17th Sunday after Pentecost – 9/27/2020
One of my favorite sections in the Scriptures is the account of Moses encountering the LORD on Mount Horeb, the Mountain of God. There, the Holy God met Moses in the burning bush. The LORD said to Moses, "Remove your shoes. The place where you are standing is holy ground. Can you imagine the sudden rush of fear and excitement that must have enveloped Moses at that moment to know that he was in God's holy presence? Then, hear God Himself speak directly to him and call him to lead His people out of bondage in Egypt. The whole experience must have been overwhelming! He was indeed on holy ground!
However, it wasn't that burning bush that made the place "holy." Rather, it was God's presence in His Word. That word sanctified the mountain and sanctified (set apart as holy) Moses himself as God's deliverer.
Do you feel that same awe and fear today in this worship space? Unfortunately, for many Christians, this sense of astonishment and wonder has been lost in their worship of God. The reason is they do not see, nor even want to see, the burning bush, which is the living presence of the Holy God. They have focused their worship on themselves, not on the LORD God and His presence among them. Worship has become about their comfort and entertainment rather than a reverence for the holy. Jocularity has replaced awe and fear. The goal of worship is now human companionship instead of communion with God's divine presence.
Yet, where God's Word is spoken, we ought to be in awe! God still meets us with His holy presence through His written and proclaimed word. Through His word, the LORD Himself comes in ordinary bread and wine to sanctify us with His redeeming presence. It is not a man's voice that we hear, but God's. The word He speaks to us also sets us apart for Him; that is, it makes us holy! "Take off your shoes, oh worshipper of the Lord. We stand on holy ground!"
How, then, in awe and fear ought we today approach the Word of God in this text from the second chapter of Philippians? After all, this text brings to light the great mystery of God's meeting with humankind in the incarnation of the Son of God. The wonderful mystery of the person of Jesus Christ is spoken of in all its wonder. For through this word, we are made to see our God in the flesh of Jesus. And, in the surprise of all surprises, we see a servant's view.
Listen to these words once again, presented as poetic: "...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 confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
These words delineate the very foundation for the doctrine of the mystery of the two natures in the one person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is unique in the universe. He has the very nature, or form, of God and the very nature, or form, of a human in one person. He is fully God, and yet he is fully human! Even though God in His nature is neither male nor female, in the person of Jesus Christ, God becomes male. He has the divine attributes of God: omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence; yet he shares the frailties of humanity: hunger, fatigue, and mortality being subject to death. No mystery of the Christian faith is greater than that of the Holy Trinity: God is three divine persons in one being.
Instead of standing in awe of this mystery, many down through the ages have tried to make it understandable to our human reason. In doing so, they have not only destroyed the mystery, but they have perverted the truth of God's being.
Some have erroneously suggested that the Son of God only took the form of humanity but did not become united with its essence, that is, actually become flesh and blood. Because their human reason won't go there, they insist the Creator cannot become a creature. On the other hand, others have suggested that Jesus only appeared divine because God did all those miracles through Him. But in essence, he is only human. In this way, both groups have tried to eliminate the mystery. In so doing, however, they have lost the awe-inspiring, saving truth that we are not redeemed by the blood of a mere man but by the blood of God (Acts 20:28).
As this text helps us see, Jesus was and is, by nature, God. His person is not just the outward "form" of God but the very nature of God. The apostle Paul writes elsewhere: "In him, the fullness of the deity dwells bodily" (Col. 1:19). At the same time, Jesus was and is by nature human. He appeared human because he had the essence of humanity that you and I share. His humanity was created, as was ours. He was conceived in the womb of his mother and was made man. His human nature has all the same characteristics as ours, but with one important exception. When the Son of God assumed our humanity, He did not take into himself that alien infection in our nature known as sin. He is, therefore, the perfect God and the perfect man.
Our Lutheran Confessions state this blessed mystery of the person of Christ this way: "We believe, teach, and confess that the Son of God, although from eternity He has been a particular, distinct, entire divine person, and thus, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, true, essential, perfect God, nevertheless, in the fullness of time also assumed human nature into the unity of His person, not in such a way that there now are two persons or two Christs, but that Christ Jesus is now in one person at the same time true, eternal God, born of the Father from eternity, and a true man, born of the most blessed Virgin Mary, as is written in Romans 9:5 (Form, Art. VIII, Trig, p. 10:
That God and man should be so united in one person brought the angels of heaven to sing "Glory to God in the Highest" at Jesus' birth. Ought not this mystery rightly bring us to our knees in a humble admiration of such a wonderful miracle and bring us to our feet in eternal praise? It is marvelous in our eyes! In Jesus, heaven and earth meet. He is the ladder on which the angels ascend and descend. He is the gate—the porthole from heaven to earth.
Yet even more worthy of our praise is the reason for this "incarnation," which unites the divine and human in one person. God did it all so that He might serve His creation. As our text states, in the person of Jesus Christ, "he 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."
What form do you desire your Savior to have? A fearless warrior? A CEO who has it all together? A King with unsurpassable power Well, here is the Savior offered to you in Jesus: a King who is a Doulos, an enslaved person, willingly giving up his lofty position and place to serve sinners. Your Savior gave up His right to be praised by all of creation to be punished for your sins! As God, He had it all, yet he willingly laid it aside to stoop down and serve you with His life! He is a Savior who, as God, had all power but became weak. In His humanity, He did not fully utilize His divine powers to die your death to experience your pains, burdens, and punishment! That's a servant! Your God came in your flesh to be your doulos! He served you with his very life!
What ramifications does this have for how you and I should live? If the form of a servant is good enough for our king, God, and Savior, do you and I imagine we can aspire to anything greater?
In our text, the apostle Paul writes: "So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,  complete my joy by agreeing, having the same love, being in full accord, and of one mind.  Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but humbly count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his interests but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus."
Do you and I have the mind of Christ? Do we see ourselves as servants, or do we prefer to have others serve us? Servanthood is so contrary to the spirit of our age. Ask the newly graduated what they want to do with their education. How many will tell you they want to use it to serve the needs of their fellow man, their community, and their country? I would venture to say that most would reply instead, "I want to get a good management position somewhere that commands a great salary, great respect, and great authority over others."
I'm afraid we are the ME generation. Everything is centered on the self: self-improvement, self-image, self-esteem, and self-advancement. We tend to vote for the candidate for public office who promises to do what we feel would be best for us! Rarely is our greatest concern the plight of the homeless, the poor, the sick, or the downtrodden of society. Instead, it is building up a big nest egg for ourselves to tide us through our golden years, amassing the most toys, or securing the highest positions. It is commonplace to even think of our membership in the church similarly. "The church is there to serve me... officiate my wedding... comfort me when I'm sick... help me out in my needs... bury me when I die." Serving the needs of others is all too often the last thing on our minds.
Paul states: "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his interests but also to the interests of others." In other words, think like Jesus!
Are you and I willing to set aside our position, honor, and pride and put on the garb of lowliness, dishonor, and humility to serve our underlings, employees, etc.? Our children, that belligerent neighbor next door, that smelly, dirty, homeless transient, as Christ did for us? Are we willing to get down in the gutter with the refuse of humanity to lift them? Are we willing to "soil" ourselves in the sordid lives of others around us to help them know of the cleansing grace of Jesus Christ? Are we willing to forget our position and job description, swallow our pride, and do that lowly task that needs doing? Are we willing to eat humble pie if it means making things right or helping others? Are we willing to see our money, talents, and worldly goods not as things to amuse us and supply all our wants but as gifts from God to be used in service of the needs of others? To put it simply, are we willing to be of the servant mind of Christ?
Jesus calls you who have been baptized into Him and believe in Him as your God and Savior, His body." Jesus is the head of this body. He has the mind of a servant. You, the members of His body, are the appendages through which He carries out that service. You are His holy vessels, through which He brings His loving presence into the lives of others. As the church, you are united with Christ through faith to comfort, aid, support, heal, and save. You are forgiven in the Holy Absolution. By that word that has washed you clean and put Christ on you in the Holy Baptism, and by that word that feeds you the very body and blood of Christ, nourishing you to be the body of Christ, you are set apart as servants of the servant your head. You exist to serve—a holy task of our holy, servant God!
When you and I think and live in the mind of our Servant Savior, we will truly "shine as lights in this world... this crooked and twisted generation," as Paul says in our text (v. 15). As we hold fast to the Word of Christ (v. 16), being united in His servant mind and heart, "in all humility, counting others more significant than ourselves, looking to the interests of others," like our Lord living sacrificially for the sake of others, we will stand out like a bright beacon in this me world in which we live. Like moths are drawn to a street light, others will be drawn to see in us that there is a different way—a way that leads to true life, true fulfillment, and true joy. The Way is the Servant Christ Jesus.
May God empower us to serve as we have been served!