A sermon based on Psalm 25:1-10 and Philippians 2:1-13 preached on October 16th, 2016
There’s a reason why today’s Super Bowls have been played either in warm weather climates or indoor stadiums. Perhaps the best reason took place on December 31st, 1967. That was the day of the NFL Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys. The temperature in Green Bay, Wisconsin that New Year’s Eve was 16 degrees below zero. The wind chill made it feel like minus 57. It’s still the coldest football game on record. Players said it felt like they were playing in a meat locker.
After the first play, a recovered fumble, the referee blew his whistle and the metal stuck to his lip. He had to rip it off his mouth. His lip started bleeding and the blood immediately froze. From that moment, not another whistle was used in that game. If you care to, you can watch video of the game on YouTube. You’ll see players sliding out of bounds, skidding 20 feet over top of icy grass and rock solid earth. Players were dropping to the ground like the game was being played on a hockey rink.
In temperatures like that that, every hit stings. Your hands and your feet don’t even feel like they’re yours, but for those players that day, they had to work anyway. So they dug down deep and gave it everything they had. With time running out, the Packers put together a drive that ended with quarterback Bart Starr diving headfirst into a pile of Cowboys and over the goal line to score the game-ending winning touchdown.
In the fullness of time, God took His first careful steps upon the earth. This is the mystery and the miracle that we profess: That in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s bare feet touched ground, that He dove headfirst into the pile of humanity.
In all other religions, God is that Holy Other, the One who is entirely well past anything anyone could ever think of or imagine. Completely unknowable and incomprehensible. But we who call ourselves Christians believe something different. We believe that God was one of us. We believe that God has a face. Eyes we could peer into. A voice we could hear with our own ears as easily as you and I can hear one another. That, in Jesus Christ, God came close and became acquainted with the muck and the mire of our everyday, earthbound existence. This is what Paul declares, when he shares with the believers in Philippi that Jesus emptied himself. What he means is that Jesus forsook his safe position at the right side of God—the one he’s had since the very beginning of creation—that Jesus chose for our sake to abandon His throne and touch down to earth—to become one of us. To share in this dirty, earthbound existence of ours.
But the story of Jesus’ incarnation is really not so much about what God gave up to become one of us. It’s really more about what He took on. He took on flesh. He took on sin. He took on humanity. True humanity. When we look at Jesus, we see the face of God, but not only that. We also see what true humanity looks like. God is the most human of us all—and Jesus, who is God with skin on, is the most human being who has ever lived.
According to God, human beings are at their best when they reflect Him, and Jesus spent every second of His earthly existence reflecting God because by His perfect human nature, Jesus gave Himself over to a life of service, truth, humility. By His every word and action, Jesus reflected the glory of God to us by showing how big God’s love really is, and how far God is willing to go to show us how fully we are loved. With who He is and all of what He does, Jesus is the Imago Dei, the very image of God, and therefore the truest human, the most humane of all. And from the moment of his first touch-down in a manger in Bethlehem 2,020 years ago right on up to now, Jesus has invited all of us to reflect the Imago Dei, the image of Christ in our own lives—to slowly but surely become human, to practice kindness and compassion. To take up a life of service and truth and humility that mirrors (however dimly) the image of Christ, who is the most human being who has ever lived.
In Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi, he encourages that community to practice being church. If we take Paul at his word, being church happens when people come together and are of the same mind, have the same love, and are in full accord with one another. Now, this doesn’t mean that Paul is suggesting that Christians should all believe the same things, agree on every issue out there, or that every church should strive to be ideologically identical. Far from it. This isn’t a plea for cookie-cutter Christianity. Rather, Paul coaxes us all to adopt a similar attitude, the attitude of Christ. To orient ourselves in the same direction. To face towards Jesus, and to nurture within our community a willingness to bear one another’s burdens, encourage each other, journey along the way beside each other, share in mutual love and heartfelt affection, and to live in right relationship. In short, to practice being church with and for one another, by reflecting Jesus in everything we say, think, and do. And the hope is, if we’re all willing to take up that burden, to give ourselves fully to that project, God will be at work here and we will see our salvation being worked out day by day, week by week, year by year. Because a community that shows Christ to each other has Christ at its center.
All this, I hope you know, is called stewardship. Stewardship is ultimately about adopting a Christlike attitude. It’s about living our way into the Way of Jesus. Just as Jesus did nothing from selfish ambition, we who are His church live our way into the right practice of stewardship by taking up that same selfless attitude. God’s idea of good stewardship happens when each and every one of us make it our primary vocation to reflect the Imago Dei, the image of Christ, with, for and to one another, and then out into the world.
We often think of stewardship in private ways, especially when it comes to time and money. We’re not accustomed to other folks telling us how we should spend our time and our money. And anybody who challenges our choices in these matters is rude, and more than likely, crossing a boundary. If we had our way, we’d like to keep both how we spend our money and how we spend our time private matters. That’s at least what the world says. It’s no business of yours. But we who gather as Church believe something different.
To paraphrase Martin Luther, our nature is so deeply curved in on ourselves that it not only bends the gifts of God inward toward ourselves, but also it fails to realize that we seek all things, even God, for own sake. As we gather together as Church, part of what we do is admit to one another and to God how deeply curved in toward ourselves we are, how reluctant we are to share these inward parts of ourselves with each other. We’re here as church to encourage one another, to help each other regain and reclaim our human shape—to take on the shape of Christ, the most human being there ever was. And that happens when we take the chance to curve our lives outward, so that we can begin reflecting and projecting the Good News of the Gospel out into the world. Mirrors curved inward reflect their images upside down. Paul writes,
Do nothing from selfish ambition…look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
Mirrors curved outward reflect their images right-side up. That’s the character of Christ and the shape of stewardship! Curved outward. How we spend our time and our money are biblical issues.
We best reflect the image of the God whose feet touched down to earth by hitting the turf ourselves. Lives curved outward in stewardship are lives given in service to one another, to neighbors, and to community. That’s why we group Stewardship and Mission together into one committee here at Kuhn Memorial. A Church curved outward in stewardship is a church sent outward in mission!
When we give ourselves in mission to our neighbors and to our community, we make footprints upon the earth just like God has done in Jesus Christ. We’re taking the ever-outward lunge forward that our forever-outward-lunging God takes. When we are faithful, we make our way headfirst into humanity. When we do that we reflect the image of our touchdown Jesus. Whenever we lunge forward like that, putting foot to pavement; whenever we walk closer to be with and assist our neighbors in mission, our presence with them and care for them thaws out the frozen ground beneath their feet, so when a brother or sister among us falls down on hard times, the fall doesn’t hurt so bad.
This Stewardship season, one question to ask ourselves is “Can the world see Jesus is us?” How can we better practice mutual love, heartfelt affection, and right relationship? We do it by projecting and reflecting the Imago Dei, the image of Christ, into each and every one of our relationships. We do it by trading in selfish ambition for the interests of others. We do it by encouraging one another in the faith and regarding others as better than ourselves. We do it by celebrating and paying attention to how God is at work in each and every one of us. In short, we do it by dedicating ourselves to the task of stewardship.
All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!