Text: Philippians 2:5-11
A little boy was sick on Palm Sunday and stayed home from church with his mother. His father returned from church holding a palm branch. The little boy had been finger painting while his father was at church. When he saw the palm branch in his hand he asked, "Why do you have that palm branch, dad?" "You see, when Jesus came into town, everyone waved Palm Branches to honor him, so we got Palm Branches today." The little boy replied, "Aw Shucks! The one Sunday I miss is the Sunday that Jesus shows up!"
Today, on the first day of Holy Week, we celebrate Palm Sunday. Imagine what it would have been like to be present on that first Palm Sunday when Jesus showed up. The clothes are in the washer. The dishes are in the sink. Yet you hear that parade a comin'. And you don't have time to think. You run outside to catch the sight. You see a man upon a colt. You run back inside your house. You grab a palm branch and a coat. You run and lay them on the street and cheer as he rides by. You know he has come to save you but you don't know exactly why. You notice as he approaches, right there upon his face, is something quite startling, an emotion hard to trace. And then when he gets right up close you see it with your own eyes, why, this man is crying and there are tears upon his face. You don't know why he would be what with all the people who stand and cheer. Yet in his heart Christ knows they soon will stand and jeer.
On his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus suspected he was riding a donkey to his own funeral. So it is that today is called not only Palm Sunday, a day of celebration, but also Passion Sunday, a day to remember Christ's suffering.
Our scripture today is not your usual Palm Sunday text. Rather, it is a selection from Paul's letter to the Church in Phillipi. In this text Paul quotes an ancient hymn of the church. And in this text Paul helps us understand Christ's motivation on Palm Sunday and throughout Holy Week. In our scripture today the Apostle Paul reminds us of Christ's humble service to humanity. Paul describes Christ as follows:
"When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process." (Phil. 2:7)
Christ exercised humility. Humility is not a popular concept in our culture. We view ourselves as strong and self-sufficient. We like to think we can make it on our own. We hold in high esteem the self-made man. Humility is often laughed at in our culture, leaving people with the notion that meekness equals weakness. Yet Paul recommends we follow Christ's example of humble service.
What is Christian humility? Perhaps first we should say what humility is not. Humility is not putting ourselves down or downplaying our skills and abilities. Humility is not a denial of our gifts. We are not to look down on ourselves or put ourselves down. That is not humility.
Rather, Christ is our model of true humility. Christ displayed humility by resisting the temptation to follow an easier calling. Christ humbled himself by refusing to deny his authentic self. Christ humbled himself by claiming his mission from God which was to give himself away to humanity. Humility does not forbid us taking an interest in our own affairs. It simply condemns a selfish preoccupation that ignores or prevents interest in the life of others. Humility finds the good in others. Humility finds the Christ in others.
S. Lewis, the great English theologian, writes,
"Pride leads to every other vice. It is the complete anti-God state of mind. Pride is spiritual cancer; it eats up the very possibility of love or contentment or even common sense." Pride, you see, isn't just a flaw on the surface of life that mars a man's other virtues. It is the BASIC SIN that underlies ALL evil. The eternal words, "God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble." And here is the principle: pride is the basic sin, because it brings a resistance that stops our growth toward God; and humility is the primary virtue, because it brings receptivity of grace and growth.
During the confirmation class, we talked about sin with a capital S and sin with a little s. Little s sins include lying, cheating, and stealing. Big S sins come from thinking we do not need God. Pride is a Big S sin.
Saint Francis of Assisi had a simple formula for keeping himself humble. When people began to praise his virtue, he used to have a fellow monk sit down with him in his cell and tell him, candidly, everything that was wrong with him. We might observe that if Saint Francis had been married, his wife would have taken care of that task gladly. But, seriously, a good home of kindly, critical people is one of the best devices for keeping us humble, love that is truth, not flattery, where we care enough to cure each other.
The late, great Leonard Bernstein was once asked, "What was the most difficult position to fill in the orchestra?" He thought for a while and replied, "The position of the second violin." It seems that everyone prefers the prestige of the first violin. However, for the musical sound to be complete there is a need for the second violin.
There once was a young painter who had purchased his master teacher''s painting brush. He now would be a master painter himself. After he completed his first painting with the master''s brush, he took it to the curator of a famous museum. The man said, "You don''t need the master''s brush, you need the master''s spirit and mind." To be a servant of the Lord, you need His spirit and His mind.
You want to imitate Christ? Paul wanted to, and he had a struggle with it, because he knew his weakness, his pride. He said to the Philippians and to himself, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being God himself, did not grasp at the prerogatives of his divine nature, but humbled himself and became a man: And being formed in fashion as a man, he humbled himself further, and became obedient unto death, not only to death, but obedient to the death of the vilest criminal - death upon the cross. Wherefore, God hath highly exalted him and given him a name which is above every name."
Dr. John Killinger of Samford University shares the story of a woman from the Shenandoah Valley who was painting at her easel in the woods one day when she was struck by rifle shots. When she came to she was in a hospital room, her body suspended above the bed in a sling.
She had lost so much blood and was in such a state of shock that the doctors were afraid to operate immediately to remove the bullets; they waited nearly a week to see if her condition would stabilize. Most of the time she lay hovering between life and death, in a state of semi-consciousness.
There was one important thing she remembered. People from the church she belonged to--though she did not attend regularly--cared for her. They came in shifts and sat in the room with her, praying for her.
She could not speak, and they did not know she was aware of their presence. Later she said, "I lay there in my sling blissfully aware of their coming and going. I felt as if I were gathered up in a cocoon of love. It did not matter if I lived or died. I was part of the beloved community."
That woman showed humility by receiving the support of her church family. Sometimes it is harder to receive than to give. Receiving with grace is a sign of humility.
Let this mind be in you. "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you, in due time."
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Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon at St. John's Presbyterian Church on March 28, 2010.