathways with it. We can imagine a pearl, but a single pearl large enough to carve a gate in. We cannot grasp the greatness of God, it is impossible because once we begin to close in on some understanding something even greater emerges, and God is still beyond that.
Yet, Jesus is in the form of God, meaning he possesses that designation, or he is of that essence, but he knows that we cannot understand that, so he emptied himself and took on the form of a servant. Again, we are shrouded in mystery. We know servants. They are the ones that bring food to our tables or did bring food to our tables. The servants are the ones at the grocery store. They are the nurse, the maid, the taxi or uber driver, the postal carrier, or the teacher. We know servants because they are the ones that do the various things that we need, but they are also the ones that we often treat as expendable. I say this because a couple of months ago these people were the ones that were laid off when corporations needed to provide greater financial reports for stockholders, but today when we are faced with danger and illness. When we are all facing want and need, we label these people with the title essential.
I want this to sink in for a moment. Has the need for the servants, the common laborers changed in the past two months? No there is the same amount of need, but when the perspective changes and we realize that we may not be able to get what we need unless those common laborers show up, suddenly they become back bone of our society.
“Have this mind among yourselves,” Paul says, “Which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God as a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” This pandemic has opened our eyes to a great deal. It has reminded us that those individuals that are often neglected are the very ones that will keep us alive. It is the nurses at the hospital, the doctors that treat the sick. It is the gas station attendant and the people stocking the grocery shelves. It is the people that deliver the pizza, and the ones that fix the internet, it is the artists that make music or writes a book that will get us through these dark days. What Paul is telling us is Jesus had everything, He was God, yet we could not grasp that we could not understand that, we could not join him on that plain of reality because we are not what he is. So, God became like us. “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
There is something deeper in this passage though. What goes through your mind when you hear the word grasp? For me, since I am trying to pass knowledge from one to another, when I think of grasp, I often think of understanding. For others grasp might take a form of conquest, something that was earned, or a reward brought into your possession. Those are both right, but I want us to think of it in as entitlement. When someone is entitled, they expect special treatment. In our American culture, we have developed the idea that the customer is always right. Because of this concept, as a customer I am entitled to whatever I want, because I am the customer. The reality is that the customer is not entitled to anything beyond what they are paying for. And let’s be honest if you are a customer you are not paying for much. But because of the intense competition for customers many businesses will do what ever they can to secure a sale, so we have trained our culture to believe that they are entitled to more than they are paying for. If God is the creator of all things, which is what I believe, what is God entitled to? Everything, because it is all God’s. But we do not live in the same perspective as God, from our perspective we earned what we have, and we are entitled to it. We gasp what we perceive to be ours, and so does God. In this, we become enemies of God because we are laying claim to the same things. We are both entitled.
God looks at what is his, and he sees what we are doing to it. Jesus, God the Son, emptied himself he let go of his claim, or his entitlement, and he became a servant, or one of us. We often hear of the entitled millennials and how they are ruining the world. I want us to think about that for a moment. The reason we often look at others in disdain is because we perceive that they are not giving us what we believe we deserve. God deserves honor and praise, but he did not count equality with God as something deserved or to be entitled to. Jesus worked. He did not sit behind a desk or appoint executives to manage things for him, he joined us in the labor. He showed us how to live a true Godly life and lifestyle. He emptied himself to the point that he would take death upon himself for the sake of what was already his own.
I have reflected on this for the past few weeks. We see glimpses of this in our culture. We thank veterans for their service, because we are aware that they sacrificed their lives for the sake of our nation. We thank those in law enforcement for their service, because we know that they sacrifice their lives every day for the safety of our communities. We thank nurses and doctors when we are sick because they have put themselves out in harm’s way not only for their own gain but because they care for those around them. And the past few weeks we have begun thanking so many other essential workers that so often go unnoticed.
Paul is telling us to live like this every day, because that is how Jesus lived. None of us are entitled to anything because someone else has always helped us along the way. And if God is willing to give his own life for us, shouldn’t we be willing to do the same for our communities.
Today we celebrate Jesus our King. Our king was not a king like the kings of the world. Our king is a peasant king, one of us. He lived thirty years as a handy man, working in wood and stone to serve his customers. He made it his custom to worship with his community, with full knowledge that that worship was not enough to truly express the greatness of God. He withdrew often to pray and embrace personal communion with God. And he served others. Our king is great because our king emptied himself. And if we claim to be part of his church, his kingdom we should have the same mind. Honor him with what you have. Serve him with what you have. Minister to his creation with what and who you are, and do it not for what can be grasped, but for the glory of God.
Let us not enter this time of centered worship and consider our lives in this dark time. Have we become entitled in our lives? Are we realizing that those essential workers we have often forgotten are more important than we once thought? Are we becoming aware of the importance of the people within our communities in ways that we have often overlooked? If God has opened something up to you be obedient to his leading and respond. Thank a nurse, thank a janitor, thank the teachers of our schools, and tip the pizza delivery driver. And as we continue to endure the effects of a virus, pray that we will become better through this and become a greater reflection of the God we claim.