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Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost–“Unity” (Philippians 2:1-4, 14-18)

25 Sep

A-79 Proper 21 (Mt 21.23-32)Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon this morning is the Epistle, which was read earlier.

As we continue to look at Paul’s words to the Philippians, we see him continuing his earnest desire for them to remain in the fellowship of Christ Jesus. However, just remaining in the fellowship is not enough for Paul. There is something else that Paul strives for: unity. He writes, “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of the one mind.” Having unity in the body of Christ is extremely important. If there is no unity, then there is no common confession of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done.

Paul could not have made his call for unity more emphatic if he tried. Notice how he piles up the terms, one on top of the other: “being of the same mind”, “having the same love”, “being in full accord and of the one mind.” The kind of unity God wants is one which involves the whole inner and outer life of his believers. God wants a unity of thoughts, feelings, will and actions.

What is this unity that Paul speaks of centered upon? It is centered upon nothing else but the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is what makes the unity, that confession of Jesus Christ, because if you have Jesus wrong, everything after that is wrong as well.

Such a unity is not natural; it goes against the grain, that is, against our sinful human nature. We could never hope to manufacture it on our own. Consider this: who can perfectly control his actions, much less his thoughts? This unity is a supernatural gift coming from our God. It is He who by His Spirit gives us the ability to think and act in line with Jesus Christ. True unity is created and maintained by the pure Gospel, and only insofar as we are faithful to that Gospel can we hope to remain one in Christ.

The words of our Epistle lesson are a wonderful framework for verses 5-13 which are omitted in the appointed readings of our text. That is the “dot, dot, dot” at the end of verse four. When we look at those verses in light of our text, we see words like service and attitude; those are two words very prevalent in society today. We have a service oriented economy. Most jobs are focused on servicing the wants and needs of the American people. And when we go somewhere, we want good service. When we go out to dinner, we expect good service. And if we don’t get good service, they might experience a little bit of our attitude.

That is the way of the world. But that is not the way of God’s people. St. Paul tells us, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus”; in other words, your attitude should be that of Jesus. He continues, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Unfortunately, when we look at today’s society, we tend to do the opposite of what Paul says. We tend to focus on Number One, that is, ourselves, because we need to make sure that our needs are met. Then, and only then, can we begin to look at the needs of our neighbor.

Christ says that is not the way that it should be, for Jesus Himself is the great example of service to our neighbor since “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Paul tells us that our Lord took on “the very nature of a servant”, “made himself nothing” and “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” As Christ’s followers, we are called to go and do likewise.

That’s where the rubber meets the road, isn’t it? We don’t want to serve our neighbor; we would rather be served instead. There is one thing that is missing: sacrifice. Sacrifice is what Christ came into the world to bring. Not only was it a sacrifice, it was self-sacrifice, a sacrifice that was paid for with His own life. The power of self-sacrifice is really the power of love: real love, Christian love. In fact, self-sacrifice is the center and content of genuine love, the kind we see in the crucified Christ.

The sacrifice that we make on behalf of our neighbor is what Paul is speaking of in our text. It is what Christ did for His Church. This idea brings out an aspect of humility which is often overlooked. Humility does not say, “I am absolutely worthless; I have no gifts, no abilities which could possibly help anyone.” Rather, a truly humble person will use whatever gifts he may possess in a way which serves his fellow believers. Humility expresses itself in service, in being “the one for others,” as was Christ.

Paul says, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” Christ is the supreme example of a person who spent His life in service to others. We ask what humility meant in His case. He was Lord of all, and He knew it. But He made Himself the servant of all. He had all power in heaven and earth; He said as much to His disciples. But we see His humility in this that He was willing to use His power to benefit others. His death on the cross was the most unselfish act ever recorded in history. Though He shrunk back from death with the natural horror anyone would feel, He put our interests – the interests of all mankind – ahead of His own and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Paul says to us, “You ought to have that same way of looking at things.”

Paul’s desire for the Church at Philippi was one of joy and peace in Jesus Christ. He doesn’t merely give us joy, He is our joy. He doesn’t merely give us peace, Jesus Himself is our peace. He reminds the Church who they are, “children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation.” The Church throughout the ages has had to be reminded of that, that we are children of God. We have had to be reminded that Christ bought us with His very life. We have had to be reminded that we have God’s holy name placed upon us through Baptism, marking us as His redeemed children.

Christ has come to save. His love and sacrifice have transformed the nature of power, of our hopes, and of our minds. Today, His Word bids us to give as He did, to love as He did, and to live before the throne His sacrifice has won. He calls us away from the destructive, self-serving, pleasure-seeking patterns of the sinful world to a life won through the power of sacrificial love. He calls us to see the power of love outpoured and to rejoice in the survival of the forgiven. That is our role as members of the body of Christ. Amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.

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Posted by on September 25, 2011 in Sermons

 

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