Monday, March 26, 2018

Sermon - Palm Sunday - Philippians 2:5-11

“The Triumph of Christ's Humiliation”
Philippians 2:5-11

Today we observe Palm Sunday – and especially that time when Jesus came to Jerusalem shortly before his death, we call it his triumphal entry. But triumph, with Jesus, is not what it looks like to the world. For him, it is found in humility. It is a strange sort of triumph, a very odd celebration, in which most of the participants have it right, in spite of having it wrong. He is the king, but not the way they think. He is there to save them, but not from whom they think. He is the Son of David. But David's son is also David's Lord. And his humility is ultimately his glory.

Humility – the overarching theme.
Today, humility is almost universally regarded as a virtue. Even outside of religious circles, humility is held up as a worthy character treat, and important component of leadership. It is seen as the opposite of arrogance. A willingness to admit you're wrong. An attitude that doesn't make yourself to be so important and worthy, but regards other people as just as important. It's a nice idea, but hard to truly find among humans, and difficult to practice.

Humility related to the word for the ground. It means to be brought low or made low. The ultimate posture of humility is kneeling down, or even lying down prostrate in front of someone higher. So even the body position can indicate that you are lower, more humble, than your superior.

But sin wants to be like God. Sin wants to puff us up. It wants us to call the shots. It wants us to receive the worship and praise. The devil whispers all sorts of self-aggrandizing lies in your ear, and your sinful nature gobbles them up. Who wants to be the servant? I'd rather be the master. Sin says, humiliate others to raise yourself up. But Jesus humbled himself, to exalt us.

Have this mind (attitude)...”
Here, in our text, Paul encourages the Philippians to have a mindset, an attitude, a way of thinking that is formed and informed by the Gospel. Similar to Jesus' words to the disciples from last week's Gospel reading, that with the gentiles people lord power over one another, “but not so with you”. Likewise Paul says to the Philippians, and to us - “among you, with you, in your midst – there ought to be a certain mindset, and one that is different from the world out there.”

It derives from Jesus – who knows more about humility than anyone. Think of it. He has sat higher than anyone. His greatness and glory and power and majesty are from eternity. By him all things were made. He is God of God and Lord of Lords. He is, and always has been, and always will be, the highest and the best. As Paul says, he was “in the form of God”. He had equality with God.

But he didn't consider that something to be grasped. He didn't “hang on to it”. He didn't consider that he should grab on and hold tightly to his high station, and never let it go. Instead, he did something astounding. Something we can't comprehend. He came down, down from his throne. Down to the ground. Down to become human. He put aside his divine rights.

Emptied himself. Only Jesus wasn't emptying himself of breads and sweets, or fasting from meat on Fridays. He was putting aside divine glory and majesty. He was swearing off his omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, at least for the most part. He still had it all, of course. But he would not fully use or exercise these divine rights during his sojourn on earth. And so he entered a state of humiliation.

The creed describes the high points in his work for us, in the state of humiliation: He was conceived by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. Yes, he began his course on earth as we all do – in the lowest, smallest way – a single conceptus. He was born. Just as we are. He suffered – not just during Holy Week, but all his life – he knew the grief of loss. He knew poverty and rejection. But certainly in his passion, he suffered the humiliations of his enemies. Mocking, spitting, beating him for sport.

Obedient unto Death
Through it all he was obedient. He obeyed everything the Father asked him to endure. He drank the cup to the bitter dregs. Never wavering, never flinching, never turning aside from anything thrown at him.

He was obedient even unto death. If you're like me, you don't like being told what to do. Sometimes I want to not do something just because someone tells me I have to. But who among us would be obedient unto death? Who among us would willingly, unquestioningly march forth to our certain doom because we are told to?

No doubt, some do – like soldiers in battle. And we rightly regard those as heroes who lay down their lives this way. But they are all a shadow and taste of the obedience in suffering and death that Jesus showed. They are a small glimpse of the humiliation he endured for us.

He was obedient unto death, EVEN death on a cross. Not a quick, painless execution. The cross was designed to prolong the suffering. It was meant to be a public statement, for all to see. It intended to maximize humiliation. There's a good reason the Jews recognized that a man hanged on a tree is cursed (Deuteronomy 21:23). That's never more true than with Christ. Who suffered the humiliation of a tortured death, and also bore the sins of the world, the wrath of the Father, and the just punishment for all. He who knew no sin became sin. All of it, bound up in him. All of it, put to death, in his body.

Obedient, even unto death, even death on the cross.

Therefore Exalted
And then the turn. Paul says, “therefore”.

Therefore – God has exalted him. Therefore, because of his perfect obedience and atoning death – therefore, he is exalted, lifted up again.

Up to life. Exalted in his resurrection, which is history's greatest vindication. It is the victory cry of life over death. It is the triumph of triumphs.

He is exalted, also, to his due glory, honor, might, and status as the Son of God. We see him, from this point onward, taking back more and more, exercising ever more fully – those divine attributes he had hidden in humility.

He is exalted. Up again to heaven's high throne. As his disciples watched him go to the clouds, and as the angels appeared to promise his glorious return. Christ now sits at the right hand of the Father, ruling all things for the good of his church.

And God the Father has bestowed on him the Name above all names. That is to say, the highest honor and glory of all. And that glory will be made manifest, that is all eyes will see it, at his second coming.

At his name – all will bow, willingly or not. All will be humbled, willingly or not. All will – either willingly by faith, or grudgingly and by force, acknowledge him as God and Lord. All angels. All humans. Even the devil and his demons. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.

Here will be his final triumph. Palm Sunday's triumphal entry is a foretaste of his final coming in glory. We, his people, will welcome him then – not riding a donkey, but riding the clouds. Not coming to be tried, but to judge the living and dead. Not coming to die, but to usher in eternal life for all his resurrected and glorified people. The ultimate, that is the final triumphal entry.

Christ's humiliation and Christ's exaltation are both a comfort for us, as Christians. He made himself low to save us who are rightly low. He was exalted by the Father, and will bring us with him into exaltation.

So we know that whatever humiliations we suffer in this world, we too have a greater day ahead. However low your sins have brought you, Christ pulls you out of the muck and mire, redeems your life from the pit, and gives you a firm place to stand. However low this world takes you, into depression or rejection or anguish or even death. Christ will raise you up, and give you a share in his triumph over sin and death.

So have this mind among you, which is yours in Christ Jesus. Don't grasp on to greatness, but live in his humility. Humbly confess your sins. Humbly serve your neighbor. And he who has done it all for you, will lift you up.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Sermon - Lent 5 - Mark 10:35-45

Mark 10:35-45
“The Cup and the Baptism”

Peter isn't the only one of the disciples that makes a fool of himself from time to time. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, could give him a run for his money. Jesus called them the “sons of thunder”, perhaps because they wanted to call down the fire of heaven on some Samaritan villagers who wouldn't welcome Jesus. This earned them a stern rebuke from Jesus, as they just moved on to another village.

Here, James and John come with a request of Jesus. Matthew's parallel account tells us they even got their mother involved in making this request. And they tried a little trick - to get Jesus to agree to the request before saying what it was they wanted – which, even today, is never a good thing to agree to. “Promise me you won't be mad” or “Promise you'll keep this a secret”. We try to use these little tactics to get people to react the way we want, give the answer we want them to give. But Jesus won't be so easily manipulated.

The request is a simple one, though bold. They want to sit at his right hand and left when he comes into his kingdom. They want the #1 and #2 places of honor, the top two spots of power. They want to be his right-hand man, and his left-hand man. No wonder the other disciples were indignant when they heard. James and John just beat them to the punch. These are the same disciples who liked to argue amongst themselves who was the greatest.

And their request tells us quite a bit about their thinking. It shows us that they didn't have their listening ears on when Jesus told them what kind of Messiah he was. He spoke plainly about his arrest, crucifixion, death and resurrection. He repeated this, giving more details about the involvement of the Jews AND Gentiles, the spitting and the flogging. He continued to repeat, over and over again, that he had come to die, and that he would rise from death. But they would not, perhaps could not hear it.

They looked for an earthly kingdom, a worldly sort of Messiah, a king who would restore the glory and give the people good things, and preside over peace and prosperity. Like so many others who can only see the vain things of this life, and therefore end up looking for a savior who is really quite small. Jesus has come to do far more than all that. His kingdom is not of this world. Sure he's the king of this and every world. But he is no mere earthly king. No savior for only this world. His mission has a far greater scope. He comes to save the world, not just Israel. He comes to save from sin, not just from poverty and want. He comes to conquer, not the Romans, but death itself.

And don't you forget it, either Christian! Though we often do. How often do we aim so low in our prayers and expectations of God. Our eyes can only see the things of this world. The temporal troubles that distract us and occupy us. The pursuit of worldly good, worldly glory, worldly peace, worldly happiness. So often we think, if only _______, then I would be happy. Then I would be fulfilled. Then everything would be all right.

But your biggest problem isn't ________. Your biggest problem is sin. Sin that corrupts every corner and facet of your life. Sin that drives a wedge between you and your loved ones, your coworkers, your neighbors. Sin that drives you to continually look out for #1. Sin that inheres to your very nature and will ultimately bring you down to the grave. Luther called our sinful flesh the man that always hangs on our neck. He's a burden. He's a drag. He's the problem. And won't just go away.

Jesus said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And their answer should have been, “Save us, Lord. Renew us. Cleanse us from sin. Have mercy on us.” But no. They wanted to sit at his right and left.

Jesus has the cross on his mind. And he knew it was coming. He told them so many details. You have to wonder if he even knew, specifically, that his cross would be flanked by two others, two thieves – one on his right, one on his left. However it would be, whatever it would look like, it was all part of the plan – it was already prepared, appointed, ordained.

And so he challenges James and John, “Can you drink the cup I'm about to drink? Can you handle the baptism I'm about to undergo?” Not having a clue, they say, “We are able!” Jesus uses these figures of speech – the cup, the baptism, to speak of his suffering and death. He drank the cup of God's wrath – the cup that he prayed about in Gethsemane – that it might pass from him, yet not my will be done but yours, O Father. And the baptism, also a picture of death, as we too in our baptism – in a very real way - are baptized into Christ's death. The early Christians called martyrdom the “baptism of blood” and so forth.

Can you suffer what I'm about to suffer? Can you face the foul breath of death? Can you sustain the physical whipping and the verbal lashing? Will you stand as an innocent man condemned? Can you accept the rejection of your people? Could you bear the brunt of it all? Can you bear the sins of the world? Can you absorb the wrath of the Father? Can you endure the pangs of hell itself? “We can!” No, James and John. You can't. And thanks be to God and to Christ that he has done it for us all. We can't even imagine that kind of suffering – bearing the sins of the world.

But Jesus does use this moment, and turns the conversation another way – to indicate to them that they will indeed, in a way, share his cup, and his baptism. And really this goes for them, for all the disciples, and even for all Christians. So take note. Following Christ means taking up your own cross. Being united to Christ means being united to him in suffering. He is the head, and we are the body – connected always – and so where he goes, we go also, at least in some sense.

James, we know from Acts 12, would suffer a martyr's death. King Herod Agrippa had him put to death by the sword – beheaded, according to other sources. He is considered the first of the apostles to die. But in this way he, too, shared in the cup and the baptism of Christ, dying for his confession of Christ, an innocent man murdered at the hands of the wicked.

And then there's John. The only one of the 12 apostles not to die a martyr's death. But that doesn't mean he escaped the cup or the baptism. John knew the torments of persecution in his own way – as he was exiled to the prison island of Patmos in his later years. It was there that he received the vision he recorded for us, and we know as the book of Revelation. And so out of his suffering, God worked great blessing. The visions of Revelation are some of the most powerful words of hope for Christians who face suffering – some of the most comforting words in all of the New Testament.

Yes, James and John would, in a sense, have a share in Christ's cup and baptism, and a place in his kingdom. But it wasn't the honored seats of worldly glory they sought. It was a part in his suffering, and a blessed death in Christ, and now we know they enjoy the blessings of paradise with all the other believers who have gone before us. In a way, they do sit at his right and left hand, sharing his reign and glory, wearing a crown of righteousness, and awaiting the resurrection with all the saints.

James and John, it seems, would also learn the lesson eventually – that greatness comes in service to others. Whoever would be great among you, must become your servant. Whoever would be first, must be slave of all. Christ, first of all, firstborn of Mary and only Son of God from eternity – he who was greatest by right – didn't exert his greatness. Instead, he became servant of all, laid down his life for all. The cross is the greatest service ever rendered – the death of God for the life of all men.

And following in Christ's path of service, James and John, along with all Christians – means we serve one another. We don't all do it, literally, unto death – though some do! But we lay down our lives in many ways – small and large – not seeking greatness, but seeking the welfare of our neighbor. It's diametrically opposite of seeking the places of honor and glory, the right hand and the left. It means seeking the lowest place, the place of dishonor, coming underneath and even washing feet if necessary. This is simply another way of describing what love is. We serve because we've been served. We love, because we've been so loved. Consider how you might follow Christ in this way. What needs does my neighbor have? How might I serve him?

You, Christian, have a share in Christ's cup and baptism. Though you may, in your sin, seek worldly things – the fame, the fortune, the pleasures of this world. You may be, like the sons of Zebedee, focused on the things below, and if so - repent. Turn your eyes to the things above, and see Christ as he truly is – the suffering servant sent by the Father, to lay down his life as a ransom for many.

Yes, because of Jesus' cup of suffering and Jesus' baptism of death, you have another baptism and another cup.
You, Christian, are baptized into Christ's death – and life! A baptism, not of judgment, but of mercy. Though you received it long ago, you live in it every day.

You, Christian, are invited to drink the cup of Christ's sacrament – not a cup of wrath, but a cup of mercy. The very blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Come and receive it, even today.

You are united to Christ in his baptism, and by his cup. And you may suffer for it. Your faith may cost you friends. It may cost you time and treasure. It may bring you the scorn of men and divide your own family. It may even mean you taste of death. But the one who laid down his life for you will not forsake you. And remember, where he goes, you go. Not just to death, but also to life. Jesus' resurrection is your resurrection, too. He laid down his life to take it up again. And when your life is finally laid down, however it happens, he will take it up again. He will raise you up. He will bring you with James and John and all the other believers into resurrected glory. He will do better for you than anything you could ask.

In Jesus' Name, Amen.