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Sunday, April 28, 2019


Full Alignment: Philippians 2 (Spring 2019) Series Index
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church
March 10 - April 28, 2019

Over eight weeks we will work slowly through Philippians 2:1-18 and look at what it means to be fully aligned with Christ, who humbly took on humanity for the sake of humanity.

God at Work in You (Philippians 2.12-18)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; April 28, 2019 - Philippians 2:12-18

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

::: Music ::
Come, People of the Risen King (Getty, Townend)
Trading My Sorrows (Evans)
CHOIR: "Prayers of Confession and Assurance of Grace" (Bean, VanderHeide)
TRIO: Amazing Grace (Gwen Ingram, Bobby & Christina White)
Come, All Christians, Be Committed (ELLESDIE)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: This manuscript represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Today is our last week in this series I’ve called “Full Alignment.” But no worries if you missed any of it; I’m going to recap! Today’s text starts out with “so then” which means Paul is circling back around to make a final point based on everything that has come before. The key verse to all of verses 1-18 is verse 5: “Have this attitude that was in Christ Jesus.” That’s what “Full Alignment” refers to – the attitude of Jesus. It’s not our usual use of attitude, like an emotional state. It’s attitude like in a boat or plane, where you line up your course along a number of axes. And Paul basically lays out these axes as behaviors and says, “be like this because this is what Jesus was like.” So that’s the overview of the first 18 verses: be like Jesus; this is what Jesus was like; and then in today’s text he’s going to repeat the first part… “so then, be like Jesus.”

Some of those attitudes or behaviors are the following, which you’ll find listed out in all the verses that led up to verse 12, where we start today: encouraging, consoling, affectionate, compassionate, loving, united, purposeful, humble, self-sacrificing, and obedient. If you want to dive into any of those, the previous week’s sermons are posted on our website and are in hard copy form out in the welcome area!

So today, starting in verse 12, Paul returns to the charge to be like Jesus. We’ll look at that in some detail and then at the several results of living life in alignment with Jesus.

WHAT: Work Out Your Salvation (v.12)

To dive into a little detail on the return to “be like Jesus” I want to focus on the phrase “work out your salvation” in verse 12. First, why do I say this is a return to “be like Jesus?” It’s because of the “so then” and the initial command to continue in obedience. Paul has already made a long list of behaviors and individual forms of obedience in the first “be like Jesus” section and then in the middle section on what Jesus was like (chief among those traits, obedience!). But then comes this phrase that has generated a lot of misunderstanding: work out your salvation. Don’t we teach that our salvation is not by work, but by faith? (yes) What does this mean exactly?

There are a number of context clues to help us understand. For one, it is not “work at your salvation” or “work for your salvation” but “work out.” The salvation part is a given; it’s already accomplished here. If you “work out” something that is already accomplished, then you are figuring it out, or figuring out the implications. You are basically after the answer to: ok, I’m saved, now what? And then there is the rest of the phrase: “with fear and trembling.” Does this mean we are saved, but scared? No… both those are words more akin to ‘awe’ and ‘reverence’ than to hiding scared from a burglar in the clothes closet. In fact, if you consider the whole point of the larger passage, the whole thing is answering the “ok, I’m saved, now what” question. And the answer is to follow close to Jesus, to set our course after him, to live in full alignment. If we are following our Savior, who was also just identified in the previous verses as the one God has exalted back to the highest place, to whom every knee will bow and every tongue confess, then yes, there should be some awe and reverence woven into our following of him. We aren’t just hanging out with our cool buddy, Jesus; we are following the Holy One who did not cling to Godhood, but humbled himself to live among us, suffer and die for us, and be raised and exalted as God and King. So living in full alignment equals “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” It’s intentional discipleship, focused following of Jesus as Savior and Lord.

HOW: God is At Work In You (v.13)

That may sound intimidating, but look at what comes next. This also, by the way, further explains the nature of our work to salvation: “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (v.13) This is one of those both-and things… we are taught to act, to obey, to work, to follow Jesus’ example; but at the very same time God says, “I will help you; I am at work in you.” This is how God works! God does not say, “I will take over your mind and body or program you to do good.” God does not say, “You’re on your own; figure out how to be and do good and let me know when you are righteous.” Through Jesus, God comes to us and says, “Come; believe in me; trust and follow me; and I will make my home in you.” And God’s living in us and with us becomes a holy partnership reflective of the very relationship within the Trinity. God’s will for us IS that we will “have this attitude that is in Christ”… that we will follow Jesus and set the course of our lives on him.

It is interesting to me – and so very human and realistic – that at this point Paul does add one more set of behaviors or characteristics to the long list with which he started the chapter. After the return to “so then, be like Jesus; work it out; and God is at work” he says, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” (v.14) I can well imagine just at this point of setting a high bar for obedience and Christ-like behavior that folks might grumble a little bit. The even larger context of the whole letter to the Philippians is some grumbling and fighting among believers. So he’s not going to leave that unaddressed. Obedience is not only in the many areas he’s already named, but specifically in the one this community is struggling with.

But overall, the message is so encouraging and the challenge so possible. It’s not like God is set up as a grumpy coach or teacher for whom your performance will never measure up. Rather, like the best coach or teacher, they are the one most cheering and working for your success. God is at work in you! And from there Paul goes on to list two results of the life of setting and re-setting our course after that of Jesus Christ.

SO THAT: Results

The words “so that” appear twice in verses 15-16. These signal two results (or desired results) from the obedience Paul has been writing about. The first result is lengthy:

…so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life…

In a nutshell, a life of obedience, setting and re-setting our course on Christ will result in being a witness for Christ, a light shining in a dark world. I was talking to someone about this passage earlier this week and they asked if witnessing was one of the acts of obedience along with the others mentioned in this chapter. I responded that witnessing and evangelism are an activity in which we can engage, but that’s not what is envisioned here. This is not one more act of obedience along with compassion, service, and love; rather, those acts are themselves the witness. When you love like Jesus loved, when you serve like Jesus served, when you show Christ-like compassion, you SHINE in a world that needs that kind of light and hope and goodness. It’s the result of setting and re-setting your course on Christ: you shine!

Secondly, and I think Paul would put this a distant second – it certainly gets less words – Paul writes that the obedience to Christ of those reading his letter in Philippi would give him “reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.” (v.16) Paul is in jail, having given many years of his life to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. What an honest and human thing to admit that one of the reasons he wants to see fruitful followers of Jesus is to know that he had made a difference in the Kingdom of God. He would, in keeping with his own teaching, admit that God is the one who does the ultimate work of changing human hearts, but particularly as a pastor, I can relate to his wanting to have made a difference for God’s glory.

EPILOGUE: Practical Application

Finally, I want to offer verses 17-18 as a kind of personal epilogue to the first 16 verses. As I’ve mentioned, Paul is in prison as he writes this letter. He describes that experience as “being poured out as a drink offering.” In other words, it is in service to God like an offering, but it feels like he is giving up his life (and eventually he does). He is not seeking pity for that condition, though; rather he rejoices that he is able to serve God. Without bragging, he is trying to live out the very things he has been writing in this chapter. Jesus didn’t cling to all the benefits of heaven, but humbled himself to serve humanity in love. Paul is, himself, trying to have that same attitude. And it leads him to rejoice at his precarious earthly situation and to share his joy with those to whom he is writing. He ends these verses by saying that he urges his readers to also rejoice at their own sufferings – if they are for the sake of Christ – and to share their joy back with him. It’s a great final word to this series and just the opposite of the “grumbling or disputing” in verse 14. Rather, this life of setting and re-setting our course on Christ should bring joy to us and to those with whom we come in contact.

As you think about living in “full alignment” with Jesus, setting and perhaps needing to re-set your course in order to follow him, is there a risk of experiencing “being poured out as an offering?” Yes, I think there is a good chance. There is often (always?) a cost to discipleship, to following Jesus. We have to give up things to gain Christ. We have to say ‘no’ to things and to people in order to say ‘yes’ to Jesus. We have to not choose some paths in order to walk after Christ. But Paul’s teaching and experience – and I would agree – is that if we are following Jesus a life of offering ourselves to God and others is one of joy. Joy is a complex thing, not a quickly passing happiness like dessert, but a rich and fulfilling thing like a complex and nutritious meal. With Paul, with scripture, I challenge and invite you to consider what Jesus was like and to set your course again and again on him. That is not drudgery or deadening, but life-giving and joyful. And you will shine in a world that needs some Good News. Amen!

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Brought Low, Raised High (Philippians 2.8-11)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; April 21, 2019 (EASTER) - Philippians 2:8-11

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

::: Music ::
Christ the Lord is Risen Today (EASTER HYMN)
I Will Rise (Giglio, Tomlin, Maher, Reeves)
TRIO: What a Beautiful Name (arr. Martin)
CHOIR: Is He Worthy (Peterson/Sorenson) - Camron VanderHeide, soloist
In Christ Alone w/The Solid Rock (Gettys, arr. Cottrell)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: This manuscript represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

I remember learning about the five-act play back when I was in high school. It is a common structure in the Western world; it is found, among other places, in Shakespeare’s plays. It looks like an upward arc, with the climax in the middle. Today I want to share God’s story with you in five acts.

Interestingly enough, that story is just the opposite of one of Shakespeare’s plays. It looks instead like a downward arc or a ‘U’, both in terms of the plot, but also literally in terms of the action involved. And as long as that story is – the whole Bible – it is also captured very succinctly in our text from Philippians 2 today. I’d like to walk you through that and then ask the “so what” question at the end. It’s an epic story, and one I believe to be true. What difference does it make in my life and in yours?

Divinity: Fully God

I’ll start back in Philippians 2:6, which was also part of our reading last week. In that verse we read that Jesus “existed in the form of God.” There are other places to see this same thing. The Gospel of John opens with talking about Jesus as the Word who was with God and who was God in the beginning. As fully God, Jesus was part of the creation. In Genesis we also read that God’s Spirit was hovering over the waters. I realize that the concept of the Trinity – that God is one being and three persons – is hard to grasp. And really, it’s beyond the scope of today’s sermon. What I do want to highlight from Philippians 2:6 is that Jesus was (and is) fully God.

Incarnation (Christmas): Fully Human

But if you’ve spent time in church or in the Bible you know what immediately follows: Jesus is also fully human. And Philippians 2 goes on in the rest of verses 6, 7, and 8, to say a bit about what we call the Incarnation. In fact, Philippians gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ humanity that we don’t get in the same way in the Gospels. At Christmas we celebrate the story of the Incarnation. Jesus is called “Emmanuel” (God with us) and is born in humble circumstances to live among humanity. But Philippians characterizes the incarnation in a particular way, one that we’ve seen reinforced in recent weeks and in the events leading up to the cross.

Verse 6 says of the divine Jesus that he did not “grasp” after equality with God and he “emptied” himself. It is interesting that the first sin in the Garden of Eden is described as Adam and Eve literally grasping for the fruit, but in doing so also grasping after a form of equality with God. The serpent said that if they ate the fruit they would know what God knew… and so they reached. Jesus did the opposite. In order to come among us, he released his divinity and took the form of a human being. Said another way, the one who was God came all the way down to be with us and to be one of us. He got tired, hungry, felt pain, and wept among us.

That selfless love of others rooted in love of God was what he affirmed from the Jewish scriptures. It was what he taught about in parables like the Good Samaritan. And it is what he demonstrated in actions like washing the disciples’ feet. Jesus not only practiced what he preached; his entire incarnation was enacting that message of selfless love, mercy, and compassion. These are the same traits that we are to emulate when Paul writes, “Have this attitude which was in Christ Jesus.” (v. 5)

Crucifixion (Good Friday): Perfect Sacrifice

In the second part of verse 8 Paul writes that Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  This is what happened on Good Friday… good because of the rescue accomplished on the cross; terrible because of the costliness of that act. Paul emphasizes the physical costliness of it, not just speaking of Jesus’ death, but adding “even death on a cross.” But Paul also describes it in two other ways: as humility and as obedience. In fact, this is what our humanity is supposed to look like. God made human beings and declared them good. We were made in God’s image, with all the dignity that entails. But when our first parents, and we after them, grasped after what God declared out of bounds, we deformed and suppressed that goodness and that image.

Jesus was perfectly obedient, in a way that we cannot be. As such, his death accomplished what ours could not: the forgiveness of sin. And he brings us along with him. It’s not like we become perfectly good when we believe or follow Jesus. Rather, it’s as if when we face God Jesus says, “He is with me! She is mine!” His obedience, his righteousness becomes ours. Scripture variously describes that as credit (reckoned to us), clothing (robes of righteousness), adoption (brought into God’s family), and more.

What began good was lost, but now reclaimed! You’d think that would be the highlight of the Christian story. But it’s not. As scripture says, God has “more than we could think or imagine in store.” Often Easter is summarized as “Jesus dying on the cross.” But that was Friday; Easter was yet to come!

Resurrection (Easter): Raised in Power

Verse 9 says that “for this reason” (the humble obedience unto death) God “highly exalted Him.” There are two things joined together there in ‘exalt’. One is Easter and the resurrection. I’ll get to the second thing in a moment. Exalt means “to raise up” and that’s what God did. Sin and death did not have the final word. Jesus defeated death such that scripture is almost taunting: “Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 16:55)

Here’s how I like to distinguish Friday’s cross from Sunday’s empty tomb: the cross means a clean slate, debts paid, sin forgiven; the empty tomb is a new start, a future, what comes next. The cross is like being released from prison after the sentence was paid. Resurrection is the new life that begins after that release. Once we reach Easter morning, there’s a new story being written in our lives. The cross is mercy: not getting what we deserved. The empty tomb and resurrection is grace upon grace: getting what we did not deserve.

And just as in faith we are joined to, participate in, and benefit from Jesus’ death on the cross, so in faith we are joined to, participate in, and benefit from Jesus’ resurrection. In Romans 6:4, Paul writes, “We have been buried with him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

That’s what Easter resurrection accomplishes for all who believe: newness of life. Because of Friday’s cross, you can be forgiven. Because of Easter resurrection, you can be re-born.

Exaltation: raised up for glory, power, authority

I said there are two things in God’s exaltation of Jesus in verse 9. The other is restoring Jesus’ glory, power, and authority in eternity. It’s what he did not grasp on to in order to come among us. But God raised him back up to it such that at his name “every knee will bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (vv.9-11)

This is a picture of eternity. And Jesus is on the throne, not as a scary divine dictator, but precisely (remember “for this reason”) because of his selfless, humble obedience to the Father in loving humanity. That’s the climax of God’s story: a redeeming and restoration of the goodness of creation, with the Triune God at the center of it all.

What Difference Does this Make in My Life?

I don’t ask it as a flippant or disrespectful question, nor do I think you would. I believe God’s story is different than reading an epic like The Oddyssey or Greek mythology. I believe God’s story is different because it is not just a grand myth or great fiction, but it contains our story, the one we are actually living. And if I can focus on the middle three acts of this five-act story, that’s what we’ve been focused on for the last six weeks here at Good Shepherd. It’s okay if you weren’t here; I’ll summarize. We’ve been in Philippians 2 this whole time and the main point is to orient our lives around Jesus.

This great story of God is the reason why. God has come after us out of love and invites us to a new start and a new life. HOW we do that is through Jesus Christ, through trusting him and orienting our lives on him. He will not lead you astray, but will always bring you home. And following him is God’s best for you, whether the circumstances of life are good or bad. Whether in joy or grief, success or failure, confidence or confusion, God’s best is for us to be fully aligned with Jesus… with his humility, his compassion, his selflessness, and his love. That’s what I mean by TRUSTING him. You can believe the story is true, but trusting includes following.

Come, all who are weary and heavy-laden; his yoke is easy and his burden light. In him you will find rest for your soul. Amen.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Servant-King (Philippians 2.5-7, John 12.12-18)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; April 14, 2019 - Philippians 2:5-7; John 12:12-18; Psalm 118

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

::: Music ::
DUET - Hosanna, Loud Hosanna (arr. Fettke) - Lisa Honeycutt, Eric VanderHeide
Hosanna - Praise is Rising (Brown, Baloche)
Hosanna (Ligertwood)
INSTRUMENTAL - All Glory, Laud, and Honor (arr. Bobby White) - piano, organ, trombone
Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Might Gates (TRURO)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: This manuscript represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

It’s Palm Sunday, a day when we remember and even re-enact some of that procession on the Sunday of Jesus’ last week. He entered Jerusalem to shouts of Hosanna and a crowd. Only four days later he would be arrested in the middle of the night and a different crowd in the same city would shout, “crucify him!” The next day, Friday, he would be crucified, and then would die that same day. Something doesn’t match up between Palm Sunday and what we now call Good Friday.

I want to look at several texts today on this Palm Sunday and divide the sermon and these events into three parts: EXPECTATION, REALITY, and EXAMPLE.


I grew up thinking “Hosanna” was kind of like “Hallelujah” – a shout of praise when you really got worked up about God. While the preacher probably did talk about what was really going on, I didn’t listen or it didn’t sink in until years later what the crowd was shouting and what was going on. I talk about it with some frequency here, but if you have missed it or if you are newer here, let me go back over a little of that.

The Jewish people at that time, two thousand years ago, were part of the Roman Empire. A thousand years before that they had been their own modestly successful kingdom, with popular Kings like David and Solomon. But they were later conquered and exiled; and when they did return to their former kingdom, they were subjects of successive empires, with Rome being the biggest and most recent. That meant in Jerusalem and the surrounding towns they had to follow Roman laws and pay Roman taxes. There was a Roman governor with more power than the local Jewish king. There were Roman soldiers in the streets and no Jewish soldiers or army.

For years hope had been growing. That hope was in the sacred writings of the Hebrew scriptures and in the sermons of the Hebrew prophets. God was going to send a Deliverer just as He had once sent Moses to deliver the people from slavery in Egypt. God was going to send a King from the line of David, but even greater than that great king. And by the time the Romans were taxing and ruling first century Judea, the hope in the Messiah was great. He would save the people from Roman occupation and would restore the kingdom of Israel to glories even greater than when David was king.

“Hosanna” was one of the songs of Israel, sung every year at Passover in hope of the Lord’s salvation and blessing. It’s a Hebrew word that means “Save us, now!” That is what the crowd was shouting that Sunday when rode into Jerusalem on a donkey just like one of the prophets had described. And they didn’t just shout “Save us, now” but the next part of Psalm 118 as well: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” They were directing that at Jesus – both the plea that God would save them and identifying him as the blessed one God had sent. That they add on “even the King of Israel” – words not in Psalm 118 – demonstrates their hope and expectation for that blessed one from God to BE a great king like David.

Though Jesus turned away on several occasions from embracing that understanding of himself as earthly Messiah-King, it was what the religious authorities used to get him arrested, tried, and crucified by the Romans (who were the ones who enacted crucifixion for treasonous crimes against the empire). Even after his resurrection some of the disciples still had it wrong and would ask him, “Ok, NOW are you going to restore the kingdom of Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

So even the followers of Jesus missed the salvation God was offering for the salvation they wanted. It raises two questions that we will look at. First, what was the salvation God was offering, if not earthly deliverance and power? And second, do we ever make the same mistake and can God redirect our understanding to see and receive what He is offering us through Jesus Christ?

REALITY (Philippians 2:6-7)

I’m going to turn to Philippians 2, but start with verses 6-7. Those verses don’t describe in detail what Jesus was doing; next week we’ll see that detail in verse 8: “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of… death on a cross.” But even verses 6-7 make it clear what Jesus was NOT doing. Those verses declare that Jesus existed in the form of God – he was (and is) fully Divine. That’s all the power and all the authority. But he did not cling to that or grasp on to that, but emptied himself of that in order to take on humanity. As verse 7 describes it, he took “the form of a bond-servant, being made in the likeness of a human being.” So Jesus became fully human.

And we have already been reading of his character in the preceding verses in Philippians. He did not come to wield power – divine or earthly – but to serve God and others. That’s the mission he was on and the example he set for his followers. And that is born out in the Gospel accounts of Holy Week. Even though crowds of people – including some of his own disciples – wanted him to seize earthly power, he did not grasp after it. And let’s be clear: it was offered to him. It was offered to him by Satan in the temptations at the beginning of his adult ministry. It was offered to him by the crowds at the “Feeding of the 5000,” where we read “they were wanting to make him king by force.” (John 6:15). But he slipped away. Later at his trial, when Pilate asks him if he is King of the Jews, Jesus answers, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36) He goes on to say that if it were his followers would have fought against his arrest; but he again says that his kingdom is not an earthly one.

And the events of crucifixion and resurrection go on to bear out what Paul writes in Philippians. Jesus did not seek or grasp after earthly power any more than he did heavenly power and deity. He emptied himself in obedience to God the Father and out of love for the world God loved. So, the words shouted that Palm Sunday were true – he was the blessed one who came in the name of the Lord to save. It just was a salvation and blessing different from the one the people thought they needed.

EXAMPLE (Philippians 2:5)

And then to back up one more verse in Philippians 2, Paul writes in verse 5 that we are to “have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” That suggests to me that there are two takeaways from Palm Sunday in relation to who Jesus actually was and what he actually did.

The first has to do with salvation. Or maybe you want to use the word hope or expectation or prayer or longing. But if we are going to join the human race in crying out “Save us, now!” We need to be clear about what God is offering. Or let me frame it another way. When you think about your own needs or the needs in our community, country, or world, what is it that you think the world needs the most? I know the pageant answer is “world peace” but how would that come? Really, take a moment and think about how you would answer that if you weren’t sitting in church expecting the answer to be “Jesus.”

At heart the Palm Sunday crowd was looking for a political answer to their pressing needs. They didn’t like the Roman emperor and all that came with that. The Jewish King they had – Herod – was pretty bad. So… let’s get a new King with more power. And certainly some earthly leaders are better than others. But that’s not why Jesus came. He came to give up power and serve others – in everyday ways and in the ultimate sense. That’s God’s salvation.

So indeed, we should shout “Hosanna” – we should cry out to God for help and salvation. But let’s make sure we are paying attention to what God is offering.

As a second takeaway, don’t miss verse five. Not only do we need to see Jesus for who he actually is and what he actually did; but we are challenged to be like him. Paul challenges us to align our lives with his in Philippians 2. And Jesus gives it as his last command on Thursday night of this Holy Week. That’s what “Maundy Thursday” means – the Thursday mandate or commandment. We’ll look at that this Thursday night at the service. What did Jesus do? He, their Lord and Teacher, took off his robe, put on a towel, and washed the feet of his followers. He served them. Then he told them to go and do the same. We are not only to pay attention and understand the help God is offering; we are to live out the same kind of help in the world around us.

So rather than seeking power, seeking influence, seeking wealth, we are to serve and love others. Rather than hoping in the right politician or policy to save the world, we are to serve the world as we follow the savior of the world.

Hosanna, indeed. It’s a short word that requires us to look around with spiritual insight and honesty and it invites us to the very thing we have been talking about for weeks: fixing our eyes on Jesus Christ and living lives in keeping with his.

But lest you misunderstand: you and I are not to save the world; Jesus is the savior of the world. We are to follow the savior of the world. In doing so, the world we be doubly blessed by all those who come in the name of the Lord. Amen.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Humility of Mind (Philippians 2.3-4, Luke 10, Dt 6)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; April 7, 2019 - Philippians 2:3-4; Luke 10:25-29; Deuteronomy 6:4-6

:: Sermon Audio (link) :: Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

::: Music ::
Love the Lord Your God (Brewster)
Meekness and Majesty (Kendrick)
CHOIR: A Place of Healing Grace (Sorenson)
SOLO: Son of God, Son of Man (Bean, VanderHeide)
Have Thine Own Way/We Bown Down (trad. hymn/T. Paris; arr. Austell)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) :: This manuscript represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

We are continuing today to talk about “alignment with Christ.” The idea comes from Philippians 2:5, which is an anchor verse for the whole first half of Philippians 2, where we are spending these eight weeks or so leading up to and through Easter Sunday. In verse 5, the Apostle Paul writes, “Have this attitude which was in Christ Jesus.” The concept of “attitude” there is more than emotions; it is a mind-set and lifestyle, a course-heading for living and that’s what we are focusing on in this series. Like any other course heading, we do sometimes get off track. But it’s possible to make course corrections, to reset and re-orient back towards Christ. But as you also know, the longer you are off-course, the further you go from your destination. All the more reason, whether you have a little or a lot to re-set, to do it now. So this series is about that: defining our course in Christ and re-setting where we need to come back in alignment with him.

Today we are going to talk about HUMILITY. It is related to last week’s focus on compassion, but is more of a frame of mind where compassion was a gut-level response that leads to action. In fact, humility is one of the core mindsets that cultivates gutsy compassion. I probably would have talked about that before compassion, but Philippians is arranged in a classic Greek format that doesn’t put the main idea first or last, but in the middle. We are headed toward that middle.

Empty Conceit

We’ll focus on verses 3-4 today. Verse 3 starts with a negative: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit,” And that is paired in verse four with “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests.” We could take those phrases on their own, but they also bring up the context of Philippians, which I want to mention.

I say that it brings up the context because Paul uses similar words in chapter one in describing some other Christian leaders in Philippi who apparently were speaking out against Paul’s ministry. Paul praises their ministry of “preaching Christ” but challenges the way in which they are not able to bless other ministry like his. That conflict prompts him to write chapter two with its focus on humility, compassion, and Christ-like behavior.

It’s not unlike some of the politics of today. It’s one thing to agree or disagree on someone’s political positions. But, increasingly, we are seeing attacks that are more and more personal – not only on other politicians, but on their families, and among the general populace. That was a bit of Paul’s situation: “Hey, great message about Christ; but why are your mocking me for being imprisoned for my preaching? Please pray for me instead!” Paul was not baited and did not rise to their accusations or mockery, but pointed to Christ as a picture of a better way.

Humility of Mind

So in contrast to selfishness, empty conceit, and looking out for one’s personal interests, Paul provides an antidote rooted in the character and behavior of Christ. He writes in verses 3-4: “But with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves… looking for the interests of others.” Even here, he pairs a mindset with an action. Humility results in compassion, in looking out for the interests of others.

What is humility? Paul is taking this teaching from the Torah, the Jewish Law found in the first five books of our Old Testament. He’s also drawing on the teaching of Jesus, like the verses you heard from the Gospel of Luke and the conversation between Jesus and the religious scholar of the Torah. Love God with everything and love your neighbor as yourself.

So Paul defines humility as one part of that Great Commandment. For Paul, humility is regarding others as more important than yourself. Does that mean you are a doormat and let people walk all over you? Interesting that we often take it that direction. But no, consider how a human being should regard themselves! We are created in the image of God and God has called that creation good! We are charged with stewarding the earth and glorifying God and have an inherent dignity because of God’s creation and trust. In a perfect world, loving neighbor as ourselves would mean we see others with all that same dignity. However, sin has clouded our view of ourselves and of others. The first sin was humanity grasping after godhood, putting ourselves above others and equal to God. So it is no wonder that one of the forms sin takes is selfishness and putting others down. It is also interesting that in the verses to come, Paul will hold up Jesus as our example, specifically noting that he did NOT grasp after divinity, but became human out of obedience and compassion, serving others as he put their lives and needs before his own.

Finally, I would note the way humility has been translated here as “humility of mind.” Humility often requires a choice, a mental decision to think of others and put them first. Compassion is a feeling and sometimes we just don’t feel it. But humility is an ordering, a posture of others-first that CAN be chosen. And Paul is commending that choice to us as one that Jesus made and desires for us. Last week I asked how we might grow in compassion. Choosing humility is a good first step because it sets us in the right path for those feelings to form. It’s hard to cultivate compassion if we are focused on ourselves first. Even the action part in these verses is something that can be chosen with our minds: “Look out for the interests of others.” Again, I probably would have talked about humility first, then moved on to compassion; but now you have them both. Choose humility; cultivate compassion. It’s a joining of mind and heart in love of the Lord and others.

Listen Up! (Shema)

We began the service with the Shema. It’s the passage from Deuteronomy 6 that the religious scholar quoted to Jesus in Luke 10. It has the verses about loving God with all you’ve got. The neighbor part comes from Leviticus. But I wanted to mention the Shema because of what else is there. After calling on God’s people to “listen up” (that’s what Shema means), and after the verses about loving God with all you’ve got, there is a command to teach these things to our children. We are to weave them into every part of our lives: waking, sleeping, coming, and going. And we are to teach them diligently to our children.

One of the things that most concerns me about the way politicians, media, the general public, and even professing Christians treat each other in 2019 is that we tear into each other, mock each other, belittle each other, and divide into teams. A few weeks ago we talked about fellowship and unity in the Body of Christ. And yet we see very few people cultivating fellowship and unity and a world of people doing the opposite. Besides grieving that, I often think “what will our children learn from this?” Not only does Paul call us strongly to humility, compassion, fellowship, and unity because of Jesus, all this is rooted in biblical teaching like the Shema that reminds us to pass on this teaching, mindset, and behavior to our children. That is one of our high callings as families and as church family. That’s what we vow when we join this church and when we baptize children here. We promise to set our course on Jesus Christ and do our best to teach that faith and that faithfulness to each other and to our collective children.

Do we have to be perfect? No, but remember the invitation to reset and re-orient when we miss the mark? That’s what it means to follow Jesus and we mean to do that here! Amen.

Upcoming: Mindset Jesus

In the coming weeks we will turn from the application that Paul starts with to the inspiration he offers in Jesus. I can’t think of a better time to do that then coming up to Palm Sunday and Easter when Jesus demonstrated most fully who he was and how he loved us. Come back and dig in as we continue to set our course on Jesus. Amen.