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Sermon for September 25, 2011

Philippians 2:1-18 (15th Sunday after Pentecost—Series A)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

September 25, 2011

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text this morning is our Epistle lesson appointed for the day, from Philippians 2:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

Every family is made up of what we call in pastoral care “an emotional system.”  Perhaps you have heard of family system theory or therapy.  Basically family system theory says that people within a family relate to each other on certain emotional levels.  Your wife can’t stand her mother-in-law.  That is a conflicted relationship.  You and your sister are best friends and confidants.  That is a supportive relationship.  Families of all shapes and sized can be understood by the emotional relationships of the participants.   The same is true of the family we call the Christian congregation.  Congregation members relate to one another with joy, comfort, support, cooperation, and friendship.  And congregations can demonstrate bitterness, suspicion, half-hearted commitment, even apathy.  Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book Life Together, “. . . no Christian community ever comes together without this thought [of who is the greatest] immediately emerging as a seed of discord.  Thus at the very beginning of Christian fellowship there is engendered an invisible, often unconscious, life-and-death contest.”

As Christians, how are we then to relate to one another in this congregational family?  How do we relate to others in the pews with whom we really don’t get along or with whom we don’t see eye to eye on something in the congregation?  The answers to these questions are found in our text this morning.  God Himself in His holy Word not only tells us how we are to relate to one another, but shows us and then enables us to do it.

How do we relate to one another in our congregational family?  God’s Word today gives us a type of checklist.

  1. Don’t do anything in the congregation from the standpoint of rivalry or conceit.

In other words, what emotion or attitude lies behind your actions or your words?  We are not to approach the tasks of the congregation with the attitude of “I’m going to serve on this committee so I can get what I want done how I want it done.”  Nor are we to participate in the life of the congregation with an attitude of “Hey, look at me!  See what I’m doing?  I’m better than you are!  I go to every Bible class.  I sing in the choir.  I am a regular giver of $10.42 a week.  And I am on 3 boards and 6 committees.”  We are to do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but . . .

  1. In humility we are to consider others more significant than ourselves.

This does not mean that everyone else is superior or more talented than you are.  It does mean that Christian love sees others as worthy of preferential treatment.  We have a right attitude about ourselves and about other members in the congregation.  There are other people besides you who are in need, perhaps greater need than you.  There are other folks who may have greater wisdom than you and so are uniquely able to help you.  When we count others more significant than ourselves, we are more likely to help or to be helped.  As a result,

  1. We look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Your own interests become proper only when there is equal concern for the people sitting around you each week.  We trust in God to take care of our interests according to His will so that we are freed up from those concerns about self in order to care for others.  With that freedom from selfishness and self-concern we are able . . .

  1. To do all things without grumbling and questioning.

Grumbling and questioning is a problem of our old sinful nature.  These actions and the attitudes that promote them are selfish and unbelieving.  Do you not trust the Word of God that says He loves and cares for you so that you are able to care and love others without worrying about yourself first?  We are to relate to one another in the church without grumbling about this person or that person.  We are to relate to one another in the church without complaining about every little thing that comes along.  A child makes a peep in the worship service—so what?  I praise God that they are here to peep.  We don’t need to sit here questioning this decision or that and then grumbling behind people’s backs about what isn’t getting done the way we want it to.  We need to be about doing Christian love and service to one another and celebrating what we are doing as the family of God, rejoicing in the God-pleasing decisions He has enabled us to make together as His people.

So God sets before us what we might consider a near impossible list of how we are to get along with and relate to one another in the family of the church.  We are told to “do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility to count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. . . . Do all things without grumbling or questioning.”  Perhaps we need an example of how this actually works in real life.  And the Lord gives us one—Jesus Christ, the perfect example and the perfect Savior.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)

How did Jesus relate to others?  How did he relate to you and me?  Think about it.  We are sinners who by nature live completely opposite of the way God expects us to live.  We are by nature God’s enemies and God-haters.  Why should Jesus, very God of very God, relate to us in any way except in judgment and condemnation?  He is God.  We are sinful, corrupt creatures who have rebelled against God.  He is God and Lord and we are insignificant humans in comparison with His glory and holiness and righteousness.  But what does Jesus do?  He did nothing from rivalry or conceit.  He wasn’t puffed up.  He didn’t claim “I’m better than you are and since I’m God I’m going to give you what you deserve.”  No, far be it.  He counted poor, miserable sinners more significant than Himself.  He exchanged the glories of His heavenly throne to take on human flesh in order to walk among us sharing the Good News that He is not only Lord and God, but also Savior and Friend.  Without grumbling or questioning the will of God the Father, Jesus assumed our flesh.  He willingly covered Himself with our sins and wickedness.  He was nailed to a cross, bleeding, dying, and suffering the full wrath of God so that you and I—who were once His enemies—might be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish.” (Philippians 2:15)

There is no greater example of how you and I are to relate to one another in this congregation than that of our Savior Jesus Christ.  If you want to know how to treat others in this church, look at Jesus.  Do what He did, love unconditionally as He loved.  Be merciful and gracious to others, even those who wrong you.  Don’t put yourself on a pedestal but look after the needs and concerns of others first, trusting that God will be taking care of you through others as well.

But Jesus is always more than example.  He is Savior and He is Lord.  His Gospel of forgiveness and life is power to change our lives so that we can follow His example and do what God asks of us.  “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”  Our Triune God is working in you and me through the Gospel by the power of God the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to be not just hearers of the Word, but doers of the Word.  We can follow Jesus’ example in relating to one another in this Christian family we call Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, nurtured by the Gospel Word and Sacraments, you and I can do nothing from rivalry or conceit.  We can count others more significant than ourselves, demonstrating Christ-like humility, without grumbling or questioning.  We can do all these things through Christ who strengthens us precisely because we are blameless and innocent children of God who stand before Him forgiven of all sins and empowered by the Spirit in the Word to follow our Lord and Savior’s example.

This is how God’s Word tells us, shows us, and empowers us to relate to one another in this church family.  As Paul wrote to the Philippians, so I share his divinely inspired words with you, “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”  Amen.


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