Saturday, September 27, 2014

Who’s the boss of you?

Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32

Children who are struggling to make their own rules often tell their siblings and sometimes their parents, “You’re not the boss of me!” This saying is cute, when children say it. This seems to be what the chief priests and elders were saying to Jesus in the temple. And they didn’t say it to be cute.
It’s important to know where in Matthew this event happens. It’s after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we celebrate as Palm Sunday. In other words, it’s just a few days before he dies. He has entered into Jerusalem with a parade celebrating his coming as a king into the capital city. He has overturned the tables of the scam artists known as money-changers.
By now in his life, the Jewish leaders are very suspicious of him. They have been watching Jesus for three years, and they know he objects to much of what they have been saying and doing. Jesus threatens their authority.
They want to know: by whose authority does he preach and heal? How dare he preach and teach contrary to the tradition?! How dare he imply that they are wrong?! So, this time, they directly confront him. They have to be careful, because the crowds are fans of Jesus and they don’t want to upset the crowds too much. Yet, they need to make the crowds aware that Jesus is wrong.
In traditional rabbinical fashion, they ask a question. They want Jesus to tell them which previous Torah scholar has said similar things. For the leaders, authority comes from scripture and its established interpretations. They don’t want anyone to make up new interpretations of scripture. They like things the way they are, and they feel threatened by Jesus’ new-fangled ideas.
The leaders ask Jesus a question, and in typical Jesus fashion, Jesus answers the question with another question. He lays the trap, and the leaders have no honorable way out of it. “Was John’s baptism of human or divine origin?” he asks them. If they say it was of human origin, the crowd will be angry. If they say it was of divine origin, then Jesus will ask why he was killed by Herod. So, the leaders give no answer, and Jesus refuses to answer their question about authority.
… We have no trouble saying that Jesus did what he did because he had God’s authority. Yet, we don’t always know what that means. We can look at the text from Philippians for some clues.
Most of this passage is an ancient hymn about Jesus. It was probably written within the first twenty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. In this Christ Hymn, we learn that Jesus came from God, emptied himself of all divinity in order to become human. He gave up his human life on the cross because he agreed that God was the “boss of him.” Because of this obedience, Jesus has returned to the glory of the divine, and in response to his divinity, we should bow before him and proclaim him Lord of our lives.
I have been thinking this week about what it meant for Jesus to leave heaven and become human. I want you to think of the most beautiful, wonderful place you can imagine. It might be a beach, a mountain, a forest, or your own backyard. It might be a room in your house, or in your childhood house, or Grandma’s home. It might be an event, like getting a new baby, or a new puppy or kitten. Beautiful places are usually filled with love and joy, which is why they are our beautiful places.
Our beautiful places usually offer us the overpowering feeling of joy, divine love, forgiveness, and acceptance. If we could, we might want to stay there forever. It was this kind of place that Jesus left, intentionally, for us. Jesus gave up being God. He gave up the powers he had in heaven. He gave up living in heaven, in that beautiful place. He took on human form, accepting the limitations of being human. He performed miracles of healing and multiplying bread and so forth because God heard his prayers. He allowed himself to be abused, bullied, beaten, and crucified.
Jesus became human, but he came with divine authority. When the leaders challenged him, Jesus could have said, I and the Father are one, and I have divine authority in all I do. But he didn’t need to answer their question. With whose authority does Jesus do what he does? With God’s authority.
… The Apostle Paul urges the Philippians to have the same mind as Christ – the same self-giving mind of the one who left the glories of heaven to be born with the limitations of a human body.  
In order for us to have the same mind as Christ, we need to get ourselves out of the center of our lives. Sometimes it is quite a shock to discover that we have been far away from the mind of Christ.
Here is a story about changing our lives to giving Jesus authority over our lives and to having the same mind as Christ. The story comes from our Monday morning study materials, so it will be familiar to some of you.  
Imagine picking up the morning paper and discovering that you had died the day before!  That happened years ago as a newspaper erroneously reported the death of a famous man.  The error gave the man the interesting opportunity to read what people would say about him after he had died. 
So he began to read.  He read past the bold caption that said, “Dynamite king dies,” to the text itself.  He was taken aback to find that he was described as “a merchant of death,” for he was the inventor of dynamite and had amassed a great fortune from it. 
The description in the newspaper sparked a change.  Did he really want to be remembered this way?  In that moment, he experienced a healing power greater than the destructive force of dynamite.  He changed his life direction and devoted his energy and money to works of peace and human betterment.  Today, he is best remembered as the founder of the Nobel Peace Prize – Alfred Nobel – all because he had the grace-filled experience to see himself as others saw him and the freedom to set his life in a different direction. 
Do we let Jesus have the authority over how we spend our time? Do we let him have authority over how we use our God-given gifts? Do we let him have authority over our checkbooks?  Do we allow Jesus to have authority over how we handle our relationships? Does the self-sacrificing mind of Christ enter into our personal relationships? Does it figure into how we treat one another in our church lives? Spend some time this week pondering who is at the center of your life – yourself, or Jesus?

Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, we love that you love us. We are beyond grateful that you gave up the glories of heaven to take on human form and human limitations for us. Teach us to be more like you. Amen