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Sunday, August 11, 2013

We Believe in Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 16:13-16)


Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.  But he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings.  When he found himself in the form of humans, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore, God highly honored him and gave him a name above all names, so that at the name of Jesus everyone in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Now when Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Human One is?”  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”  He said, “And what about you?  Who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

I invite you to take your sermon notes out of your bulletin and grab a pen or a pencil so you can jot down anything that you’d like to remember from the message.  Today is the second in a four-part series of messages called, “What Do We Believe, Anyway?”  Human experience confirms that we do not all think the same things – even within one church family, we are a beautifully complex and diverse tapestry of many people with many opinions about many things.  That’s a good thing, too.  John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, seemed to anticipate that, because he said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things charity.”

For our purposes, it is helpful to make a distinction between our beliefs and our views.  We were reminded last week that “believing” something is more than simply having thoughts or ideas about it.  To believe in something is to trust it so much that we lean into it with every fiber of our being.

Our beliefs represent essential things, and those non-essential things?  Those are our views.  Beliefs are a matter of conviction, whereas views are a matter of preference.  You may prefer one color carpet over another, or a particular style of music.  Your views may cause you to pull for one ACC team over another, such that you prefer light blue or dark blue or red or gold and black.

In the life of faith, we are really onto something when we can hold to common, essential beliefs, while making lots of loving room for those whose views are different than our own.

The first essential belief we explored last week is our belief in God the Father, who is much more of a loving parent than a strict judge.

Today it’s this essential belief: “We believe in Jesus Christ.”  May we pray.

My Papa Thomas was born in 1908, and he used to make all sorts of outrageous claims about his age.  For instance, he told us he was so old, that he was the one who first taught baby bullfrogs how to swim.  He told us he was so old that his drivers’ license number was 7, and his social security number was 12.  Of course, I didn’t understand the rhetorical device of hyperbole then, and I believed every single word of it – what innocent child would ever suspect that his grandfather would just stand there and lie to him with such outrageous claims?

Jesus made some outrageous claims about himself, as well.  C.S. Lewis famously said that when it comes to the claims of Jesus, we have one of three options as to how to take him, either as “Lunatic, Liar, or Lord.”

And if he is Lord, as our faith claims, everything we said last week about God the Father, who sees us when we are still far off, whose arms are open to receive us, no matter who we are, no matter where we've been, no matter what we've done – Jesus is the embodiment of all that.  Jesus is the one who shows us what it looks like when God shows up in our world; Jesus is the love of God with a human face.

The scripture we read from Philippians 2 is a beautiful, poetic expression of this belief.  Picture Jesus, seated in the splendor of heaven willingly leaving all that, humbly coming to this earth as one of us, accepting ridicule and shame, punishment and even death, both to give us the gift of new life, and to show us the best way to live in our new life.

The hymn ends with this climactic refrain:Therefore, God highly honored him and gave him a name above all names, so that at the name of Jesus everyone in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father – words that are so familiar and comforting to us we forget how controversial and inflammatory they were when spoken by the earliest followers of Jesus.

Why?  Because in the time of the Roman Empire, everyone within the empire was required to take an oath of loyalty to the emperor.  What was that oath?  “Caesar is Lord.”  It meant Caesar was in charge, in control, the boss.

Along come the early Christians, and they start saying, “Jesus is Lord.”  Caesar stood as the most powerful figure of the time, commander of a great army, ruler over a vast and prosperous empire – and he only asked one simple thing – “Just call me Lord.”  And yet, the early Christians instead said, “Actually, Jesus is Lord.  You know, that guy over in Palestine who preached love and humility and forgiveness and acceptance, who was executed as an enemy of the state and was buried in a borrowed grave – the guy who couldn’t be any more the opposite of the earthly power of wealth of the empire, you know the one – yeah, he is Lord, not Caesar.  You heard us, Jesus is Lord.  We believe in Jesus.”

As if they aren’t in enough trouble, they start singing this little hymn from the 2nd chapter of Philippians, with its outrageous claims that a day will come when every knee will bow before Jesus, and every tongue will confess he is Lord.  Every knee, every tongue - presumably including powerful, wealthy Caesar himself.  They knew the consequence for such an outrageous claim would be certain death, yet their belief, their trust in Jesus as Lord was so firm, they just kept right on singing.  Even the threat of death paled in comparison to the joy and new life they were already experiencing in Jesus Christ – and I can’t help but wonder what it would look like for us to have a faith as deep and life-giving as that.

We believe in Jesus Christ.  Despite what you might have heard somewhere, “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name, but it does help us identity him.  It tells us more about who he is and what he’s up to in our world.  From his first disciples down through the generations, we recognize him as the “Messiah” in Hebrew, “Christ” in Greek – but in any language, we believe that Jesus is God’s anointed One – the one who not only announces God’s kingdom of peace, but ushers it into existence – the one who is literally going to save the world.

Wow.  I wonder what it’s like to know something like that about yourself without letting it go to your head.  I daresay that if someone said that about me, I think I just might get a good ego boost out of that! But here’s the kicker – Jesus responds with humility.  As Rob Bell says, “If anyone didn’t have a Messiah complex, it was Jesus.”  He leads by serving, and expects us to do the same.

Going back to our Philippians text, “Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus,” or another translation is “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”  In other words, “Be like Jesus.”

Did you ever think about why we call ourselves, “Christians?”  The word “Christian” literally means, “Mini Christ.”  It was originally used to make fun of the first followers of Jesus – “Look at those people who are imitating Christ!” but it struck a chord with those followers that made them say, “Actually, yes!  That’s what we’re about!  Being like Jesus – that’s the whole point!  Thanks for noticing!”

The office manager at my wife’s church goes to the Disciples of Christ Church, known as the “The Christian Church.”  She has worked at the Methodist church for years, and the whole time, people in the church have been trying to get her to start coming to church there.  She told me, “They’ve been trying to make a Methodist out of this Christian.”  I responded, “That’s funny, because I’ve spent my whole ministry trying to make Christians out of Methodists!”

With God’s help, being a Christian and following Jesus means doing as he did – not seeking the things that feed our own egos and satisfy our own needs, but choosing instead a humble life of loving service and sacrifice that gives worth, dignity, and even life itself to those around us, to the glory of God our Father.

Friends, that’s the goal.  It’s my hope and prayer for you every week when you come to worship – that something in this time we spend together on Sunday morning, something we sing, something we pray, something I say, will help you become a better Christian, a better reflection of Christ, looking a little more like Jesus when you go home than you did when you walked in.  I’m hoping and praying [and even expecting] that something of his mind and heart rubs off on you while you’re here – that you take on some of his character, that you grow in his love, that you’re better equipped to serve in his name – if, by the grace of God, that actually happens for you, then it’s been a good day in worship.  If our faith is leading us to become more like Jesus, then we’re onto something truly life-changing.

We believe in Jesus.  Believing in Jesus is so much more than having certain thoughts about him or making certain claims about him.  Believing in Jesus will change our lives.  May we believe in him so much that we become like him.

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