A sermon preached on April 14, 2019 – Palm Sunday – and the
occasion of the baptism of Zach Thomas Bothe .
Let the same mind be
in you that was in Christ Jesus, 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 servant, 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
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 2:5-11)
From the outset of Lent,
we’ve been hearing Jesus’ call to all persons to “repent.” We’ve noted that repentance isn’t commonly
understood correctly. It is not about groveling
in the dirt with self-contempt for all the sins you’ve committed. It is means to change your mind.
Although Paul doesn’t use
the word, repentance is what he is talking about in today’s reading in which he
says, “Let the same mind be in you that
was in Christ Jesus…”
What is the mindset that
we need to move away from to adopt the mind of Christ Jesus? It is the one that arises from our animal
nature and our upbringing in which we see the world as a competition for
survival. It assumes a scarcity of good
stuff so we must clutch to what we can take for ourselves. It’s about looking out for #1, climbing the
ladder of status, ascending to the place of personal glory.
The mind of Christ is
focused in a different direction. Paul
invites us to imagine the second person of the trinity – the one who is
typically referred to as the Son although in the Redeemer’s pre-existent form
there was no gender – as having been in the eternal glory of heaven where there
is nothing but love he did not clutch to his exalted place but rather chose
freely to descend, to be take on human form, entering the evolving cells of
Mary’s womb. Born at the bottom of society
in homelessness and poverty, he led the life of a servant, embracing the
humiliation of the cross in a great self-offering for all people. Life for Christ Jesus was not a competition
for a scarcity of the good stuff, but a trust in the abundance of God’s grace;
the glory of God that fills the whole creation.
To be a disciple of Jesus
is to intentionally engage in process of coming to see life with the mind of
Christ, letting go clutching, climb of the ladder, the eternal quest for
You may remember the
temptations of the devil we contemplated at the outset of Lent. The devil was encouraging Jesus to hold firm
to the world’s way of thinking. To
ascend to personal glory, rather than to take the path of a servant and the
sacrificial love God was calling him to express.
There is a great tension
between these two paths in the story of Palm Sunday. Jesus enters Jerusalem, and for a little
while he is showered with praise as the people assume is going to ascend to the
throne and from that exalted place give the people what they want: the Romans and corrupt religious leaders
driven out – their restored “glory” as God’s chosen people.
They seem to overlook the
repercussions of the fact that Jesus rides into town on a humble donkey and not
a war horse. Jesus has come not to give
them the piece of the pie they want. He
has come to offer himself as sacrifice of love, revealing the love for all
people that is at the heart of God.
Now I said at the outset
that Jesus declares that all people need to repent. That it’s not just the so-called “bad people”
but all people who need this transformation of the mind.
There is, however, one
exception to this call to repentance. Do
you know who that would be?
Children. It is not appropriate to expect children to
Let’s ponder briefly the
a child’s development. When they are
first born, they have no separate “self.”
They are one with all that is.
The perceive the underlying unity of love that is the Kingdom of
But gradually a separate
self begins to evolve. “There is me, and
there is the world, and I am at the center.”
And in the years that follow this self – this ego – hopefully is
strengthened. Ideally we pour a great
deal of love into these children and they come to view themselves as worthy of
love. We praise them, celebrate their
moments of personal glory – their first steps, learning to read, their successful
recitals and soccer goals, their performances in plays – all by way of building
them up – strengthen their sense of being a separate self that can stand on
their own two feet. Since this is a
broken world, this raising up of a child will not occur imperfectly. There will be with every child ongoing
insecurities and self-doubt, but that’s okay.
It is the cracks, as they say, that let in the light. Our frailties provide a place of connection.
But at some point in the
journey of life each person is invited to the place of recognition that living
for one’s own personal glory isn’t the endgame.
Climbing the ladder for our own personal glory ends up leaving one empty
The realization begins to
dawn that we were made for a higher purpose that to merely survive, or beat out
the competition, or to acquire status and stuff.
This self we have spent a
life time building up is not an end in itself – it must be sacrificed in service
of the glory of God — a glory that encompasses all creation. We learn to loosen our tight grip on what is “mine”
and offer ourselves up as vessels of God’s love. It is for this that we were born.
If we haven’t begun to
grasp this truth before – parenthood has a way of driving it home in dramatic
ways. This little child is recognized as
inherently valuable – inherently holy – in spite of the fact that for a good
long time they are essentially useless and incredibly consuming of our time and
resources. To be a parent is to lay down
your life for your children.
This may have been the
first time I’ve baptized a child on Palm Sunday and it made for interesting
reflections to the baptism of a child and the movements of Palm Sunday side by
The faith of Sandra and
Brian, and all of us here today stands in for the faith of Zach, which in this
context means that personal decision to follow in the way of Jesus – to embrace
the life of a servant, ultimately of all people.
Brian and Sandra, in the
baptism liturgy you were asked a question: Will you nurture Zach in Christ’s holy Church that by your teaching and
example he may be guided to accepted God’s grace for himself, to profess his
faith openly, and to lead a Christian life?
And you said yes. We make these promises as parents recognizing
that you cannot force Zach to be a full follower of Jesus. It is a choice that he must make for himself,
and we are far too early in the game to even talk about such a thing in its deeper
meaning. With the love you pour into him
he is in the process of forming a self, and hopefully one day with some degree
of security in that self he will choose to begin laying it down sacrificially
in love for this broken world, following in the footsteps of Jesus. He will recognize that in the end it is not
his personal glory that matters, but God’s glory.
And as a congregation
this morning we all made a promise to Zach:
“We will surround Zach with a
community of love and forgiveness, that he may grow in his service to
others. We will pray for him, that he
may grow up be a true disciple who walks in the way that leads to life.”
Along with Sandra and
Brian, we will teach Zach about God and Jesus and about connecting to God in prayer. We’ll teach him the golden rule, and
encourage sharing. But the most powerful
thing we can do is try to be the best examples we can of a live lived in
service to God and every human being looks like.
Hopefully if we walk the walk together, surrounding
Zach with a community where forgiveness and love is lived out, even when it isn’t
easy, along the way he will absorb the grace that abounds here, and this
embodied grace will make the choice somewhere down the line to follow in the
way of Jesus more enticing, for he will have grown up experiencing the joy of
being a part of a community that sees life differently from the way the world
commonly sees it – trusting in the love of God that is greater than all the forces
of death that would divide us. He will
recognize that the true King was a servant who lay down his life for all out of
a love infinitely larger than our own little loves.