A Sermon preached by the
Rev. Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, October 1, 2017
Text: Philippians 2:1-13 (The Message)
Today we celebrate with Christians around the world the communion of saints gathered at the table of Christ Jesus – the One who though “He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what;” the One who, “When the time came…set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!” This is one of the great truth claims of our tradition – God incarnate, “…the Word became flesh and lived among us…full of grace and truth.” We can speak literally of the man, Jesus of Nazareth, and we can try to capture in imagery the meaning of that life lived.
One such image, which sounds particularly appropriate today, is Reginald Heber’s lovely affirmation:
Bread of the world, in mercy broken,
Wine of the soul, in mercy shed,
by Whom the words of life were spoken,
and in Whose death our sins are dead.
Beautiful metaphors – Jesus, Bread of the world, in mercy broken; Jesus, Wine of the soul, in mercy shed. The hymn continues with a heartfelt personal appeal:
Look on the heart by sorrow broken,
Look on the tears by sinners shed;
And be Thy feast to us the token,
That by Thy grace our souls are fed.
I sure the imagery in this old hymn have soothed many a broken heart, dried many a sinner’s tears, and fed many a soul. The words of Heber’s hymn blend with the ancient hymn that Paul incorporates in his letter to the church in Philippi. In Christ’s self-giving love is our redemption.
O love, how deep, how broad, how high,
how passing thought and fantasy,
that God, the Son of God, should take
our mortal form for mortals’ sake!
For us He rose from death again,
for us He went on high to reign,
for us He sent His Spirit here
to guide, to strengthen, and to cheer.
Before I’m completely carried away in poetic ecstasy with the beauty of ancient hymns, let’s take a moment to consider today’s text from a different angle. One of the things Paul was trying to teach the Philippians is a lesson about unity with humility. Troy Troftgruben reminds us that “true humility is measured, not by low self-evaluation, but by demonstrable concern for others” (Troy Troftgruben, “Commentary on Philippians 2:1-13, October 1, 2017,” workingpreacher.org). In other words, real humility leads to compassion and community. Commentator, Todd Still, writes of the passage, “Christian encouragement, loving consolation, spiritual fellowship/partnership, and affection and compassion were meant to typify and demarcate the ‘saints’ in Philippi (and, for that matter, believers everywhere)” (Todd D. Still, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Philippians & Philemon, p. 61).
I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases it in The Message:
“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”
So, there is a question for us – have we gotten anything out of following Christ; has Christ’s love made any difference in our lives? Bread of the World, in mercy broken, but to what end? Do we look for ways we can agree with one another, love each other, be deep-spirited friends? We never push to get ahead, do we? We would never try to sweet talk ourselves out of a tough situation or into increasing our advantage, would we? How often have we been willing to forget ourselves long enough to lend a helping hand?
Now don’t misunderstand, I am not saying that any of us necessarily fails to follow the Christ of Great Compassion when the occasion calls for it. But as we consider today’s ancient word, it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves of the incredible depth and breadth of Christ’s self-giving love. We don’t have to judge ourselves inadequate to ask ourselves if we could do more to follow faithfully and serve fully.
As I put together this annual World Communion Sunday worship service, you know I take delight in incorporating music, prayers, liturgy, and reading from all over the world. But one of the things that happens when you start looking at resources from different cultures and other social settings, some of your own assumptions about the faith tradition get challenged. Reginald Heber penned “Bread of the World” and the rest of his 57 hymns, including “Holy, Holy, Holy,” before accepting a call to become the Bishop of Calcutta. This comfortably cultured English parson, chose to empty himself in service to the people of India. Christ’s love made such a difference in his life that he spent his final three years “forgetting himself and lending a helping hand to people in need.” He found something half a world away from the security of home that called forth his own compassion and transformed his life.
You emptied yourself completely
keeping nothing for Yourself.
Now naked, utterly stripped,
You give Yourself to us as bread
and as wine that consoles us.
You are Light and Truth.
You are the Way and the Hope.
You are Love.
Grow in us, Christ Jesus!
When you read Guatemalan poet Julia Esquivel’s take on the Bread of the World, you get a different sense of the image. It may be metaphorical bread that consoles, but isn’t it also nutritious bread that feeds the body? Yes, Jesus teaches that we cannot live by bread alone, but it is difficult to hear and embrace a metaphor, no matter how lovely, when your stomach is hurting from hunger. Remember the multitudes he refused to send away hungry, even when the disciples insisted they had little or nothing to give. Christ made a way where there seemed to be no way. Where is the Light and the Truth, the Way and the Hope, the Love of Christ Jesus, if there is not both Bread of the World and bread for the world?
In a short while we will gather around Christ’s communion table. Today, as we have before, we will read a Litany of Bread, as we share a variety of breads from different cultures all around the world. The litany teaches us very specific things about the people whose bread we will be sharing. If being in a community of the Spirit means anything to us, let us listen for what the Spirit says in many different forms.
Before the Litany, I will share an Invitation to the Table, drawn from the work of the World Student Christian Federation. The prayer comes from workers in a community soup kitchen in the shanty towns of Lima, Peru, a venue radically different from any we generally occupy. The prayer begins, “God, food of the poor; Christ, our bread; give us a taste of the tender bread from your creation’s table…” There are hungry people out there, hungry for the Bread of the World, hungry in both soul and body. Following the Self-giving One, the Christ of Great Compassion, can we put ourselves aside, and help others get ahead, not obsessed with getting our own advantage, forgetting ourselves long enough to lend a helping hand?
The prayer concludes by recognizing Christ as “a loaf that makes us human, joined hand in hand, working and sharing…a warm loaf that makes us…[Christ’s] beloved family.” Mind and heart, soul and body, feed us, Bread of the World, feed the whole of creation, feed us all till we want no more. Amen.