2014-06-01 – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato – First Baptist Church Edmonton
GodStory, Act V: NPOG (New People of God)
Key Event #39 of 40
Reading: Philippians 2:1-13
Title: “Love, Chains & Change”
Today we continue to find ourselves in the story of the NPOG…trying to be hearers of what this Love Letter has for us!
Review: Remember our Vision statement for June? “Making Jesus attractive to all.”
How’d that go for us this week??
[listen for examples here]
I don’t assume that just because we say it…it’s true. So let’s reflect on this a bit more…
What was good and life-giving about “making Jesus attractive to all”? Did it feel good and right to put the life & heart of Jesus on display? Did it “become” us?
What was hard and challenging (life-draining) about it? What got in the way? What were the chains that held us back?
Chains….the chains of Empire.
I want us to enter into ch. 2 via the way of 1:29…
“For [God] has graciously granted y’all the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well – since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have…”
Q: What is this “same struggle”?
Can we really get there as North american Christians?
We might look globally and get there easier, but how ‘bout us? That’s why I was asking us to reflect on the “chains of the empire.”
Where do our struggles match with Paul’s? Or perhaps we can tweak it a bit…
how would Paul’s humanity overlap with our human condition? Is Paul like us?
I’d say…not in persecution-sense…as in we aren’t getting thrown in jail for being Christ-followers.
But…let’s think again of the chains of the empire.
– perhaps it’s conflict [chains of conflict]
– perhaps it’s small-ness, feeling defeated/downcast/de-moralized
– perhaps it’s wondering where the next ____ will come from…
It’s those things that make us feel like we are overwhelmed, or out of control, it’s those things that make us feel not worthy, not good enough, not rich enough, not strong enough…the empire presses in upon us…its demands oppress us, humiliate us, crush our hopes…and thus we find ourselves unable to see the “way of salvation”…
So let’s reflect upon it this way… “Have we struggled this week and lost sight of the way of salvation?” The way of a God who has promised to “continue the good work he has started in us?”
Warning: “Be gentle…everyone you meet is in the midst of a great struggle.”
Well, NPOG…there’s more good news in Paul’s love letter to Philippi (+ love letter to us!).
Let’s continue – –
Part 2 of Paul’s letter is one of the most famous and visited passages in the 2nd testament…esp. vv. 5-11…but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, because vv. 1-4 are pretty significant too.
[adjusting the “if”]
I’m not going to pretend that I’m a greek scholar here but you need to know that sometimes Paul’s greek-written phrases get “lost in translation”…and so the “if then there is” in v. 1 is not an “if…” in the sense of “if only there was”…it’s Paul saying “given that there is” [a 1st class condition in greek = given that]…
So, let’s read it that way…
“Given that there is… [since there is…]
encouragement in Christ
consolation from love
sharing in the Spirit
compassion & sympathy…”
Keep on completing my joy and empowering it to spill out of me (as it spills out of you, it spills out of me…and vice versa!).
Paul then goes on to describe this “spilling over life” in the midst of this Christ-following community.
It’s being of the same-mind (not uni-mind!), same love, full accord, one-minded (mind of Christ).
This is a way that puts aside selfish ambition and conceit (hollow-glory VS hollowed-out, emptying glory)…this is a humble way…and way that doesn’t obsess about getting his/her own way all the time but looks out for the interests of others… (1 Corinthians hmm?)
And for Paul, it always come back to…yes, you guessed it…Jesus!
And so as he’s celebrating with joy the way of the Philippians when they’re at their best (encouragement, consolation, sharing, compassion, sympathy), he blurts out this amazing poem/hymn/prophetic utterance that is his “elevator version” of how the whole God story goes and is summed up.
It took us 39 weeks to get there…and Paul sums it up in 5 verses!
It’s the way of Jesus in the world!
He steals a page from John’s GodStory in John 1 and begins…
In the beginning was the Word…(he was in the form of God but did not try to usurp the community of God)…
And in the midst of the “fall” of God’s good creation, and all the generations of exploitation, power seeking and waywardness (we saw this in the follies and adventures of Israel).
Jesus poured himself out…emptied himself from the intimate heart-space, Trinity-dwelling place and showed up (John 1:14 Moved into the neighbourhood!)…
Taking the form of a servant.
Born in human likeness (When the fullness of time had come, God sent his son, born of a woman – – Gal. 4:4).
Humbled himself. (think of the image of John 13, Jesus washing his disciples’ feet and saying: “I have set you an example, that you should also do as I have done to you…very truly I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are the messengers greater than the one who sent them.”)
This downward trajectory lands at a point that for the Philippians, was just 30 years back in history…Jesus’ obedience to death, even death on a cross.
And then the trajectory swings upwards…in God’s upside-down economy where weakness is strength…and the downtrodden are lifted up…God exalts Jesus and raises him to a place of true Lordship…high above Lord Nero’s oppressive empire, where all creation will one day join in this movement of humility and grace and bow down before him who reigns with God and the Holy Spirit…to the glory of God the Father…Amen!!
[Bask in the glory!] Take a moment to bask…remember John 1?
— we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth….From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace (vv. 14, 16).
But don’t bask too long…for this is not pie-in-the-sky, Disney-esque, happily ever after squeaky-clean’ism!
The day of Christ Jesus has not yet come…and as Paul says, to live is Christ and to die is gain…but since we are all still living…the love and the joy is to continue to spill forth out of us…the new people of God…
And so, there is still a good work for us to do! [ He who began a good work… ]
So Paul pleads with his dear sisters and brothers in Philippi…and we too can hear his love-laden plea….
“My beloved…listen to me…as you have always listened…keep it up!”
AND THE BEST NEWS OF ALL OF TODAY’S PASSAGE…is that this “way of salvation” work that spills and overflows out of us because of the life of Jesus is…
NOT…and I repeat…NOT up to us to get done.
It’s a God work!
It’s not… “try harder you crummy Christian!”
It’s v. 13…tell your neighbour…psst…
“God is at work in you…enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
The “will power” is God’s work!
The “work [“do”] power” is God’s work!
Best. News. Ever!
So how then, shall we live…this day, this week?
Paul says “keep on doing what you’re already doing”! But his love letter is a gentle prod…a loving reminder… it’s not a “honey-do” list…it’s a “honey-done” list!
See vv. 1-4:
Given that there is…
-encouragement in Christ
-consolation in Love
-sharing in the spirit (fruit)
This is the stuff that needs to continue to emerge in our everyday, “as you are going” life.
This is the stuff that breaks the chains of empire!
Paul doesn’t promise that it will be easy…(believing in Christ, suffering for him as well, sharing in the same struggle)…
But we do have the life of Jesus working in us and through us…so shall we struggle together??
And shall we be glad??
In vv. 17b-18 Paul goes on to say, “I am glad and rejoice with all of you — and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me.”
It’s a glad work, and a good work, for the glory of God…everyone involved, in the glory and praise of God.
One of our favourite writers/preachers, the priest Barbara Brown Taylor, when she reflects on this passage from Paul, puts it this way:
“We are as free as Jesus to decide how we will spend our energy: on self-protection or self-donation…on saving ourselves (and our religious institutions) or giving ourselves away?”
What might it look like for an entire congregation to embody the mind of Jesus, emptying its corporate self (and coffers) in order to take the form of a slave…
What crosses are right in front of our congregation, just waiting to be picked up?”
“Paul’s common theme is this…We do not focus on what we believe about Jesus…we focus on what HE DID, and what WE ARE ABLE to do because HE DID.” [Feasting on the Word, p. 175]