Sermon, March 20, 2016

St. Paul’s – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Isaiah 50.4-9; Psalm 31.9-16; Philippians 2.5-11; Luke 22.14-23.56

Today’s narrative reading was rather long. One way to approach the time normally dedicated to a sermon would be to simply sit in silence for a few moments to allow time for reflection on these readings. Another way would be to preach the usual sermon. I’m opting for something in between – a bit of guided reflection.
In the ancient church, Passion Sunday was employed to remind those who were to be baptized into the Church on Easter Sunday that they are called to follow Christ into a life of sacrifice and suffering. How so?
The multitude welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with shouts of joy and acclamation:  “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
The Pharisees wanted to tone things down, so they told Jesus, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” And Jesus replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out” (Luke 19.38-40; NRSV). Acclamation was the order of the day! We still use these words of acclamation in the Sanctus: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest” (BCP p. 362).
The people desired to install a stately king! This must have been a real temptation for Jesus – on the one hand, he could become a stately ruler; on the other hand, he could die in mockery as a king on the cross. Jesus was confronted by a choice. After a grandiose welcome, he cleansed the temple, and continued to teach, while those in power plotted to kill him.
Later in that week, as Jesus was celebrating the Passover meal with the disciples, he spoke the words of institution: “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22.19b; NRSV). As Jesus gave the cup, he noted the one who would betray him had his hand on the table. The disciples asked one another, “Is it I?” And then they began to dispute who would be the greatest. Perhaps they thought, “One of us is going to be the least – while we are at it, we might as well settle the question of who will be the greatest.” Jesus must have been banging his forehead on the table!
Jesus told them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”
The message was clear – here you are seeking worldly glory. If you are going to be part of the kingdom you must be transformed. The kingdom is not about seeing who can be the greatest, it is about a life of service! We see this clearly demonstrated in Jesus’ kenosis, the self-emptying which took place in the incarnation and the crucifixion.
Imagine you are a convert in Philippi, a Roman colony replete with splendor and honorific titles. As a Roman citizen you enjoy a high level of social status. All of your life you have jockeyed to see who would be greatest. You are to be baptized on Easter morning, to be resurrected from your old life to a new life in the kingdom. In your instruction, the words of Paul ring out,
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 (servant) 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 (Philippians 2.5-8; NRSV).
In other words, Easter and your baptism are only a few days away. It’s not too late to back out now, if this is not the life for you. If it is, let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus….
We are like the Philippians. We live in a society that would have each one of us grab as much greatness as we can. We are told we should keep migrants and refugees out so we can have more! We are told we have the right to lead and make war where we would for we are exceptional! We are told to distrust all Muslims. We are encouraged to betray Jesus with a kiss and cozy up to the rich and powerful. Yes, as with Jesus, Satan whispers in our ear – “Fall down and worship me and I will make your America great again.” We need to listen and live the words, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
During Lent we have attempted to gain insights into the mind and life of Jesus. Some of us have subtracted things that we might taste deprivation; others have added things that we might lead a more disciplined life. We are now in Holy Week. Let us join Jesus on the road to crucifixion and be reminded anew of his passion and suffering. Let us be reminded that Jesus would have us empty ourselves of all that is false such that we can assume the mind of Christ. Yes, we will suffer in doing so; we will experience a form of death. But with Jesus we will also experience the resurrection power – a power that breaks us from our tomb and leads us into a life of love, prayer, and service.

Comments are closed.