Index

Sundays
Second Quarter
2019

 

J Nichols Adams et al

April 14, 2019, Passion/Palm Sunday

 

 

LectionAid 2nd Quarter 2019

April 14, 2019, Passion/Palm Sunday

Jesus’ Choice

Ps 118:1-2, 19-29 or Ps 31:9-16, Isaiah 50:4-9a, Philippians 2:5-11, Luke 19:28-40 or Luke 22:14-23:56 or Luke 23:1-49

Theme: The Emptying of Christ

Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON

Starting Thoughts

This whole Sunday contains the most powerful idea that I ever read while at Seminary. I can remember the very day that I suddenly read all about the Kenotic Motif. For many it was one of the great historical theories of the incarnation, inspired by Philippians 2:7 (from Greek kenoō, “to empty”) and other New Testament passages, which hold that in becoming human God the Son divested himself (at least temporarily) of some of the divine attributes, such as omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence. Kenotic theories of the incarnation have led some to develop kenotic theories of the nature of God, which view the essence of God to be his self-giving love that freely limits itself to allow some autonomy to his creation. (Evans, C. S. In Pocket Dictionary Of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion [2002, Downers Grove, IL] p65)
But for me it was much more personal. I was house sitting for the Donald Dawes the man that brought this idea once again to public notice. I suddenly became totally for a while a Kenotic rebel. I found out that about the middle of the nineteenth century a new form of Christology made its appearance in the Kenotic theories. It found favor especially among the Lutherans, but also with some Reformed theologians. It represents part of an attempt to bring the Lutheran and the Reformed sections of the Church closer together. The advocates of this new view desired to do full justice to the reality and integrity of the manhood of Christ, and to stress the magnitude of His self-denial and self-sacrifice. So, for me it has always been a powerful way of understanding God’s love for us. I still think of Donald Dawe with great fondness when I think of the greatness of the Easter message.
When we want to put down a braggart we sometimes say, "He is full of himself." Our text from the pen of the apostle Paul features a man who is empty of himself-or rather a God who became a man by emptying himself of all divine prerogatives and power. It is a daring thing to say about a man, no matter how good he is, and Jesus was, and is, a good man. It is a dangerous thing to say about a man, even one as good as Jesus. And yet this is what the church has come to believe about the man who rode into Jerusalem one day to confront his enemies at the very seat of their power.
Writing almost a generation after that first Palm Sunday, the apostle Paul, who on the road to Damascus had himself been emptied of the old Saul and his narrow, persecuting ways, either uses or composes what amounts to a hymn of praise of the "empty" Christ. Our text, with its rich theology, actually is more of a sermon illustration. Paul's main interest in this section of his letter to his favorite church is not to teach theology but rather, to promote behavior appropriate for followers of Christ. He wants the Philippians to behave not as their pagan neighbors, but as those who "do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit." He bids them drop out of the rat race of getting ahead by beating the competition-how modern this all seems, human nature and society, at its base, having changed little in 2000 years! They are to be concerned for the interest of others even before their own. Now, as if that seems a lot to ask, Paul directs their attention to the Man who is the basis of their common faith.
The apostle urges them to have "the same mind" That was "in Jesus Christ." And then he describes poetically the work of Christ, declaring that Christ came from the Godhead, entering into humanity by emptying himself and taking on the lowly "form of a slave." In this humble form he became so obedient that he took up and died upon the cross. This was not the end of the story, because God raised Christ up, "exalting him" and giving him a name-or, we might say, title, "Christ"-so that all creation would bow to the name of Jesus and confess-as Peter did at Caesarea Philippi-"that Jesus Christ is Lord."
What Paul urges, more in the role of teacher than as theologian, Christ himself had to do on more than one occasion. Luke, in the 22nd chapter of his gospel, places the incident of the twelve arguing over whom would be the greatest in their Master's kingdom as occurring while seated at the table of the Last Supper. Jesus intervened, telling them that they were not to be like the Gentiles, but to become servants of one another- "But I am among you as one who serves." John makes the same point in his gospel by showing Jesus washing the feet of the Twelve (see Ch. 13) and telling them, "For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you."
We still need to look to Christ for an example of servanthood, because the role of servant is no more in vogue in the 21st century than it was in Jesus and Paul's day. The "Self-help" sections of our bookstores contain hundreds of books that tell us how to get ahead at the office and in the community. Such books spill over into the "Religious" section as well, Christianity and its teaching bent into a system or technique for achieving what we want in life. "God wants you to be rich," a so-called evangelist proclaimed on TV a few years ago, and many of the guests on celebrity-based TV religious shows, uncritically patterned after secular "Late Shows," preach the same gospel of success.
One of the most popular daytime television programs, "The Oprah Winfrey Show," is a blend of spirituality and a you-deserve-the-best philosophy. The episode which most people desire the most to become a part of the audience is in the late fall or early winter when Oprah parades her "favorite things," which is are given out to the audience. As her "elves" distribute a sack of expensive cosmetics, a thousand dollar purse, kitchen gadget, or whatever, the members of the audience burst forth into a paroxysm of screaming delight, so intense and prolonged that Oprah has to calm them down so that she can go on to the next prized goody. We viewers are left with little doubt that the lucky recipients will parade forth laden with their top-of-the-line booty and return to their communities equipped with bragging rights for the next few months-after all, every day they, and we, have been bombarded with messages (the latest study claims that when we watch 3 straight hours of television, 52 of those minutes consist of commercials and network promotional, an average of 130 "important messages" in all) telling us that we will be Somebody only if we purchase this brand of car, deodorant, or gadget. You are what you own.
Thus the apostle Paul's (and Christ's) teaching of looking out first for "the interests of others" by "emptying" ourselves is very subversive. We might not get that promotion or credit so important for status if we promote "the interest of others" before our own. The cross, which Christ warned/promised us about, will loom ahead for anyone who has "the mind of Christ." Sacrifices are required; ambitions need to be curtailed. However, the apostle also implicitly promises in the last part of his example of Christ emptying himself, that there will be exaltation in the end, a resurrection following a cross. Even our society recognizes this at times, though usually only for those who have made extraordinary sacrifices-Albert Schweitzer giving up his organ and teaching career to seemingly bury himself in an African jungle; Mother Teresa leaving the safety of an upper- class girls school to care for the dying in the worst of the slums of Calcutta.
In the text from Luke we see this empty man stand before his enemies, shorn of all his divine power and prerogatives. Scorned and abused by the Jewish council and the Roman governor, like a meek lamb led to the slaughter, Jesus does not defend himself. He, who in John's version could summon legions of angels to rescue him, submits his back to his torturers and carries his own cross to the shameful place where he will ignominiously be stripped naked and crucified along with two criminals. No one has ever emptied himself of so much, Paul and the gospel writers assert, than this Man from Heaven. Let us therefore also look to him as the example and pattern for our living, and our dying. If we do so, there will seldom be a dull moment, our lives becoming open a call to a thrilling spiritual adventure.

Exegetical Comments

Let’s clear one misunderstanding out of the way in case it still confuses anybody. In verse 7 Paul says that Jesus ‘emptied himself’. People have sometimes thought that this means that Jesus, having been divine up to that point, somehow stopped being divine when he became human, and then went back to being divine again. This is, in fact, completely untrue to what Paul has in mind. The point of verse 6 is that Jesus was indeed already equal with God; somehow Paul is saying that Jesus already existed even before he became a human being (verse 7). But the decision to become human, and to go all the way along the road of obedience, obedience to the divine plan of salvation, yes, all the way to the cross—this decision was not a decision to stop being divine. It was a decision about what it really meant to be divine.
Jesus retained his equality with God; the point of the cross, for Paul, is that ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself’ (2 Corinthians 5:19). The point of verses 6 and 7 is that Jesus didn’t regard this equality as something to take advantage of, something to exploit. Rather, the eternal son of God, the one who became human in and as Jesus of Nazareth, regarded his equality with God as committing him to the course he took: of becoming human, of becoming Israel’s anointed representative, of dying under the weight of the world’s evil. This is what it meant to be equal with God. As you look at the incarnate son of God dying on the cross the most powerful thought you should think is: this is the true meaning of who God is. He is the God of self-giving love.
The answer is that in his incarnation and on the cross Jesus has done what only God can do. Here is the very heart of the Christian vision of God himself: that within the Jewish vision of one God, the creator and sustainer of the universe, we are to see different self-expressions—so different, yet so intimately related, that they can be called ‘father’ and ‘son’.
Most people in Paul’s world, besotted with an idea of the gods into which people like Alexander and Augustus could be fitted without much difficulty, were shocked beyond belief at the idea that the one true God might be known at last in the person of a crucified Jew. Many people in our world find it very difficult as well, and we might like to ask the reason why. Could it be that we, too, have allowed ourselves to slide into pagan views of what deity or divinity consist of—views that would then make it difficult to fit Jesus into them? If so, isn’t it about time we did what the New Testament writers urge us to do, and what this wonderful passage poetically invites us to do: to start from Jesus himself and rethink our whole picture of God around him?(Wright, T. Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon [2004, London] p102–104)
One of the great English commentators on the Book of Philippians has written, “We have here a chain of assertions about our Lord Jesus Christ, made within some thirty years of his death at Jerusalem; made in the open day of public Christian intercourse, and made (every reader must feel this) not in the least in the manner of controversy, of assertion against difficulties and denials, but in the tone of a settled, common, and most living certainty. These assertions give us on the one hand the fullest possible assurance that he is man, man in nature, in circumstances and experience, and particularly in the sphere of relation to God the Father. But they also assure us, in precisely the same tone, and in a way, which is equally vital to the argument in hand, that he is as genuinely divine as he is genuinely human.”
These verses bring us near to the bedrock of the early Christian faith and preaching. They contain most of the distinctive articles of the Christian creed. They teach the divinity of Christ, his preexistence, his equality with God the Father, his incarnation and true humanity, his voluntary death on the cross, the certainty of his ultimate triumph over evil, and the permanence of his reign. (Boice, J. M. Philippians: An Expositional Commentary [2000, Grand Rapids, MI] p109–110)

Preaching Possibilities

The real power of Jesus’ coming is that he was truly man. That God came among us as another human being. The Easter story and the Christmas story are all the same. God among us. That moment when Jesus died was his choice. He chose to fully join each of us even in death.

Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON

Different Sermon Illustrations

Kenoticism is from the Gk. kenōsis, meaning (self-) ‘emptying’, and refers to a number of related Christological theories concerning the status of the divine in the incarnate Christ. While the term is found in a number of patristic writers and formed a key point of controversy between the Lutheran theological faculties of Tübingen and Giessen in the 17th century, kenoticism is usually associated with a group of German theologians in the mid-19th century: G. Thomassius (1802–75), F. H. R. von Frank (1827–94) and W. F. Gess (1819–91) and a group of British theologians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Charles Gore, H. R. Mackintosh, Frank Weston (1871–1924), P. T. Forsyth and O. C. Quick (1885–1944).
The German kenoticists took the idea of self-emptying beyond its usual bounds of voluntary self-restraint of the divine nature by the God-man (the position of the Giessen faculty). Instead they believed that the divine Logos limited itself in the act of incarnation. The actual theories varied. Thomassius separated the metaphysical attributes, omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience, from the moral attributes, love and holiness. The Logos gave up the former while retaining the latter. Other German kenoticists (Frank and Gess), however, took more radical positions, which stripped Jesus of any of the attributes of divinity and called into question the use of the term ‘incarnation’.
The British kenoticists had a more positive orientation. Although often accused of developing kenoticism simply as a means of accommodating the results of biblical criticism by admitting the possibility of human ignorance in Jesus, it would be more true to say that British kenoticists, under the impact of a more historical reading of the gospels, came to the conclusion that traditional Christologies did not do justice to Jesus’ human life. Thus, it was the gospel records of the human and limited consciousness of Jesus that the British kenoticists asserted over the strongly docetic dogmatic tradition. Among the individual kenoticists the actual manner in which the divine self-emptying was believed to have occurred varied, but in general the emphasis was on the gracious character of the divine condescension and not on the precise metaphysical explanation of the act.

Lucien Richard attempts to develop and renew a kenotic approach to theology in this impressive and stimulating book. Despite its relatively brief form, it operates as a kind of systematic theology, shaped by the central theme that God’s nature is defined and expressed as kenosis, God’s self-limitation, or self-emptying. After a survey of the contemporary cultural context, it moves into several chapters on Christology where the cross, presented as the necessary culmination of Jesus’ life of self-giving love, is seen as the defining center to any Christological formulation. It proceeds to examine key NT texts, particularly of course, the hymn in Philippians and Mark’s gospel (although strangely without reference to Gundry’s commentary on Mark as an Apology for the Cross). In patristic theology, Richard suggests that fear of Arianism led to such a stress on the divinity of Christ that the distinctive and crucial insights of kenotic theology were lost. He concludes that the doctrine of divine impassibility is to be rejected as incompatible with any idea of kenosis as definitive of God’s nature. The Incarnation is to be seen not so much as ‘an assumption of a human nature by the eternal Logos, but a self-emptying on the part of God’. As such, human nature is not in essence in opposition to divinity, but complementary to it, specifically designed to reveal God. Creation and Incarnation are continuous with one another in that both are acts of self-emptying and self-limitation on the part of God. The book closes with some interesting insights offered by this approach to the understanding of suffering, and an account of what a ‘kenotic church’ might be like.
The book stimulates, provokes, and has much to offer as an exploration of this theme as a foundation for an understanding of God. It still leaves questions, however. Richard conveys little sense of the cross as atonement, as achieving/enacting the reconciliation between God and his broken world, yet it is surely this very theme in the NT which makes the cross such an evocative symbol of God’s self-giving love for humanity and a model for Christian life and relationships. The cross can act as the criterion of an understanding of God and for Christian life only because it is the place where God has ‘reconciled the world to himself and it must be debatable how far the cross can act in the central way Richard wants it to without a stronger doctrine of atonement. Secondly, at the heart of the book is a methodological shift away from an older model of kenotic theology which begins with an understanding of God and Christ, and then decides ‘how much of the divine being can be brought within the limits of human existence’. The difficulty with this is that the image of self-emptying implies that there is something to be emptied; self-limiting implies there is a self to be limited. If the essence of God is defined as self-limitation, the language and image of kenosis does not work as neatly as it did with a firmer understanding of God’s transcendence and independence of creation, which Richard loses in his preference for process theology. Thirdly, the high level of abstraction in the book becomes frustrating. One longs for a little more historical rootedness, or even some clearer idea of what this might mean in practice, rather than some general insights about liberation, compassion and love. Nonetheless, despite these caveats, the book has some important things to say, and provides a contemporary account of kenotic theology which will hopefully stimulate more thought in this important area of contemporary theology.
(Tomlin, G. Review of Christ the Self-Emptying of God by Lucien J. Richard [1999 Themelios, 24(3), 79–80)]

A Christian Man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone. Martin Luther. (From Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations, Frank S. Mead, ed. [Westwood, NJ: Fleming F. Revel Co., 1965], p. 404)

What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us. What we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal .Albert Pine, (From Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations, Frank S. Mead, ed. [Westwood, NJ: Fleming F. Revel Co., 1965], p. 404)

Life is like a game of tennis; the player who serves well seldom loses. Anonymous. (From Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations, Frank S. Mead, ed. [Westwood, NJ: Fleming F. Revel Co., 1965], p. 403)

When we empty ourselves of all that is creature and rid ourselves of it for the love of God, that same Lord will fill our souls with Himself. St. Tersa of Avila. (From The World Treasury of Religious Quotations, Ralph L. Woods, ed. [New York: Garland Books, 1966], p. 914)

Our Lady said yes for the human race. Each one of us must echo that yes for our own lives. We are all asked if we will surrender what we are, our humanity, our flesh and blood, to the Holy Spirit and allow Christ to fill the emptiness by the particular shape of our life. Caryll Houselander. (From The World Treasury of Religious Quotations, Ralph L. Woods, ed. [New York: Garland Books, 1966], p. 914)

"…And if God dieth not for Man and giveth not Himself
Eternally for Man, Man could not exist; for Man is Love
As God is Love: every kindness to another is a little death
In the Divine Image, nor can Man exist but by Brotherhood. "William Blake, from "Written 1811." (From The Story of Jesus in the World's Literature. Edward Wagenknecht, ed. [New York: Creative Age Press, Inc., 1946.] p. 467.)

Poet Caroline Maria Noel's (isn't this a great last name for a hymn writer?) 1931 hymn "At the Name of Jesus" paraphrases most of Philippians 2:5-11. We are included in the 4th stanza, which is addressed to "Christians," followed by the reminder that "Jesus shall return again," at which time "our hearts" will "confess Him King of glory now." Born in London, England, in 1817, Ms. Noel became an invalid and sought to bring comfort to others through her writing, this hymn appearing after death in a collection of her writings, The Name of Jesus and Other Verses for the Sick and Lonely (1890) Thirty-five years later the great English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams composed especially for this hymn its present tune "King's Weston" for a hymnal which he edited, Songs of Praises.

In the television film Molokai Fr. Damien follows his Lord's example of emptying himself for others. When his bishop asks for a volunteer to go and minister to the lepers at the government sanitarium on the island of Molokai, Fr. Damien immediately volunteers. His bishop tells him to touch no one, and also warns him that he will be quarantined on the island. The Hawaiian government wants to make sure that the rest of the population is unaffected by the dread disease. In the 19th century Hodgkin's disease was the AIDS of its time, there being far more misconceptions of, than knowledge about, the disease. Fr. Damien is shocked at how rundown everything is, the government having expected that the lepers could raise their own crops and become almost self-sustaining. They had not counted on the lepers becoming so weak from the disease that they could not engage in physical labor, and also of becoming so despairing because of their isolation and hopeless prognosis. Fr. Damien almost immediately lays aside the bishop's warning, embracing one leper after another. He fights against great odds in trying to better the miserable living and spiritual condition of the lepers-the neglect and lack of interest on the part of the government, the fear from his church superiors that he is rocking the boat too much with his many demands, and even the resistance of many of the lepers themselves who have tried to forget their suffering by turning to drink, drugs and sex.
Just as Christ completely identified with our human situation when he came down from heaven, so Fr. Damien begins to speak of "we lepers" when addressing his congregation or appealing to the government. The "we" becomes literal when the priest is diagnosed as having contracted leprosy. His emptying of himself has become complete. However, far from complaining of his ailment, the good priest considers himself blessed. Now no one will try to make him leave his people.

In our town, the Homeless Shelter was really struggling and needed a dose of new management. A prominent executive resigned his job with a large company, and became the Executive Director. He said he walked out the revolving door at the company one day, and asked himself what real difference he had made in the world that day. He moved from success to significance as he brought his considerable experience to bear on a set of problems that had been hampering the shelter. By stepping down, he stepped up.

Sitting down to dinner together, an act that for most of the history of the human race has been considered almost holy, the highest level of hospitality, has become a lost art in 21st century America. Families are so programmed, two income households are the rule, not the exception, cell phones and telemarketers intrude, meetings and athletic practice keep young people at school late, and the family structure is fractured. Finding time to routinely sit down to dinner together seems a strain. The fast food and microwave meal industries are booming. People eat out much more than they used to, but usually with business associates, or alone, on the fly from one appointment to the next. The family table, where everyone could be together in a relaxed atmosphere of affirmation and enjoyment, is hard to find. It must be recreated as a high priority.

Considering the celebrity status that Jesus enjoyed as he entered Jerusalem, might Jesus at some point have been tempted to use his fame for personal gain? The Los Angeles Times (12/8/03) reported on how many modern celebrities cash in on their fame while they are in the process of boosting various charities. Many charities raise funds by hosting luxurious banquets and gala events. But the appeal of those events isn't always the food and beverages. Rather, many people are willing to make the large donations required to be admitted in order to see some famous star face to face. Therefore, charities are constantly searching for big names who are willing to attend their functions. But the celebrities don't always participate out of the pure goodness of their hearts. In 1997 David Schwimmer, one of the stars on NBC's Friends, received a pair of Rolex watches, valued at more than $26,000, to attend an event to benefit the John Wayne Cancer Institute. For his participation at a benefit sponsored by the Friars Club in 1998, singer Englebert Humperdinck was given two Cartier watches worth $8,500 each. Musician Ray Charles was paid $75,000 to sing four songs in 2002 at an event for SHARE (Share Happily and Reap Endlessly), which was to raise money to benefit developmentally disabled children. Former President Gerald Ford was given $200,000 to show up and receive the Special Giving Award during an event called a Family Celebration in April 2001. The purpose of the event was to raise money for 18 different charities. Singer Paul Anka was paid $100,000-twice the amount he normally receives-to perform three songs in August of 2002 for a fundraiser for Minnesota's Starkey Hearing Aid Foundation.

The story of Jesus' Passion, which is highlighted this week, certainly is the central story of the Christian faith. In order to help people familiarize themselves with the story of Jesus, a vicar in Germany distributed videotapes to parishioners and members of the community. According to Reuters (12/8/03), Frithjof Schwesig, vicar in the town of Lampoldshausen, had ordered 300 copies of a video telling about the life of Christ, based on the Gospel of Luke. As soon as the first shipment arrived, the cleric immediately distributed them. Soon, however, people were wondering if it was a mistake. Apparently, some of the tapes the vicar received were pornographic. Quickly the vicar and his staff retrieved all of the copies they had handed out until they could be checked as to their content. Despite the embarrassment, the vicar indicated that he plans to push forward with the plan to make the videos available.

In The Word before the Powers: An Ethic of Preaching, Charles Campbell tells about the annual Palm Sunday parade that his church in Atlanta organizes. The event is meant to remind people of the radical march that Jesus and his disciples made into Jerusalem days before his eventual crucifixion. The original event had such significance, Campbell says, because "rather than enter the city in a chariot with an army, as one might have expected, Jesus came humbly riding on a donkey. And the entire city was shaken politically by this event." In contrast, though, Campbell observes that their present-day parade has nowhere near that effect on those who witness their procession. Instead of challenging the powers that be, their parade applies for the proper parade permits from the local government and even has a police escort assigned to guide them safely through the streets. Campbell concludes that "while we do provide a valuable public witness in the midst of the city, no one in Atlanta is 'shaken' by the parade. An event that once offered a radical challenge to the powers has now become a harmless public ritual managed by the city."

Barbara Ehrenreich penned the widely read Nickel and Dimed: On Getting By in America. The book, which was first published in 2001, was a big seller among the general public, and it has become required reading on many college campuses. Nickel and Dimed is essentially a piece of investigative reporting, where Ehrenreich took low-paying jobs in various parts of the country to see first-hand what millions of people go through trying to live on very low wages. She worked as a waitress in Florida, as a cleaning woman in Maine, and as a Wal Mart sales clerk in Minnesota. Coming from an affluent background, Ehrenreich came to realize that there are many people around us every day who struggle mightily to eke out even a very modest existence. In addition, she found that what makes matters even worse for many low-income workers is that not only are they paid poorly, but they are also treated poorly by their employers and supervisors. Ehrenreich concludes, "If you're made to feel unworthy enough, you may come to think that what you're paid is what you are actually worth." Jesus lived his life in such a way that he did not need to read books or to do research in order to know about the lives of the lowest members in his society. Jesus lived his life in such a way that he shared their lot.

As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the crowds joined their voices in choruses of "Hosanna!" Nowadays there are fewer and fewer songs that the general public is able to unite their voices in. According to U. S. News & World Report (11/10/03), a recent Ph.D. graduate in music education from the University of Florida tried to determine how well today's youth know 100 songs that she considered to be representative of American history. She compiled that list of songs by receiving input from elementary school music specialists and from senior citizens across the country. The researcher, Marilyn Ward, then surveyed 4,000 elementary and high school music teachers across the nation, asking them to rate their students' knowledge of the 100 songs, which were all composed between the mid-1800s and the early 1900s. Her study found that students in California are least likely to know traditional children's songs, such as "Bingo," "Mary Had a Little Lamb," and "The Farmer in the Dell." Children in Nebraska were rated as being the most likely to know those songs.

Jesus lived his life-from the time of his birth right up to the time of his death-in such a way that he identified with the people around them. Not only did he share their joys, but he also showed his willingness to share in their suffering. In that way, Jesus truly embodied compassion. Originally "compassion" derived from the Latin com, meaning "with," and passio, which means "suffering." Literally, then, a compassionate person is one who is willing to suffer with others.

The story of Jesus' Passion certainly demonstrates that what we might think is the end is not. According to the Philadelphia Daily News and Inquirer (12/8/03), a massive fire struck the Pitman United Methodist Church in Pitman, New Jersey, this past December. The fire that raged for more than three hours destroyed most of the church building. As members of the congregation looked on, many assumed that that disaster would mark the end of their church. Yet when the fire was finally extinguished, they found that one part of the structure had emerged virtually unscathed-the six-foot gold-colored cross that had stood atop the church's steeple. The following Sunday members of the church gathered in a local theater to worship, and that cross was placed in the front of the room. Many of the people interpreted it as a sign from God, a sign that God was with them in the midst of that disaster. Because of that, they knew that the fire would not be the end.

In contrast to the jubilant road that Jesus paraded into the city, later in the week Jesus would be made to follow a tearful road to the cross. In fact, the path that Jesus took to the site of the crucifixion is often known as the Via Dolorosa. Certain roadways tend to have certain associations connected with them. In the United States, Route 66 generally generates positive images, with even songs written about it-"get your kicks on Route 66." On the other hand, there are certain roads that have negative images associated with them, negative images which many would prefer to shed. One such road is a highway in the Four Corners area. The two-lane road was known as Route 666. Naturally, many people picked up on the connection between that route number and the number of the beast mentioned in Revelation. An article in National Geographic (December 2003) indicates that the road was originally numbered as it was because the number was meant to designate that it was the sixth spur off Route 66. Although most people might appreciate the logic of that numbering scheme, still they didn't necessarily like what the result was. The Navajo, through whose land the road runs, and many others petitioned to have the route number changed. Finally the federal government agreed to change it to Route 491.

Rather than exploiting his position as the Son of God, Jesus assumed a humble posture throughout his days. Jesus never attempted to be the "big man on campus." But according to the spring issue (2003) of the Journal of Applied Psychology, people who are "big" apparently have an advantage that they can exploit, if they want to. A study done at the University of Florida found that tall people earn considerably more money than short people over the course of their lives. The research showed that for each additional inch of height that a person has, that translates into about $789 more per year in pay. Over the course of a 30-year career, the difference could add up to the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The research attempted to account for the difference. They concluded that tall people may feel more self-confident, which aids them in becoming more successful. In addition, customers may gravitate toward tall people, assuming that they are leaders who will be more effective in meeting their needs. The connection between height and pay was especially strong in jobs in sales and management. But there was also a marked correlation in jobs in engineering, accounting, computer programming, and clerical work. The research revealed that height is more of a factor in pay than a person's gender is. Today the average man is about 5 feet 9 inches tall, and the average woman is approximately 5 feet 4 inches tall. The researchers noted that it has been more than 100 years since Americans elected a president who was shorter than the average man. That happened in 1896 when William McKinley, at 5 feet 7 inches, was chosen to be the Chief Executive.

"Christ ceased not to be a King because He was like a servant, nor to be a lion because He was like a lamb, nor to be God because He was made man, nor to be a judge because He was judged" (Henry Smith)

"Because Jesus Christ came to the world clothed in humility, he will always be found among those who are clothed with humility. He will be found among the humble people" (A. W. Tozer)

"He who stays not in his littleness, loses his greatness" (St. Francis de Sales)

"If we were willing to learn the meaning of real discipleship and actually to become disciples, the Church in the West would be transformed, and the resultant impact on society would be staggering" (David Watson)

Dressed in black, she sits in a room with blackboards instead of walls behind her. The blackboards are covered with formulae and words like "Pherhibation Theorum" and other scribbles that only math geeks would recognize. The word THINK is written large and circled. She is Sylvia Nasar, economist and author of A Beautiful Mind. The advertisement for IBM's Thinkpad T40 Notebook makes the point that their product is 'where the world's most innovative people choose to think.' By entering our world, IBM shows us a new way of thinking. By entering our world, Christ shows us a new way of living. (Newsweek, June 2, 2003, p 3)

Weil, Simone (1909–1943). French religious philosopher and writer who applied Christian insights to the problem of alienated labor. Weil developed a kenotic understanding of the incarnation of Jesus that leads to a view of God himself as fundamentally revealed through self-emptying. Those who follow Christ can give meaning to human suffering by renouncing claims of power and entering into the afflictions of their fellow creatures.

Evans, C. S. (2002). In Pocket dictionary of apologetics & philosophy of religion (p. 122). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)

Invocation

Almighty God, we come seeking you amidst the splendors of the heavens and the beauty of mountain grandeur, and when we look around us, you beckon to us through the smile of a child and the outstretched hand of one person serving another. Accept our praise this day, granting us your Spirit to open our eyes to your presence in the relationships and events of our daily lives. Amen

Prayer of Confession

(Based on Philippians 2)
Leader: Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself…
People: Lord, we are so full of ourselves, with our plans and opinions-what is this talk of emptying? Did you really do that?
Leader: Jesus took the form of a servant…
People: Servant? This does not sound like something the Son of Almighty God would stoop to!
Leader: And being found in human form, he humbled himself.
People: Hardly popular in self-esteem groups and places where getting ahead is everything!
Leader: He became obedient to the point of death-even death on a cross.
People: Forgive us for thinking that faith was a matter of going to church, if convenient, and hastily firing off a prayer when in trouble. Stop us in our tracks and make us look at ourselves through Jesus' eyes. Then, as we repent and ask for your forgiveness, grant us your Spirit of truth, that we might walk out of this church more committed to serving you and our neighbors, and not just ourselves. Amen

Prayer of Dedication

Receive, O Lord, this offering and the love with which it is given. Although it pales before the offering that your Son gave on the cross, it nevertheless represents our love and devotion to you. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer

Dear God, we thank you that you did not leave us in our sin, but that in Jesus Christ you visited our warring planet to show us a new way and to redeem us from our sin. We are grateful that you give us spiritual companions in the church, and so we pray for the welfare of the Body of Christ. We pray for our congregation, that we might continually serve you through this community as we discover new hurts and needs. We pray for the larger church, not only our own national denomination, with its manifold ministries, but for the world church, the larger Body of Christ, for which Christ prayed that we all "might be one." Help us to look beyond our differences and dwell upon what we hold in common, so that we can minister more effectively to the crying needs of a world that does not know you.
We bring before you our concerns, for ourselves, and for those who are ill in body and ill at ease in a world that often ignores the hungry and the poor. Bless our nation in so far as we walk in your ways of justice and peace. May you guide our President, members of Congress and the courts that this nation will follow more closely in your way. We pray for our men and women, those in the armed forces around the world and those in mission hospitals and schools, whose duties bring them into danger. Bless them and their work and the other nations that cooperate with us to bring aid and relief to the suffering. We pray for understanding and reconciliation with enemies, personal and national, that we might be able to sit at tables of negotiation, rather than meeting on fields of battle or in courts. Hear our prayers, offered in the name of Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen