September 27, 2020, Refraction, Revelation, and Redemption, Philippians 2:1-13 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: Z0000216
Have you ever come into a room and been surprised and delighted to see a patch of rainbow light dancing on the floor? When you look for the source of the rainbow you might see that someone left a glass of water on the windowsill. Just a plain old glass of water. But when the sunlight came shining through that plain old glass of water it was refracted – it was broken up into the whole spectrum of visible light: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. And that rainbow of colors reflects on everything that is in the path of the light, for as long as the sun keeps shining.
In chapter two of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Paul, writing from the darkness of a Roman prison cell, writes the glorious passage about Jesus Christ that we read this morning. It is possible that this is a very, very early hymn of the Church, or it might have been a Paul original. Whichever it is, this short passage is arguably the best and most beautiful exposition of what the Incarnation means. Paul shows us what happened when the Most High God chose to put on human flesh and to live a human life with all its limitations and weaknesses and vulnerabilities – even its mortality and shame. Not a life of human privilege, mind you – no wealth, no status, no protection – but the lowest of all human life, the life of a slave.
The little patch of rainbow light that appears on the living-room floor begins with the immense brightness of the sun that shines its light on the whole world. But what makes it happen, what causes that pool of rainbow light on the living room floor is that simple glass of water, plain and unremarkable. Because when the rays of the sun pass through it, the light is broken. And it is not until the light is broken that the magic happens, the appearance of every color, glowing brightly.
The Incarnation of Jesus begins with the infinite love of the Father, who shows his lovingkindness to his whole Creation, who sends his sun and rain down upon the righteous and the unrighteous, who sustains the life of every Creature by his grace and power. In the Incarnation, Jesus came, as plain and unremarkable as that glass of water. “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him,” Isaiah wrote, “and no beauty that we should desire him.” “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nathaniel asked skeptically when his friend Philip tried to tell him about the wise rabbi he had found. “Isn’t this Mary’s son, the carpenter’s kid?” his neighbors said doubtfully when Jesus got up to preach in his hometown synagogue. “We know him. He’s nothing special.”
No one could see his glory, even though he was true God from true God, as the creed puts it, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father. Jesus was the Word who was with God from the beginning. Jesus was the one through whom and for whom everything was made that has ever been made. “He was in the world,” John wrote, “and the world was made through him – yet the world did not know him.”
The Creator of the Universe put on human flesh, plain and unremarkable. He was with God – and he was God, John tells us – but he didn’t count his glory something to hold onto. He made himself nothing. He humbled himself even unto death. Even unto death on a cross. The Light that came to enlighten the whole world allowed himself to be broken. And that is when the magic happened. The glory of God was refracted in Jesus, through Jesus, and suddenly we all beheld it, the glory of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. “No one has ever seen the Father,” John wrote, “until now – because now the only God, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”
So this is the mind that we have in Jesus. This is the mind that Paul urges us to have among ourselves, the mind that understands that our brokenness – not our righteousness, not our talents, not our good works, but our brokenness – is the very thing that reveals the glory of God in the world. “God’s power is made perfect in our weakness,” Paul wrote, out of his personal struggles with his own brokenness. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Jesus shone through Paul, a self-righteous persecutor of the Church with poor eyesight, and the glory of God shone out through him as he brought the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the known world. Jesus shone through Peter, an uneducated fisherman with a hot temper and a tendency to leap before he looked, as he became the rock on which his new Church was established. Jesus shone through Mary, a nobody peasant girl from a nowhere town, as she bore the Almighty, eternal God in her body, nursed him, carried him in her arms.
And he shines through you. It is a curious fact that it is very often the very things we are ashamed of in ourselves that God uses to bless others. We look at ourselves and all we can see is our weakness, or our foolishness; we see the waning of our youth and strength, we see our failures, we see our troubles. We think that God could really use us if only….if only we were smarter, if only we knew our Bible better, if only we lost twenty pounds, if only we were more talented, if only we were younger, if only we were somebody else.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. “God chooses what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chooses what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chooses what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.” “God is the source of your life in Christ Jesus” – like the sunlight that shines through a glass of water is broken and makes all colors visible, so God’s glory shines through us in our brokenness and makes his goodness visible in the world.
In a few minutes we’ll share Holy Communion. During the Consecration, I will hold up the host of Christ’s Presence. I will speak his words, as I always do, “This is my body, broken for you.” I will break the bread, saying, “Alleluia! Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us!” In that moment, we see the Light of the world broken in the plain, unremarkable elements of bread and wine. Shining through brokenness, the glory of God pours forth, and we are bathed in the many-colored light of his grace and truth and abundant lovingkindness.
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.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.