Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"What If God was One of Us"
Text: Philippians 2:5-11
Mark 11:1-1

How many of consider ourselves saints?  I suspect if I asked for a show of hands, I wouldn’t see many raised.I certainly wouldn’t dare to raise my own.Are not saints, after all, those who have been martyred for their faith, or been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church as ultimate examples of piety and holiness, or at least achieved some status of righteousness to which ordinary folk cannot or do not rise? There was a St. Lawrence who was a deacon in the Catholic Church during the third century.Tradition has it that he was executed by the Emperor of Rome, roasted to death face down on a red-hot gridiron.His legacy is preserved in a few chapels in Europe, and in the name of a seaway between the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes.But really, who of us would dare label ourselves saints?

 

 

The apostle Paul saw things a little differently.In fact, in the greeting of his letter to the Philippian Church, he addresses its members as agiois en Cristw Ihsou,” “saints in Christ Jesus.”I wonder how many in the Philippian congregation would have raised their hands? Yet it appears that in Paul’s understanding, saints are those claimed by God to be God’s people through Jesus Christ.That’s a bit more universal of a definition than we’re accustomed to.If we think about it in those terms, you and I are claimed, called, chosen, appointed by God out of God’s love.Each and every one of us has a place in God’s heart, claimed, called, chosen, appointed, without God’s waiting to see how well we perform, or how deserving or undeserving we might be.Two thousand years before we were born (give or take a few), God “claimed” us to be God’s people when God’s incarnate Son Jesus assumed our place;traveled the hard road of life on our behalf and for our benefit.Paul talks about this at some length in the text we just read from Philippians chapter two.This is really the core message of the entire Philippian letter, and the essence of the Christian gospel.Listen again to the words of the 6th and 7th verses: “Christ was truly God.But he did not try to remain equal with God.He gave up everything and became a servant, when he became like one of us.”

 

Several years ago, there was a hit song you may remember performed by pop rock artist Joan Osborne.At the time it was released, I was somewhat offended by its lyrics.She sang in part: “What if God was one of us?Just a slob like one of us.Just a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home.”As I gave it a few more listens and a lot more thought, it occurred to me that, whether Ms. Osborne was aware of it or not, she was making a profound theological point; a Christological point.That’s precisely what God has done through Christ.God looked upon the mess we’d made of this world – the hatred, the crime, the abuse, the injustice, the brokenness – saw all of us poor sinners, and instead of saying, “Well, you’ve made your bed. Now lie in it,” God chose to become one of us;chose to lie in our beds with us; chose to board and take a seat alongside us poor slobs on the bus of human ills, on our way home.

 

There’s a story of a dedicated medical missionary who was desperately seeking a cure for a disease that was killing thousands in Africa.He had a container with liver flukes which carried it, and he wanted to take it to his American research laboratory to find a cure.Customs understandably didn’t allow it in.So this doctor disappeared into a restroom.Without hesitation, he swallowed the deadly flukes and proceeded through the U.S. checkpoint.His lab developed a cure, but too late to save his own life.That’s in a sense what God through Jesus Christ did for us.The Creator became one of us as the doctor became the patient.An old gospel hymn puts it simply and movingly:“He took up my sins and sorrows.He made them his very own.”

 

On this Palm Sunday start of Holy Week, when we remember all which Jesus experienced in body and spirit in His last days of mortal life, it is important to bear in mind that Jesus didn’t do all this as an isolated individual, any more than He came in quiet isolation to the place of His passion. Jesus did what He did, experienced what He experienced, as one of us.Consider this: God has so created us that we are bound up in the bundle of life with all people.We are social by nature. What affects one of us in one way or another ultimately affects all of us. We, of course, still bear our individual responsibility for our actions, decisions, and so on.But we are also inextricably bound to the whole of humankind.So too, Jesus is bound in relationship to each of us because He is the One who sustains our very lives.What Jesus did in our nature – our skin – has changed us profoundly, because He is like one of us.It could be stated that Jesus figuratively lived our life 2000 years ago (give or take a few).In our name and on our behalf, He did what we couldn’t.He was totally obedient to God.He loved God with an undivided heart, and He always did God’s will, even when it was most difficult.When Jesus was as tempted as any of us could be, He responded:“I seek to do not my own will, but the will of him who sent me.”

 

This morning’s text goes on to say in the 8th and 9th verses:“Christ was humble.He obeyed God and even died on a cross.Then God gave Christ the highest place and honored his name above all others.”Christ has figuratively lived our life.Christ has also literally died our death.I’m struck by the fact that Paul doesn’t think about the death and resurrection of Jesus as something external to himself.He always speaks of them as events in which he himself has shared.For example, Paul writes in his Galatian Letter:“I have been crucified with Christ.”He made the same claim with regard to the folks in the Colossian Church when he wrote to them:“For you have died, and your life is hid(den) with Christ in God.”The astounding thing is that Jesus is so closely bound with all of humankind that when He died, we in a sense died.By the same token, we also, as Paul continues in Colossians:“….have been raised with Christ.”When He rose, we rose. So it is we share in His victory over sin, and alienation, and death.His victory toward which He rode on that first Palm Sunday is nothing less than our victory.

 

We might wonder, if Jesus has already done everything – lived our life, died our death, risen for us – what’s left for us to do?What part do we play in this unfolding plan of salvation?I’ve heard some evangelists close a fine message by saying something like:This is what God has done. Now this is what you must do.That makes it sound like God does God’s 50%, and then you and I do our 50%, and together, we accomplish salvation.Yes, we are called to respond to God’s offer of salvation and eternal life.But the fact is, as Paul makes clear in Ephesians:“For by grace you have been saved through faith;and this is not of your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest anyone should boast.”Grace, you see, is what saves us.Grace puts us right with God.Grace is God’s love in action.God moved graciously to come to earth, to become one of us, to take our place, to die and rise for us and with us.Faith on our part doesn’t create a new reality or complete God’s plan of salvation.Faith is the realization -- the conviction -- that God in Christ has already done it all.

 

Unlike what some Christians think, the Christian life isn’t some desperate attempt to buy God’s favor, or bargain for God’s blessing, or appease God’s righteous indignation.The Christian life is to be a life of gratitude;a context for saying “Thank You” to God.It is to be a life of acknowledging Jesus as the One to whom we are inextricably bound in life and in death, understanding that as Christians, we can no more separate ourselves from Jesus Christ than the sun can be separated from its own rays.

 

For the apostle Paul, his life’s goal after he came to know and trust in Christ was to share experientially in Christ;to live in the light of who he was in Christ.Paul writes in the 3rd chapter of Philippians:“All I want is to know Christ and the power that raised him to life.I want to suffer and die as he did, so that somehow I also may be raised to life.”That’s one bold and powerful statement of faith.Yet the more we get to know Jesus, the more we want to be like Him, and the more we come to know who we are.But there’s more.As we grow to know Christ, His power is increasingly released in our everyday lives.His love - unconditional, sacrificial, abiding - becomes an element in the chemistry of our lives.His openness to and radical acceptance of all kinds of people becomes our manner of interacting with the diverse people with whom we share seats on the bus of life.His extension of tender mercy and compassion becomes that which we grow to extend naturally and without compulsion.Paul couldn’t put it any better than when he wrote in the 1st verse of our lesson this morning:“Think the same way as Christ Jesus thought.” I like the force of the NRSV:“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

 

How often are homes torn by dissension?Workplaces filled with tension?Church programs struggling because folks aren’t energized to serve the Lord?Simply identifying the illness will not cure it.But Paul reminds us that Jesus has already brought cure to our illness by being the doctor who dared to become the patient.Paul appeals to our healed and cured condition in Christ as a basis for our conduct – in our homes, in our workplaces, in our church programming.For instance, when we’re struggling in a relationship with someone, it’s of little benefit to clench our fists and say, “I’m going totry harder.”Instead, say, “Jesus has already taken that to the cross.In my nature, He put all that to death – the resentment, the hurt, the anger, all of it.Now Jesus has bound me in an eternal relationship with Himself.I’m going to deal with this earthly relationship simply by letting the love, openness, grace, and mercy flow out of Christ’s love operative in me.”We could say that of almost anything in life.Lloyd Ogilvie,61st chaplain of the U.S. Senate, wrote in his book Life As It Was Meant to Be: “The love we need for others is Christ Himself invading our hearts and expressing Himself through us.”

 

When we walk out of church today into the week we call “holy,” we return to the same struggles we faced before we walked in.Liken it to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem followed by those same old struggles with the religious community of His day.The misunderstandings, the difficult people, the challenges of everyday life won’t magically disappear just because Jesus rode into town, or for us, just because Jesus has arrived in our hearts.But ultimately, we will overcome because Jesus has overcome.The question Jesus asks is:“What will you allow me to do in and through you today?”

Saints……….. Jesus has already finished the course and won.There’s no point in trying to run solely on our own strength.Let’s allow the way we face our struggles to arise out of our life in Christ.We were never meant to face life’s challenges alone.Our life in Christ is an opportunity to join Him in what He’s doing, and work with the delight of seeing Jesus create in us and of us what we could never accomplish on our own.Let’s give God praise on this Palm Sunday that through Christ, God did indeed become one of us.