January 1, 2017

 

FEAST OF THE MOST HOLY NAME OF JESUS

 

The Rev. J.D. McQueen, II - All Saintsí Episcopal Church, San Diego, CA

 

As a young child I remember being highly suspicious of the expression, ďItís better to give than to receive,Ē probably because I thought that what my parents were really saying was ďYouíre not going to get what you want for Christmas.Ē

- Of course, as my understanding of Christmas has matured, not only have my suspicions faded, Iíve been blessed to experience that itís actually true.

- It is better to give than to receive, and thatís not limited to the Christmas season either.

- So in his letter to the Philippians, Paul is showing us that growing up in the faith means setting aside our suspicions and living our whole lives that way.

 

The primary theme of the letter is holiness or ďChrist-mindedness,Ē as Paul puts it, which basically means seeing the world the way Jesus does.

- Throughout the letter Paul emphasizes the need for love and charity in their community and to stand firm and rejoice, no matter their circumstances.

- Being able to do that requires a special kind of selflessness, and in todayís passage Paul shows us the essence of this in the way Jesus ďemptied himself.Ē

 

In fact, if we zoom out and take a larger view, what weíre seeing is the nature of life in the family of God.

How so? Well, the Old Testament makes a couple of things crystal clear:

1. God the Father desperately wants a relationship with us.

2. Weíre totally incapable of living into that relationship on our own. =

 

And so, because the Son loves the Father, he turns his life into a gift to the Father; valuing it only insofar as it will give the Father what he so desperately wants.

 

Does making his life a gift mean that the Son is left empty? Of course not!

- Because the Father also loves the Son, he gives everything he has to him.

- He highly exalts the Son, so that he would be Lord in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.

 

And yet, what happens when all the knees bow to Jesus and all tongues confess him as Lord?

- Itís all to the glory of God the Father, because everything Jesus is, says, and does, points to the Father.

- For example, even when Jesus says, ďI am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,Ē in the very next breath he adds, ďno one comes to the Father except by me.Ē

- Taking on the mind of Christ means realizing that our lives are not about us, and that our life increases in the measure we give it away.

 

The point of all this is to drive home the reality that we are not in competition with God for our happiness.

- Uniting our wills to Godís doesnít mean resigning ourselves to not getting what we want, but becoming who we were made to be.

- Itís the difference between being a fantastic coffee grinder and spending your whole life dissatisfied with the quality of the smoothies you make.

 

If weíre still suspicious, just in this letter itís clear that Paulís life has not been diminished in the least by his giving it away.

- Even though heís in Rome awaiting execution, itís Paul telling the Philippians not to be upset, because his imprisonment has advanced the gospel and encouraged others.

- Heís ambivalent about living and dying because to live is Jesus and to die is more Jesus, and he counts everything else as garbage.

- Then (and remember, heís writing from death row), Paul tells them to rejoice always and not to have any anxiety about anything!

 

This is not a picture of someone thatís been hollowed out or ground down to a nub by glorifying God.

- This is the result of finding our heartís desire and rejoicing that we can afford it instead of going away sad because it will cost all that we have.

 

So then, resist the temptation to look at Jesus and Paul and soften their message, thinking that their example is way beyond you.

- It is way beyond us, but Paul encourages us to be confident anyway because itís God who started the good work and itís God who will finish it.

- Put another way, God is not interested in lowering the bar Ė what he wants is for us to put ourselves in his hands so that he can lift us over it.

 

We can do that by turning our lives into a gift, but donít be afraid Ė you donít have to do it all at once.

- Start developing small, habitual ways of responding to life, like praying for the people who frustrate or inconvenience you,

- or thanking God for the things that keep you from having your own way.

 

There are all kinds of things you can do, just get started because the best way to overcome the fear of being left empty is to experience the blessing of having more to give.