Sunday, 13 December 2015

Daily Reading: Philippians 2v5-11 'Ultimate Obedience'

Obedience has a bit of a bad reputation doesn’t it? What image does it conjure up in your head – maybe its standing before the headmaster, or being lectured by your boss or your parents again.  Obedience has become a big issue – particularly in parenting. The House of tiny Tearaways was a TV show where fraught parents who can’t control their kids can go for some help and advice from a child psychologist.  Or Suppernanny where a trained nanny lives with you for a week and imposes discipline on unruly, disobedient children. Or the Unteachables where a group of disobedient teenagers who had been excluded from schools were taught using radically different methods to train them and curb their disobedience.  But in all of these obedience is something unwanted, imposed from above; parent to child, teacher to pupil, boss to employee. It is something grudgingly accepted, or put up with for an easy life.

But here is obedience that is altogether different, as Jesus goes to the cross it is not as the sullen teenager sent to tidy his room, or the junior employee grumbling as he is sent to make the coffee, or even the child reluctantly obeying in hope of a reward.  No, Christ’s obedience is of a different order altogether, as Christ goes to the cross his obedience is a willing determination to please his Father.

Jesus words in Mark: “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”

It is an obedience born out of humility; not my rights but your will. It is about a willingness to listen and obey not listen and insist, or listen and fight for compromise. It is a determination that fights to obey perfectly.  Here is Jesus in the Garden facing up to his death “Yet not what I will but what you will.”  It is an obedience that is even prepared to face the horror of the cross. An obedience that accepts, that faces, that chooses the unthinkable because that is the Father’s will, his way.

Paul highlights this in the second part of the verse “and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” The way Jesus died was a shock, it was a scandal.  We have lost the scandal of the cross, it has become a domesticated, sanitised symbol, it no longer carries the stigma. It has become so sanitised that we wear it as jewellery or hang paintings of it in art galleries.  How would you react if you were to walk into a church and there behind the preacher, or over his head was a huge picture of the empty gas chambers, or the mass graves of Auschwitz? Shock? Horror? Anger? How could that abhorrent, brutal scene, that image that captures man at his worse be hung in a place of worship?

Welcome to the cross. Do you see where Jesus humility and obedience led him? Down from heaven to earth, down from equality with God to be a servant, and down from immortality to mortality, to death on the first century equivalent of the gas chamber, with all its horror and scandal.

Death on a cross, a thing that in the first century you looked at or thought of and shuddered, a think you didn’t talk about in polite society. Even animals don’t die like this! They slink off to die somewhere quietly with dignity, not the cross it was a place where your pain, shame, nakedness and humiliation were put on display for all to see.

Do you see the shock of the sentence as Paul writes it, the horror of it, the sheer wonder of it. This is Jesus, God’s Son, the one present at creation, worshipped throughout eternity put on display to die as the outcast of humanity, allowing humanity to do its worst to him.

Jesus humility, his obedience, his determination to secure my salvation leads him willingly to death – even death on a cross. The king of glory dying as the dregs of humanity.  W H Auden write:

“Only the unscarred, overfed
Enjoy the verbal event of the cross.”

As you look on the cross, how do you view it? Can you view it with indifference? Can you simply look shrug your shoulder and walk away? This is the Son of God dying the death of the accursed dregs of humanity for you.  Love made flesh and punished in my place to secure my salvation.

A friend of mine at his wedding rehearsal altered one of the lines, his wife to be was a teacher she said her line but instead of saying ‘all my worldly goods I give thee’ – being a poor student he said ‘all my debt I give thee…’  That is the cross, all my debt he took upon himself.

If you do not know Jesus this morning, if you have never considered his death as anything other than a sanitised story, watch what happened in a few moments time. No-one who eats or drinks is any better or any worse than you. It is not about our actions but it is about Jesus obedience in our place. An obedience that his resurrection proves was price enough to buy your freedom from death and judgement.

Paul pens these words as he writes about how to conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel. He wants the Philippians to know how to think, he wants me to know how to think.  And the death of Christ on the cross is the ultimate test of my thinking, of my outlook.  When did I last willingly give up my rights? When did I last give up my image?

In 1 Corinthians we see a church riven with discord because people are insisting on their rights to the extent that they are taking one another to court. Paul writes to them that they are “completely defeated already”. What is Paul’s solution; “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” What a counter cultural way to live.  When was the last time that was my first thought?   When did I last adopt that in the office, or the staff room, or at home, or in the car?

You know that moment when that erratic driver cuts you up and you have to slam on your breaks to avoid an expensive accident what is your first thought? That was my right of way, I’ll show him or ‘Why not rather be wronged?’

It's tempting isn’t it to think but it was easy for Paul, or for the Philippians that they didn’t have to face the pressures I faced – no they faced more blatant ones; imprisonment, arrest, beating, isolation, poverty.

Conduct worthy of the gospel is conduct that promotes the gospel. It adopts the death of Christ as the ultimate test of my thinking, of my outlook.  What will that mean for you in the office, school, or home this week?  What is my thinking like?  What governs my outlook, rights and image or the cross?  The death of Jesus, even death on a cross is the ultimate test of my outlook.

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