I was invited to preach at St Barnabas, Franche on Sunday for Holy Cross day so used a little thing I'd used before about looking at things from God's perspective. Then I saw this marvellous cartoon on the Naked Pastor so decided I'd pop the sermon up here. As ever, this is the sermon I wrote and is not exactly what I said. As always I find that writing the sermon out in full means I get an idea of the structure and then I get to the lectern and pretty much abandon the text completely!
The readings for the day were as follows:
Philippians 2:1-13and this was my sermon:
"If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, 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.
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.
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Today we have two very rich readings; two very well-known readings. In Philippians we hear those words which we often sing “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow” and for our gospel we had John’s famous born again passage. The Greek for this passage has two meanings: to be born from above or to be born again different biblical translations opt for one or the other. The passage also concluded with that passage which some consider sums up the whole of the Gospel the good news John 3.16 for God so loved the world…
The problem with such readings is that, as they are so familiar we can actually miss the depth of what they have to offer us.
Let’s start by taking St John’s words. St John’s Gospel takes on a new light if viewed, throughout, with the prologue in mind. Some scholars argue that this is how the author intended the text, in the style of other Greek writings, the prologue sets out the author’s ideas and colours all else that follows:
John 1.1-5 & 9-13
So Nicodemus is one of those people who walk in darkness. You might say that John tells us Nicodemus comes at night, not just because he was trying to hide from the authorities but because he was in the dark in more ways than one. Nicodemus, unfortunately, remains confused. I like the old translation, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot comprehend it. It can’t understand it and it can’t overcome it either. That double meaning again.
Paul, similarly is writing from prison to the Christians in Philippi emphasizing how they have not understood Jesus, just as Nicodemus had not.
These passages then, have another thing in common. Both these readings place an emphasis on our need to make a change in the way we view things
For those of us who have been Christians for a long time, this can be harder than we think. We find ourselves in a similar position to Nicodemus: A part of the established religion faced by a challenging presence in the form of Jesus. Now we may be part of the Christian church, founded on what Christ taught not the Jewish religious establishment yet I’m sure God does look at the Church of England and see a few things that should be different. Jesus responds to Nicodemus by referring to the tradition of the Jewish church and by telling him that he is both the fulfilment and the power which will turn it on its head and put it back the way God intended it to be. Jesus emphasizes that people must change so utterly that they are born from above, born again, born in a heavenly way before they can see the kingdom. Is that before they can be aware of it or before they themselves can change so much that they become the kingdom?
That is what that great passage of John 3.16 encapsulates. The world as God intended it. Far from the punishment of all the enemies of the Jewish people and the God of wrath, Jesus comes as the opposite not to condemn the world but so that it might be saved and he doesn’t do it in a way that the Jewish people might expect. He’s not the great king and conquering hero but as the lowest
“though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but 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”
Br John of Taizé described this once as Jesus going from as high as you can be to as low as you can go and thereby encompassing everything within creation.
It is this Christ that Paul says we must be like.
As Christians we may think we know the answer to the question “What would Jesus DO?” as popular today as WWJD on bracelets T-shirts and, I kid you not, boxer shorts! Yet this change of mind is not a once and for all thing. It’s not something that happens at our baptism or confirmation. It is a continuous process. The Benedictine order has “conversion of life” as one of its core rules. It doesn’t mean a one time only deal but a daily, hourly, minute by minute conversion.
Let’s try and get our brains to hold that concept. That looking at things in a different way
If you’re able I’d like to ask you to stand if you’d rather not that’s fine you can still take part it’s just a little easier to do standing.
I’d like you to put your arm up in the air look up and draw a circle clockwise above your head, like it’s a halo. Then I’d like you to keep drawing that clockwise circle and close your eyes. Think of all you do that leads you forward with God and I’d like you to keep your eyes closed, keep drawing that circle and bring you your arm slowly down in a spiral until it is to level with your chest. Now this is how God sees it, looking down. Open your eyes and keep the circle going. He sees us continuously turning back not clockwise but anticlockwise.
This is our needing to be born from above, from god’s point of view. Those good things we do which draw us to God? (halo) God sees our need to turn our heads around and see them not as a way of GETTING TO GOD (they’re not. We don’t build our own path to heaven. Jesus builds the whole path and calls us to follow it) Not a way of getting there not things that make us saints. We are saints God calls us to do that which Paul says, to be of the same mind as Christ. Not building ourselves up by our works but humbling ourselves as servants.
It may sound a big ask to be of the same mind as Christ but as St Paul says, we don’t have to do this alone because “it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” What is God’s will for you this week where will God be at work in you this week?