Joint Lenten Worship Service
PioneerCare Center, Fergus Falls, MN
March 20, 2013
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
So Lena calls Ole on his cell phone while he’s out driving on the freeway. And Lena says: “Ole, be careful out dere! I yust heard on da radio dat some nut is driving his car the wrong direction on one half of da freeway.”
To which Ole replies: “Yiminy Christmas, Lena, it’s not yust one nut driving da wrong vay—dere must be hundreds of dem doing dat out here!”
Thirty-two years ago I actually found myself in a similar situation, and believe me, it was no joke.
My wife, my mom and I were driving down an entrance ramp onto Highway 36 in Roseville, when we hit a patch of ice, spinning our car around 180 degrees….leaving us facing right into oncoming traffic.
FORTUNATELY that oncoming traffic was still about a mile away from us at the time, giving us just a few seconds to scoot out of the roadway and off onto the shoulder.
But for one terrifying moment--frozen in time--we knew how frightening and disorienting it was to be heading the wrong direction on a one-way road.
That image might help us make sense of what our Lord Jesus experienced as Paul describes it here in Philippians.
…because what Jesus did was to travel the wrong direction on a one-way road. That’s what got him betrayed, framed, strung up, killed and tossed in a borrowed grave.
And it wasn't one of those situations where the DOT or the street department pulls a switcheroo and suddenly makes an old familiar two-way street into a new one-way street, either.
No, Jesus didn't get caught unawares here. Rather: Jesus deliberately headed the wrong direction on a street that had known nothing but one-way traffic forever and ever...
The street Jesus went the wrong way down, had been a one-way street ever since the serpent slithered up to Adam and Eve in the Garden and hissed: "You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of [this fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Gen.3: 5)
On that day, lost to us now in the mists of our primeval past....our first parents set us all on a course we've been traveling ever since. It's a one-way street from emptiness to fullness, from humility to glory, from earth to heaven...and all who travel it (ourselves included) assume that by following this one-way road we’ll somehow "become like God."
This one-way street that is stretched out before us...always seems to be leading us onward and upward. Signs along the way tell us to: "Make your own decisions. Chart your own course. Claim your destiny. Be full! Grab some glory! It’s all within your grasp!
Here in Philippians 2 Paul tells us that it was on this road that Jesus set out to travel, deliberately heading the opposite direction on that one-way street.
"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus," Paul writes, "who, 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."
All the road signs screamed: "Grab it. Seize the advantage. Get ahead. Enlarge your holdings!"
But Jesus didn’t even notice those signs….because he was heading the other way on that one-way street. So Jesus didn't exploit his position—or grab and hang onto his divine prerogatives.
Jesus didn't fill himself up with good things. Instead, he emptied himself out.
Jesus didn't hang on to life with a white-knuckled grip. Instead, he let all of that go...pushed it all aside.
Jesus chose to walk straight down the middle of a one-way street, heading in the wrong direction.
And what happened to Jesus is what happens to anyone who gets caught heading the wrong direction on a one-way road: Sin, death and the devil—coming on like a Mack truck!-- hit Jesus hard, wiped him out, laid him low, and buried him!
And then with Jesus out of the way....the traffic resumed, roaring up that one way “glory” road from earth to heaven.
But three days later....something astonishing happened. (To hear the full story you’ll have to show up for worship a week from this coming Sunday.)
But for now, let’s just say that three days after Jesus got “creamed” on that one-way street....everyone woke up--including Jesus!--only to discover that in the darkness of the night Someone had switched all the road signs. Someone had turned the one-way street arrows around 180 degrees.
On Easter morning, God changed the direction of that road once and for all.
And when God did that--lo and behold!--we began to see what God had intended for us from the very start.
Here--we had it all wrong! The one-way street we human beings had been traveling was heading in the wrong direction all along. It was never meant to run from earth up to heaven. All along...God the Almighty Creator, God the Consummate Self-Giver...all along God had intended it to be a road from heaven down to earth.
And Jesus traveled that road faithfully, courageously for you and for me. Jesus headed in what seemed to be the wrong way on a one-way street....so that we might see, finally, with eyes wide open, that Jesus was actually traveling the right way, the only way on God's royal highway...traveling down for us from heaven to earth, down from mastery to slavery, down from glory to disgrace—and then back again to glory.
"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."
This is how God gets to us, how God transforms us, makes us new…by going against the customary flow of traffic in this dying world and opening up for us a new and better way, God’s way.
Friends, we don’t really know what a god is….we don’t truly understand who the one and only God is, until our eyes behold Jesus, who discloses God’s true nature as the God who always comes down, the God who sets everything aside and becomes empty for us, the God who suffers and dies and is buried for us.
Jesus shows us not a command-and-control version of God. Jesus reveals to us not a “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive” Superman-style-God.
Jesus shows us…indeed Jesus is for us the God who descends, becomes empty, embraces humility…because that is God’s way of being God….and God’s way for you and for me.
…and that’s why this passage from Philippians starts out by saying: “Let the same mind be in you [all] that was in Christ Jesus….”
God in Christ wants to get inside our heads, our hearts and our hands. God intends to form the “mind of Christ” in us communally. As NT scholar Elizabeth Shively observes: “Paul does not call on individuals to imitate Christ in the privacy of their prayer closets….Paul aims [instead] to form a collective mind that informs collective actions….following Jesus’ example of humility and service to others.”
God gives to us a New Creation mind in this old creation world. God opens up for us an alternative existence—God invites us to come down, to empty ourselves, to live the humble, cross-shaped life of Jesus Christ.
Last week I think we may have caught a fleeting glimpse of what that might look like in this time and place.
Moments after the white smoke poured from the chimney of Rome’s grand Sistine Chapel, a friend of the new pope embraced him and whispered three words into his ear: “Remember the poor!”
In that moment, Argentina’s Cardinal Bergoglio realized he had to take Francis for his name—for Francis of Assisi, who in the 12th spurned his family’s vast wealth to embrace a life of poverty and Christ-like self-giving.
What would it look like, my dear friends, if all of us, if the whole church, the whole Body of Christ on earth heard—and heeded!--that same voice whispering in our ears: “Remember the poor?”
In the name of Jesus.