Passion/Palm Sunday – 2022c

Old Testament – Isaiah 50:4a-9 

New Testament – Philippians 2:5-11


The Sum of the Christian Life


INTRODUCTION: Several years ago now a book was published called Then Sings My Soul. 


Written by a gentleman named Robert Morgan, the book provides quick little histories on many of the most familiar Christian hymns that have been written down through the ages. From Christmas hymns like “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Silent Night” to other non-seasonal classics like “Be Thou My Vision” and “How Firm a Foundation” the book offers interesting little tidbits about the origins of such famous and beloved tunes.


There are, of course, numerous hymns in the book also relating to Lent and Easter.


You can, for example, learn about Charles Wesley and his famous song “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today”, or if you wish, you can read about C. Austin Miles and how one day John’s account of Jesus’ resurrection in chapter 20 prompted him to write that old sawhorse that people love to sing at funerals “In the Garden.”


And then there is the history behind Isaac Watts’ 315 year old song “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” 


An author of numerous tunes by the time he was in his early 20s, Isaac Watts reportedly received a letter from his brother Enoch one day encouraging him to publish his many hymns. 


Or as his brother Enoch put it in his letter, “I am very confident whoever has the happiness of reading your hymns in print (unless he be either a sot or an atheist) will have a favorable opinion of their author.”


And so spurred on by his brother, Watts eventually did just that. In 1707 he sold the copyright to his hymns for the princely sum of 10 bucks to a publisher, who quickly converted them into a very popular and well selling volume of songs.


And just one of the songs in the newly printed volume was Watts’ “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, which many people feel has grown into one of the seminal hymns of the Christian tradition for its focus on Christ’s death on that cross. Or as the opening verse reads, “When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.”


ONE: Of course, long before Isaac Watts got around to writing “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, other Christians were also busy writing and singing hymns, weren’t they?


Yep, turns out from the very beginning of the faith, Christians were known to huddle in homes and in back-alley businesses to not only pray, hear sermons, and receive the sacraments, but to sing songs as well. 

And one such ancient hymn that most folks believe was sung by some of our earliest ancestors is quoted by Paul in our reading for today from Philippians. 


With the prefatory remarks of “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” Paul then moves to recite what is now commonly referred to as the Christ-hymn: 


“…though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.


And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death--even death on a cross.


Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”


And while we have no idea what the ancient song may have actually sounded like, the words even now still have a hymn-like quality to them because of their rhythmic and repetitive nature, don’t they?


TWO: Well, on this Sunday before Easter, on this Sunday when we annually remember and reflect upon Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, no wonder that ancient hymn from Philippians is one of our prescribed texts for the day.  


After all, as most of you can probably recall, Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem perched atop that donkey sort of ends up becoming a living parable of that famous Christ-hymn quoted by Paul, doesn’t it?


We hear the lyrics of that hymn talk about Jesus emptying himself, taking the form of a slave, and humbling himself, and suddenly his entrance into Jerusalem on a beast of burden makes perfect sense. 


After all, most rulers and other high ranking people tended to enter Jerusalem perched on giant horses decked out in fancy attire and regalia. But that’s hardly how Jesus enters, is it? Perched on a borrowed donkey no more than four years old, Jesus’ entrance was a burlesque scene. 


Sitting on a donkey barely old enough to carry him, Jesus’ feet would have been dangling just inches above the ground - if not actually scraping it at times. Yep, if Jesus didn’t stub his toes once or twice during his entrance into Jerusalem, well, that would have been its own little miracle.  


And then let’s not forget Jesus' courtiers and attendants. While other rulers and potentates entered Jerusalem followed by highly educated scribes, well-spoken advisers, and other functionaries, Jesus entered with a pretty sorry collection of social misfits trailing behind him.


“Jesus was a king, but no ordinary one,” writes one man. He was “the king of fishermen, tax collectors, Samaritans, harlots, blind men, demoniacs, and cripples.”                    


But those lyrics from that Christ-hymn from Philippians helps put the entire odd scene in context,  right? We hear about Jesus as God incarnate becoming humble and emptying himself, and it becomes hard for us to imagine him entering Jerusalem in any other way than sitting on a donkey.  


THREE: Of course, let us not forget the reason Paul gets to even quoting that Christ-hymn in the first place. 


He starts talking about the need for us to have the same mind that was in Jesus Christ and then as a way to show us what such a mind might look like he recites those lyrics from that famous song. Apparently then, to have the same mind of Christ means to strive in our own ways to live giving and humble lives as well.


So Paul’s talk about Jesus emptying himself and becoming humble is more than just theological banter about who he was and what he did for us. No, for Paul such talk is also intended to provide us all with a framework for shaping and molding our own lives as followers of Jesus Christ.


What’s that line about humility? “Humility,” said one man, “is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less [often]. 


One day a teacher giving a lecture on modern inventions asked a classroom full of elementary kids, “Can any of you name something of great importance that did not exist fifty years ago?” After a moment, one bright lad eagerly raised his hand and said, “Me!” Well, truth be told most of us probably walk around with that basic sentiment firmly lodged in our heads, right?          


And so when we hear such a story, it’s easy to see why our forefather John Calvin claimed the sum of the Christian life finally boiled down to learning to deny ourselves. For that is probably the hardest thing any of us can learn to do.


FOUR: I once ran across an account of research done years ago at the University of Minnesota on twins.


Beginning in 1919 and running for several decades, researchers followed 402 pairs of twins who had been separated at birth. Interestingly, the study often showed some striking similarities amongst the various sets of twins even though they had been reared apart from each other.


One celebrated pair of identical twins was Jim Lewis and Jim Springer, whose lives almost seemed to be mirror copies of each other. At the age of forty when the two were brought together again, both were in law enforcement at the time. 


As hobbies, both men had taken up drafting and carpentry. And while Jim Lewis had been married three times and his brother only twice, the first two wives of both men were named Linda while the second ones were both called Betty. Each also had a son named James Allen as well as a dog named Toy. 


Well, is it any wonder that researchers also learned the two men had nearly identical IQs, personality types, fingerprints, handwriting, and even electrocardiograms? Or as Jim Springer put it when discussing the results of the tests he had taken with his brother, “All the tests we took looked like one person had taken the same tests twice.”


CONCLUSION: And while Paul surely doesn’t think disciples and Jesus are identical twins who have been separated from each other at birth, he does see our various faith journeys as his followers ending with us being remarkably similar to him.


Just like those famous twins Jim Springer and Jim Lewis, Paul, mystifyingly so, sees us and Jesus being amazingly akin to each other when it’s all said and done.


And not because Jesus is somehow changed and altered, of course, but because we are. Yep, Paul is surely a man of great and deep faith.


For at the end of all things, he sees Jesus’ face and our faces sort of blurring together until they are almost one and the same. He sees our fingerprints and Jesus’ so closely a-lined they are nearly indistinguishable when taken. And he sees our minds so closely attuned with his, it will be as if the same person has taken the same test twice. 


O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are God’s judgments and how inscrutable God’s ways! For from God and through God and to God are all things. To God be glory forever. Amen.