A Sermon for the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday
Year B – 1 April 2012
Eleanor Lee Wellford, Associate Rector
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,
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.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Have you ever been in a situation in which you held a lot of power but chose not to use it? That’s happened to me but to recall it would mean admitting something about me that you probably don’t know– and that is that I like to play poker!
It’s such a fun game because there’s both luck and skill involved in it. But what I like most is the psychology –and looking for visual cues indicating what’s really going on in a player’s mind. For some reason, when I am dealt a great hand in a game of multiple betting opportunities, I like to pass early on instead of indicating the winning power of that hand. It keeps more players in the game and makes it more fun than betting the limit and causing everyone else to possibly fold.
Adults are always in positions of power when it comes to small children – and for the most part that’s a good thing especially when safety issues are involved. But can you think of a time when you backed off of that power so that a child could learn something important about life?
When my older daughter was about 4, she decided that she wanted to change into her bathing suit and go outside to play. Ordinarily that wouldn’t have been a problem except for the fact that it was in the middle of January and the temperature was barely above freezing!
I tried to reason with her about how cold she would be but she wasn’t in a mood to listen to anything I had to say. So, she marched up to her room, changed out of her turtleneck, sweater and long pants and came bounding back down the stairs in her bathing suit and bare feet.
I stood by the front door with all the power in the world to keep it closed and to insist that she go back upstairs and change, but I didn’t do that. I opened the door and let her find out for herself what it feels like to wear a bathing suit outside in the middle of the winter. I think it took her less than a minute to figure that one out.
Teachers are in positions of power, too– yet think how effective they are when they withhold their power of knowledge just long enough to inspire students to think for themselves. Think of what is lost when that doesn’t happen, such as curiosity and imagination. Or, think how effective managers can be who stop trying to do everything for themselves and delegate power and authority to capable employees. Think of what is lost when that doesn’t happen, such as confidence and initiative.
What I’m getting at, perhaps, is that there is a balance of power in how our world works and when that power becomes out of balance for a period of time, something or someone gets forfeited.
It seems as if since the beginning of time, our relationship with God has been one in which there has been a constant struggle for more power than the free will that God gave us when we were created. Adam and Eve wanted more. And when they acted on what they wanted, they upset the balance of power so much that they ended up having to forfeit their idyllic life in the Garden.
The Israelites, God’s chosen people, also struggled against God, as well as the judges, kings and prophets whom God raised up for them. The people wanted more and more power over their own destiny, relegating God to little more than a good luck charm. As a result, their land, their lifestyle and their sacred worship space kept getting forfeited in the wake of various captors.
This morning we heard from the apostle Paul in his letter to the early Christians in the small city ofPhilippi. Dating to about 20 years after Jesus’ death, Paul, who was in prison at the time, wrote “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, being born in human likeness” (Philippians 2: 5-7a).
We got a glimpse of Christ’s mind when, after his baptism, he retreated to the desert and Satan tempted him to exploit his power when he took him up high on a mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their all of their splendor and said to him: “All these I will give you, if you fall down and worship me” (Matthew 4:9). Jesus, however, didn’t take the bait. “Away with you, Satan!” he said. “Worship the Lord your God and serve only him” (Matthew 4:10). Throughout his servant ministry, Jesus kept upsetting the balance of power by his own humility to the point where he was the one who was forfeited by his enemies’ growing anger and power.
When you think about it, any one of Jesus’ parables is a study in upsetting that balance. That’s how the first become last and the last become first. That’s how the lost get found and the found get foiled. That’s how the sick get saved and the nobodies get noticed. That’s how scraps become feasts and tiny acorns become mighty oaks. That’s why Jesus rides intoJerusalematop a donkey instead of a royal steed. It all seems like one big April Fool’s joke, doesn’t it?
But it’s not. It’s what life in God’s kingdom is all about. Maybe think about that kingdom not so much as a place but as a state of being that we can create here on earth by choosing to live a certain way; by choosing to use whatever power and authority we have selectively instead of constantly or even abusively; by choosing to serve instead of being served; by choosing to humble ourselves instead of exalting ourselves.
And yes, it runs completely counter to human nature and societal norms and expectations in general. It makes us look downright foolish, doesn’t it and isn’t that really why it’s so hard to do? But the last thing Jesus cared about was looking foolish. So, why should we?
As author Brennan Manning wrote in his book called The Ragamuffin Gospel: “The kingdom belongs to people who aren’t trying to look good, or impress anyone, not even themselves. They are not plotting how they can call attention to themselves, worrying about how their actions will be interpreted or wondering if they will get gold stars for their behavior.” (Sisters, Oregon: MultnomahPublishers, Inc. 2000, p. 53). (The kingdom is) “for those who are wobbly and weak-kneed who know they don’t have it altogether…it is for earthen vessels who shuffle along on feet of clay; it is for the bent and bruised who feel that their lives are a grave disappointment to God; it is for the bedraggled, beat-up and burnt-out” (pg. 14-15).
“(Christ Jesus) did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,” wrote the apostle Paul, “but emptied himself, (and took) the form of a slave” and showed us all what kingdom life is all about. And the good news is that the kingdom is for you and it is for me. And thanks be to God for such utter foolishness! Amen.