Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
Empty Yourself of you for God
1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
In jest, somewhat, we entitled this past Sunday’s sermon, “You’re Full of It!” The point of the sermon was to bring attention to those things that get in the way of us growing in our faith and being able to hear others (which is, basically, ourselves). The idea of being full of ourselves is from the reading from the Philippians passage (2:1-13) in which talks about Jesus “emptying Himself.”
In the Greek, the word is kenosis.
This word carries the idea of emptying, making empty, or making of no effect.
And in conjunction with the word that comes before it (Himself), it places the emphasis of the passage on the act of Jesus, Himself, being emptied. Now, there has been much debate about the nature of the substance that Jesus emptied, but in the context of this passage and for our edification, it is not important.
Because this phrase finds itself in the middle of a hymnic tribute to the Second person of the Trinity, the person of Jesus.
I want to look at this liturgical gem and understand its importance to us(especially in light of my “you’re full of it” quip.
who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death--even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:1-13
Much is made in our society of “privilege’ (and usually it is further focused on “white privilege”). While unclear in its intent in the national conversation, there is truth in this idea as it speaks about opportunities that some may have over others simply because of something that is outside of their control (skin color, family of origin, birthplace, looks, etc.).
In this hymnic tribute to the Son, Jesus knows that He has the “God privilege,” which is an exclusive privilege among all who have ever walked this earth. He willing chose not exploit what He had for His gain but willingly and humbly set it aside so that we might come to a saving relationship with the God of the universe. Because of His act of compassion for our sake, we recognize that it is through Him that we enter into God’s grace and mercy, redeeming our souls for now and all eternity.
Why is this important?
This is what God calls us to.
Except, we are not God.
And do not have the “God privilege.”
So how does this factor in for us?
Let’s look at the key elements of the hymn:
Exploitation When I think of the word exploitation, I think of the name Martin Shkreli, whose company obtained the manufacturing license for a life-saving drug and raised its price by a factor of 56 overnight, making it unaffordable by many who needed it. This is exploitation at its worst. If we use our “privileges” of life to help get us ahead of others so that we might benefit where others can not, we are acting in much the same way. Think of it as the disparities between the “haves” and the “have nots,” and how this affects relationship. Jesus knew that if he did a bunch of “God stuff” that no one else could do for His benefit, it would take away from His message (and maybe even ruin it).
The Emptying It is terribly difficult to empty ourselves. We are who we are. We live in our skin. We think our thoughts. We do things our way. Jesus emptied Himself to be more human and I imagine that it allowed Him to feel the nature of what we live with every day (although, we would have trouble distinguishing a difference because we know no difference. I like the phrase, “You can’t tell a fish they’re wet.”). We are called, in a similar way, to allow ourselves to enter into the sitz em leben (“place in life”) of those around us. It allows us to be more empathetic and available to the needs of others. It enables compassion to flow freely to those who God wishes to care for.
Sacrifice By choosing not to exploit others and by emptying ourselves of the things that get in the way of being the “hands and feet” of Jesus, we are making a sacrifice. We should not think that choosing the road of service as Jesus did will be a walk in the park; it takes sacrifice. Obviously, the sacrifice of Jesus and our sacrifices do not even register on the same level, but this does not mean that it is easy for us. When I willing go without something, I feel it and I have to work through those feelings. In the life of a pastor, there are many things that are given up (anonymity, “regular” work hours, difficult on families, always working on the weekends). But this is also true of what you all are called to, just in different ways. Sometimes the hardest thing we can do is just to resist the urge to “be right.” Regardless, living a life as a Christian requires sacrifice and will test the resolve of any who choose to follow Jesus.
Exaltation The act of exaltation is done by someone else and not from our own planning. We know plenty of leaders who routinely exalt themselves for their own ego and benefit. For Jesus, the Father exalted Him in giving Him the place of Savior and Redeemer. The Father, in this way, “named” the Son with exaltation through His sacrifice. Think of it this way: Jesus was exalted to a place of acclamation as an example because of His example. He was given a title of honor that came from His selflessness. You and I do not seek exaltation, but it finds us when we are in the midst of living out the Christian faith. We become “notorious” as a person of faith who is worthy of praise (again, not what we are seeking, but as a result of a life lived well). These words from James are the point:
“Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up.” James 4:10
Recognition Jesus, forever, is recognized as someone who changed history (even by those who would question the validity of what He was saying). He is renown. For us, like exaltation, it has a different feel than, let’s say, stardom. We know of many women and men of renown (MLK, Rosa Parks, Jim Thorpe, Neil Armstrong) who are given recognition for who they were and what they did. They are recognized, in some way, as significant. The life lived for God through faith is one that gets recognized, with the result that we are given more opportunities to serve others. Recognition is not for our sake but for the sake of others; for their growth and well-being. Because of my role in this community as both a pastor and a chaplain, I am recognized for these roles. Because I have this recognition, I get the opportunity to serve those in our community. As God has lifted me up and given me recognition, He has opened more doors to serve others. We ALL have this opportunity. When we are recognized by others, we get opportunities to serve.
This is all summed up in the concluding verses of this particular passage when Paul writes:
“Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
You and I are given this great responsibility of serving the Living God. It is this God who goes before us with plans and power. It is this God who we are called to reverently worship with our very lives. Let us empty ourselves and be free to live the life God has for us.