This sermon was delivered at Kerr Presbyterian Church on February 7, 2021 by Rev. KJ Norris. The transcript below is not an exact transcript of the preaching heard but the author and intent are the same.
Philippians 2; Isaiah 40:21-31; Mark 1:29-39
There is a song on the radio by Rodney Adkins which has the chorus (in part):
“I’ve been watching you dad, ain’t that cool
I’m your buckaroo, I wanna be like you…
I wanna do everything you do
So I’ve been watching you”
The verses go through some great scenarios of how the little boy acts just like his dad, starting with him saying a bad four-letter word when he spills his milkshake. Kids are like this. We don’t think they know “adult language” because we don’t use it around them, but they pick up on all those things, even when we think they are not listening. The last verse of the song sees the little boy kneeling beside his bed at night—this too he learned from his dad when he thought the boy wasn’t watching.
We pick up a lot from our parents—habits that we wish we didn’t have and habits that we are so grateful they instilled in us even though they didn’t try to do so.
This week, however, our Scriptures call us to a different kind of following. Instead of thinking about how we are like our earthly parents, our Scriptures call us to consider how in the power of the Holy Spirit we are called to be like our heavenly parent—to be like God.
Now, I know what you are thinking. There is no way that we can be like God.
You are so right. In fact, our Old Testament Scripture starts with that notion. Isaiah calls out to us: (read Isaiah 40:21-23). We the inhabitants of the earth are like grasshoppers in comparison to God. And verse 25 says, “To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal?” It’s a rhetorical question. We aren’t supposed to answer it, because the question itself suggests the answer: “No, one, O Lord! No one is your equal.”
And yet the poem or hymn we could say that was very well known in the early church and used by Paul as an example for us is given with the admonition: “Let the same mind me in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
We are called to have the mind of Christ.
And it’s not just here. Throughout the Bible we are told to be like God. Leviticus calls us to be holy for God is holy. Psalm 115 reminds us that we will become like that which we worship.
So, it is important to remember who it is that we worship so that as we live our life in the power of the Holy Spirit, we know what that life will look like.
In his work Jesus and the Disinherited, Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman reminds us of who Jesus is and how he came to earth. He summarizes three things about Jesus’ life which we all know, but which we sometimes forget. Or at least we can be in danger of forgetting because our culture stands in such contrast to seeing these traits as ones which should be followed.
First, Thurman reminds us, Jesus was poor (Thurman, 7).
In Jesus’ own words, “Foxes have dens and birds of the air have nests, but I have no place to lay my head” (Luke 9:58). Jesus lived his life on earth as one who didn’t even have a home. He was truly poor by every standard—by a global standard of poverty, he was poor.
We think about this at Christmas time because we remember Jesus being born in a place where the animals feed, but in our gospel story we see a different version of this. Jesus was staying at Simon’s house in Capernaum. I’ve been there and seen the archeology ruins of the house right next to the synagogue—it’s a truly beautiful place not far from the Sea of Galilee. And while he was there, it is clear that Jesus is extremely popular.
In fact, everyone is coming to him and seeking him out from night to dawn, our Scripture tells us. I think if Jesus wanted to, he probably could have set up a nice ministry there. He could have been very comfortable. Maybe built a house of his own near Simons. And reading between the lines a little, it seems that the disciples wanted just that.
But Jesus prays about it—takes some time apart from the busyness of ministry and realizes that is not why he came. He came to live a life which reached out to as many people as possible. He came to live a life that was about giving, not receiving. And so he leaves the comfort of that home and steps out to a place where he has no bed.
This has led many believers throughout Christian history to believe they, too, should give up all they have to follow Jesus. Many nuns, for instance, still do this today. They give away all of their earthly possessions when they join the church. They don’t own anything because they want to dedicate themselves to the work of God and they understand that material possessions can often get in the way of this.
Others don’t take this more extreme step of giving everything away but instead choose to do as Abraham did and give a tithe, give 10% of everything they make back to God as a sign that everything they have belongs to God. That’s the path I’ve chosen and I know many of you have, too.
I don’t know if God is calling you to give everything you have to the poor to follow Jesus. But I do know that this way of thinking is completely counter to the way that the world thinks about what we need to do ministry. Many think: Oh, well, if I get rich like Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, then I will be a giver. If you are rich, then you can really do ministry. But that’s not the example Jesus gives to us. Jesus shows that out of poverty came the greatest transformation the world has ever known. Our call is not to get rich and then become givers but to give all that we have now—whether we do that symbolically by giving a tithe or actually by giving up all we have as many have been called to do throughout history.
Howard Thurman goes on his is book to remind us that Jesus was Jewish (Thurman, 5). We live in a day and age where I think many of us forget this. When we think of Jesus, many of us think that Jesus was a Christian. Afterall, we are named Christians and Jesus is often called “Jesus Christ.”
Anybody remember what “Christ” actually means? It’s not a last name. I know sometimes we use it that way, but it’s not. “Christ” means “Anointed” or set apart. Today we are electing new elders and in two weeks we will take those who are newly elected and set them apart for service to the Lord. Traditionally, we do this by laying hands on them or anointing them with oil.
When we say we are Christians, when we refer to Jesus as Jesus Christ we are saying that we are ones set apart. That we have a calling on our lives to love God and love others—to live out the greatest commandments as Jesus gave them to us.
But Jesus’ religion wasn’t Christianity; he was Jewish. I think this is important to remember because we know that anti-Semitism is on the rise. We saw it in its very worst form possible two years ago at the Tree of Life Synagogue. People, peaceful people, were gathered to worship on a Saturday as they have done for generations upon generations. And a person came in and took their lives solely because of their religion.
Shamefully, we can look back on history and see this same scenario played out again and again and again to the point of even the Holocaust. Most of the time, the terrible atrocity of killing a person for following the Jewish faith is carried out by Christians, by those of us who say we follow Jesus.
Perhaps we forget that Jesus was Jewish because this too seems counter to the expectations of the world. When God came to earth, fully God but fully human in the person of Jesus, God could have come in any form. He could have come as a wealthy Greek. We saw last week that within Greco-Roman culture, many of the business deals took part in events sponsored by the pagan temples. If Jesus had come as a wealthy Greek, he would have had power and influence and a much broader reach.
So, why come instead as Jewish? We could do a 10-week Bible study just to answer that question, but for now it is enough to simply acknowledge that this is the God we serve. Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise God made to the people of Abraham long ago. Jesus did not come in the most powerful religion of his day, but instead as a Jew. This fact alone should motivate us to stand against anti-Semitism when we hear it and see it.
And thirdly, Thurman reminds us, Jesus came as a member of a minority group (Thurman, 8). Jesus came to earth as a brown Palestinian man in occupied Roman. He could not be a citizen. He had no political rights. This, too, we are prone to forget.
Often times when we see pictures of Jesus, we see images of him as a beautiful faced blue-eyed man with long flowing blond hair. However, Scripture makes it clear that he was born to Mary, in the line of David, in the ancestry of Abraham who was from Ur–Modern Day Iraq. Jesus looked much more like a person from Iraq than he did like a person from Sweden. So, why do we see so many images of Jesus with blue eyes?
Many in our culture have said that this is the standard of beauty. That we should aspire to look a certain way and this involves light, delicate features. And then we have done what the Bible tells us not to do as the very first commandment—we have made God in our own image. We who are white have created images of God that look like us. But God did not come to earth in what the world suggests is the standard of beauty.
Jesus did not come as one who was a part of the dominate, powerful group of his time. He did not come as a Roman. Instead, he came as one on the margins. One who had no rights. One who was often in danger, as he was as a boy when Herod tried to have him killed and did kill many of the Palestinian boys born in the same time as Jesus.
Yes, God could have come in power. God has all power and might. But God made different choices. As Philippians tells us, “Though [Jesus] was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God something to be exploited, but emptied himself” (Phil 2:6).
Jesus emptied himself and became not a rich, powerful person but instead a person who was marginalized in every way—in terms of wealth, religion, and group status.
So, what about us? What does this tell us about living in the power of the Holy Spirit? How are we to live our lives if we are to do as Scripture tells us and have the mind of Christ?
I think we are to recognize that a life of following Christ is not a glamorous one. Somehow, as a culture, we have lost our way on this. Christianity has become associated as a religion of blessing and power. Culturally we have come to believe that if we are a follower of Jesus, we should be treated like kings and queens.
But the only crown our Lord wore while on earth was a crown of thorns. If we are to be like Christ, our call is a life of service.
Our Mark Scripture shows us this today, too. Jesus touched Simon’s mother-in-law and after Jesus healed her in his touch, she immediately began to serve.
We, too, have been touched by Jesus. We have been forever changed by Jesus’ touch in our lives. And therefore, we are called to a life of service.
Today we are having our Congregational Meeting and we are electing new leaders. For us who are leaders in the church, this is especially important to remember. There is a common phrase in our culture that “power corrupts” and certainly we have all seen that power can indeed corrupt. Sadly, this happens not just in the world but in the church, too. Pastors can fall prey to power and so can other church leaders. Sometimes when we step into leadership, we begin to think that we are set above others. But this is absolutely not true. We are set apart for a task, but never above.
If anything, our call is to be set below others. As Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be first among you must be servant of all” (Mark 9:35). Our call as leaders is not a call to be above but rather a call to service. A call to give so that others can be strong.
As our Isaiah Scripture reminded us today, our God who is all powerful, does not keep this power to himself as something that should be used to lord over others. But instead, God is a giver who “gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless.” Our call is to empower others, not to rule over them.
So let us serve the Lord in humility, confessing Jesus is Lord and striving to live as he lived.