One in Spirit and Purpose

(Philippians 2:1-13) J G White
Sunday, Oct 1, 2017, UBC Digby

On this ‘World Communion Sunday,’ let us contemplate the broad meaning of this Christian worship activity we observe here once a month.  It is a way of telling and enacting the story of Jesus, and those words from Philippians 2 can help us draw nearer to the meaning and power of Holy Communion.

It is significant to realize that we have a fellowship connection with millions of believers around the globe.  And though there are many different ways this ceremony is done, and lots of differing opinions on what it means, we share it.  It is a holy Communion.

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…  Wrote Paul.  We can share the attitude and way of Jesus.  We share Christ with all the others who share Him.

Our word, ‘communion,’ of course means ‘fellowship.’  We have the words ‘communion,’ ‘community,’ ‘commune,’ and even ‘communist.’ All about the same thing.  Togetherness.  We are known to sing Fanny Crosby’s hymn, ‘Draw Me Nearer.’
O, the pure delight of a single hour
that before Thy throne I spend,
when I kneel in prayer, and with thee, my God,
I commune as friend with friend. (1875, # 534)

So it means something to take this bit of bread and juice from the grapes with others.  To do it alone seems weak to me.  I never like to go alone and take communion to someone in their home. I want at least a few: fellowship.  

The other term we Baptists tend to use for it is The Lord’s Supper, a phrase from 1 Corinthians 11.  It is a symbolic meal, with physical bread and physical grapejuice.  We remember the Lord Jesus was a physical being in history.  Paul speaks of the Saviour,
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.

Born like you and me.  Breathed like you and me.  Ate and drank and grew like you and me.  Walked and saw and heard and touched like you and me.  And knew all the capabilities and limitations of the mind and heart like you and me.  Jesus felt pain, felt sadness, felt joy, felt hope.  The Lord’s Supper gets is in touch with the God who enters human life completely.  

There are other terms for this ritual.  Some Christians simply refer to it as the Breaking of Bread.  Jesus, the Bread for the world, was broken.
And being found in human form,
8     he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross.

In the context of this Table, breaking of the bread is significant.  Bread must be broken up in order for it to be shared by many.  Somehow, it worked that Jesus was broken and killed, to be shared by many.

There are times this act of worship gets us in touch with our own mortality.  With the deaths and griefs we have suffered.  With our own brokenness.  And may we see, from deep within, that God breaks too, joining us, so there will be healing and new life.

Eucharist is not a word Baptist Christians have used much, but it is common among Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Eastern Orthodox, and others.  The word comes from the Greek, εὐχαριστία, meaning, ‘thanksgiving.’  Not the holiday, Thanksgiving, but simply giving thanks.  Showing the attitude of gratitude.  We find the element of thankful rejoicing in this hymn to Christ that Paul gives us:
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

When we come together at the Lord’s Table once a month, it can be a real moment of thankfulness!  Each of us grateful for how God reaches into our lives with love and mercy, truth and healing.  And thankful for being made one by the One we know and share, Christ Jesus.

In many Christian traditions some of the praying at the eucharistic table is called ‘the great thanksgiving.’  We will use a bunch of prayers in our hymnbook that make up a ‘great thanksgiving.’

And finally, this Christian rite is called Mass by  Roman Catholics, some Anglicans, and others.  A few of us protestants went to Mass at St. Pat’s the other evening, when Mass was said for the late Maureen Potter.  

It is hard to know where this simple little word comes from.  Is ‘Mass’ from the Jewish ‘Matzah,’ the unleavened bread of the Passover?  Or is the term rooted in a word for dismissing and blessing people as they go?  Or, perhaps, Mass is from a word for mission.  I like the idea of connecting this time of bread and wine with being sent out to accomplish our purpose.  

Paul’s hymn to Christ ends:
11 and every tongue should confess
   that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father.

If coming to the Lord’s Table together helps us connect well with God, we can go out with renewed life, and life abundant to share.  We get reminded of the One who goes before us into each day.  We get inspired to confess our Faith with our words and actions and thoughts, moment by moment.  

The Name Above Every Name

(Psalm 118; Philippians 2:5-11) J G White
Palm & Passion Sunday, April 9, 2017, UBC Digby

Jesus, name above all names…
Palm Sunday has what seems to me this strange tradition of superpraising Jesus.  Hosanna sung and palm branches waved again. Happy joy, as a prelude to the happy joy of Easter.
And we Christians can get rather zealous about the end of the story, as we see it. Jesus wins.  

So, even now, we are on the right side, the winning team, and look ahead to that time when every knee shall bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  

We, of the Men’s Choir, sang that Gaither song about the second coming of Jesus: the King is Coming.  With great hope and confidence we declare that King Jesus is coming back, praise God, He’s coming for me.  

Do any of you have a competitive streak in you?  You like to win. Was playing the board game last night: Settlers of Catan… with a couple of competitive guys.  Or, you like your favourite team to win.

So in our religion.   How do we respond to the Name Above Every Name?  This Jesus? Enjoyable praise, a triumphant party.
Praise and worship is good and right. Celebration can be a spiritual activity.  Notice in Philippians 2 the recommended action. We are to have this same mind – the humility of Christ.  

Palm Sunday is also Passion Sunday.  Suffering of Jesus Sunday.  The Passion of the Christ Sunday.
Compassion:  com-passion: with suffer. Passion = suffer.  Passion = strong feeling.  co – suffering.  

I once knew pastor of an old, country church who truly liked the focus on Jesus’ suffering the week before Easter.  He saw many people in his pews on Palm Sunday who would not come on Good Friday.  How could they celebrate the resurrection without the experience of Jesus’ death? So at least they would get that on what they had always called Palm Sunday.

Today, of all days lately, suffering and sacrifice may indeed be upon our minds.  Today, the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge, that looms so large in the history of WW1.  In 1917 it was the Monday after Easter – resurrection after destruction.

Philippians 2 has this great hymn to Christ.  We sang a hymn version of it before 11 o’clock, to a sprightly, British tune.  Because of the message of the lyrics, I prefer an older tune by Vaughan Williams, in a minor key.  It is a minor key type song, to me.  

Philippians 2 begins, saying to the reader: Have this mind among you that was in Christ Jesus.  And this is what the mind of Christ looks like:  Jesus…
Did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.
Emptied himself.
Took on the form of a slave.
Took on the life of a human.
Humbled himself.
Was obedient even to death, by public execution.

You have heard of being upwardly mobile?
Jesus was downwardly mobile.
Our mind can be of the same attitude. Our journey in the same direction. Downwardly mobile.

American Catholic, Richard Rohr, talks about falling upward – going down is the way up with God.  Some of Rohr’s men’s work, through the years, has been around the need for initiation rites in the lives of men.  
Rohr says:  I have found the phenomenon of male initiation in every culture and on every continent until the modern era.  Something that universal—and so uniform in its goals—was surely fulfilling a deep human and social need. It was deemed necessary for cultural and personal survival, it seems. Throughout history, men were more often in positions of power and privilege, whereas women were often unfairly subjugated. Women, therefore, more naturally learned the path of descent (self-emptying) through their “inferior” position to men.
We recognize in initiation universal patterns of wisdom that need to be taught to the young male in his early “tower building” stages.  (Richard Rohr blog, October 18, 2016)

The German Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart (c. 1260 – c. 1328) said in essence that the spiritual life has more to do with subtraction than with addition. But [in the capitalistic West,] we keep trying to climb higher up the ladder of spiritual success. Some Buddhists call it spiritual materialism or spiritual consumerism. We’ve turned the Gospel into a matter of addition instead of subtraction. [prosperity gospel!] When we are so full of ourselves, we have no room—and no need—for God or others, or otherness in general.  (Richard Rohr blog, October 19, 2016)

My friend, Jonathan Riley, happened to say, yesterday: all art is essentially subtraction.  Sculpture is clearly about subtracting.  Carpentry, the same. Even painting, or poetry is about subtracting, not adding.  And the spiritual life is about subtraction.

The path of descent, or the pattern of falling upward, is found throughout the Bible. Jacob’s son, Joseph, is thrown into the well by his own brothers and then rescued (Genesis 37:20-28). The prophet Jeremiah is thrown into a cistern by the civil leaders after he preaches retreat and defeat, and he is rescued by a eunuch (Jeremiah 38:6-13). Jonah is swallowed by a whale and then spit up on the right shore (Jonah 2:1-11). The people of Israel are sent into exile in Babylon and then released and allowed to return home by Cyrus, the King of Persia (2 Chronicles 36:15-23). Enslavement and exodus is the great lens through which Jewish history is read.

Add to that the story of Job as one unjustly but trustfully suffering and restored (Job 42:9-17), and the four “Servant songs” of Isaiah 42-53, describing one who suffers in a way that is vicarious, redemptive, and life-giving for others. (Richard Rohr blog, Oct 16, ‘16)

Compassion:  com-passion: suffering – with.

Jesus’ community – the Church – is called to suffer.  Take up your cross, we hear Jesus say, over & over.

Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall teaches these two things about Christian suffering.  One: Christian suffering is life-oriented, not death-oriented.  Two: suffering has more to do with suffering that is outside the community of discipleship than with our own [church] suffering.  (2003, The Cross in ur Context, p. 143)

So, the church is called to suffer not because suffering is good or beneficial or ultimately rewarding, but called to suffer because there is suffering — that is, because God’s creatures, including human beings, are already suffering, because ‘the whole creation groans.”  (p. 152)

Our path is a path of humility – having the same mind that was in Christ Jesus.  

It was one hundred years ago now that the beloved Andrew Murray (1828-1917) died.  He’d been a pastor in South Africa, and a spiritual author.  This is from his book simply called: Humility (Whitaker, 2004)

Brothers and sisters, here is the path to the higher life: down, lower down!  This was what Jesus always said to the disciples who were thinking of being great in the kingdom and of sitting on His right hand and His left.  Do not seek or ask for exaltation: that is God’s work.  See to it that you abase and humble yourselves, and take no place before God or man but that of servant.  That is your work.  (p. 44)

I often remember the Palm Sunday scene in the musical, Jesus Christ Superstar:  As Christ enters Jerusalem triumphantly, with the excited crowds, he says to them:
Neither you, Simon, nor the fifty thousand,
Nor the Romans, nor the Jews,
Nor Judas, nor the twelve
Nor the priests, nor the scribes,
Nor doomed Jerusalem itself,
Understand what power is,
Understand what glory is,
Understand at all, Understand at all….
While you live your troubles are many, poor Jerusalem.
To conquer death, you only have to die.
You only have to die.

Jesus identity is the Name Above Every Name, because of his descent.  God the Father raised Him up, as Philippians says, and the resurrection shows.
So it is for us too – we are raised by God, not ourselves.

Andrew Murray, again…  Brother or sister, are you clothed with humility?  look closely at your daily life.  Ask Jesus. Ask your friends.  Ask the world.  And begin to praise God that there is opened up to you in Jesus a heavenly humility that you have hardly known, and through which a heavenly blessedness (which you possibly have never yet tasted) can come into you. (P. 36)

At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow.