Philippians 2: 1-11 & 12-18
Every now and again I will find an old book of sermons. And I mean sermons of the classics. When the church was strong and dominated the culture. Sermons of Wesley and Calvin. And you know what...I struggle with them.
In fact once I found an old book of Children's Addresses. It was one of the first books on Children's Addresses, written in the 19th Century. It was awful. The children’s addresses were longer than my sermons and more in depth than my sermons as well.
And I suppose that’s to be expected.
Theology has its fashions just as much as cloths have their fashions.
In days of yore the fashion might be heaven. And making sure that we did what we had to do to get into heaven.
Or it might be sinners and how they need to repent.
In Paul’s day it was food purity. It might not seem that important to us. But in Paul’s day it was a big thing, as all food was prepared in a Temple, so if you ate fresh meat from the temple of Diane, did that mean you were secretly acknowledging that Diane protected the meat, so she must exist as a god?
A friend of mine left the church over the homosexuality debate. Joined another church that was going through the ‘organs shouldn't be allowed in the church as they are the devils music’ debate.
Every church has its foibles, because every church is made up of people who are full of foibles.
However, sometimes it means that we miss out on the insights of others.
And I think today is a case in point.
Where we are in church history the big foible is individuality.
We want the sermons to talk to us...personally.
It is not unusual for a minister to hear the words...’I wasn’t getting much out of your sermons recently.’
‘I just haven't felt that you are feeding me recently.’
If I had said that to my minister when I was young the minister wouldn't have known what I was talking about.
They would have looked at me with strange eyes and said something like, ’What are you on about. You don’t come to church to be fed, you come to worship God.’
The idea that we come to church for us to gain something would be alien to the church over the centuries. We come to church to give...to give back to God praise for all the things he has done for us.
You see it in the hymns that we sing, because hymns that are written take on the foibles of the time they are written in.
Look at this.
This is a Psalm turned into a hymn 71.
Give thanks unto the Lord our God.
How good and kind is he
Whose tender mercy shall endure
Through all eternity.
Let God’s redeemed repeat these words
And give him thanks and praise
Who rescued them from hostile hands,
Preserved them all their days.
Notice that there is no personal pronouns in that hymn. In fact there are three verses and no personal pronouns. Because it is not about ‘me’ or ‘my’, it is all about being part of a community. God doesn’t save me, God saves us. In community we are strong.
Compare that with a children's hymn we sing often, a hymn that I personally like; A small thing like a hazelnut.
The last verse goes like this
Until MY heart is one with God,
It’s aching will not cease,
And so I rest, held close by God,
These three truth bringing peace:
God made ME, God loves ME,
And God will always care... And just in case we missed that point it repeats it...
God made ME, God loves ME,
And God will always care FOR ME! The hymn even has an exclamation mark at the end so that we notice that it is ME that God cares for.
That one verse talks about me just as much as it talks about God.
God is mentioned six times, ME and I are mentioned six times.
Why am I going on about this?
I understand why we look at our lives a lot. We live in an uncertain age. We feel insecure. We want to know that God can reassure us.
But the temptation is that we spend so much time thinking about us and our weakness and our fears and our doubts and our sorrows...that we feed those insecurities and doubts.
We are just small people, what can we do?
The world is so big; we could never make a difference.
Who knows, maybe Paul was trying to fight against those very feelings in the church in Philippi.
Because Paul decides that it is not about us, and our focus should not be about us...but about Christ.
Think not what we can do...think about what Christ has done.
This is a hymn of praise to Jesus.
Possibly this is one of the first creeds of the church.
Here is Jesus, Son of the almighty God, through him the world, the universe was created.
And what did this almighty being do with all his power?
He gave it up...became like us.
He could have come down like some great shining being from the skies and demanded to be worshipped.
He could have destroyed any who opposed him, or annihilated any who disagreed with him.
He could have wielded his power like a mad megalomaniac, or a benevolent dictator, and who would have been able to stop him? And he could have demanded that because he made us and our existence is solely dependent on his creation that he deserved that praise. And who could disagree with that?
Instead he came as a child; he and his family were in danger from the moment he was born. Instead of having everything, he was an exile in a foreign land, dependant on the whims of strangers.
He came as a teenager, struggling to find his place, lost in the temple, then grieving the loss of his father Joseph, he then takes on the responsibilities of the older son in the family.
He came as an adult. Misunderstood, having to face betrayal from the very people who should have known him best. Grieving the loss of his cousin John who died on the whims of a corrupt despot. Seeing the daily suffering of the poor and the downtrodden. Suffering the agony of torture. Suffering the long anguish of the cross.
Why would someone do that?
Why would God do that?
What could be more important to Christ than his own life?
That His creation had hope.
Look at some of the words we use to describe Jesus...
The one who brings Salvation...
These are words that bring hope.
And the more we look at Christ, the more we see what he has done, the more we feel that hope.
And this hope is not a selfish hope.
This is not a hope for us...so we realise that we are fine and we don’t need to bother about anyone else. This is a hope that wants others to feel that hope. This is a hope that wants others to know that hope.
This is a hope for all creation.
All beings in heaven and on earth will see what Christ has done and all will bow in respect for what he has done.
All will proclaim that their hope is in Christ.
We can be strong.
We can find comfort in God’s love.
We can have fellowship with the Spirit.
We can have kindness and compassion for one another.
Because we have seen what Christ has done, and we have hope.
And maybe the inverse is also true.
Maybe when we look only on ourselves...
maybe when we don't bother with wondering on the life of Christ...
maybe when we are not concerned with the world that Christ created but only focused on our own wee world...
then we find we are weak...
then we find we are insecure and apprehensive...
then we find we feel alone...
then we find we have no thoughts of others and how they are doing, our only concerns are about ourselves.
Our world becomes so small, just our own needs and our own feelings.
And we fear we are alone, competing against a world of billions of others
all looking after themselves
and competing to take for themselves so that we have less.
We need to learn to look to God, to think of God and all he is. And to find succour and strength in what we find.
O worship the King, all glorious above:
O gratefully sing, His power and His love;
OUR shield and defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendour and girded with praise.
The truth is, we will not find hope in ourselves, if we could then the world would not be the way the world is.
And if all we do is look inwards, at our own life, then we will only find our own strength and resolve, which will never be enough for us.
We find hope beyond ourselves.
We find hope in someone greater than ourselves.
And in his strength, in his vision, in his purpose...we find a life worth living.