Sermon: Emptying Ourselves

Jesus calling disciples

Philippians 2: 1 – 17

What does it mean “to have the same mind in you that was in Jesus Christ”?

Or to put it in a slightly different way, What does it mean to follow in Jesus footsteps? When I think of Jesus footsteps, I think of a giant dinosaur footprint and when I place my foot it in, it doesn’t seem like a very good fit. In this passage, Paul provides some instructions and guidance but I’m not sure how well it translates into our modern day, every day lives.

Let’s start with this instruction – “At the name of Jesus, every knee should bend.”

I know that there are faith traditions that include kneeling. Kneeling is not really a part of our church’s tradition, so I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this. I carried that image of kneeling to Jesus around with me for a few days and I made some discoveries.

For example:

I discovered that I kneel when I put on our dog’s harness in order to walk her on her leash. I kneel when I’m trying to vacuum the dust bunnies from under the beds…or to reach the last box of kleenex in the back of the bathroom vanity. And, I kneel a lot more than I would like to, to clean up food and juice spills off my kitchen floor.

But I think there might be a good reason why kneeling is not a part of our church’s tradition. It’s not comfortable! The floor is hard! My knees hurt!! And I’m embarrassed to admit that the longer I stay down kneeling, the less likely it is that I will be able to stand up! So, kneeling doesn’t feel like a good fit for me.

What else does Paul offer us?

“Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, He humbled himself, and became obedient to the point of death.”

Slave!

Some translations let us off the hook and use ‘servant’. I find it much more comfortable to relate to the idea of “servant.” I serve my family meals. I serve them by doing laundry and household chores. I serve in this church. I serve communion. I serve my community.

When I serve, I get to choose when and where and who. You don’t get to say, ‘I’, when you are a slave. A slave is someone who does not get to make their own choices. A slave is someone who has no power over their life. And what is the number one requirement of a slave?

It’s not a trick question, Paul tells us – it’s Obedience to a Master. Well, “Obey” is the first word that I took out of my wedding vows. The only time the word ‘obedience’ has turned up in my house is when we had a dog and we were looking for an ‘obedience’ school. I was brought up in America, the land of the free. I was raised to be self-confident, self-reliant, and self-sufficient….”obedient slave” is not an image that I can easily relate to.

Although…..

I do sometimes slave over a hot stove all day….and recently a friend told me that she feels she is a slave to her IPhone…and sometimes I feel my family has been enslaved by the TV, especially when I find myself planning dinner around Battle of the Nerds, or Red Sox play-offs. So I am starting to wonder about the things in our lives that we do give power over us, sometimes in unhealthy ways…

But Obedience, Humility, slave…I’m still not feeling comfortable with these images. And then we have one more instruction from Paul…he says that Jesus ‘emptied himself’…

I am a middle aged, American woman who is 15…well,…20…all right, 30 pounds overweight! You can look at me and know I don’t spend a lot of time being empty. My kids learned early on that if they tell me they are hungry just before bed time, I will give them a snack because I don’t want them going to bed empty.

Americans have full calendars, we are full of ideas, we want rich full lives…so, how do we wrap ourselves around this idea of emptying ourselves?

I wrestled with this question often during my discernment process in examining my call to a life in Pastoral Ministry. I was having some intense conversations with God about what this decision was going to mean. Being a musician I said, “God, make me your instrument.”

And God said,

“an instrument is empty.
An instrument has no music of it’s own.
An instrument waits in silence for the hand of it’s Master to pick it up and play.”

And I said, “God, I want to give you my life, all that I am, my skills, experience, talents, I give them all to you.”

And God said, “you must leave all that behind.”

And I said, “God, I don’t understand….that is all that I am…all that I have to give to doing your work in the world.”

And God said,

“That is what you have made of your life.
You need to leave all that behind, and see what I will make of your life.”

How do we empty ourselves? How do we set our egos aside? How do we relinquish our illusion of control over events in our lives, and turn our lives over to God?

For me, it’s in fits and starts! In bits and pieces! In moments of pain and brokenness…and in moments of blistering joy. I’m still in the process of discovering what God will make of my life…It’s an ongoing, never-ending challenge giving each day into God’s care.

I have shared this part of my discernment story before but I thought I would offer it again as we prepare to embark on our shared journey of discernment as a church. Part of discerning God’s will for us means stepping out of familiar routines. It means stepping off the familiar road…it means leaving the beaten path and taking the road less travelled.

Like Jesus, we are going to leave behind all that is familiar and cherished and structured and organized and comfortable, and spend some time wandering the unfamiliar wilderness seeking God’s will for our life and ministry together.

It is difficult and scary to set aside all that is familiar and head into the unknown. But don’t forget, we are entering into this process together. Take a look around for a minute…wave at your neighbor….look what good company we are in…the best of company…

Look around at who you will be journeying with to discover or re-discover – God’s singular purpose for us as a faith community today, here and now, us…together.

So let us give ourselves and our church into God’s safe keeping – so that we will be free to see what God will make of us – or re-make of us, so that we can “shine like stars in the world,” to shine like stars FOR the world.

What does it mean to YOU to follow in Jesus’ footsteps?

You know,

Mary knelt in front of Jesus when she anointed him and washed his feet with her hair.

Jesus knelt in the garden when he pleaded with God to show him another way.

Jesus’ mother knelt at the foot of the cross while they crucified her son.

I don’t think we can call any of these places comfortable.

Perhaps the first step in following in Jesus’ footsteps is kneeling. Perhaps the first step toward obedience to God is being UN – comfortable! Perhaps the first step in leaving our ‘selves’ behind is to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and out of our comfortable places!

Obedience….humility….slave….Master.

These were Paul’s steps in following more closely where Jesus was leading him.

What will our steps be?

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