Saturday, April 16, 2011

A, Palm Passion Sunday – Philippians 2:8 “Understudy”

A sermon on Philippians 2:8
Pastor Heath Pukallus Katanning-Narrogin Lutheran Parish

Being an understudy would have to be one of the most difficult jobs. The stage actor gets all the accolades while the understudy remains in the limelight. The work load is the same though! The understudy must know all the same lines to stand in and keep the show running in the event the actor, for whatever reason, cannot be on stage.

The actor gets their name up in lights outside on the Broadway billboards yet the understudy hangs in the shadows ready, yet never knowing if he or she will get the opportunity to let their talents shine.

Nevertheless, the understudy is an important job. Theatre companies need understudies as an insurance policy for their shows. The actors out front might be responsible for drawing the crowds, but the understudy, stands by as a "fill in" so even if the crowd are disappointed by the absence of one actor, they might still have opportunity to see all the other name actors fill their parts next to the "fill in" understudy.

During the Lenten season we have heard and spoken a phrase over and over again. "Christ humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross." It's part of what is known as the Christ hymn from Philippians chapter two.

We hear it again here: 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. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore 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 2:5-11)

Pauls calls us to have this mind, which indeed we already have because Christ lives in us. However, this mind or attitude of Jesus so often gets squashed from within because we like to be the ones who have out names recognised — up in lights like an actor.

But the attitude of Jesus is like that of a faithful understudy. He is the archetypal servant of society, humbly listening to God, seeking his will in his word, throughout his ministry right to the point of death.

Jesus Christ deserved to have his name up in lights — the Son of God, Co-Creator of all things with the Father and the Holy Spirit. But he put that all aside and became the Son of Man; a servant who was killed by the very folk he sought to served.

Our attitude so often runs contrary to the attitude of Jesus. The very things Jesus did, when we contemplate attempting them, seem second rate. No one seeks to be the understudy.

How often do we hear about the glitz and glamour of an understudy? But this is exactly where we're called to focus our efforts and attitudes. So how do we do this when it's so different to our way of thinking?

It's not so much about how we do it, but rather in enduring in Christ, returning to hear his Word of life over and over again, the mindset of Jesus grows within. This growth is cultured by the Holy Spirit so that over time we come to realise Christ has been our understudy the whole time and all the glitz and glamour we sought in the past, perishes with the past.

Alternatively, those who try to live in the glory of this fickle glitz and glamour end up washed up like so many Hollywood types these days.

A world away from seeking glory for one's self is Christ's attitude. This attitude is obedience. It allows us to remain faithful to God. It's not about doing anything in particular. Rather it's about letting God undergird us with his will, his way, and his word. He insures a safety net of salvation for us by giving us Christ as the understudy. Jesus Christ obediently listened to the Father, and now continually listens for when we lose our way, forgetting the lines of holiness we're called to before the Father.

His obedience as the understudy meant no glitz and glamour, rather it meant the opposite. He humbled himself and became your understudy, to the point of death… even death on a cross.

There an old saying, "being hung out to dry". And Jesus was literally hung out to dry; he was hung on the cross to die.

In the ancient world being hung out for all to see was a horrendous way to be killed. Slowly dying, choking on your own body, suffocating yourself to death, usually outside the town gate where everyone passed by and hurled insults at you as you slowly suffered and died.

Scripture tells us that any one hung on a tree is cursed (Deut 21:23). The Assyrians barbarically sharpened sticks like pencils and impaled people on them to die for all to see. So death on a cross or a tree is a blight on any person guilty of the punishment. We don't have crucifixion for punishment these days, but if we did, what kinds of crimes would deserve this type of cursed death? Only the worst, for sure!

So Jesus, your understudy, knew he was going to receive not only death, but death deserved by those who have committed the most abhorrent crimes. And he did it obediently, all the way, despite his innocence. There's just no way we could ever do what he did.

But we don't have to! He has done it; all we're called to do is believe it.

Trust Jesus as your faithful understudy, who saves your reputation before the Father in heaven.

In believing, you'll never expect whom you will be used to serve as an understudy as you focus on faithfully following the will of him who obediently, faithfully, undergirds you as your understudy, until the glorious day of your resurrection into the realm of eternal bliss. Amen.