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Sun, Apr 14, 2019

Humbled Himself

Duration:14 mins 49 secs

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.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Many of you will know or remember that we began using our new Glory to God hymnals back in December on the first Sunday of Advent. During that season and again during Lent we have attempted to use our new hymnals to sing both familiar and new hymns as a way to introduce ourselves to the resource we now have for worship.

Using the breadth of our hymnal is important for there are many who will argue that most congregations’ theology and understanding of the faith stems from the hymns they sing far more than from any sermons they have heard. Yes, the words we sing just seem to stick with us. For example, can you complete these lyrics:

Jesus loves me, this I know ______________ (for the Bible tells me so.)

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound _______________ (that saved a wretch like me).

If you are not yet familiar with those hymns, I am excited for the opportunity to share them with you for they are a wonderful way to be introduced to the essence of the Christian faith.

Yes, the hymns that we sing matter both for those who have believed for a long time and for those new to the faith. One of my seminary professors, Ron Byars, often reminded us of a Latin phrase: lex orandi, lex credendi. Literally it translates: “as we pray, so shall we believe.” Yes, as we pray, as we sing, as we worship, so shall we believe.

So, then what do we sing today, on Palm Sunday? What do our hymns today tell us about what we shall believe?

In the Glory to God hymnal there are four Palm Sunday hymns. We sang just two of them today. Out on the lawn we sang, “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna” which is hymn 197. If you look at the lyrics, you will see it captures the celebratory nature of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Taking our cue from the children’s Hosannas we are encouraged to make that ancient song our own that we may ever praise Christ with heart and life and voice.

Our second hymn, however, which we used as a Processional hymn to enter the sanctuary, points us in a slightly different direction. Four brief stanzas. Hear these words again:

Ride on! Ride on, in majesty!
Hark! all the tribes Hosanna cry;
O Savior meek, pursue Thy road
With palms and scattered garments strowed.

Ride on! Ride on, in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die!
O Christ! Thy triumphs now begin
O’er captive death and conquered sin.

Ride on! Ride on, in majesty!
The winged squadrons of the sky
Look down with sad and wondering eyes
To see the approaching sacrifice.

Ride on! Ride on, in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die;
Bow Thy meek head to mortal pain,
Then take, O God, Thy power, and reign.

The entire hymn, and yet especially the second and fourth verses, powerfully reminds us that Jesus does not come to Jerusalem to be the Grand Marshal of a parade. He comes as a Savior meek. The angels look down with sad and wondering eyes. He rides on in majesty, but he comes to Jerusalem to die. If we forget that the cross stands at the end of the Palm Sunday parade, then our resurrection celebrations on Easter Sunday will ring hollow.

That is why I chose our scripture text this morning from Philippians instead of the traditional Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem from the Gospel of Luke. For in this Philippians text, we find the cross in a snippet from an ancient hymn. We can probably assume that the Philippians knew the tune for this one. As they sang it, they came to believe it. But even though we have lost the ability to sing it, I still think the words, if we really listen to them, can turn our entire lives upside down. Hear them again:

Though he was in the form of God,
He did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited
But emptied himself
taking the form of a slave
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.

Yes, power, omniscience, and autonomy were all available to Jesus. He could have had it all and kept it all for eternity. But that is not what Jesus did, because that is not who God is. As theology professor William Greenway writes,

Beginning and end, kenosis (or emptying of oneself) is the essential character of the biblical God. If a single image could capture the character of God … it would be a gracious bow. All of God’s acts, blessings, and delights in creating are for others. In the Hebrew Scriptures this is typical of God, who is intimately concerned with justice, peace, and the flourishing of all creatures, who is “on high” but never remote, who is “over all” but faithfully and dramatically invested in life on earth.

Yes, the fundamental character of God is not the power-hungry tyrant who rules with an iron fist and holds on to all he has for as long as he can have it. No, the essence of God is giving, loving, and emptying for others. Thus, the key insight of this hymn is not that Jesus could have had it all and he gave it up. No, the shocking reminder is that Jesus did not grasp after equality with God because that is not who God is. Jesus Christ, being God himself, emptied himself for us, humbled himself, obedient even to the point of death on a cross for you and for me, because that is who God is. As we sing, so shall we believe.

Now if that is who God the Father is and who Jesus Christ is and we are supposed to be following them, then on this Palm Sunday our life should look different. Our life together as the church suddenly becomes very different. For example, have you heard about a church closing because it had built a building or a campus it could no longer afford? As the roof went higher, as the programs and the number of people grew, things went haywire and the church came crashing down? We’ve all heard those stories, more than once.

But when was the last time you heard of a church that closed its doors because it gave too much money away? A church had to close because its members gave so much of themselves to the hungry, the broken, and the impoverished of this world? What was the last church that closed its doors because its facilities were too open to the public and used by all those who had a need? Yes, when was the last time you heard about a church having to close because it emptied itself?

Yes, a God who humbles himself, giving his very life on a cross, that is the God about whom we sing today. A church that humbles itself and empties itself, that the church we are called to be. Thus, I leave you with a thought shared by Professor Byars earlier this week:

You and I, and the great masses of people, long for leaders who will not have as their top priority their own aggrandizement. We want political leaders who will have some vision other than their prospects for reelection. We want corporate leaders who have a sense of themselves and their corporations as having a greater responsibility than merely maximizing their profits. We want union leaders whose interests include the welfare of the whole community and not just building a power-base. We want attorneys who think about and talk about and look for justice. We want health care professionals who are devoted to taking care of the sick and keeping people well. We want religious leaders whose egos are held in check, who love God and his servant Jesus Christ, and who give themselves to the care of souls. In every walk of life, we’ve had enough of deceivers and charlatans and ego-maniacs and those who use respected professions to feather their own nests and abuse the public. That’s why I want to find a place alongside that pathetic parade, when Jesus entered Jerusalem, to add my cheers to those who hail that silent figure—that one who laid aside pompous pretensions—that one who wasn’t full of himself, but “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.” Hosanna to you, humble king!

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray.

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