The Cross As An Example (11am)
Topic: Leadership Scripture: Philippians 2:5–2:11
All of us have had examples in our lives. People that we look to or even just happen to notice that impart on us not only some kind of valuable wisdom but also a demonstration, a lesson, which shows how to do more than simply know something but how to do something. In my own life I have been fortunate to have many people like this. One that immediately jumped to my mind was an older woman who I and others called Aunt Donna.
I’ve shared before about how I served as a camp counselor for a few summers. Aunt Donna was the assistant director, essentially the number two over the whole camp. She had a mystique and certain kind of intimidation that was noticed by every staff member at Victory Valley. She could be tough as nails and unyielding in her expectations on us and she could be the most gentle, compassionate figure in the whole camp. There are two memories of Aunt Donna that taught me more about leadership than many of the books I’ve read.
The first occurred during a week of camp where, for whatever reason, we had a large number of first-time campers. Home-sickness is the real deal and our camp drew families all the way as far south as Virginia and all the way north to New England. And there was one little girl who was just having the roughest time. Her counselor had given her special attention and tried her best but still, this poor little lady wound up in tears every couple of minutes. We were getting ready for a big mid-week program and some things weren’t running smoothly. It was frankly kind of annoying for all of us. And while we are scrambling we would walk in front of this little camper who was whimpering and sometimes sobbing in tears.
Aunt Donna walked in and started doing her thing in trying to right the ship and then she noticed that little girl. There was no hesitation. I saw Aunt Donna immediately go over to that little girl, put her hand on her shoulder, and lead her outside away from the crowd and noise. I could see from the window of the dining hall that Aunt Donna was walking with that little girl in a wide circle in one of the ball fields. And I could see she was talking with her and would occasionally pat her back or gently squeeze the back of the girl’s neck. Finally, the long walk ended and Aunt Donna gave the little girl a hug and they came back in. For the first time that week, I saw that little girl smiling.
The other time that rings true was during an impromptu celebration at the end of our last week of camp. All of us were celebrating and high-fiving and laughing together. As I hugged another counselor I could see about 100 yards away Aunt Donna was walking towards the game room with a plunger in one hand and mop bucket in another. Always the servant.
See, Aunt Donna may have shared a few lessons on leadership but that summer she was an example of leadership. Today one of the more popular descriptions given to Jesus is that of being a teacher. Many will even call Him a great teacher. This is most certainly true. But if we stop there, if we simply say Jesus was a great teacher and that’s it, then we fail miserably to encapsulate who He is. Jesus is much more than a teacher and one way that is true is by considering the example He was to all of us.
This morning we will be looking at a fairly popular text from the book of Philippians. Philippi, like every city Paul wrote to, had its set of issues and problems. One significant issue causing problems in Philippi was that of in-fighting, self-serving, and a proud self-image that caused many to consider themselves better than everyone else. They were a group of believers who sought individual victory, to be considered the best, who wanted to win every argument and be on top every time. And one thing we know to be true is this: The more you fight to make yourself the winner, the harder it is for Christ to do a work of victory in and through you. So Paul addresses this issue with the strongest and most readily available resource he knows: the person of Christ.
* Read Philippians 2:5-11 *
Even though many of us may have worn bracelets with it on it years ago, Paul was the first one to ask the question: What Would Jesus Do? In response to the pride and the bickering and the hostile interactions within the people of God in this city, Paul offers a short biography – a testimony or litany, really – about Jesus Christ. It’s a description as moving as it is theologically rich.
The first statement Paul makes: Jesus Christ is God. This is why those who claim Christ as a great teacher or rabbi or social activist alone but deny his divinity are missing the mark in the worst of ways. Jesus is God. We don’t have to travel down the exceedingly beneficial yet never-ending rabbit trail that is trying to explain the Trinity but we can take Paul and God’s Word at it’s value. Jesus is God. And yet, he did not use his divine personhood and power for himself. Instead, he became like us. He lowered himself. He became something that he was inherently not. He became human. Again, the doctrine of the Incarnation is a depth of wonder and mystery that deserves its own allotment of hours to try and discuss. But Paul, in a few lines, has declared and professed the divinity of Christ and the incredible act of humility and service that is the Incarnation.
But it doesn’t stop there. Christ, being God and fully deserving of all power and all authority and all honor, not only became a human being but became one of low standing and victim of scandal. Christ did not abandon heaven in order to rule the earth as some sort of overlord. He came as a servant. An obedient messenger of grace the world had never known. He came as a willing sacrifice.
He obediently approached and took hold of the cross. His obedience was to his Father, to his own nature. It was to the divine desire to see humanity reconciled to God and restored to their right relationship with the Almighty. Jesus could have ruled with power and authority. He could have had things his own way. He didn’t need to consider the feelings or fates of humanity. But He did. Because He possessed a profound humility and deep-reaching love and affection for us. So much so that He descended to the lowest of depths, to hell itself, so that we might be able to experience life, wholeness and freedom.
But Christ would not remain in that place. The Apostles Creed echoes the words of Paul here. God exalted Christ above all others and it is the name of Christ that is above every other name and that which every knee will bow both here in this place and in all the heavens. Every tongue will acknowledge Jesus as Lord, some out of praise and some out of painful submission.
We’re nearing the end of our series, The Dimensions of the Cross. In the last several weeks we’ve engaged and studied and marveled at the ways our God took an instrument of humiliation and death and transformed it into a means for healing and hope and life and relationship. But the cross is not merely something that was done for us. It is more than a lesson or even a declaration. It is an example.
Paul uses the cross as a compelling and reaching example of how we should treat each other and how we should view ourselves. Humility over pride. Obedience over preference. Service over the demand to be served. In the cross of Christ we gain, and we are invited into and inherit so much, a dimension of that is the truest example by which we can orient and live out our lives.
The cross is the most defining and powerful example Christ offered us in His life but it is not the only one. Christ broke through cultural and man-made barriers to give value and voice and healing to those in society deemed not worth it and not valuable. Christ gave purpose and meaning to the lives of individuals that had been told for years that they had none. Jesus shared food and conversation and special moments to any in need. He prioritized children over the powerful and lepers over the wealthy. He told stories about Great Banquets filled with people from every walk of life and a house that has many rooms. Christ’s life is an example of abundant love, stalwart conviction, un-diminishable truth, and radical grace. That, my friends, is the example we are called to follow.
It is not an easy example to follow. In fact, I believe it to be the single most difficult life to model our own after. It does not promise wealth and happiness but it does align us with the only person who can give us the deepest expressions of those things. It is an example that forces, or maybe allows us, to focus on the other instead of our self. One that compels us to consider the story, the need, the heart of another person. Those we love and cherish, like family and friends, as well as those we actively or passively ignore.
In a few weeks children will be searching for eggs hidden all over the place. In the areas we expect and in some places they would never think to look. I want to challenge all of us to begin our own hunt today. A hunt and a search for ways we can embody, commit to, and practice the example given to us by Christ and His cross. In our homes, at the places we work, in our neighborhoods. Here in our own church. In a moment we will discover one way to practice the example of Christ through the sharing of communion together.
As we observe the breaking of bread and the pouring of juice we are reminded of Christ’s own broken body and his own blood that was spilled. We recall the intimacy of a table surrounded by trusted friends as a powerful truth was shared. As we participate in this together we are reminded that following the example of the cross is often not a solo venture but one of community and resonance.
I pray you find a means for following and practicing Christ’s example in the common places of your own life. Even your own dining room tables, the familiar streets you travel on the way to the office, the coffee shops we frequent, and even the spaces within social media where we often find ourselves. Christ’s life was one of example and power and it is one worthy of our following and our dedication. And it is an example that, if we choose to follow, will undoubtedly lead us to the cross.