October 30, 2022
• Rev. Rob Fuquay
Matthew 22:37; Philippians 2: 5-11
We are in a series looking at the two great commandments offered by Jesus: “You shall the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind…and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It's not quite right to credit these to Jesus because Jesus took them from the Torah. The heart of the Torah is the Ten Commandments which begin with God and end with neighbor. So Jesus is being an observant Jew in combining these, but what we are noting in this series is the three distinct loves identified in these verses: Love of God, love of others, and love of self.
As I mentioned last week, this is a stewardship series, which we normally think is about money, but really stewardship reveals what we love. If we focus on loving the right things in the right way, giving takes care of itself.
So to help us strengthen these loves, I invited us last week to do three things in this series to strengthen these loves:
--Do one thing every day to cultivate intimacy with God.
--Do one thing every day to serve someone else.
--Do one thing every day that is good for YOU.
Last week we began with the love of self. Today we move outward to the love of others, and we look at a very significant passage of scripture where Paul talks about having a mindset in which we focus on others.
He wrote: “Let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…” and from there goes on to describe this mindset using one of the first Christian hymns, the Christ hymn of Philippians 2: 5-11. It is a beautiful description of the nature of Christ. We don’t know who wrote the hymn. It could have been Paul himself, but scholars recognize by the poetic nature of the words, it was most likely a hymn. I want to look at three key descriptions of Christ in this hymn to consider the mindset Paul is encouraging us to have. In fact, I want us to focus on just three words:
We will turn the message today into an English Class. Remember high school grammar/English class? Remember how fun it was. I can sense you’re getting all tingly at the very thought, so don’t let me hold you in suspense any longer. Let’s jump in.
The hymn opens, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he existed in the form of God…emptied himself taking the form of a slave.” (vv5-7) The New Testament was written in Greek. The word “though” is considered in
Greek a circumstantial participle. I’m sure if we have any English teachers here today you’re getting goosebumps about now. A circumstantial participle means that the participle used is dependent on the circumstances described. In the case of this sentence, the word though could be used, or the word because, depending on how we interpret the context.
Let’s play with this idea for a moment. I want to show you a few sentences and you fill in the blank with though or because based on what makes most sense to you.
______ the Colts stink this season, they could still win the Super Bowl.(obviously “though” would make most sense)
Though the Colts stink this season, they could still win the Super Bowl.
_____ the senior pastor has a grandson who comes from Italian lineage, his name, Geronimo, means ‘sacred’ and has nothing to do with an Apache chief. (“Because” fits there, as the senior pastor’s daughter made very clear to him). And by the way, here’s a picture of little Geronimo in his fall outfit.
Because the senior pastor has a grandson who comes from Italian lineage, his name, Geronimo, means ‘sacred’ and has nothing to do with an Apache chief.
And by the way, here’s a picture of little Geronimo in his fall outfit.
_____ winter in Indiana can be cold, wimpier residents begin heading to Florida about this time of year. (Because fits best!)
Because winter in Indiana can be cold, wimpier residents begin heading to Florida about this time of year.
Okay, so when you think about the beginning of Paul’s hymn, we may understand why many translators use the word “though.” ____, Jesus was in the form of God, he became a servant. Many translations use “though,” because it makes sense. The nature of God must be the total opposite of a servant. God is exalted and glorified and holy. A servant is lowly.
But modern scholars are pointing out that this is a wrong interpretation of this hymn. Dr Morna Hooker, New Testament scholar at Cambridge writes: “Christ did not cease to be in the form of God when he took the form of a slave, any more than he ceased to be the “Son of God” when he was sent into the world. On the contrary, it is in his self-emptying and his humiliation that he reveals what God is like, and it is through his taking the form of a slave that we see the form of God. There is no conjunction in the Greek, but if we supply one, then it should perhaps be “because.” (New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vo. XI, p508)
Because Jesus was in the form of God, he became a servant.
What’s my point? Serving is God’s nature. And Paul says it is our nature too. We are made to be compassionate, caring, and giving. We are most alive when we find a way to make a positive difference in the world. Parker Palmer reminds us that the word vocation comes from the Latin word for “listen.” We find our vocation, our calling in life, when we listen to who God made us to be, and we allow our lives to be used to bless others.
William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, had never missed an annual meeting of the group until late in life. He was not well and couldn’t attend, but he wanted to send a message to inspire the gathering. He went to the telegram office to cable a message. He wrote about one page, but the charge was per word. When the cabler added it up, Booth said it was too expensive. He whittled it down to one paragraph, but still very costly. Finally, he wrote one word and sent it.
At the conference, the convener explained how General Booth couldn’t attend, but sent this one word message to them. It read: Others.
He reminded them of their identity. This is who they are, a community that exists for others. This is the mind of Christ.
This is why we do things at St. Luke’s like start a new campus called St. Luke’s Midtown in the heart of Broad Ripple. It is about reaching others, not just being a church for those already a part of it. We exist for others.
Today the launch team at Midtown is beginning the first in a series of preview services to get ready for their official launch December 11. So much work, sacrifice and energy has been put into Midtown by so many St. Luke’s volunteers. They are doing it for others. Watch this short video…
So our word here is not though, but because. Because we have the mindset of Christ, we serve others.
The next word is GRASPING. “Though he existed in the form of God, (Christ Jesus) did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped…” The confusion by this translation is that it implies Jesus was not of equal status with God. God’s status was something he might try to grasp. But the better translation is seen in versions like the NIV that says, “(Jesus) did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage…” That’s a subtle but significance difference. Again, as Dr. Morna Hooker explains, “Equality with God was something Jesus already possessed, but which he chose not to use for his own advantage.”
In other words, Jesus didn’t take advantage of his privilege but used his privileges for others. This is another helpful thought about serving. If we take on this mindset, it means we use our value to give value. We take our status, our position, our blessings, and see them not just as sources of our own enjoyment, but opportunity to.
I hope you will use the opportunity today to visit our Ministry Showcase in the Great Hall. We moved the doughnuts there to bribe you to visit. This is a simple way to show off just some of the places where you can serve in the life of the church and community. Talk with volunteers. Look for places that line up with your passions and interest.
When we serve others we get close to them. We learn about others who are perhaps in a different place of life than we are. It changes our thinking and our hearts, so that we want to use our privileges, our influence, our ability to make a difference, in order to help others.
Dolly Parton some years ago started a series of dinner and rodeo-style theaters called The Dixie Stampede. In recent years these theaters were criticized for the insensitivity of the name, using “Dixie.” Instead of turning a deaf ear, or getting defensive, she met with people and listened to them explain why this was hurtful. So she changed the name. As she said, “There’s such a thing as innocent ignorance, and so many of us are guilty of that. When they said ‘Dixie’ was an offensive word, I thought, ‘Well, I don’t want to offend anybody. This is a business. We’ll just call it ‘The Stampede.’ As soon as you realize that [something] is a problem, you should fix it…That’s where my heart is.”
Serving reminds us where we want our heart to be. We don’t want to be people who grasp for a sense of value, but people who use our value to give value.
And then, one final word, EXALTED.
Now, what does exalted really mean? If it's anything to do with our own glorification or self-promotion it wouldn’t be congruent with everything we’ve said so far. But if it is about joy, and satisfaction, and reward, then those are things God wants us to have. And if that’s what exalted means, then what is communicated here is that the path to reward in life comes through service. I know Paul would agree with that.
On our recent Holy Land and Travels of Paul tour, we visited Kavala, Greece, which in the Bible is the port of Neapolis, located at the very northern edge of Greece. In this town is a mosaic commemorating what brough Paul there. (pic) He was traveling through Asia Minor and wanted to go north to the Black Sea, but was prevented. He ended up in Troas on the coast of the Aegean Sea. Disappointed he couldn’t get where he wanted, he had a dream, and in the dream a man in Greece said, “Come help us.” And so the next day Paul crossed the sea and went to Neapolis, bringing the Gospel there.
The first city Paul visited after Neapolis was Philippi. When he wrote this letter thinking of Jesus’ own path to exaltation coming through service, Paul probably smiled thinking of his own path to the Philippians.
Respond to a simple call for help, can open new doors for our lives. That’s the story of Lynn Gale. Lynn’s husband died almost 2 years ago, November 2020. He died from Covid and it was a terrible experience for Lynn. She couldn’t be with him. All she could imagine was him on a breathing machine, alone, with her unable just to be beside him, holding his hand.
When he was transferred for a last ditch effort to save him, he went into cardiac arrest and died. The following months she said were rough, dark and angry. She was angry that should couldn’t be with him. And she was angry with God that God didn’t spare him after all her pleading. She had recently retired from 37 years of teaching in IPS. Now she was alone with no purpose, and even the church was closed.
So she bought a puppy, and that began to change things. Now she had a purpose. She had to feed and care for this puppy. Then we announced in the spring of 2021 that we were reopening. We served coffee outside and announced we needed volunteers. That was something Lynn had done long ago at church, so she volunteered (badge). And this really became a game changer. It gave her a reason to get out of bed on Sundays. She had a job to do, but more than that, she found what she really needed, being back around people, helping people, smiling at them and trying to encourage others, because the thank yous and the smiles back gave her life. The service helped her combat feeling sorry for herself. As she said, “Just doing something nice for someone else is just who I am.” Her service got her back in touch with herself again.
I believe we all need somewhere to serve others right now. After the last couple of years it has been so easy to fall into a place of discontent and anger. Anger that the world isn’t different. Upset at the way people act. Disappointed by life. And it can turn us inward.
But the way out of that is to turn outward; to give ourselves to helping others. And it doesn’t have to be some monumental activity. It might just be a simple response like Paul made, or Lynn made, just responding to a call for help. That step of help, we often find, is the healing we need.
Last week I said that when we love ourselves we become life-saving for others. The opposite is true as well. When we love others, it can be lifesaving for ourselves!
Let us pray:
O Lord, help us to let this mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus, who because he existed in equality with you, did not use this privilege for his advantage, but humbled himself, taking the form of a servant and remained obedient unto death, even death on a cross. And therefore You exalted him.
May we find the power and the help of Christ to be servants of others, and discover your power to give us joy and satisfaction. Amen.