Philippians 2:1-13 (CEB)  Imitate Christ

2 Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:

Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
        he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Therefore, God highly honored him
and gave him a name above all names,
10     so that at the name of Jesus everyone
in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
11         and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Carry out your salvation

12 Therefore, my loved ones, just as you always obey me, not just when I am present but now even more while I am away, carry out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 God is the one who enables you both to want and to actually live out his good purposes.

Matthew 8:5-13New (NRSV)

Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Servant

When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 10 When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one[a] in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour.

This is the word of God for us the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

Submitted and Committed

Sometimes when I ponder God’s holy word I am comforted – sometimes I can imagine lying down in green pastures in the presence of the Lord with the sun shining on my face.

But sometimes, when I ponder God’s holy word I am disturbed.

Today I am disturbed.

I am disturbed because the words that would not leave my mind in this text from Matthew are the words “under authority.”  I am disturbed because honestly, I have a problem being “under authority.”  Maybe it’s human nature since it seems that we struggle with authority from the time we are born.  If you don’t believe me you’ve never seen the two-year old who wants candy at the check-out counter at Wal-Mart screaming at the top of his lungs when he’s told “no!”  Now that is some weeping and gnashing of teeth that can reach Biblical proportions!  Isn’t it?  Some of us have had that kid and some of us have been that kid!

We – struggle – to submit to authority.

The centurion in Matthew 8 had a good understanding of authority — because you see, the centurion was a Roman military officer who had one hundred soldiers under his command.  Not only was the centurion under the authority of Rome, he was also in authority over 100 men.  Not only did he have to submit to orders from Rome, he had to give orders to his men.  The centurion had to set aside his own wants and needs to accomplish the mission of Rome.  The centurion had to set aside his need to control things himself and instead do exactly what Rome told him to do.  The centurion’s personal needs were not the important thing, the goals of the Roman Emperor were!  The Centurion was submitted to the Emperor and committed to Rome’s goals.

However, it seems from the text that the centurion was beginning to learn about being under the authority of a whole new ruler who had a whole new level of authority in the world and an upside down way of ruling.  The story opens with the centurion earnestly appealing to Jesus for the healing of his servant saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.”  And interestingly, Jesus quickly agrees to help saying, “I will come and cure him.”  And then, listen to this – the centurion says:

Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “go,” and he goes, and to another, “Come,” and he comes and to my slave, “do this,” and the slave does it.

In effect, the centurion says, “I understand what it means to take orders.  And I am willing to take orders from you.  I trust that you know what needs to be done to accomplish the mission.”  And the centurion is willing to approach Jesus at great risk to his own position of authority.

The scripture goes on to say that when Jesus heard these words, he was amazed.  Jesus was amazed in a good way.  He was amazed because of the great faith that the centurion had.  He was humble, and he trusted in the ability and the power of Jesus to heal his servant without even being in the same room as the servant.  That is a great faith coming from a man who was hired to keep the Jewish people like Jesus in line.

But the problem is Jesus was also amazed in a bad way because such faith was unheard of — Jesus had not seen such faith among the believers before.

And so, I wonder about us today – would Jesus be amazed by us today in a good way by our submission to God and our commitment to God —- or would Jesus be amazed in a bad way because such faith cannot be found among us.

A life lived under the authority of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, is a life where we go when we are told to go, and come when we are told to come, and do what we are told to do.  A life lived under the authority of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is a life where God’s mission is primary, not our own personal agendas leading to our own desires, comfort, wealth or prestige.  So the real question for each of us is what does that look like.  How do I live under the authority of God every day as I interact with my family, in my vocation, in my church, and in my community?  How do I hear the voice of God telling me to go and come and do?  I think some of the ways we can start to hear the voice of God is through what you see on the back of the bulletin – through the 5 step plan for spiritual growth – through prayer, worship, studying the Bible, committing to a small group, serving God and living generously.  When we do those things, we begin to see how it is that God wants us to live – where God wants to go and what God wants us to do.

And as you study the Bible you begin to read stories of how Jesus lived the way God wanted him to – under his authority and control and living out God’s mission, not his own. Jesus lived both submitted to God’s authority and committed to God’s mission.  We just read about that in the words from Philippians.  Jesus emptied himself, took the form of a slave, and humbled himself even to death on a cross.

And we can witness the way that Jesus lived out this life, too – these are not just flowery words in Philippians – they are characteristics proven through action.  At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he stood up and spoke with authority about God’s mission for his life saying that he had come to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  And we can witness that he truly did live out God’s mission by doing things like eating with sinners, healing lepers, forgiving adulterous women, washing the feet of his students and dying on a cross.

Jesus was amazed by the centurion because he was beginning to be submitted to a new authority.  And I can’t help but believe that once the centurion became fully submitted, once he grew up in his faith, commitment to God’s mission was close behind.

But here’s what I kept thinking.  I think Jesus is amazed by people even today.  I think Jesus is amazed by people who are committed to a higher source – people who recognize that it is vitally important to submit to God and to humble oneself.  There are a couple of images that came to my mind.  One of them is Pope Francis.  You may remember seeing the amazing images of Pope Francis during Holy Week over the past few years — getting down on his knees and washing the feet of inmates, disabled people, Muslims, Hindus and migrants.  What a picture that is of one who lives submitted to the authority of God and committed to God’s mission!  What a picture that is of bowing before Jesus and confessing he is Lord.  What a picture that is of acting with humility and thinking of others as better than ourselves!

And not only that, but I think Jesus is amazed by ordinary people who lives submitted and committed to God.  I want to tell you about a lady who I’m blessed to know whose name is Ina.  She’s a skinny little thing with gray hair.  She’s very quiet, but oh so faithful.  She is 80 years old.  And she is not living out her retirement years in any of the ordinary ways.  Instead one of the ways she obeys God’s call on her life is through serving in Dover United Methodist’s after school ministry for 4 hours every single week.  She leads, teaches and loves 60 rowdy kids.  She is not only submitted to God, she is committed to God’s mission to love the least of these.

Every Wednesday afternoon, the kids burst into the church for a snack and some fun – they hear a Bible lesson and sing and dance.  One day a young man about 7 years old decided to celebrate during the time for singing and dancing.  And this little guy was feeling the music – and the spirit was getting in him, and suddenly in an emotional outburst he put his hands down on the floor and gleefully kicked his heels up into the air, doing a donkey kick.  Ms. Ina was standing beside this little boy, and lo and behold I looked over and Ms. Ina did the same thing.  Eighty-year-old Ina put her hands on the floor and gleefully kicked her feet into the air celebrating the joy of the Lord with the boy.  The whole place erupted into laughter at the sight of the little boy and Ms. Ina donkey kicking in the center aisle of the sanctuary!  Their joy was contagious and our dancing and singing reached a new level of worship.

Ms. Ina is submitted to God’s authority and she is committed to living out God’s mission.  And I want you to know there is freedom in that, and there is joy in that.

When our entire lives are submitted to the authority of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and when we are committed to God’s mission, we are set free!  Did you know that?  Did you know that working with God is a life of joy?  Did you ever think about how many worries and decisions that takes off your plate in a day?  Through obedience we are set free for joyful obedience.

When God says, “go” – we can go without fear or anxiety – we can just obey!

When God says “come,” we can come without arguing or complaining, and we can just obey because we know that amazing miracles from God are going to happen and people are going to be healed right before our very eyes.

And when God says “do,” we can put our hands down on the floor and kick up our feet without a second thought.

When we live under the authority of a good and grace-filled God, we will “go” and “come” and “do” with the greatest joy we have every experienced.

You see when we live submitted and committed to God, there will be no more weeping and gnashing of teeth – there will be no more darkness either in the life to come or in the here and now.

So maybe it’s ok to be disturbed by this text.

Maybe it’s ok to be disturbed by the idea of authority.  Because maybe sometimes we have more in common with that two-year-old throwing a fit in the grocery store than we want to admit, and maybe we need a reality check.

I pray that Jesus would be amazed by our faith —- in a good way.  I pray we would be submitted and committed to the one authority that we were created to bow down to.

 A Prayer for Humility

(based on Philippians 2:1-13)

Let us pray for humility.

silence

Merciful God,
give us the same attitude as Jesus,
who emptied himself
and was obedient to you
all the way to his death on the cross.
Make us eager to put others before ourselves,
and their needs before our own.
We ask this through your Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.  Amen.