Life Together: Humility - Philippians 2:1-11

It was October 14, 2012, exactly 65 years after Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier while flying a rocket.  However, Felix Baumgartner was not riding in any rocket or other aircraft when he broke the sound barrier.  Baumgartner was free falling after rising to an altitude of 128,100 feet in a helium-filled balloon.  As he fell, he broke the sound barrier after reaching a speed of 843.6 mph.  Baumgartner not only became the first person to break the sound barrier without the aid of a plane or a rocket in his 4:20 minute long freefall, as of 2010, it was the highest freefall and highest manned balloon flight.  
A little over two years later, on October 24, 2014, Alan Eustace, Senior vice President at Google, climbed to a height of 135,898.68 ft above Roswell, New Mexico, USA, and set a new free-fall height record.
While those heights may seem ridiculously high, and while I talked this past Wednesday night about refusing to let the fear of heights control my life, jumping off the roof of a house would be too high a jump for me.  Blessings to those of you who have jumped from planes (whether out of service, or for pleasure—though for the life of me I can’t imagine it being pleasurable).  However, the descents in 2012 and 2014 may be a piece of cake compared to the descent that we are required to make in our Life Together.
Life Together comes from the title of one of Dietrich Bonheoffer’s writings in which he reminds his readers that: “It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are still permitted to live in the community of Christians today.”  The opportunity we have to come together as a community of faith, as the gathered body of Christ, is a gift, pure and simple from God.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned last week, we all too often forget that Christian Community is a gift.  We neglect it, abuse it, misuse it, or take it for granted.  We are now on a journey together to reclaim that gift and learn what it means to live into this gift God has given us.
The first characteristic for us to reflect on in what it means to successfully live together is reflected in the jumps of Baumgartner and Eustace.  The descent that we must make, however, is not one in which we are called to imitate either of these two men, the descent we are called to imitate is the descent of Christ.
Paul says: “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”
Hear that again:  “Do nothing from selfish ambition of conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves…Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”
My brothers and sisters, the descent that is so hard for some of us to make but is so crucial to the success of our Life Together, is the descent from pride to humility.  Pride and arrogance are the enemy of Life Together in the Christian Community.  We are called to imitate Christ’s humility, and it is not easy, or at least not as easy as it sounds.
There are two ways that we fall into the traps of pride and arrogance.
The first is when we want all the attention, praise, and places of honor.  You know those times:  the times where we have done something and think we ought to be recognized for it or rewarded for it; the times where we think we ought to have the place of honor in a gathering; or the times we want folks to focus on us rather than someone else.  You remember, a couple of the disciples fell into this trap: James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”  And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”  And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”   These two disciples were asking Jesus to grant them the places of honor in God’s Kingdom, they wanted Jesus to give them the honor of being recognized as the top of the Disciples.  I’ll get to Jesus’ response to them later.
The second place where we come into danger with pride and arrogance is not so much about seeking attention and honors, but as seeing ourselves as better than others.  This trap is easier to fall into and possibly more deadly. How many times have we looked down upon someone as being less intelligent than we are?  How many times have we looked down and considered that someone is less handsome or beautiful than we are?  How many times have we looked down upon someone because they couldn’t do everything that we can do and therefore something must be wrong with them? How many times have we looked down at a person or a situation and decided that the situation or the individuals were not worth our time?  How many times have we looked at a person and considered them a far worse sinner than we are?
I learned my lesson here the hard way, as I found myself doing this with one of my cousins when I was in high school.  Now mind you, this cousin could be credited with saving my life earlier in our high school careers, as he crawled out from under my dad’s truck that I had rolled onto its side, and while I was pinned in the truck, he put his own life and jeopardy outrunning everyone else to get help about a half-mile to a mile away, despite the fact, we learned later on, that he had a cracked rib and a punctured lung.  Some time after this, we got into some argument, I can’t remember what it was about, so it was probably pretty petty, and I made the arrogant comment along the lines that because I was better academically, while he struggled in most of his classes, he was inferior to me.  My words haunted me a long time because I knew how bad they cut, and I eventually did apologize…but it still pains me to think that I placed him as lower than me because his gifts/skills/abilities were different from my own.
The problem with looking down upon someone is just what it implies…to look down upon someone means that we have placed ourselves above them.  We consider ourselves superior.  And that is not where Paul says we need to be…
Paul says we are to imitate Christ’s humility.
Jesus is God the Son…He is equal with God…He was, is, and ever will be God…As such, Jesus deserves all praise, all honor, all glory…because that right belongs to God and God alone.  He could have looked down from the throne room of heaven upon us as humans and declared, because we are sinful, that we weren’t worth His time…look at how many times God had reached out to humanity and tried to get us to turn away from our sins…yet from the Garden of Eden, until today…we are still sinful.  God could have said, “I’ve tried, they haven’t got it, they’re not going to get it, they’re just a bunch of dummies and ne’er-do-wells, and so I’m just going to leave them to death and Hell…it’s what they deserve anyway.”  But God didn’t do that…in Jesus, God did not look down upon us…he loved us enough that rather than look down upon us, he came down and looked us eye to eye, at times lifting us from the filth and sickness we found ourselves in so we could look him eye to eye, and at other times, kneeling before us, as when washing the disciples feet, looking up into our eyes as a servant.
Jesus, knowing that he was God and deserving all honor, praise, and glory, could have demanded that from everyone He encountered.  He could have demanded that the disciples bow before Him and worship Him.  Jesus could have made the Pharisees and Sadducees, Pilate and even the Emperor of Rome bow before Him.  But He didn’t…He didn’t seek places of honor and in fact took upon Himself first the position of a slave as he washed the Disciples feet and the position of a sinner as He, sinless that He was, hung on the cross.
Jesus’ life was an example of humility and Jesus expects humility in those who follow Him.
To the Disciples who wanted to ask about being seated and his right and left hands in the Kingdom of God, Jesus responded:  “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.  But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.  For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Jesus taught the Disciples of humility as he watched folks position themselves for places of honor at a banquet:  “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
After washing the Disciples feet, Jesus said: “Do you know what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am.  So, if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.  Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.”
Humility is key to our Life Together.  If we try to live together and think we deserve all recognition or that we are better than those around us, it prevents us from living as equals, and, my brothers and sisters, we all stand equally before God.  Pride and arrogance make our life with others about us, but it is not about us…our life with others is about Christ…the one whose life gave us the gift of Life Together…to not humble ourselves before one another is to set ourselves above Christ…to live our life in humbleness before one another, is to live in the pattern of Christ and in the Community formed by His blood and in His Body.
My friends, let us make the descent into our Life Together.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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