True Worship

November 4, 2007
Bible Text: Revelation 7:9-17; Philippians 1:3-11 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year True Worship Revelation 7:9-17 & Philippians 1:3-11 by William Klock Earlier in this morning's service we prayed in our collect: "Father in heaven, keep your household the church firm in godliness, so that it may by your protection be free from all adversities and may devoutly serve you in good works to the glory of your name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen." Think about those words: “Keep your household – the Church – firm in godliness” that we “may devoutly serve you in good works to the glory of your name.”  The collect sums up our essential duty: to be steadfast in conforming to the nature of God, to cooperate with the Holy Spirit as he works to set us apart as a holy people, to sanctify us, so that we can do the good works that God calls us to do – to leave behind the works of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and to put on the character of Christ.  And we do this not selfishly for our own benefit, but to give glory to God. This is what the Prayer Book refers to as “our bounden duty and service.”  The post-Communion prayers remind us, saying: “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls, and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee, that we, and all partakers of the Holy Communion, may be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and be made one body with him, that he may dwell in us and we in him.  And although we are unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service; not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Again, it's the Christian life in a nutshell: God gives us his grace so that, through Christ, we can be restored to fellowship with him.  And while that restored fellowship doesn't instantly make us perfectly righteous on our own – we still have to rely on the righteousness of Christ for our redemption and ultimately to please God – that restored fellowship does do a work of sanctification in us.  It takes a heart that was devoted totally to sin, and turns it gradually and bit by bit toward God.  It's only by the assistance of God's grace that we can continue in that “holy fellowship” and that we can do the “good works” that God has prepared for us “to walk in.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism gets at this when it asks its first question: “What is the chief end of man?”  The answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”  And that's the tack that I want to take with this today.  The “chief end of man” is to “glorify God” and “enjoy him forever.”  That's what we were created for.  So we have to ask: what's our problem?  Birds were created to fly and fish were created to swim, and that's exactly what both of them do naturally and without any problems.  But the last thing that we're inclined to do as men and women is to glorify God.  In fact, St. Paul reminds us in Romans that in our natural state we're all enemies of God – not just indifferent to him, not just not caring about him, but really and truly in complete and total opposition to him and to his plans. God created us to be in close fellowship with himself, but in our natural state we're far from him and can never come close – in fact our desire is to stay away, as far as we can, from him.  That's what sin does.  Light and dark can't exist together, because one drives the other way.  Righteousness and unrighteousness can't exist together for the same reason.  In our case, our unrighteousness drives us away from God – just like most of us wanted to run and hide from our parents when they found out we raided the cookie jar, broke the window, or got in trouble at school.  We know we displeased them, we knew that we were eventually going to be punished, and so all we wanted to do was run and hide.  And for God's part, his perfect righteousness calls for perfect justice.  He can't just overlook our sins.  Our darkness can't be allowed into his presence without first being covered by the the long robe of Christ's righteousness – until we've been washed clean by his blood. Before they sinned, Adam and Eve lived in that perfect fellowship that God created us for.  But I don't think that's the first aspect of their lives that we think of. No, the first thing we think of is the beauty and perfection of the garden into which God had placed them.  For us, paradise means no weeds, no thorns, no pain, no back-breaking labour, and natural beauty all around.  We're not so inclined to think about paradise in terms of the full fellowship Adam and Eve had with God.  The author of Genesis gives us a great picture of the closeness they had with God when he talks about them actually hearing God as he came down to walk with them “in the cool of the day.” It's interesting that throughout Holy Scripture we see this idea of “walking with God” over and over.  Adam and Eve really did, literally, walk with God – they were that close, they had that kind of intimate fellowship.  And so it's not surprising that we still talk about someone “walking” with God when we want to stress both the closeness of the fellowship that that person has with God and the uprightness of character and life that person has.  But since the fall, none of us can ever walk with God the way that Adam and Eve did.  Not even Enoch.  Enoch “walked with God” and was so close to him that one day God simply took him home with him.  But even Enoch's close “walk” with God wasn't like Adam's walk with God – in order to be that close God had to take him home.  Enoch was a “righteous” guy, but he was still a sinner.  The only way for him to be restored to that full, whole, and open fellowship with God was for God to take him and perfect his righteousness in heaven. I think that heaven was the real hope of Adam and Eve more than it is for anyone who's ever lived after them.  No other human being has even had the fellowship with God that they lost when they sinned.  I can't imagine how pained they must have been when they realised that fellowship was broken.  All they knew of God was his perfect holiness, his perfect love, and his perfect peace.  They walked in that presence every day.  And because they knew the perfection of God's holiness so well and so fully, when they sinned they understood better than we ever can the full magnitude of what it means to offend God – to commit cosmic treason against our Creator.  They knew the perfection of his holiness, and the moment they sinned I think they knew that they had suddenly thrust themselves out of his presence.  They knew what real holiness was and realised that they were no longer fit to be in its presence. The rest of us are a little like chickens.  A chicken doesn't know what it means or what it's like to fly – that's not something they're capable of doing, so it doesn't make much of a difference to them that they can't fly.  But clip the wings of an eagle and ground it, and you've effectively killed the bird.  It's no longer capable of doing what it was created for and it knows it.  All of us who have come after Adam and Eve are like the chickens.  We're born sinners living outside the presence of God.  Adam and Eve were born eagles – they lived in God's presence and then clipped their own wings.  God creates all of us as eagles, but because of our sin we live like chickens.  Adam and Eve knew what it was like to be grounded, but since none of us can soar like they once did, we sadly fail to miss what it is that God created us for. To be restored to God, Adam and Eve put their hope in the promise of the righteous one who would come – in the hope of the Messiah.  But heaven was their only hope for the full fellowship with God that they had before they sinned.  And just like we're not usually inclined to think of life in the Garden of Eden as a time of perfect fellowship with God, we're also not used to thinking of heaven in terms of the restoration of that prefect fellowship.  Ask most people what they think they'll be doing in heaven and they'll tell you about being restored with loved ones, not being crippled anymore, or being able to do all their favourite things whenever they want.  What most people don't seem to mention is the restoration to fellowship with God that we'll have there – being able to be in his presence all the time, never hindered by sin.  I'm sure that Adam and Eve looked forward  to heaven because there'd be no more pain and suffering there, but even more I think they yearned for it because, more than anything else, they missed being that close to God. In Scripture God puts our view of heaven where it should be.  In the Epistle lesson from All Saints, St. John tells us about his vision of God's heavenly court and the saints there.  Notice he doesn't talk about the things we normally associate with heaven: After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,  and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!”  And all the angels stood round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,  saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.” Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and whence have they come?”  I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night within his temple; and he who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence.  They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  (Revelation 7:9-17) The main focus that Scripture puts on life in heaven isn't all those other things – it's on being in the direct presence of God.  St. John wasn't given a vision of the saints of God embracing their long-lost friends and family, leaving behind crutches and wheelchairs, or just having fun all the time.  John's vision of heaven was of the saints gathered around the heavenly throne in service and worship, while God takes care of their every need.  All those other great things happened too – God promises to take care of us – but that all happens so that we can devote our lives – devote eternity – to the service of God in praise and worship.  And I think John's vision should be a reminder to us of just how wonderfully amazing it will be to be in God's presence and to worship him if all those other great things we expect pale in comparison! The beatific vision of St. John the Divine ought to sound familiar to us, because what the saints do in heaven is the same thing that we ought to be doing here on earth in preparation.  John tells how God cares for the saints so that they can worship him eternally.  Jesus tells us the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount, but relates it to our lives here and now. In Matthew Six Jesus speaks his familiar words: Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal,  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven...for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19-21) Jesus' words are hard for us to follow, because it's so often easier for us to trust in those things we can see and hold in our hands, and so Jesus then goes on to remind us that God takes care of the birds of the air and lilies of field.  They don't put in any overtime.  They don't stress about paying bills.  They aren't worried about “keeping up with the Joneses.”  And yet God cares for them – and if God cares for birds and flowers, how much more does he care for the men and women he created in his own image: But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?  Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. (Matthew 6:30-33) This is the whole point of our life here on earth: to learn to trust God, and to devote ourselves to a life of service and worship to his glory.  He promises to meet our needs so that we can seek first his Kingdom.  That's worship. One of our problems is that too much of the time when we think of “worship” we think of what we do at church on Sunday morning.  That is what we do here on Sunday morning, but worship is a lot more than gathering to sing, to pray, and to hear God's Word read and preached.  St. John doesn't tell us that the saints in heaven go about their business six days of the week and then gather around the throne for a couple of hours on Sunday morning.  No, St. John tells us that the saints are gathered around God's throne in worship day and night. If all you do is set aside from ten to noon on Sunday to worship God, your not living the life of the Spirit that God has called you to – and I'll add that if that's all you're doing, your Christian life isn't going to feel very alive and you're not really going to feel the reality of that restored fellowship with the Father that Jesus gives us.  I really think this is why so much of the modern Church has turned to an entertainment oriented model for doing church and turned from true worship to emotional manipulation and “feel good” gimmicks.  Much of the modern Church has been slack in calling people to a life of true and full devotion to God – to a life of true worship 24/7/365, because today's conventional wisdom says that if you ask people to be fully committed, they'll walk away.  After all, we can't ask too much of people.  But if we don't call people to wholly devote their lives to Christ, they won't.  And then they come to church on Sunday morning, not expectantly, not with the idea in mind to gather with their brothers and sisters before the throne of God as the culmination of a week of worship in the more mundane aspects of life, but they come seeking to “experience” God and to have a feeling of his presence that's lacking the rest of the time. The problem is that if it's lacking the rest of the time, it's going to be lacking on Sunday morning too – and so too many churches fake it with worship-tainment that manipulates the “worshippers” into feeling happy and good about themselves and about God. But our “bounden duty and service” isn't just coming each Sunday to celebrate the Holy Communion – it's to continue in his “holy fellowship” and to “do all such good works as [he] has prepared for us to walk in.”  If we live a life of worship all the time, we don't need to come on Sunday seeking God's presence having missed it all week.  Instead Sunday becomes a celebration of thanks and praise with our brothers and sisters and where we find sacramental refreshment and promise of life at the Lord's Table. Christian maturity is what happens when we seek the Kingdom of God first and always.  That's why St. Paul writes in today's epistle from Philippians: For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.  And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,  so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,  filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.  (Philippians 3:8-11) Paul's great desire for the Christians at Philippi was for them to abound – to grow – more and more in their lives.  His prayer was for them to conform more and more to the image, the example, of Jesus Christ so that they could show the world what righteousness looks like, and finally to be able to stand before God as blameless and full of the abundant fruit of the righteousness that Jesus gives us.  What I find really strikes me is how Paul ends that prayer: not that they would do all this and grow in righteousness for their own benefit, but that through them God would be glorified. What Paul desired for the Philippians is what God desires for all of his people.  And it's a daunting thing.  No matter how often we're reassured that God will look after the worldly things that otherwise bog us down and consume our resources, it's still really easy to let that happen.  We do get bogged down in the cares of the world.  We do become consumed with worldly things.  But this is why God gives us his grace – that with his help, because we can't do it on our own – we can persevere to the end as we put him and his Kingdom first in our lives. In that same passage from Philippians, Paul gives us some of the most reassuring words in all of Holy Scripture: I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:6) If he was certain of nothing else, the Apostle Paul was certain that what God started he would finish.  God does nothing for nought.  God doesn't waste his grace on any of us.  If he has seen fit to call us to himself, if he as seen fit to send his only-begotten Son to die on our behalf, if he has poured his Holy Spirit into our lives, and if he has blessed us with an overabundance of grace, he will never, never abandon us in our struggles.  God never looks down and says, “I sure did pump a lot of my resources into Bill, but boy did he blow it big time.  I think I'll just take it all back and put all that grace and Holy Spirit power into someone else who will take advantage of it better than Bill did.” No!  When God sees us stumbling and falling behind, he gives us more!  Paul also tells us that where sin abounds, grace abounds even more.  If we struggle with devoting our whole selves to the glory of God, he will give us the grace we need to overcome those things that are holding us back.  When we sin and drive ourselves away from his holy presence, he pours out his grace to draw us back.  When we have trouble handing over that certain area of our life that we just don't want to let go of, he gives us the grace to find assurance in him so that we can put our trust in him and hand it over. The key is to live in God's grace.  We don't want to be like the man in today's Gospel lesson.  You'll remember that he owed a huge debt to the king that he could never repay.  By all rights he should have been sold as a slave so that the king could at least recoup at least some of the money owed to him.  But the king was merciful and gracious enough to forgive the debt when the man came before him humbly asking for it to be forgiven.  But then that same man, who had shown so much humility before the king and who had been shown so much mercy and grace, went out into the street to find a man who owed him a relatively small debt.  He grabbed that man by the neck and demanded his money back, and when he didn't get it he had the man thrown in to prison. I think that a lot of Christians are like that man that the king forgave.  God offers his grace and mercy to us and maybe we even approach him humbly, knowing we're sinners.  We take God's grace for our own benefit, but all we ever use it for is as a “get our of hell free” card.  We fail to apply that grace to our lives and we don't consistently share it with others.  We forget that God didn't save us from his wrath for our benefit alone.  He saves us so that we can be restored to fellowship with him and so that he can work in us to change and renew our lives as a witness to the world around us of what God is and what he can do. There really is no excuse for what so many of us do.  Christianity is more than just “religion.”  It's more than just a “Sunday thing.”  Christianity is to be a “Christ follower,” and Jesus didn't leave his spirituality at the church door – he lived his life in the grace of God all the time and every day.  He gave himself and everything he had over to his Father in heaven – even to the point of giving his life.  He's our example, showing us the way to heaven.  But are we living in a way that will get us ready for a life of worship in eternity, or are we living more or less like we always did – yes, we're redeemed, yes we've been saved from our sins – but we're still living in a way that serves self instead of God.  We really need to be living in anticipation of what awaits us in heaven, wanting more than anything else to live in such a way here that a life of heavenly worship won't shock our systems when we get there.  Have we given every aspect of our lives over to God, obeying him and letting him use us for his own glory? And so each of us needs to ask: “Am I living a life of worship and service to God?”  God calls us to be living sacrifices.  St. Paul writes in Romans 12: I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  (Romans 12:1-2) This is the key to true worship.  In response God continues to assure us of his presence with us as we come to his Table.  Here he gives us the downpayment on eternal life.  Here he reminds us in the bread and the wine, that he is the one who will take care of us, not just in eternity, but this side of heaven too.  So I urge you this morning, if there is some aspect of life that you haven't given over to God, that you haven't trusted him with, bring it with you to the altar this morning.  Receive God's promise of grace here at his Table and as you do that, lay your cares here, at the pace where he reminds us of his promises.  As he gave himself, body and soul, for you, give yourself, body and soul, to him and live for his glory alone. Please pray with me: “Our Father, we prayed earlier that you would protect us from all adversity so that we may devoutly serve you in our good works.  Help us to understand that what you desire of us is true worship done by the devotion of every part of our lives to you and to your service.  Give us the grace, Father, to hand everything over to you and to devote every aspect of life to what will bring you glory.  We ask this confident in the Spirit that brings us life and by the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.  Amen.
Bible Text: Zechariah 9:9, Philippians 2:5-11 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Our Humble Lord Zechariah 9:9 & Philippians 2:5-11 by William Klock St. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem takes us back to Prophet Zechariah’s oracle of judgment against the enemies of God’s people.  The first verses of Zechariah 9 are a litany of woe and destruction: “Lo, the Lord will strip Tyre of her possessions and hurl her wealth into the sea and she shall be devoured by fire…Gaza too shall writhe in anguish…The king shall perish from Gaza; Asheklon shall be uninhabited…I will make an end of the pride of Philistia…”  These were great nations and prideful pagan peoples who worshipped false gods, produced unspeakably immoral cultures, and persecuted the holy nation of Israel next door.  You can almost hear the Israelites cheer as Zechariah speaks this message from God.  You can picture the Messiah, the Anointed One, riding down from heaven, flaming sword in his hand, to drive his enemies out of the Promised Land and destroy them and their cities.  In verse 9 Zechariah exhorts the people to rejoice: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he… (Zechariah 9:9a) I see pictures of the allies liberating Paris in August 1944.  Grateful crowds cheering the men who drove off the Nazis and a victory parade through the streets led by Charles De Gaulle.  We’ve all seen those pictures.  Just put it in an ancient context – move it from 20th Century Europe to Ancient Palestine and you’ve got the idea.  The Jews had been looking for their promised Saviour for centuries.  Every girl longed to be the chosen mother of the Messiah.  When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, many of those in the crowd cheering him on were no doubt expecting that in Jesus of Nazareth was come the one who would ride down on the pagan nations with his flaming sword in hand, giving the Romans the boot, and leading the people in a great victory parade through the streets of Jerusalem. But that isn’t the end of verse 9 – it goes on: …triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass. (Zechariah 9:9b) This isn’t the Messiah that the people were expecting.  Conquering heroes ride through town in a chariot or on the back of a warhorse – not on the back of a donkey.  Donkeys are farm animals for poor people.  But that’s what the Messiah did – he came, the conquering hero, riding into Jerusalem on a simple donkey. St. Paul writes about the humility of the Messiah in our Epistle lesson: Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:6-7) Jesus was “in the form of God.”  This was one of the great Christological passages of the New Testament that the Councils drew on when they worked out our creeds.  St. John reminds us, “In the beginning was the Word” – in the beginning was the preincarnate Christ, in the beginning was the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity.  Jesus said of himself, as we read last week in our Gospel lesson, “Before Abraham was, I AM.”  Jesus named himself with the holy name that God revealed to Moses when he appeared in the burning bush: I AM.  Jesus Christ is God, the creator of the universe, the sustainer of life, the source of all blessing, now incarnate.  Jesus had every right to ride down from heaven, sword in hand, to vanquish the enemies of his people.  He is perfectly holy, he is perfectly just, he is God.  The Messiah deserved the praises of the people around him – he deserved their worship – he was God and we all, as his people, owe him all those things.  They are our “bounden duty and service.” And yet Christ didn’t come in the way people expected.  He came humbly like one of us – and even then not as the highest of us, but as like the lowest.  As St. Paul says, he “emptied himself,” became a man like us, and not just a man, but a servant.  Not just a servant in the terms that we think of a servant.  The Greek word used by St. Paul is δουλος; not a just a servant – literally a slave.  St. Paul says that Christ emptied himself, that he gave up his heavenly and godly prerogatives, and became the lowliest of the low. Theodoret commented on these verses saying, “Being God, and God by nature, and having equality with God, he thought this no great thing, as is the way of those who have received some honour beyond their merits, but, hiding his merit, he elected the utmost humility and took the shape of a human being.”  Jesus was God, yet he didn’t feel the need to “fill himself up.”  Instead he emptied himself, St. Paul’s Greek literally says he “poured out” himself.  As God, Christ was worthy of the people’s praise, worship, and adoration.  He was worthy to be led to the Temple and enthroned inside of it as the Creator and King.  He was worthy to receive their tribute and their service.  But that’s not what Christ did.  Christ emptied himself – he poured himself out.  He knew that as God he was worthy of all these things, that he deserved and even had a right to greatness, but instead he gave up all thought for himself and poured out his fullness so that he could enrich others.  St. Paul isn’t saying that Christ gave up his divinity.  He’s telling us that Christ gave up the rights that he had as God and put himself totally at the disposal of his people – God became poor so that his people could be rich. Jesus was born as one of us.  He could have been born as a nobleman – a rich man or a man in a position of political power, or even as a Levite, maybe as the high priest himself or some other earthly religious leader.  He could have, but instead he became not only a man, but a slave.  A rich man would still have had some right to the admiration and praise of men.  A great political leader – a warrior or a king – would have been raised up on a pedestal by his people.  A great religious leader would have been looked up to by the people too.  But Jesus’ desire was to empty himself – to completely pour himself out – and so he became a lowly slave to others.  Not literally a slave, but he took on himself the attitude of a slave.  He didn’t come to lord over people.  He came to serve them.  Remember that Jesus’ ministry was to the people as he traveled by foot around the country with nothing more than the clothes on his back.  It was Jesus who washed his disciples feet.  His ministry was one of service to others. St. Paul goes on in verse 8: And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Christ became one of us so that he could serve us.  In Hebrews 4:15 we read: For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Each of us is guilty of offending God.  Each of us has committed the cosmic treason of sin.  God graciously created us, and yet every one of us has rebelled against the very one who has given us life.  We, his creatures, choose to be gods and arrogantly enthrone ourselves on his seat.  Christ had to become one of us so that he could be the second Adam – so that he could live life as we do, suffering temptation, but not falling to it.  He was obedient in every way that we are not and that total obedience led him to the cross.  Again in Hebrews we read: In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear.  Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:7-10) The ultimate act of service and of obedience was his death on the cross in our place.  I don’t know that we give much thought to the manner of Jesus’ death other than to focus on its cruelty and heinousness.  If we look at the mock trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate and someone asks us “Why?” I’m not sure we give the right answer.  Why was Jesus dragged through these sham trials?  Why was he crucified?  Why was he taken out to be executed with two thieves?  Jesus could have died in all sorts of ways.  Why couldn’t he have been hit by a speeding chariot or stampeding horse while walking down one of Jerusalem’s narrow streets?  Why couldn’t he have died from typhoid or leprosy or one of the other many fatal diseases that plagued the ancient world?  Why couldn’t he have fallen out of a boat on the Sea of Galilee in a storm and drowned?  Jesus had to suffer what he did because it’s what we deserve.  We deserve to be put on trial for our sins.  We deserved to be mocked and ridiculed for our sins.  Ultimately we deserve to die a criminal’s death for our sins. As you read the Gospel lessons this Holy Week, put yourself in the place of Christ.  Would it be unjust if we had stood accused before Pilate or before the Sanhedrin?  Would it have been unjust for us to have been scourged?  Would it have been unjust for us to have been nailed to a cross and left to die?  No.  I expect that every one of us is probably guilty of a crime that was punished by death in the Old Testament – remember that even dishonouring one’s parents was a capital crime!  Yet we take all those things very lightly.  But God’s divine standard is even higher.  God’s divine standard hands down the death penalty for any and all sin.  Every one of us stands condemned before God. But an awful lot of the time we seem to forget that fact.  We ignore the fact that we’re sinners.  We ignore the fact that our sins deserve death.  And we start thinking that God owes us something.  Instead of living Christ’s humility in our own lives, we become proud and self-righteous.  We take pride in the knowledge that we’ve never stooped as low as this or that person. We take pride in our good works and in our “morality.”  We like to point out the faults in other people, but aren’t interested in having others show us our own faults.  We like to praise ourselves for overcoming sin as if we are somehow totally victorious over all the sin in our lives and as if the victory we’ve experienced over a handful of sins is somehow because of our own doing and not God’s.  Each of us came to Christ knowing that there was nothing we could do to save ourselves.  We came to him in humility – totally relying on his sinlessness and on his sacrifice – his sinless death made in our place.  (If you haven’t ever done that, then regardless of what you may think, you are not a Christian and still stand condemned before God.)  We knelt humbly before him at one time, but it seems all too common for us to become over-confident in ourselves as time goes on, and eventually we start to get the idea that somehow we can stand before God on our own merit.  Maybe we rely on Christ a little bit and we pay lip service to his death on the cross as the payment for our sins, but in reality we expect to earn God’s favour.  We start to see righteousness in ourselves and that’s a very dangerous illusion, because when we become self-righteous we kill our Christian witness.  The self-righteous person takes great pride in the sins he doesn’t commit, but is blind to the sins he falls into every day.  He goes to work and condemns the sin in everyone else around him, but is blind to the obvious sin in his own life.  He shows an utter lack of charity to others, he short-changes the company by leaving early when the boss isn’t around, takes home office supplies, he gets caught up in the dirty jokes of the guy in the next cubicle. You wonder why people have no interest in Christ.  It’s in part because of our lack of Christ-like humility.  It’s we proclaim Christ with our lips, but all these folks ever see is us trusting in ourselves.  We say we follow Christ, but we fail to live like he did.  We’re called to imitate Christ, because for many people we’re the only Jesus they’ll ever see.  To a certain extent, we set the standard for the unbelievers around us – but too much of the time we set that standard awfully low and misrepresent what it means to be a follower of Christ.  You wonder why some people don’t want anything to do with the Church?  It’s because they look at us and they see prideful do-gooders and hypocrites. St. Paul doesn’t just tell us about Christ’s humility and servant attitude because he wants us to know that Christ was a humble servant.  Notice how he begins this doxology: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. St. Paul’s point is to urge us to be like our Saviour.  We’re given the example of Christ so that we can be like him.  Philips Brooks said, “The true way to be humble is not to stoop until you are smaller than yourself, but to stand at your real height against some higher nature that will show you what the real smallness of your greatness is.” Christ is that higher nature for us – he is our measuring standard.  He is the one who shows us how small we are when we’re tempted to think we’re spiritual big shots.  And when we faithfully hold Christ’s example before us we can never be self-righteous – we can never trust in ourselves for access to the Father, because we will always be humbled by the Eternal Son, who condescended to become man, and who died in our place to pay the penalty for our sins. St. Paul’s doxology reminds us that because of his humility, the Father has exalted the Son and given to him the name above all names: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.(Philippians 2:10-11) He who confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, honours the Father, and he who hates the Son also hates the Father.  On judgment day there will be no one on earth who will not confess that Jesus is Lord.  The saints will confess it in love and admiration, and those who rejected Christ will have their eyes opened and will confess it in fear and trembling.   God will honour those followers of Christ who make their confession out of faith and love, but there will be no hope for those who are only able to make that confession on the final day out of fear after their eyes are opened to the glory of Christ. Our goal as Christians should be to give to Christ alone the glory for our redemption.  We need to be like him in his humility, not full of ourselves, but pouring ourselves out so that we can be filled by the grace that Christ has poured from himself.  Those around us should see Christ-like humility, not pride.  They should see redeemed sinners serving their God out of gratitude and aspiring to personal holiness, not self-righteous, holier-than-thou jerks.  Self-righteous people rarely have the desire to serve out of humility, because prideful people don’t stoop down unless it’s to take pride in that stooping.  Just as he exalted his humble Son, God also promises to exalt those who follow in his humble footsteps.  Our sole desire should be to faithfully follow Christ – to be like him – to imitate his model of the humble servant, but we can only do it when we rely on the grace we find in him.  This was what we prayed for in our collect today: “Almighty and everlasting God, who in your tender love towards mankind sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature and to suffer death upon the cross so that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility, grant that we may both follow the example of his patience and also have our part in his resurrection, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”
Bible Text: Philippians 4:4-7 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent Philippians 4:4-7 by William Klock All through Advent the lessons have been reminding us that we need to prepare.  But prepare for what?  Christmas is the celebration of the First Advent of Christ at his birth, but that happened almost two thousand years ago.  There’s no way we can prepare for that—it’s already happened.  No, Advent is the yearly reminder that as Christians we need to be prepared, we need to be in a constant and growing state of readiness, for the Second Advent when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead.  At his First Advent, for us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven…was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.  All of us who have trusted in Jesus’ atoning death and submitted to him as our Lord, we’re now living in the kingdom he established.  But our tendency—and this why we need Advent—our tendency is to become spiritually lazy.  It’s easy to do, because as we live in his spiritual kingdom, we’re surrounded by the very physical kingdom of the world.  Our redemption hasn’t yet been consummated and so even though we have the Holy Spirit living within us, graciously empowering us to love and good works, we still struggle with the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Often for us, the physical reality of the world overcomes the spiritual reality of the kingdom. After all, we can touch and see and feel the world around us.  Even though it’s just as real, the kingdom of God is more nebulous and often easy to forget.  And so we need this reminder: Be prepared!  Be ready for his return.  Don’t waste the time he’s given us here to do the work of his kingdom and to prepare ourselves for his coming. And we need Christmas too—we need the reminder that Jesus has come into the world and that he will finish the work he’s started in us.  We need the reminder because life here is not easy.  Not only do we face the often difficult challenges of growing in the faith and doing the work of the kingdom, but we continue to live with the consequences of the Fall.  There’s still sin and pain and death and suffering in the world.  And as we seek to follow God, we face the ridicule and persecution of those who reject Christ.  But we’re reminded today that the darker the night, the more brightly the star of Bethlehem shines!  In the midst of the darkness, Paul tells us excitedly in our Epistle: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. (Philippians 4:4) “Rejoice in the Lord always!”  Not just at Christmas, but at all times.  We’re a Christmas people; what Jesus has done for us permeates our whole lives every day and in every thing.  We rejoice in all things, and that includes all of our troubles or anxieties or persecutions.  In fact, our joy should be even more visible when we face tribulations.  The prophet Micah wrote, “When I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me” (Micah 7:8).  Habakkuk wrote: Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.(Habakkuk 3:17-18) The book of Acts tells us how the first Christians, facing the persecution of the Jews rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for his name’s sake.  How did they do it?  By worldly standards that kind of joy in the face of suffering just isn’t possible.  The answer is there in verse 4.  St. Paul doesn’t just tell us to rejoice.  He tells us to rejoice in the Lord.  Jesus gives us hope, because in his First Advent he gives us something to look forward to at his Second Advent—something on the other side of our suffering.  He gives us a new and eternal perspective—something the world doesn’t have—and that changes everything. And it really does change everything—or at least, it should.  It’s not just that we rejoice in all things.  If we’re living a life of joy, it will impact every area of our lives.  Paul goes on in verse 5: Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The King James says, “Let your moderation be known unto all men.”  Other modern translations say to let our “forbearance”, “gentleness”, or “graciousness” be seen by all.  The Greek word is hard to translate, but it’s important, because Paul is describing the character that we need to display to the world—this is a key way we witness Christ in our lives.  In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul describes this character in terms of the meekness of Jesus, but it’s the kind of meekness that can only be displayed by the almighty God and Judge of the universe.  When I see this word in Scripture I’m reminded of a friend I had in university.  He was a giant—about 6’8” and probably 350 lbs. of muscle.  He was a football player and the sort of guy who could pull your arms off.  And yet as powerful as he was, he was very gentle.  His girlfriend always said he was a big teddy bear.  That’s the idea here: great power and authority choosing to display profound gentleness.  We have been united with Christ.  We bear his power and authority to the world.  Paul even tells us that on the last day we will sit with him to judge the world.  But instead of lording our status as co-heirs with Christ over the world and over the people around us, instead of getting caught up in the stress and conflict and fighting of the world, instead of looking out for “Number One”, we show the same gracious, gentle, meek, and forbearing spirit that Jesus has shown to us.  Remember, you and I were God’s enemies.  You and I were deserving of death.  He has every right to destroy us and he has the power to do it instantly, but he has chosen to be gracious and merciful.  And as he changes our perspective—as he focuses our eyes on eternity—our hearts should be becoming more gracious and merciful too—more like his heart.  Our focus is less and less on this world, and more and more on Jesus, on his kingdom, and on the work of his kingdom.  One commentator writes: “Let us be ready to drop all that is ours, so that we may hold fast all that is Christ’s; ready to drop earth that we may the better grasp heaven.”  Think of the old story of the kid crying because his hand is trapped in the cookie jar.  His mother tries and tries, but it just won’t come out.  And that’s when she realises that the reason his hand won’t come out is because it’s full of cookies.  He’s trapped in the cookie jar, but he isn’t willing to let go of the cookies to get untrapped!  As long as your hands are engaged in holding onto the things of the world, you’ll never be able to take hold of Christ and the things of heaven.  And Paul reminds us why it’s so important we have this perspective: “The Lord is at hand.”  He’s coming!  Time is short!  It’s all about being prepared.  Just like everything else we should be doing in life, we’re too often prone to putting off our preparation for Christ’s return.  Our time is limited.  We need to make the most of it—we need to be witnessing Christ to the world today, not putting it off until tomorrow.  We need to be maturing in the faith today, not putting it off until tomorrow.  As St. Peter tells us, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers” (1 Peter 4:7 NKJV).  Today, not tomorrow! And Paul knew why we have such a problem focusing on that preparation.  The world distracts us and robs of us of our eternal perspective.  We get bogged down in the things of earth—especially so in the cares and worries of day to day life.  So he says in verse 6: Do not be anxious about anything, He uses the same word that Jesus uses when he tells us in Matthew 6:34 not to worry about tomorrow, but instead to seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness.  We know the final outcome.  God has already won the victory and if we are in Christ, we are on his victorious side.  But he’s left us here and given us time to share his good news of forgiveness with all those people around us who are still on the side of the world—and we do that in part by showing our trust in him instead of worrying and being anxious about life.  We need to realise that anxiety is sinful; at its root is a lack of faith in God’s promises.  Anxious people will never grow in the faith, and not only that, but they will have a poor witness to the world!  So instead of being anxious Paul says: but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Here’s where our spiritual rubber meets the road of faith.  The way of the world is to be anxious, because it has no hope when life is difficult.  Christians, on the other hand, know that we have a God in heaven who has already won the battle for us and who, in the meantime, will take care of our every need if we will only follow him.  When life is hard the world gets anxious; the Christian prays and exercises his trust in God and hope in his promises.  The Christian trusts that God is at work in everything, because that’s what he has promised: “For those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28).  Our problem is that we forget what the “good” is.  If we keep our eternal perspective, we’ll remember that “good” isn’t whatever is we want, but that “good” is our growing in Christ-likeness and in faith.  I like the way Isaac Williams put it: “Trouble does not spring from the ground; there is some object and good purpose for the troubles which are planted so thick like thorns around our dwelling-places on earth.  The reason is this: that such may be made subjects and occasions of prayer to God: God would have us at all times looking to Him; our faces always turned, not like the beasts to the ground, but towards Heaven.  And if any one wishes to know on any occasion why this or that little matter of trouble occurs to him,—some difficulty perhaps, some regret, some ill treatment, some loss or reproach, or bodily pain,—of this he may be assured, that it comes to him from God, in order to induce him to pray.  If we had nothing to trouble us, we should have nothing to desire; and if we had nothing to desire, we should have nothing to pray for.  It is prayer which hallows all the lesser concerns and accidents of life.” Consider that St. Paul had what he called a thorn in his flesh.  We don’t know what it was.  Some say it was a physical handicap or illness, some that it was some sin that he struggled with, but whatever it was, he prayed repeatedly that God would take it away, because it pained him and because he felt that it interfered with his ministry.  But God chose not to take it away, and Paul testifies to us that the thorn in his flesh, through prayer, became an abundant occasion of grace—even to the point that he no longer wanted it gone.  In fact this brings us full-circle: Paul learned to rejoice in his affliction, because it taught him to trust in God.  He could proclaim: “When I am weak, then I am strong!”  Not because the thorn made him strong, but because it taught him to lean on and draw from the divine strength of God through his gracious, indwelling Holy Spirit. Do you have a thorn in your flesh?  Is there something in your life that causes you pain, that makes life difficult, that makes for a daily struggle?  Something you’ve prayed for God to take away?  A situation you’ve prayed for God to change?  And he hasn’t?  I’ve learned that too many people seem to become angry with God in those situations.  They blame God for the problem or they complain that he isn’t treating them fairly.  Brothers and sisters, those thorns in the flesh are our opportunities to lean on God, not to get angry with him.  He offers them to us as occasions to experience the abundance of his grace.  We far too often jump to the conclusion that God’s will is for everyone to be health and happy and for life here to be easy and comfortable.  We forget that God’s ultimate purpose is to make us holy and to prepare us for eternity in his presence.  It’s far more important to God that you learn to live in his grace and to trust in him, than that your life be easy or comfortable.  And as we can see from the example of Israel in the Old Testament, he often uses difficulties in this life in order to prepare us for life in his kingdom.  Again, it’s about our perspective.  God wants to give us eternal perspective and to focus our eyes on the things of heaven, but to do that he often has to take away the things of earth—the things we won’t otherwise let go of.  Friends, when he does that, it’s not because he likes to see us in pain or because he isn’t fair, it’s because he loves us and is graciously drawing our attention to himself and teaching us to live in him.  We’re far too often like the kid with his hand stuck in the cookie jar simply because he won’t let go of the fistful of cookies.  God uses the tribulations of life in order to show us that he has better plans for us, if only we would open our hands and drop the cookies. That’s when our supplications—those prayers for him to deal with the hard things in life—turn into the thanksgivings that Paul mentions in verse 6.  When our prayers for relief turn into thanksgiving for the source of our suffering, that’s when we know we’re on the right track; that’s when we know our eyes are focused on heaven and we’re living in the kingdom—that we’re prepared for Jesus’ Second Advent. The promise that follows if we will truly trust in God is in verse 7: And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. This the peace that Jesus told his disciples about in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”  Let me say two things about the peace of the Lord and how it fits in with this Sunday of preparation.  First, the more we learn to experience and live in the peace of the Lord, the better we’ll be prepared for eternity.  The peace of the Lord is truly a foretaste of the life of heaven.  But as we live out the peace of the Lord, we witness heaven on earth.  We display before the anxious and worried eyes of the world what it means to have hope and to have faith and to trust in Jesus.  Think about that.  We greet each other on Sunday mornings with those words: “The peace of the Lord be with you.”  Those are powerful words, but I’m not sure we realise that.  It’s not just a churchy way of saying “Hi” or “Good morning.”  In fact, it’s not so much a greeting as it is a blessing and an exhibition of our love for our brothers and sisters that we wish for them to experience “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.” And in the second half of the promise, St. Paul tells us that God’s peace will “guard” our hearts and minds in Christ. That word “guard” is a strong one.  In other places it’s used to describe a watchman guarding a city or a fortress from enemies, or a prison guard guarding a prisoner.  If we will trust in God—if we will rest secure in Christ—he will keep us secure in his peace—a peace that overcomes all the anxieties and worries and fears of the world, that gives us grace to have an eternal perspective in the midst of our trials and tribulations and sufferings. Brothers and sisters, this is what Christmas is all about—it’s joy in the knowledge that Our Lord and King is with us.  But we need to remember that it’s not just a sentimental joy.  If that’s all it is, then we’re no better than the people who say a prayer or walk an aisle and treat the Gospel as fire insurance or a “Get Our of Hell Free” card.  Advent calls us to prepare; not to prepare for Christmas or for the First Advent—that already happened.  No, Advent calls us to prepare because we are a Christmas people—to grow in the new life we find in the manger and at the cross, that we might be prepared for Jesus’ return.  Christ is with us.  Live in him and exercise the faith he has given you.  Don’t drop the spiritual ball.  Let his indwelling Spirit focus your eyes on Jesus—that’s the Spirit’s job—and let him change your perspective.  Let him take your eyes off the things of earth and set them on the things of heaven.  And realise that even though letting go of things is sometimes hard—even painful—our time here is short.  In his gracious love, God is preparing us for something so much better—something so wonderful that we can never fully comprehend it in this life. Adam and Eve’s sin was in taking God’s role on themselves.  Instead of trusting that he knew what was best for them, they decided to make that call for themselves.  Brothers and sisters, that’s something God didn’t design us to do.  Our understanding, our knowledge, and our perspective are limited.  Too often, though, we continue to live like Adam and Eve.  We still fail to trust that God knows what’s best for us.  We’re convinced that there’s nothing better than the cookies clenched tightly in our fist.  We can’t imagine anything better.  We refuse to listen as God gently urges us to let go.  We refuse to trust that he’s got something better for us.  God will do whatever it takes to get us to let go.  Don’t live your life with your hand stuck in the world’s cookie jar!  Don’t be like Israel.  God eventually had to take literally everything away from his people, sending them into exile, to get their attention and to teach them to trust him.  Even then, when Jesus came, most of them refused to let go of the law in order to take hold of his grace. The sooner we learn to let go of the things of earth, the sooner God will place the things of heaven in our hands.  And the more often we trust and obey—the better we learn that lesson—the more we will find ourselves rejoicing with St. Paul as we grow and flourish in the grace of God, singing, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  This is why we pray today, “Lord, come among us, we pray, with your power and help us with your great might so that, although we are hindered by our sins and wickedness from running the race set before us, your bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us through the work of your Son our Lord to whom with you and the Holy Spirit be honour and glory now and for ever.  Amen.”
Bible Text: Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 21:1-17 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon for Palm Sunday Philippians 2:5-11 & St. Matthew 21:1-17 by William Klock Our Epistle this morning begins with this exhortation to us: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5) Again, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”  Now, think of Adam.  Adam was created in the image and likeness of God—he had this mind—but through his sin, he defaced the image of God that was in him and he set his mind against the things of God.  He set his mind on the things of the world and on his own ambition and satisfaction.  And so Jesus came—the second Adam—to save us from our sins.  But Jesus didn’t just come to wash us clean from our unrighteousness, he also came in order to make us righteous again—to restore the image of God in each of us.  And that’s where St. Paul’s going here: If you’ve put your faith in the sacrifice of Jesus at the cross—that’s what we looked at last Sunday—then the Spirit has united you with Christ and made you part of his Body.  Jesus is the head of that Body—so let his mind be yours—let him transform you from the inside out.  But then we have to ask: “What is the mind of Christ”.  And so Paul goes on: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:5-11) Paul tells us that the dominating character of Jesus was his humility.  He was God—he was with his Father as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity from all eternity, he was there at the Creation of the world as the Divine Word—as the very means of Creation itself, he is Lord of the world—and yet he was willing to “empty himself,” as the King James puts it.  When we, his creations, fell into sin and were separated from the life he offers, he humbled himself and became one of us so that he could restore us to himself.  But he didn’t just become one of his creatures.  He could have come as a great earthly king and still been a man, but instead he humbled himself to the lowest of the low—born of a woman pregnant before she was married, poor herself and from a poor town, rejected by other men even from his birth—because of that rejection, being born in a smelly and dirty stable.  In his thirty years, he never rose much above those humble beginnings in the stable.  He was rejected and despised by his own people.  Paul goes on: And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8) God humbled himself and became the servant of his creatures, even to the point of dying for them—and not just dying a natural death, but dying a painful, brutal, and humiliating death on the cross, a death that was reserved for criminals and the lowest of the low. St. John tells us in his Gospel: The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:9-12) The good news is that Jesus didn’t humble himself for nought.  There were many people—and still are many people—who received him and who have let him make a triumphal entry into their hearts and lives with his gifts of redemption and sonship. But today, in the Gospel, we see him making his entry into Jerusalem—going there in humility as our servant, offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins.  That Thursday night he had spent in Jericho in Zacchaeus’ house.  On Friday he continued on toward Jerusalem for the Passover.  The roads were crowded, because everyone in the nation was making that same journey—all the roads leading to Jerusalem would have been packed with pilgrims.  But he didn’t go all the way there on Friday.  Jews didn’t travel on the Sabbath—on Saturday—so he stopped to spend the night in Bethany—just a few kilometres from the city.  He stayed with his friends—whith Mary and Martha and Lazarus. We can only imagine the number of people who came to Bethany while Jesus was there on that Sabbath.  The roads were crowded and the stories of Jesus having raised Lazarus from the dead would undoubtedly have been passed along among all those pilgrims.  Now here was their chance, not only to see Lazarus—the man who was raised after three days in the grave—but to see Jesus too, the man who had raised him.  A lot of these people would naturally have been doubters, but here was their chance to see the evidence and they went away from Bethany believers.  And that made the Jewish leaders all the more furious. On Sunday morning the crowd in Bethany was bigger than ever.  I can just see Jesus stepping out of Simon the Lepers’ house, where he spent the night, and there was this huge crowd of people cheering—the King, the Messiah had come and was going to march into Jerusalem and take his throne.  Who wouldn’t want to miss that!  Word had spread to Jerusalem and another crowd was making its way down the road from the opposite direction too.  As Jesus was coming to the little town of Bethpage on the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples ahead to get a donkey and a colt that he told them they’d find tied there.  It was more evidence of his divinity—he knew without seeing.  And sure enough, the disciples did what he told them to do and came back with the donkey and the colt.  No doubt they wondered what this was all about, and there were people in the crowd thinking, “If this is the King, the Messiah, he sure looks poor.  Why is he riding on a donkey?  Shouldn’t the great King be coming on a great war horse and with an army?”  At the time the disciples didn’t understand either, but later they remembered Zechariah’s prophecy: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  (Zechariah 9:9) The promised King was to ride into Jerusalem, not with a great show of earthly power, but in humility—riding on a humble donkey. As the crowd from Bethany got closer, they met the crowd coming from Jerusalem, and true to the prophecy, the daughters of Zion rejoiced and shouted aloud.  The crowds surrounded Jesus shouting: Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest! (Matthew 21:9) Those were the words of Psalm 118.  They were part of the Hallel that the priests sang or chanted as they received the Passover procession.  These were also the same words that families would sing during the Passover meals they had in their homes.  We still sing these words as we come to the Table in the Lord’s Supper.  They sang, Hosanna! “Give us your salvation!  Save us now!”  They were shouting: “Hail the King of Israel!  Here comes the one bearing God’s gifts and endowments for his people!  Here comes the one who has raised Lazarus from the dead and will raise us from the dead too!  Here comes the promised Messiah!” As the procession moved along, the people took branches from the palm trees along the road and spread them in Jesus’ way, and St. Matthew says, “Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road.”  Think about that.  These were people who were a long way from home.  Most of them were probably travelling pretty light—they didn’t have an overabundance of clothing with them—many of them probably had no change of clothes.  But they carpeted the road with their own clothes in honour of the King.  Shouting Hosanna cost them nothing, the palm branches could be pulled off the trees pretty easily, but the clothes on the road showed a sacrifice on the part of these people.  They wanted to honour the Lord Jesus.  And it was as great day for Jesus—one of the few times, in fact, that he accepted homage as the King. There were some in the crowd who had been there when Jesus raised Lazarus.  Many of them had seen Lazarus alive again.  They were there as witnesses of Jesus’ divinity.  St. John tells us that the crowd was there mainly because they had heard about Lazarus.  And now as they made their way into Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up.  Imagine a crowd coming into Courtenay, coming up the highway with this one man at the head of the parade and everyone cheering him.  We’d be asking, “Who is this?” and that’s exactly what the people of Jerusalem were asking: “Who is this?  What’s this all about?”  And Matthew says the crowd with Jesus told the people: “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee” (Matthew 21:10-11). That probably left a lot of people scratching their heads.  All this for a poor man, riding on a donkey—and from Nazareth, of all places?  He doesn’t look like a king!  But the Pharisees knew exactly who Jesus claimed to be and this sent them into a frenzy.  Jesus coming into the city, acclaimed by the crowds as if he were a king—that was a direct challenge to their authority.  They were afraid of Jesus.  Everything they had done to stop him had failed up to this point.  They already had an order out that he should be arrested wherever he was found and now here he comes, riding openly into the city and acclaimed by a huge crowd.  They were helpless and in their anger they said, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him” (John 12:19).  No doubt it seemed to them like the entire world was carried away in this flood of enthusiasm for Jesus.  They were the only ones—they thought—who still had their feet on the ground. And it’s the hate of the Pharisees and Jewish leaders that makes the Palm Sunday Gospel so dramatic.  Jesus knew these men wanted him dead, but he went to Jerusalem anyway.  He was on a mission of love and not even their bloody hate would stop him.  But brothers and sisters, what does this mean for us?  We sing our Hosannas to Jesus.  We proclaim: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”  We sing praises just like those people did almost 2000 years ago.  The problem then was that those people missed what Jesus was really about.  They thought he came to establish an earthly kingdom.  They expected to share in his earthly triumph.  When they figured out that his destination was not the throne on Mount Zion, but was actually the cross on Mount Calvary all their praises evaporated.  Jesus knew this is what would happen.  That’s why he would stand looking over the city and weep: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood  under her wings, and you would not!” (Matthew 23:37).  He came to his own.  They received him at first, but when he didn’t meet their expectations, his own did not receive him—they were looking for peace, but they were blinded by their misconceptions and false expectations of what the Messiah would do and who he would be. Brothers and sisters, Jesus comes today.  Just as it was then, his purpose is to bring salvation and holiness, to rescue us from sin, and to bring us into his kingdom—into his Body, his Church.  And in his Church there are still a lot of people who sing “Hosanna!” on Sunday and then run from the Garden on Thursday night.  A lot of people call him Saviour and acknowledge him as King, but they refuse to truly make him Lord—to truly follow him and do his will in their families, their businesses, or even in the Church.  A lot of people vow, just like Peter did that they will follow him forever and then deny him when things get tough.  A lot of people forget the humility of Jesus, and like the disciples get into disputes over who is the greatest and think they’re above washing the feet of their brothers and sisters. But friends, the Jesus who comes to us today is the same Jesus who sat with a dirty soldier’s coat on his whipped and scourged back and with a crown of thorns pressed on his bloody head; who held a mock sceptre in his hand and had the spit of drunk soldiers running down his face.  And because he’s the same, we treat him the same way Jerusalem treated him.  He’s not like other kings.  He doesn’t beat down anyone’s door and drag them kicking and screaming into his kingdom.  He comes with patience and humility and he stand at the door and knocks.  And we’re hesitant to open the door, because his patience with us and his humble servanthood destroys our pride.  We know that if we let him in, he’s going to call us away from the things we love so much in this world. And yet our Epistle reminds us that because of his humility, because of his willingness to be a servant: God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.(Philippians 2:9-11) We have a choice today, whether or not we’ll open the door.  But when the Last Day comes, the choice will be gone.  Paul says that one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.  But those who heard him knocking and opened the door, they will bow before him as his loved subjects.  But on that day there will be all the others who refused him.  Many will have refused him because his call was so costly—they weren’t willing to give up the things of this world.  Others will have refused him as the Jews did.  He wasn’t the kind of king they wanted—they looked for earthly king.  This may be the greatest danger to us, because it’s subtle.  We think that Jesus came to save our democratic society or to bring an end to poverty or an end to war.  We forget that the only way these things can be saved is when men and women are saved themselves.  Our relations can never be right until our hearts are right with God and until he’s transformed us from the inside out.  But even those who refuse him will bow too on that day—but not as his loved subject, but as those who stand condemned before him as their judge. This is the Palm Sunday theme: the Saviour came to save us from our sins, to enter our hearts, and to make his light to shine on all our human problems.  So sing Hosanna!  He comes riding to us on a humble donkey to die on the cross so that he can open heaven for those who believe and trust. When Jesus makes his triumphal entry into a heart, he redeems it from pettiness and selfishness and pride and fills it with life and love that spills out to everyone around.  He makes us servants who follow his own example.  On that first Palm Sunday, when he entered Jerusalem, he cleansed the temple.  Today he wants to enter the temple of our hearts.  He calls to us: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”  Open the door, and you join not the fickle Palm Sunday crowd, but the redeemed who, with palms in their hands, sing: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!” Let us pray: “Almighty and everlasting God, who in your tender love towards mankind sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature and to suffer death upon the cross so that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility, grant that we may both follow the example of his patience and also have our part in his resurrection, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”
Bible Text: Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 21:1-17 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Our Humble King Philippians 2:5-11 & St. Matthew 21:1-17 Our Epistle this morning begins with this exhortation to us: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5) Again, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”  That wasn’t supposed to be a hard thing to have, but the story of Adam teaches us that humanity has rejected it.  God created each of us as bearers of his image and likeness, but we have all defaced his image and likeness in us with sin.  We set our minds against God and against the things of God; we set our minds on our own ambition and our own satisfaction.  And so Jesus came—as a second Adam—to save us from our sins.  But Jesus didn’t just come to plaster and whitewash over our unrighteousness.  He came to restore the image of God in each of us—to change us from the inside out that we might actually be holy.  And that’s where St. Paul’s going here: If you’ve put your faith in the sacrifice of Jesus at the cross—that’s what we looked at last Sunday—then the Spirit has united you with Christ and made you part of his Body.  Jesus is the head of that Body—so let his mind be yours.  But then we have to ask: “What is the mind of Christ”.  And so Paul goes on: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:5-11) St. Paul tells us that Jesus was characterised by humility.  Think about what who he was and what he did.  He was God.  He was the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the divine Word, begotten of his Father from all eternity.  As the Word, he was the instrument of Creation.  He is Lord of the world—and yet he was willing to “empty himself,” as the King James puts it.  When we, his creatures, fell into sin and were separated from him, he humbled himself and became one of us in order to restore us to life and to restore us to himself.  That doesn’t mean he ceased to be God or gave up even the tiniest bit of his divinity.  It means that as God he took up our human nature and bound it to himself and in doing so he bound himself—his divinity—to us.  Imagine the humility involved in eternal God choosing to bind himself to humanity—to the lowly thing he created.  And yet it wasn’t enough for him to simply become a man.  He could have come as a great king, as another Solomon—but he didn’t.  He humbled himself to the lowest of the low—born of a woman pregnant before she was married, poor herself and from a poor town, rejected by other men even from his birth—because of that rejection, being born in a smelly and dirty stable.  In his thirty years, he never rose much above those humble beginnings in the stable.  He was rejected and despised by his own people.  Paul goes on: And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8) God humbled himself and became the servant of his creatures, even to the point of dying for them—and not just dying a natural death, but dying a painful, brutal, and humiliating death on the cross, a death that was reserved for criminals and the lowest of the low.  Born in the worst part of the wrong part of town to a poor and teenage mother, growing up a poor carpenter’s son, and ultimately dying a criminals death in disgrace.  That’s what St. Paul means when he says that Christ “emptied himself” and “made himself nothing”.  And yet it was for a purpose. St. John tells us in his Gospel: The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:9-12) The good news is that Jesus didn’t humble himself for nought.  There were many people—and still are many people—who received him and who have let him make a triumphal entry into their hearts and lives with his gifts of redemption and sonship. But today, in the Gospel, we see him making his entry into Jerusalem—going there in humility as our servant, offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins.  That Thursday night he had spent in Jericho in Zacchaeus’ house.  On Friday he continued on toward Jerusalem for the Passover.  The roads were crowded, because everyone in the nation was making that same journey—all the roads leading to Jerusalem would have been packed with pilgrims.  But he didn’t go all the way there on Friday.  Jews didn’t travel on the Sabbath—on Saturday—so he stopped to spend the night in Bethany—just a few kilometres from the city.  He stayed with his friends—with Mary and Martha and Lazarus. We can only imagine the number of people who came to Bethany while Jesus was there on that Sabbath.  The roads were crowded and the stories of Jesus having raised Lazarus from the dead would undoubtedly have been passed along among all those pilgrims.  Here was their chance, not only to see Lazarus—the man who was raised after three days in the grave—but to see Jesus too, the man who had raised him.  A lot of these people would naturally have been doubters, but here was their chance to see the evidence and they went away from Bethany believers.  And that made the Jewish leaders all the more furious. On Sunday morning the crowd in Bethany was bigger than ever.  I can just see Jesus stepping out of Simon the Lepers’ house, where he spent the night, and there was this huge crowd of people cheering—the King, the Messiah had come and was going to march into Jerusalem and take his throne.  Who would want to miss that!  Word had spread to Jerusalem and another crowd was making its way down the road from the opposite direction too.  As Jesus was coming to the little town of Bethpage on the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples ahead to get a donkey and a colt that he told them they’d find tied there.  It was more evidence of his divinity—he knew without seeing.  And sure enough, the disciples did what he told them to do and came back with the donkey and the colt.  No doubt they wondered what this was all about, and there were people in the crowd thinking, “If this is the King, the Messiah, he sure looks poor.  Why is he riding on a donkey?  Shouldn’t the great King be coming on a great war horse and with an army?”  At the time the disciples didn’t understand either, but later they remembered Zechariah’s prophecy: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  (Zechariah 9:9) The promised King was to ride into Jerusalem, not with a great show of earthly power, but in humility—riding on a humble donkey. As the crowd from Bethany got closer, they met the crowd coming from Jerusalem, and true to the prophecy, the daughters of Zion rejoiced and shouted aloud.  The crowds surrounded Jesus shouting: Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest! (Matthew 21:9) Those were the words of Psalm 118.  They were part of the Hallel that the priests sang or chanted as they received the Passover procession.  These were also the same words that families would sing during the Passover meals they had in their homes.  We still sing these words as we come to the Table in the Lord’s Supper.  They sang, Hosanna! “Give us your salvation!  Save us now!”  They were shouting: “Hail the King of Israel!  Here comes the one bearing God’s gifts and endowments for his people!  Here comes the one who has raised Lazarus from the dead and will raise us from the dead too!  Here comes the promised Messiah!” As the procession moved along, the people took branches from the palm trees along the road and spread them in Jesus’ way, and St. Matthew says, “Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road.”  Think about that.  These were people who were a long way from home.  Most of them were probably travelling light—they didn’t have an overabundance of clothing with them—many of them probably had no change of clothes.  But they carpeted the road with their own clothes in honour of the King.  Shouting Hosanna cost them nothing, neither did the palm branches they pulled off the trees, but the clothes on the road showed a sacrifice on the part of these people.  They wanted to honour the Lord Jesus.  And it was a great day for Jesus—one of the few times, in fact, that he accepted homage as the King. St. John tells us that the crowd was there mainly because they had heard about Lazarus.  There were, no doubt, people in the crowd who had been there when Jesus had called Lazarus out of his tomb.  And there were probably many who had seen Lazarus since—alive again.  They were there as witnesses to Jesus’ divinity. And now as they made their way into Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up.  Imagine a crowd coming into Courtenay, coming up the highway with this one man at the head of the parade and everyone cheering him.  We’d be asking, “Who is this?” and that’s exactly what the people of Jerusalem were asking: “Who is this?  What’s this all about?”  And Matthew says the crowd with Jesus told the people: “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee” (Matthew 21:10-11). That probably left a lot of people scratching their heads.  All this for a poor man, riding on a donkey—and from Nazareth, of all places?  He doesn’t look like a king!  But the Pharisees knew exactly who Jesus claimed to be and this sent them into a frenzy.  Jesus coming into the city, acclaimed by the crowds as if he were a king—that was a direct challenge to their authority.  They were afraid of Jesus.  Everything they had done to stop him had failed up to this point.  They already had an order out that he should be arrested wherever he was found and now here he comes, riding openly into the city and acclaimed by a huge crowd.  They were helpless and in their anger they said, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him” (John 12:19).  No doubt it seemed to them like the entire world was carried away in this flood of enthusiasm for Jesus.  They were the only ones—they thought—who still had their feet on the ground. And it’s the hate of the Pharisees and Jewish leaders that makes the Palm Sunday Gospel so dramatic.  Jesus knew these men wanted him dead, but he went to Jerusalem anyway.  He was on a mission of love and not even their bloody hate would stop him.  But brothers and sisters, what does this mean for us?  We sing our Hosannas to Jesus.  We proclaim: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”  We sing praises just like those people did almost 2000 years ago.  The problem then was that those people missed what Jesus was really about.  They thought he came to establish an earthly kingdom.  They expected to share in his earthly triumph.  When they figured out that his destination was not the throne on Mount Zion, but was actually the cross on Mount Calvary all their praises evaporated.  Jesus knew this is what would happen.  That’s why he would stand looking over the city and weep: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Matthew 23:37).  He came to his own.  They received him at first, but when he didn’t meet their expectations, his own did not receive him—they were looking for peace, but they were blinded by their misconceptions and false expectations of what the Messiah would do and who he would be.  The couldn’t wrap their heads around a humble Messiah. Brothers and sisters, Jesus comes today.  Just as it was then, his purpose is to bring salvation and holiness, to rescue us from sin, and to bring us into his kingdom—into his Body, his Church.  And in his Church there are still a lot of people who sing “Hosanna!” on Sunday and then run from the Garden on Thursday night.  A lot of people call him Saviour and acknowledge him as King, but they refuse to truly make him Lord—to truly follow him and do his will in their families, their businesses, or even in the Church.  A lot of people vow, just like Peter, that they will follow him forever and then they deny him when things get tough.  A lot of people forget the humility of Jesus, and like the disciples get into disputes over who is the greatest and think they’re above washing the feet of their brothers and sisters. But friends, the Jesus who comes to us today is the same Jesus who sat with a dirty soldier’s coat on his whipped and scourged back and with a crown of thorns pressed on his bloody head; who held a mock sceptre in his hand and had the spit of drunk soldiers running down his face.  And because he’s the same, we treat him the same way Jerusalem treated him.  He’s not like other kings.  His Kingdom doesn’t come with force.  He doesn’t beat us into submission as earthly kings do.  No, he comes to us through the proclamation of the Gospel.  And he sends the Holy Spirit to regenerate our hearts and to turn them to him.  And yet we resist, because.  We can’t wrap our heads around a humble Messiah.  Or maybe we can understand a humble Messiah, but we aren’t willing to be humble as he is.  We aren’t willing to have the mind of Christ ourselves.  We know that if we submit to his humble lordship, he’s going to call us away from the things we love so much in this world. And yet our Epistle reminds us that because of his humility, because of his willingness to be a servant: God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11) We have a choice today, whether or not we’ll acknowledge Jesus as Lord.  But when the Last Day comes, the choice will be gone.  Paul says that one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.  Those who heard his call and embraced the Good News of his death and resurrection, they will bow before him as his loved subjects.  But on that day there will be all the others who refused him.  Many will have refused him because his call was so costly—they weren’t willing to give up the things of this world.  Others will have refused him as the Jews did.  He wasn’t the kind of king they wanted—they looked for an earthly king.  (This may be the greatest danger to us, because it’s subtle.  We think that Jesus came to save our democratic society or to bring an end to poverty or an end to war.  We forget that the only way these things can be saved is when men and women are saved themselves.  Our relations can never be right until our hearts are right with God and until he’s transformed us from the inside out.)  But even those who refuse him will bow too on that day—but not as his loved subject, but as those who stand condemned before him as their judge. This is the Palm Sunday theme: Our Saviour has come.  Out of his great love for us, he comes humbly.  He comes as man, that he might restore men and women to God.  And we see that humility on dramatic display as the great King rides on a lowly donkey to his own death on a cross.  And St. Paul points us to his loving humility and calls to us: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”  By the cross, he has restored us to himself.  As God humbly shared in our humanity, he has exalted our humanity to his divinity that we set aside our sin, our pride, and our selfish ambition and, instead, live in service to each other and to him, spreading the Good News of our humble Saviour and eternally glorify our Lord and King. Let us pray: “Almighty and everlasting God, who in your tender love towards mankind sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature and to suffer death upon the cross so that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility, grant that we may both follow the example of his patience and also have our part in his resurrection, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”

Rejoice!

December 24, 2017
Rejoice! Philippians 4:2-9 A few minutes ago we lit the fourth of our Advent candles: the candle of peace.  Love, hope, joy, and now peace—these are all things that Jesus…