Worship Service for 27th September 2020
A prayer of praise and thanksgiving
I’m grateful, Lord God, that you love me and care for me,
that Jesus lived and died for me.
I’m grateful that you are interested in me,
even me with all my faults and failings.
Thank you for sharing my life and my living,
for being within my hopes and dreams.
Thank you for giving me purpose and meaning.
Thank you for showing me how to live a life of goodness and truth, a life of caring and sharing.
Thank you for your generosity and abundance
even if I fail to see it.
Thank you, God, for being you
and thank you for making me, me.
Read Philippians 2.1-13
Sermon by Rev Peter Lyth
Most of us like to sing hymns or hear them. Every Christmas, Christmas hymns (that, of course we refer to as carols) are sung and even those outside the church enjoy carol singers. Some will attend the festival of nine lessons and carols in many churches. At other times of the year, many other hymns come into play. There are those that are evocative of weddings such as “Love Divine” and others that pay respects to loved ones that we have lost – “Abide with me” is a favourite. If you look at Amazon, there are many compilations of hymns available on CD and download, some of them performed by famous ensembles such as the Huddersfield Choral Society. Then, of course there is the TV programme “Songs of Praise”.
This is, of course somewhat poignant as we are prohibited from singing hymns in church at the moment due to Covid-19 restrictions.
The singing of hymns serves many functions. There is, of course the music – many hymns can be sung to more than one tune and many of us will have an opinion as to which is best. In my mind there is only one tune for the hymn “And can it be” and that is Sagina. The jury is out for “All Hail the power of Jesus’ name” as to whether “Diadem” or “Miles Lane” is better. Many hymns such as the two I have just mentioned give the opportunity for a good sing and this can lead to a profoundly spiritual experience.
But when choosing hymns for a service, a major reason is the words. Some express praise for God. Others give thanks and many act as prayers. Some are scriptural. Many churches in the olden times set psalms to music (metrical psalms) and many of our hymns today are paraphrases of these psalms. Psalm 23 becomes “The King of Love my Shepherd is” for example. Yet others are there to reinforce what we believe about God or Jesus. They are, in effect like a creed. They remind us of what the church is all about, who Jesus is and the significance of God in our lives.
Most of the hymns in our hymn books go back 300 years at the most. But in our reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians there is a hymn that goes back nearly 2,000 years. It is an early statement about what they believed about Jesus at the time.
It is in the middle of the reading - before that, the Philippians are told, “be of one mind, having the same love” and later, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility, regard others as better than yourselves”. Paul then goes on to tell them that they should look to the interests of others rather than themselves before launching into the example set by this early hymn, which was probably recited or sung by this early church.
This hymn tells of a complete inversion of earthly values, starting with what Jesus did on earth before outlining God’s response.
Paul tells us that this is what to aspire to. So how does it work?
The first thing is that Jesus sets out with the authority and status of God. Those who are status minded would think that would be something to be aspired to – but yet the opposite happens! In a statement that has echoes of the temptations in the wilderness, Jesus does not exploit this power and status, but instead eschews it and, to use the phrase that appears in many translations, “empties himself”. This rather odd statement has a theological term, Kenosis. According to the Oxford English dictionary, Kenosis means, “the renunciation of the divine nature, at least in part, by Christ in the Incarnation”. So, Jesus loses the divine powers, the status that comes with them in order to be fully human, indeed more than that, to be a human so humble that he would serve others to the extent of going to the cross. So this raises an important question, “If we are to aspire to be Christ like, what is it that we need to empty ourselves of?”. In actual fact, Paul answers the question in the lead up to the hymn, as he tells his readers to empty themselves of selfish ambition and conceit. So maybe it’s the craving for status, perhaps it’s the seeking of power for its own sake, possibly the accumulation of wealth at the expense of others. All these things go against the nature of Christ.
But having “emptied himself” of this power and status and become much further, Jesus goes much further. The key word in the next bit is obedient. As the hymn goes, “became obedient to the point of death – even death upon a cross”. So we have humble and obedient. Jesus follows God’s purpose wherever it may lead, even when it leads to a death that is beyond comprehension.
So Paul is telling us that, not only do we have to empty ourselves of status and ambition, but we are to be obedient to God, wherever that leads.
The third thing is “Taking the very nature of a servant”. – Paul has told the Philippians, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others”. As a servant, Christ serves the needs of others. It would appear that the church in Philippi was full of competing interests as people jockeyed for position. However, this is not Christ-like. Instead, Paul tells us, we are to treat the needs of others as important, even if they over-ride our own.
This happens in all sorts of ways in our current lives. “Putting other needs before our own” may mean paying more for Fair-Trade products so that the producers of the goods can have fair wages and conditions. It may mean taking account of climate change which affects others in the short term more than ourselves. Within the church, we can often demand that services suit our specific wants rather than the wider community.
But we are the people that follow Christ – that confess “Jesus Christ is Lord”. And what better way of “bowing the knee” than imitating Christ himself?
This early hymn was used by Paul to remind his readers of the nature of Christ and a pattern for their living. Such a pattern is so different from the worldly values – yet transforms both us and the lives of those around us. Like many of the hymns that we are used to, even if we don’t sing them at the moment, it acts as a timely reminder of just what we believe.
Prayers of intercession
So often we want to pray for others.
But sometimes, God, we don’t know how.
We can’t remember names or numbers;
other issues weigh heavily on our hearts.
Thank goodness, God,
that you know what we mean when we pray.
So, we bring in this moment
those names and faces, images and desires for others
that pop in and out of our minds throughout the day:
the old lady at the bus stop who needed a hand up the step;
the young mum at the checkout trying to contain her four kids;
the chap up the road who’s lost his dog and is calling for him;
the teachers struggling to understand the needs of those in their class;
the doctors who wants to give us more time but who simply can’t;
the young families who can’t make ends meet;
those without work, who can’t find new jobs;
those helping people to find work, knowing it is an uphill struggle;
those with mental health issues and seeking help,
or who are afraid and ashamed to seek help,
or who are ignored and can’t get help.
So, God, for all these people and countless others,
we offer our prayers.
We know you do not need reminding,
but you do need willing workers – even us –
to help them know your love and have their needs met.
Hear our ramblings, O God.
Prayers © ROOTS for Churches Ltd 2002-2020. Reproduced with permission. www.rootsontheweb.com