Sermon for October 1, 2023
Think about the trappings of power. We’re not big on these in our country. For us, perhaps it’s a black, bullet-proof limousine in a motorcade on Pennsylvania in Washington. When we look to Europe, we see some more obvious examples, from golden horse-drawn coaches to ornate thrones to a dictator sitting at the far end of a table, at a far distance from whomever he’s granted an audience.
It's really these images that have influenced the way we view the Almighty. The Bible offers many possibilities for how we might envision God—and certainly our religion often encourages us to picture God on a throne, with us humble servants at God’s feet. But Genesis also tells us of God walking in the garden. And Jesus taught us not to relate to God as a Monarch on a throne, but as a loving Parent.
Paul sort of agrees with the vision of a powerful royal God, but he turns that image on its head. In the same chapter I talked about last Sunday, Paul said that we “must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had”—
Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the Name above all other names, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
About “these beautiful words in Philippians,” Christian historian Diana Butler Bass said that they
point toward the [end] of all Caesars and all throne rooms. In Jesus, hierarchies of power… fall. Their delusions revealed for what they are: shame and violence. These throne rooms give way to banquet rooms, a high [seat] of glory replaced by a table of compassion and sympathy and humility, where all feast and serve. To enter this room, we do kneel—[but] in imitation of Jesus, the One who invited us to this meal by taking the form of a slave and washing our feet. This exultation is the exultation of loving our neighbor, not an exultation of power whereby Christians rule as some new Caesar. No, the rule of Jesus is that of bended knee. Not toward him, but with him, and toward one another in endless mercy.
And the whole Bible agrees with this. Throughout the Old Testament, in the teachings of Jesus, and in the New Testament church, the wholeness promised by God isn’t just celebrated by God in a wonderful feast; it is the feast. In Jesus Christ, God became one with humanity. In Jesus Christ, God experienced our weakness and pain. But in Jesus Christ, God also experienced our joy. And that joy was found chiefly, not in great victories or acquisitions, but around the table. Whether gathering with family or friends, the human spirit is most content in this sharing. Formal state dinners presided over by a president or dictator or king or queen are poor imitations of the feast that God intends. It is the family dinner table, or a meal shared among close friends, that comes closest to true wholeness on this earth.
And so when the bread is passed to you, or when you hold the little cup of grape juice, remember the price God paid for your wholeness. And look forward to the day when that wholeness will celebrated in a family meal—a meal that will go on and on, and a family that includes people of every time and place.
For today, we remember that we are one. Today, we celebrate the Spirit of God that moves throughout God’s people across all of creation for we are one in Christ. Today we remember our responsibility to bear with one another in love, to maintain unity by the bond of peace and to be the body of Christ in the world, for we are one body. Today we recall that, as members of one body, we can make a difference in a world of people in need of the hope of the love of Christ. Today, we recognize this hope that unites us and sustains us, for we are people of one hope. Today, we celebrate our unity. We set aside the small things that can divide us and remember that, with God, we can overcome all things. Today we are reminded that only with gentleness and humility can we clearly see God’s plan for us, for we are people of one Lord. Today, on World Communion Sunday, we acknowledge that we belong to God and to each other. And so we share the bread and the cup of the Lord’s Supper.
—United Methodist Church [alt.]
—©2023 Sam Greening