Pastors Sunday Message
Ezra 1:1-8, Philippians 2:5-11
When we shop, I prefer a choice. It’s nice to see a couple different companies competing against each other. If I don’t like this brand, I can always try another. Options are related to just about anything we do. Now when is the last time you tried to buy a tennis shoe? Of course, even the name “tennis shoe” is no longer an appropriate description.
When I grew up “Tennis shoe” was a generalized term that designated a canvas, casual shoe that you wore to play in. Today when you go to buy such a shoe you need to specify what specialty you are playing. Is it basketball, running, baseball etc.? What kind of surface will it be? What brand would you like? Do you need a low top, mid top, or high top? Do you want leather or canvas? What color do you want? On and on the choices go. Oh yes, we have idolized choice to the point where it is ridiculous.
Paul is writing to a young, new church, to remind them of what the heart and soul of their identity is. He reminds them, that whatever their attitude is, it should be in response to whatever is going on in the culture. Paul is seeking to set them straight regarding their walk with Christ; In the so doing he is defining the essence of who the church is and what is at the core of the church’s witness to faith in the world. Paul begins by stating that although Christ’s nature was God’s, it was the free-will of Jesus to become the sacrifice. In verses 7 and 8 7 “but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” Paul is boldly proclaiming that Jesus Christ humbled himself to be obedient to God who was sending him to be in the world.
Another translation of the word used here for nothing would be poor. Christ made himself poor, choosing to be a servant and a human being. This choice not only comes to define who Jesus is but also who the church confesses as the Lord of life. In other words, who we are. What Paul wants this young church to remember is that there really is only one choice that matters in the community of faith. That choice is the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The church not only confesses such truth, but it becomes defined by it as well. The fleshing out of this choice leads the church to claim its humanity too. This confession frees the church to be who it is as it humbles itself and takes on the role of servant. Paul wants the church to know that as Christ was obedient, even to death, so must the church become obedient to the will of God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ; that is what will then define our life and witness.
In our time, just as the tennis shoe choice has become idolized, the church needs to witness to what choice we must seek that defines and shapes all other choices. Without our witness, people become lost in choice for the sake of choosing (Now I am not discrediting the other Christian church choices, what I am talking about is the choosing of other things to do on Sundays and with your time). Choosing not to be active or a part of the Christian body becomes just another excuse for not making a commitment.
Paul wants the church to powerfully and definitively proclaim obedience to the only choice there is, the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Jesus chose the will of God in his own life and was obedient to the only choice that matters in life. Paul also wants the Philippian church (our Church) to realize that God will respond to such a choice with exaltation and glory. Jesus will forever be defined by his choosing, which elevated him to the highest place. Jesus chose, and God exalts the choice. A few weeks ago, I gave a sermon entitled “Halfway In,” and I wonder with this reading today how much God would exalt the choice if we as the church were ALL IN. This is the truth which becomes the cornerstone as the church witnesses and proclaims. Currently, we are at a crossroads, because just as Jesus chose, today the world has to choose, who will ultimately define and shape our history.
Our Ezra text is a follow-up to the prophecies of Jeremiah. It is the end of the Babylonian exile, and God is doing something new. God is using the Persian King Cyrus to be the instrument by which He will set his people free. From Ezra 1:1a End of the Babylonian Captivity
1In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom,
So, King Cyrus was a servant no matter what his intent was. The power of the servant song comes from Isaiah and gives a new understanding of the painful experience suffered during the exile and the lessons it must teach the community. Speaking out of the humility that suffering brings, the prophet offers meaning in that suffering and shares that the suffering will be vindicated by God and God’s action in history. When we trust God during suffering, our suffering, it can give great meaning and power to our experiences (Hindsight 20/20), just as God used Cyrus.
I would like to tell you a story of a wise old sage who lived high in a mountain village. Anytime the villagers needed advice or help they came to the wise old man and he offered them direction and advice.
A young man from the village went away to school and came to pride himself on his knowledge and wisdom. When he returned to the village, he remembered the old man and the way the villagers sought his counsel. As time passed he became jealous and angry and so devised a plan to prove how foolish the old man really was.
The young man caught a sparrow and held it in his hand. He went to the village square and announced that he planned to go to the old man’s home and expose his uneducated ways. The whole village followed the young man to the old man’s home. When they arrived, the young man beat on the door of the old man’s house and challenged him to come out and meet him. The old man came out onto the porch.
The young man told everyone that he had a sparrow clutched in his hand and challenged the old man to say if the bird was alive or dead. His plan was that if the old man said the bird was alive he would squeeze the bird till it was dead and then show the village the dead bird. If the old man said the bird was dead he would then open his hand and allow the living bird to fly free. The two men stood on the porch. The crowd was silent. The young man held up his hand and asked, “Is this bird alive or dead that I hold in my hand?” After a long pause the old man looked at the crowd and then looked directly into the eyes of the young man and responded, “As you will, my son, as you will.”
Now you may be wondering what this story has to do with the scriptures today; well just as Paul wants a young church to claim its identity in witness and proclamation the young man had a choice. We need to be reminded that just as Jesus chose to be obedient to the will of God and took on the role of a servant, we too must decide; whether it is a choice between tennis shoes, or confessing the truth about Jesus Christ, it will define us as well. The old sage might say: As we will. As we will! F S H G