Palm Sunday, 28 March 2021
A Sermon on Philippians 2:5-11 by Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
Philippians 2:5-11 English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
[I found Professor Jim Voelz’s approach to this text very helpful. https://concordiatheology.org/lalp/]
THE WORD OF GOD: OUR LORD
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
What would you do if you had all the power in the world? Surely, you have fantasized about moving people and events around like pieces on a chess board. Of course, you would never do any evil if you had all the power in the world. You would be the all beneficent one who makes yourself and everyone else happy. Right? You would be the God of every kindergarten child.
Ten years ago, Stephen King published the book, 11/22/63, in which he explored being able to go back in time to stop Lee Harvey Oswald before he assassinated President John F. Kennedy. King muses on that traumatic, cataclysmic event as one of those who was smitten with the, then, youngest President. I remember a woman in my hometown, who described how she felt when she saw JFK climb out of a helicopter on my elementary school playground so that he could attend Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn’s funeral. She said, “He was the most beautiful man I had ever seen. I got weak in the knees.” Despite the fact that he was the same age as the parents of Baby Boomers, those in college and high school, then, thought he was the hope of the world. When he died, the myth of Camelot was born again. Throughout the decades since, many, like King, have fantasized about what would have happened if he had not been killed.
In his novel, King helps the reader to discover that changing one key event in history could have countless unexpected consequences. None of us would be the same person we are today if only we could have prevented the tragedies that touched us most deeply. If you had not made that one terrible mistake in your past, that one huge change would have altered your history so greatly that many of the good things that have come about since would never have happened. Right?
Seventeen years ago, the movie Bruce Almighty, explored the fantasy of being able to play God. Given the chance to play God, the first thing the central character does is to make his life more comfortable. He alters his girlfriend’s physical appearance. He changes his dog’s habits. He gets even with those who have stepped on him and makes himself wildly successful. But, he learns how hard it is to answer prayers when he says “yes” to all of them. Finally, Bruce discovers you cannot make someone love you. When he appeals to God, God says, “Welcome to my world.”
What would you do if you had all the power in the world? Paul quotes an early Jewish Christian hymn in Philippians 2 to tell us what God’s Son Jesus in human flesh did when He had all the power in the world. Though He was really in the essential likeness of God, He did not exploit that divine power but emptied Himself by taking the form of a slave by becoming human in the likeness of men. And having become incarnate, He became obedient even unto death on a cross. Christ Jesus preferred others rather than using what was at His disposal.
Who is this God, then, whom we worship? God is the Father, who despite knowing everything goes ahead to create humankind, even though He knows we will rebel against Him. God is the Son, the Living Word of God, who out of love for His Father and us, becomes human while we were still in rebellion against God: in order to live the obedient life we could not live and to die the innocent death we could not die so that He would be for us the sacrificial Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. God is the Holy Spirit, who works through the Word of God and the Visible Words of Baptism and Eucharist, to call, gather, enlighten, sanctify, and keep us united to Jesus, the Savior of the world, who offers forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation to all who trust in Him.
So, what would you do if you had all the power in the world? Would you do what the one true God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) did? Paul tells us what God did. But what would you do?
The seduction of evil always begins in the heart and mind. “Why should God be God?” thought Lucifer. “Did God really say?” the tempter asked the first woman and man. “Why shouldn’t I do what I can do?” asks the billionaire. “I know better,” says the elected official or the bureaucrat. “Why shouldn’t I lie in the service of what I know to be good?” says the one who is at the top of her or his game. Those profoundly in the grip of evil no longer doubt they could be doing wrong.
Oh, what would you do if you had all the power in the world? That’s the question that Holy Week answers, and, it is the rival way of living and thinking that Paul holds up for us to see. For the Living Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, has already opened to us the heart and mind of God in human flesh, and, as John wrote in his prologue, the darkness cannot comprehend it.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,” writes Paul to the Philippians. “Do not be conformed to this world,” he writes to the Romans.
“Come and see each day this week,” mother church invites us year after year. As to little children, she says: “Stop. Look. Listen. Yes, watch and see!”
You do have the power to decide where you will be and to what you will attend each day this one holiest week of the year. Oh, but what would you do if you had all the power in the world?
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel David Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA
The Word of God: Our Lord
Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race, you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 1146).
Philippians 2:6 “though he was in the form of God…”
St. Gregory [4th century Bishop of Nyssa, Turkey]: “He did not say ‘having a nature like that of God,’ as would be said of [a man] who was made in the image of God. Rather Paul says being in the very form of God. All that is the Father’s is in the Son” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Philippians, 237).
Philippians 2:6 “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped …”
St. John Chrysostom [Late 4th – early 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople, Turkey]: “When someone who has the power to think great thoughts humbles himself, that one is humble. But when his humility comes from impotence, that is not what you would call humility…. It is a humility of a greater sort to refrain from seizing power, to be obedient to death” (240).
Philippians 2:7 “but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
St. Cyril [Early 5th century Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt]: “He emptied himself not because as eternal Wisdom he underwent change. For as eternal Wisdom he is absolutely changeless. Rather without changing he chose to become known to humanity in such a humble form” (243).
Philippians 2:8 “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient…”
St. Basil the Great [4th century Bishop of Caesarea, Turkey]: “It is apparent that the Lord accepted natural feelings to confirm that his humanity was real and not illusory, but the feelings that come from wickedness, all those that besmirch the purity of our lives, he repudiated as being unworthy of his unsullied Godhead” (249).
Philippians 2:11 “and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
St. Athanasius the Great [4th century Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt]: “The glory of the Father is that the human race not only was created but was re-created when lost. It was given life once again when dead, so as to become a renewed temple of God. For the powers in heaven also, the angels and the archangels, worship him and now worship the Lord in the name of Jesus. This joy and exaltation belongs to human beings, because the Son of God, having himself become a human being, is now worshiped. The heavenly powers are not offended when they behold all of us being led into our heavenly abode as we share in his body” (256).
- What is the observable and measurable proof that you are humbling yourself before God?
CONFESSION (from Luther’s Small Catechism)
How Christians should be taught to confess.
[Concerning the Office of the Keys] Where is this written?
This is what St. John the Evangelist writes in chapter twenty: The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (John 20:22-23).
What do you believe according to these words?
I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.
- Pray for every unbaptized child and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too. Place their pictures and/or names in a prominent place as a reminder to pray for them
- Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Place their pictures and/or names in a prominent place as a reminder to pray for them. Invite one or more of them to worship.
- Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend how and when individual confession of sins before a pastor might be vital and even necessary for a Christian.
- Consult Lutheran Book of Worship, p. 181, for the daily lessons appointed for the week of Sunday of the Passion (Year One) and read them daily before offering your prayers on behalf of your family, the world, our nation, our state, and our local communities.
- Do not fearfully dismiss your need for individual confession as if regular public confession in worship or silent confession in your head were enough when you find yourself regularly tormented by a particular sin you have committed. Ask for God’s help to face your fears.
- Keep the holiest week of the year by worshiping at as many of the daily services as you are able but especially Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.
For Husbands and Wives
Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”