Humility by Loren Taylor (Phil 2:1-11)

Good morning! My name is Lauren Taylor. I’m a campus pastor up at Whitworth – but we just moved here to take that job this summer. I’m originally from Chicago. So I’m a big fan of the Chicago Cubs, of hot dogs with only mustard, and complaining about winters that don’t ever seem to end. I think we share at least one of those things in common.

Derek and I have been married for about 6 years. We bought a dog a short while into our marriage, and when we were able to keep her alive and happy – we added a baby to the mix who is now 2.5 years old. Our little Theo – or Theomonster depending on the day.

Derek and I were both battling a little bit of a cough/cold last weekend. Not enough to keep us home from work or anything, but enough to suck the energy out of us. I was pretty exhausted after working all day and then chasing Theo around trying to convince him to eat, and pee on the toilette, and stay alive and go to bed. So last weekend, I really looking forward to sleeping hard. And I really enjoyed not setting my alarm for Saturday morning when I went to bed Friday night.

Well, the sun had not yet made it’s way through our bedroom window Saturday morning when I heard Theo’s first little squawks. He’s 2, and we haven’t moved into a real bed yet; he’s still in the crib. So when he wakes up, we have to go into his room and pull him up and out of the crib. And when I heard his first little cries, I blearily opened one eye to peek over at Derek. He wasn’t moving yet, but he wasn’t snoring anymore. I bet he’s awake. Theo cried out again. And I closed my eye and tried very hard to lay as still as I could so Derek would think I was still sleeping. The unspoken rule is that whoever moves first has to get up and get Theo. And so we were both laying at still as we possibly could. We were playing toddler-duty chicken.

You see, I love Derek, but I really wanted to sleep a bit longer. And sometimes my desire to sleep trumps my love for Derek, and I think “he should really get him up today.” I think of all the reasons in my head that he should be the one serving me this time, not me serving him this time. You can pray for us.

But I want to talk about this idea this morning. This idea of serving and humility in relationship and in community. And I want to start with Jesus and the twelve disciples.

The first time the disciples all got together, I can imagine there was an electrifying energy in the room. Can you picture that moment? They looked around the group gathered together for first time — at one another, and felt excited…

There was Matthew, who had wealth. There was Peter, who was loud. There was Thomas who was the realist. There was James and John. And they were brothers with a good chemistry. It just seemed, as they looked around, each person had a place. Had a role to play. They were like the first century dream team. And so they set out with Jesus to do ministry together and they were excited. They felt important. I imagine perhaps they even felt unstoppable as the crowds that followed them got larger.

But after living together, and working together and traveling together for three extraordinary years full of ordinary days… some of that magic began to fade in the realities of life. Personalities got in the way. Agendas clashed. Relationships got complicated. Pride swelled. And at the end of the gospels, we see in the disciples an ugly competitive spirit slowly creeping.

James and John pull Jesus aside and whisper to him, “Jesus, let us two be the ones who sit closest to you in glory. Let us be the ones who sit at your right and at your left.” But when the rest of the disciples heard this, Scripture says they were angry with James and John. You are not the most important one.

A few days later, Mary breaks open an expensive bottle of perfume to anoint Jesus. And in front of everyone, Judas shouts, “What are you doing?! That was worth so much money and now its just pooling on the floor! What a terrible idea, Mary.” You are not the smartest one.

 Later, Jesus sitting with his disciples predicts, out loud, that one of them is going to hurt Jesus — is going to betray him. And so each disciple’s first reaction is to turn in on themselves. To protect themselves – “Not me!” They each say. And they cast the blame on the other disciple. You must be it. You must be the unfaithful one.

Fast forward a few days, and the crew was all meeting up for dinner. And when Jesus walked in, the disciples were gathering around the table – The text doesn’t say this, but I can imagine that there was some tension in the room. Jesus looked at each one. He looked at their faces, and then he looked at their feet. Dirty. Still? Their feet were dirty –they had not washed their feet yet. No one had made provisions for the foot washing.

Streets in the ancient Near East were unpaved. They were dirt roads, full of trash and horses and cows and pigs and all the nasty that those animals leave behind. In this age before modern plumbing, they were manure-mixed mud streets with the occasional mystery puddle that’s there even on sunny days. So when people got home, after walking to work in their sandals or walking to the market in their sandals, they always washed their dirty feet. It was sanitary. It was culture. It was normal. And especially when you got together with other people for a meal, it was custom to have your feet washed. To have a servant wash the nasty off your feet. It wasn’t a fun job – it was a menial job, reserved for someone who had a low position in the house. But it was needed.

And so when Jesus came to this dinner, and looked around at his disciples and saw – and probably smelled — that they each still had dirty feet … That no one was willing to wash the feet and to submit themselves to the others in the group in this way… I can imagine Jesus was disappointed.

It was just a few days before that Jesus taught his disciples about greatness. That if they really wanted to be great, they had to become a servant to one another. Whoever wanted to be first had to learn to be last. Not a single one of them seemed to remember those words at this moment. Instead, they all sat passively at the table, maybe stewing in their resentment; maybe feeling paralyzed by the tension; maybe playing foot-washing chicken. Whatever the case, the feet remained unwashed

And so Jesus gets up, drawing the attention of everyone in the room. He takes off his clothes, stands in front of them vulnerable and derobed, and wraps himself with a servants towel. He kneels down and begins to wash their dirty, prideful, arrogant feet himself. The room is caught in a deadening silence as Jesus moves from person to person. The only sound is that of water trickling from the pitcher into the basin. The only movement is that of Jesus bowed head and shoulders as he carefully washes the grime from the street out from under their feet.

The story continues as John’s gospel explains:

12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.    John

Our passage this morning is from Philippians, Chapter 2. So why am I telling a story about the disciples? I wonder… and this is just my wondering. . . I wonder if when Paul wrote this hymn in the letter to the Philippians, I wonder if he had this gospel story in mind. I wonder if when he wrote that Christ took the form of the servant (vs 7), he pictured Jesus taking up the servant’s towel to wash the feet of the feet of the disciples. Because to me, if this foot washing is the story illustrated in John’s gospel, then this poem in Philippians is the theological commentary to it. It illuminates what Paul is singing about in our passage. The narrative that’s bringing this hymn to life.

This passage in Philippians is pretty famous. We call it the “Christ Hymn,” because it’s not written like a normal part of the letter. Even if you look down at your Bible, you’ll see that verses 6-11 look different than all the other verses, and really most of the other verses in the New Testament. It’s written with indentations and spaces and lines… it’s aesthetic appearance tells us that it’s special. The way the words are on the page tell us that these words are really important!

And so in it Paul says, “Let your mind be like Christ’s mind.”  And he begins to paint in beautiful Greek poetry a picture of what God is like. He gives us the image of God in Christ that we are to reflect with our lives.

Christ, who even though he was God, even though he had power, even though he was privileged, he didn’t exploit it or use it to separate himself from others – quite the opposite. Instead, Christ emptied himself – and became like one of us. Took on our humanness. Washed our dirty feet. Jesus was faithful in this – in his life, but also to the point of death, for the purpose of – saving the world. So that the world might have a way back to God. This, theologians say, is the wonderful exchange – God was humbled that we might be lifted up. God became poor that we might become rich. God came to us that we might come to God.

Oh, how phenomenal and convicting that this is what God is like! One scholar named Jurgen Multmann, in his book The Crucified God, said this:

God is not greater than he is in this humiliation. God is not more glorious than he is in this self-surrender. God is not more powerful than he is in this helplessness. God is not more divine than he is in this humanity. The wonderful exchange.

Three reasons this is important for us:

  • First: We should feel loved by God. As always, we are the disciples in this story and we can know that Jesus washes our feet, no matter attitude or what posture or what mindset we bring to the table. Let this sink in: the God of the Universe gets down on hands and knees and in a posture of wanting to love and serve you, washes your feet. Your feet caked in manure and arrogance, covered in dust and shame, Jesus washes your feet. God so loved the world, that no matter how dirty your feet are, God sent his only son to wash your feet and to die for you. In the Words of Charles Wesley, “Amazing Love, how can it be? That you, my Lord, should die for me?” We should feel deeply loved by God as we ponder this Scripture.
  • Second: This passage shows us what genuine Christian community should look like. That’s the context for this letter after all, right? Paul writing to a community of Christians, reminding them of the way things are supposed to work. This community’s foundation is Christ, Paul says, and it’s bedrock is real, genuine humility. The world is marked by communities and structures that clamor for power and authority and celebrity and followers. But that is not how Christian community works. Our community is marked by Christ and ought to reflect Christ’s humility in taking on flesh and living among us.
  • Last – A Personal Challenge – where do you need to be more of a foot washer? Where are you being called to let go of your pride and humble yourself? Where are you clamoring for power? If we let this passage really challenge us, we can see that this is hard work.
    • It’s easy to be humble with the crowds. It’s hard to wash the feet of your fellow disciple.
    • It’s easy to show humility with your acquaintances. It’s hard to show humility with your family.
    • Its easy to be humble with the people on your side. It’s hard to be humble with people on the other side.
    • It’s easy to fill your time serving others. It’s hard to remember that its not about you.

What we believe about God helps us know how to act. Orthodoxy informs orthopraxis. Meditating on Christ, meditating on this hymn, praying this prayer, reading this gospel should always lead us to transformation.  So how will you let this Christ hymn transform us?

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was[a] in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
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,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.                                Philippians 2:1-11

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