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June 2019, Christ Mountain Top
the Scripture, Philippians 1.21 – 2.5 (selections)
Philippians 2.5-11
focus of our time today is on this hymn of the early church, quoted by Paul in
his letter to the Philippians. But first, what is going on in the context of
this letter?
      Began with his joy and gratitude, the
emotional/spiritual bond. Paul talks about the shared experience of the gospel
and the grace of God, the “fellowship”, the “partnership”, the “sharing”.
      Offers encouragement in suffering that is
both physical and emotional, by sharing his experience in jail (again) and the
rivals who preach Jesus to stir up more trouble for Paul, and by putting his
own trust in Jesus
      Acknowledges the suffering they are
experiencing: Philippians 1:29-30 For he has graciously granted you the
privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well–  30 since you are having the same
struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (That is, some of
them may be in prison like Paul.)
      Acknowledges some conflict that is
emerging in the congregation: Philippians 4:2  I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the
same mind in the Lord.
the church in Philippi is under pressure. And, under pressure, even the most
healthy and stable systems manifest stress, and stress fractures. Have you ever
been surprised at your bad behavior when under pressure? Have you ever been
surprised at the bad behavior of a friend or colleague when under pressure?

calls them to oneness, not a oneness of agreement, not a oneness of uniformity,
not a oneness of unanimity. It is a oneness, a unity, rooted in the shared
experience of the gospel and grace. Philippians 2:1  If then there is any encouragement in Christ,
any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and
sympathy… And it is a oneness, a unity, manifested in humility, the very same
humility of Jesus. That is the “same mind” and the “same love” that Jesus shows
all had the opportunity to be offended, put off, or amused by the
self-importance of someone else – someone too important to wait in line with
the regular folks, someone who expects to be treated like a star, someone who
insists on hearing how exceptional they and their program are.  They butt in line, demand attention,
interrupt incessantly, and feel no need to excuse themselves or apologize.
      And we’ve all had the chance to meet
important people who don’t seem at all affected by their star status.  We show up unconfident, and walk away amazed
at how down-to-earth they are.
how would a god show up?  Human
imagination has told many tales of gods on earth.  Most of them include an awful lot of
pyrotechnics and other special effects. 
Jesus certainly did his share of miracles.  But Jesus’ miracle working, as strange as it
may seem to our skeptical minds, was not the most noteworthy aspect of his
life, his story, his calling, his ministry – at least, not in the ancient mind
of the first century.
      There were other faith healers.  There were other Sons of God.  But the other faith healers, like many today,
generally charged for their services, or they focused their ministry on the
rich.  And, the other Sons of God were in
king’s palaces or at the head of great armies.
      What set Jesus apart as Son of God and as a
healer was his embrace of poverty and weakness. 
And it is exactly what is described in today’s reading from Paul’s
letter to the Philippians, a letter written by the apostle from a jail
somewhere in the Mediterranean basin, a letter written to a church he founded
from a jail cell in Philippi, a letter from the apostle of weakness.
  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
all know what it feels like to be nothing, to be a zero – or, worse – a zero
with the circle rubbed out (as an old pastor of mine used to say).  In situations like that, we just want to have
someone stand up for us, we just want to prove that we are Something, Someone,
a human being.
      Jesus, “in the form of God, did not
consider equality with God something to be exploited, but made himself NOTHING,
taking the form of a servant, found in appearance as a man”.
a great British tale about a king who decided that he needed to learn more
about the common people.  So, he dressed
as a laborer and hired himself out to work for a local farmer.  The first evening, tired from a day’s hard
work in the fields, he is asked to watch the bread in the oven to make sure it
doesn’t burn.  But he is so exhausted
that he falls asleep, the bread is ruined, and he gets chewed out by the
farmer’s wife.
      He reveals his identity, but doesn’t
punish the farmer . . . instead he becomes a much better king because he has
some understanding of the common life.
      Stories like these have offered a
feel-good connection with our leaders, but they cannot even begin to express
the humility of Jesus, the great and unfathomable extent to which he “made
himself NOTHING” or “emptied himself”. 
The obedience, emptying of Jesus, as described by Isaiah:
      Isaiah 50:4-6 – The Sovereign LORD has
given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He
wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.
The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not
drawn back. I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who
pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.
talk so much today about fulfillment and about “the pursuit of happiness”.  We don’t want to hear much about “emptiness”
– empty wallets, empty gas tanks, empty pockets, empty cupboards.  It is the everyday experience of countless
Americans including millions of children, some in our own community . . . and
the experience of children and families around the world.  And it is the experience chosen by Jesus.
      Before he can be taken advantage of,
before he can be ground into the dirt, even before he can be killed, he has
made the decision to be given away, to be emptied, to be devoted to filling you
and me. And he owns that choice.
      In some Jewish theology, God’s work of
creation is described in terms of emptiness. God empties Godself to make room
for the creation, for us. Christian Trinitarian theology speaks about the
“interpenetration” of the persons of the Godhead, how they empty themselves to
make space for one another. And in this ancient hymn of the church, we see
Jesus embracing emptiness for our salvation.
asks us to embrace emptiness ourselves, to have “the same mind that was in
Christ Jesus.” Instead of focusing on our status and reputation and RESPECT,
put others first. Instead of obsessing on how different and frustrating someone
else can be (even our unruly children), make room for them in your life. Instead
of ruminating on an offense, forgive with compassion.