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Sermon for April 2, 2023 – Palm Sunday

Program Transcript

Speaking Of Life 5019 Always At Your Side
Michelle Fleming

When we’re faced with a difficult next step, whether it’s our health, our job, or our family situation, we often feel alone. How can we approach difficulties, including suffering, with courage and hope? We can look to our Elder Brother Jesus and how he entered into our suffering during Holy Week – enduring what none of us could.

Today is Palm Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday. While we typically focus on Jesus riding on a donkey’s colt and being welcomed with cries of “Hosanna!,” another important aspect of this day in the liturgical calendar is Jesus’ purpose as he entered Jerusalem. In fact, the word passion means “to suffer.”

Jesus was resolute and steadfast, knowing the suffering that lay ahead of him. We can learn more about his desire and the reason for his courage and hope by studying the suffering servant poems found in the book of Isaiah. Though these poems were written to encourage the Israelites in the Babylonian exile, we can see parallels with Jesus’ suffering during Holy Week. Today we’ll focus on the third poem in Isaiah 50:

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakenswakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.

Isaiah 50:4-9 (NRSV)

The first part of the poem shows us that not only did Jesus have his ear attuned to what God was saying, but he also took time to “encourage tired people.” In other words, Jesus noticed others around him were tired, maybe suffering, and in need of comfort and inspiration. Even though he knew what he was facing, Jesus used his “well-taught tongue” to help others. Let’s continue reading:

The Lord has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.

Isaiah 50:5-6 (NRSV)

Jesus knew his suffering was only part of a bigger story; it wasn’t the whole story. Notice that when he was taking the next difficult step, the poem doesn’t say he wasn’t afraid. It says that he did not turn backward, and did not hide his face from insults. This is the definition of courage: being afraid and yet taking the next right step. Where did Jesus’s courage come from? Let’s find the answer in the last few verses:

The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?

Isaiah 50:7-9a (NRSV)

As Jesus faced the events of Holy Week, we can learn from Isaiah’s third servant poem that the Lord God, never left his side. “Look!” Isaiah says. “It is the Lord God who helps me.” Jesus had courage and hope during the most difficult week of his human life because God never left his side.

Isaiah’s servant poems give us a behind-the-scenes look at the Son of God’s desire as he faced suffering beyond what we can imagine. We can understand how Jesus was sustained by God’s presence and endured the cross because his compassion compelled him to take on suffering and bring it to redemption.

When we face adversity ourselves, we can be assured the Lord God will be with us. Whether you’re facing difficulties, or in a peaceful place, may you be confident of the Father, Son, and Spirit’s constant presence right here, right now, always at your side.

I’m Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 31:9-16 · Isaiah 50:4-9a · Philippians 2:5-11 · Matthew 26:14-27:66

The theme for this week is having the mind of Christ, and on this Palm Sunday, we pause to consider the thoughts Jesus must have been thinking as he approached the events of Holy Week. Our call to worship in Psalm 31 finds the psalmist in sorrow and grief, yet confident God is aware of his suffering. Isaiah 50:4-9a is the third of four servant songs that speak about having hope and courage in the midst of suffering. In Matthew 26, we can read the story of Judas’s betrayal, the first Communion ritual, and Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Our sermon text is Philippians 2:5-11 where we’ll explore what having a mindset like Christ means for us.

Great Minds Think Alike

Philippians 2:5-11 NRSV

If you think back over your life, can you remember your best friend from high school or college? You know, someone who knew you inside and out and still liked you. You might have used sayings like “we’re on the same page” when you referred to your friendship. It may have meant you had similar interests, goals, or ways of seeing the world. The two of you were in sync, much like two gymnasts doing a routine or the figure skating couples you may have watched during the Olympics. When one of you came up with an idea that the other had also just thought of, you may have said something like this: “Great minds think alike.”

Today we’re going to study what was probably an early Christian hymn found in Philippians 2, and we’ll explore what verse 5 in this passage means when it suggests that we should have the same mind as Jesus. Let’s read Philippians 2:5-11. (Read Sermon Text)

Let’s set the context for the passage by looking to earlier verses in the letter to the Philippians.

  • There was concern about dissension among members: Paul talks about his concern regarding those “opponents” who are emphasizing circumcision and law keeping as a means of living righteously (Philippians 1:28, 3:2, 7-11, 18-19). It is Paul’s desire that the believers in Philippi are unified, “standing firm in one spirit” (Philippians 1:27 NRSV).
  • Unity doesn’t mean there won’t be differences of opinion: Paul understands human nature, and he urges the congregation to be united in love (Philippians 2:3-4). It is possible to disagree with another’s opinion and hold that tension in love, without attempting to persuade, manipulate, or change another’s mind. Melody Stanford Martin asks an important question in Psychology Today: “What would happen if instead of trying to change or control each other, we focus on seeing and understanding each other?” Martin suggests that when we “suspend our need to convert [or persuade someone], we make space to learn.” It’s in this space of learning that love exists.

Suspending our desire to change or control others requires a big dose of humility, and that starts with kenosis. Kenosis is a Greek word that means self-emptying, but it doesn’t mean we completely lose ourselves and become doormats. Let’s look at Jesus’s example as described in Philippians 2:5-11 to understand how our Triune God approaches the idea of kenosis.

The triune God and kenosis

Kenosis, or self-emptying, is the way the Father, Son, and Spirit live. Franciscan theologian and philosopher, Bonaventure, who lived in 1221-1274, talks about the relationship of the Trinity as a fountain full of love. The Father holds nothing back but empties into Jesus, the Son. Jesus then empties all into the Spirit, and the Spirit empties back into the Father, no withholding. The fountain represents the infinite love that is at the center of everything, and the Father, Son, and Spirit don’t fear emptying themselves completely because the fountain of love will never run dry.

We can see the self-emptying attitude in Jesus, his willingness to let go of meeting others’ expectations and cultural norms, and his gift of loving people where they are, without judgment (Philippians 2:6). Kenosis forms the central feature of the mind of Christ, and in the hymn in Philippians, Paul makes plain that everything Jesus did came from his self-emptying mindset. First, he became a human, emptying himself of his divine privilege and putting on our flesh (Philippians 2:7). By Jesus becoming fully human, humanity is bestowed with dignity and fellowship with the Divine. In everything he did during his thirty-three years on earth, Jesus descended, chose humility, and emptied himself of any rights or privileges, ultimately allowing himself to bear the hatred of the world by dying on a cross so that hatred could be dissolved in God’s love for their creation (Philippians 2:8).

Kenosis and us

Human beings are put off by the idea of emptying ourselves. First, Jesus’ teachings tell us that the way to winning is by losing, and that goes against cultural rules and expectations. But we can see it is true by observing Jesus’ life and interactions with people. Why does kenosis, having the mind of Christ, work?

  • It meets our deepest need. Emptying ourselves of our egotistic tendencies to be important, right, or perfect makes space for God in us. Our hearts long for deep communion and being at one with God, even as Jesus was of one mind and heart with God. What initially seems to be a great loss, giving up our own notions of rightness and perfection, becomes an opportunity to be filled with the Spirit of God.
  • It’s the path of transformation. Jesus did not avoid death. Instead, he transformed it into resurrection. If we don’t believe that infinite love is at the center, we will behave as if there isn’t enough. We will feel like we must protect ourselves, not trusting in our inherent worth as children of God. On the path of transformation, we must let go of our human shortcomings, guilt, and shame, as well as our biases that are rooted in our desire to be right or protect ourselves. By letting go, emptying ourselves of the weights that hold us hostage, we can find our truest selves, grounded in the steadfast, infinite love of God (Philippians 2:9-11).

Moving toward kenosis

Kenosis does not come naturally to us, but life presents opportunities for letting go, often through experiences of great love or great suffering. However, there are practices we can incorporate to make us aware of habitual thoughts and feelings that keep us stuck.

  • Contemplative (or centering) prayer: This practice of prayer doesn’t focus on a laundry list of wants or suggestions for God to act upon. Instead, contemplative or centering prayer incorporates silence and a focus on a chosen word or phrase that communicates your intention or consent to God’s presence. You rest in God’s presence, and when you notice your mind becoming distracted, you return to your chosen word or phrase.
  • Silence: Similar to centering prayer, silence allows you to focus on your breath and an openness to God’s nearness. Sitting in silence is not comfortable, but it affords an opportunity to notice the types of thoughts and feelings that arise, and then consider their truth and helpfulness.
  • Lectio Divina: The Latin phrase, “Lectio Divina,” refers to a close reading of scripture to notice what God might be saying to you. It is not a theological or doctrinal study, but a careful listening to what God wants us to know about ourselves and our relationship with God, not about anyone else. Though you can find helpful information online about Lectio Divina, the basic steps are as follows: 1) read the passage slowly, out loud if possible; 2) identify a word or phrase that catches your attention; 3) read the passage again slowly, perhaps from another translation; 4) identify how the passage or the word/phrase relates to your life right now and what feelings have arisen in your heart; 5) read the passage again and ask God, “What are you saying to me?” 6) Journal or sit quietly with what comes up.

Great minds do think alike, and Philippians 2:5-11 challenges us to develop the mind of Christ by understanding kenosis and how it can be part of our mindset, too. As we close, let’s read together a poem prayer written by Pastor Steve Garnaas-Holmes from the Unfolding Light website:


Your deepest humility and self-emptying
is not of rank or status or even suffering, but of love;
your greatest miracle is this:
that you loved the people who are impossible to love.

My Chief, my Beloved,
here is my salvation, and my calling.

I love you and entrust myself to you.
May your heart be in me,
that with all my life
I may thank you,
I may worship you,
I may follow you.

For Reference:

Living Hope w/ Mandy Smith W1

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April 2 – The Liturgy of the Passion
Philippians 2:5-11, “Kenosis”

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Program Transcript

Living Hope w/ Mandy Smith W1

Anthony: Let me read the first passage of the month. It’s Philippians 2:5-11. I’m reading from the New Revised Standard version. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for the liturgy of the passion on April the 2nd.

Let the same mind be in you that was 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, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Mandy, this is one of my favorite passages, the Christ hymn. This beautiful sweeping text that’s sometimes referred to as a kenosis passage. Kenosis being a self-emptying that we see in Jesus Christ.

Why should we be in awe of this kenosis reality of God revealed in Jesus Christ?

[00:06:45] Mandy: Yeah, you’re right. It’s a huge sweeping text and not only the concepts that it describes, but the poetry of it is just transcendent. And I guess that’s all we can do when there’s something that’s so beyond our understanding of God emptying himself to become like us.

Like how could we even wrap our minds around that? And sometimes poetry is the only thing we have to actually communicate. One plus one does not always equal two. We can’t have scientific language about this kind of thing. And so, to be transformed, to be swept away in the beauty of the poetry, I think is a part of what’s happening here.

But what a crazy thing. I think if we were going to invent a God, we would not invent a God who did that. That makes us really uncomfortable because if we were going to be God—if I was going to be God, I wouldn’t even think that was the way to do it.

I would assume being a God is always lording over everybody, and what a way that Jesus lords over us by serving us and emptying of all of that in order to become like us. And I confess that most of my Christian experience has been more about Jesus as God. And it’s only been in recent years that I’ve really been trying to embrace this possibility that Jesus was also human.

And I think I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be human by studying Jesus. I think he was more willing to be human than we often are, and I see it in this kind of kenosis. We see this kind of happening in some kind of galactic space, like at the beginning of some kind of science fiction movie or something of this emptying happening in a place where we can’t see and happening before Jesus was born.

But we see it in his daily experience as well, that the story of something like his temptations in the wilderness. I see him doing that, that he’s choosing once more not to go back to being God. I think that the enemy is actually saying, hey, don’t forget your God. You could feed yourself any time you like, you can make the stone into bread. Just be God again and then you won’t have any of these problems. You can make sure that everybody bows down and worships you. You have the power. Just do it.

And so, when I read those temptations, I hear Jesus refusing to give up his ordinary human limitation and to just keep following the Father one day at a time.

And in that I see lessons for my ordinary human limitations as well. So that’s one reason why this is one of my favorite passages.

[00:09:19] Anthony: He is the true human, and he shows us what it looks like to be human. And sometimes we want a superhuman God, not the God that we have. That’s what we received, the God that we have given to us in Jesus Christ.

And so, I want to ask you this, and this feels a bit like an unfair question because there’s so much gospel in this text, but if you were preaching this pericope to your congregation, what else would you herald?

[00:09:45] Mandy: Yeah, just this way that this is the way of Jesus and if we are following him, don’t be surprised if it’s the way that we are called into as well.

On a personal note, in probably in the last eight years or so, I’ve entered into a practice of emptying prayer simply because God has put me in some places that make me really anxious and that feel way over my head. And out of that anxiety, I’m tempted to just work harder and try to be God basically.

And the only thing I know to do, and I do this every single morning, I do this every time I feel overwhelmed—which is often—to instead of trying to fill myself up, being called to empty and say, Lord, I just confess all the ways I’m trying to fix this on my own, and all the ways I feel in over my head.

And that was all I thought I was doing. Like I just thought that’s what needs to happen in order to just minister more honestly, and not from anxiety. But if I’ve ever felt the feeling of the Holy Spirit, that’s when it’s come, and I’ve realized what I’m doing is emptying of my own power and control in order to be available for the Spirit that is already there.

Like, I think we often say, come Holy Spirit because we don’t feel the Holy Spirit. But that’s actually not what Scripture describes. Scripture describes a filling that we’ve already been given. And it’s lovely for us to say, come, to invite the Holy Spirit. But I think when we say that, the Holy Spirit is like, I’m already here. Will you just give me some more space?

It’s been crazy that there has been in that emptying prayer—and I actually have a video that I’ve created, pretty low budget one, but a guided prayer, kind of visualization prayer of emptying based on 2 Corinthians 4, that I’d be happy to share with you if you want to share it with folks, because it’s basically the prayer that I do.

When I’ve done that emptying prayer, without expecting it, finding myself with an idea or a passage of scripture that’s come to me, or some comfort or encouragement or courage that I’m realizing now that power was always available to me. That comfort and guidance was always available to me, but I was just too busy trying to fix everything myself.

And that feels like really good news to me that this is not only Jesus’ story. But it’s our story, that when we empty, it makes us available to the work of God in a way we may not have ever known.

[00:12:13] Anthony: And thanks be to God that he is trustworthy to fill us up. That there doesn’t need to be fear in the emptying of ourselves just as we see in Jesus Christ.

And yes, we’d love to have access to that low budget film of yours, on the emptying prayer. So we’ll include that in the show notes.

And just a final thought—we don’t have time to get into it—but in the close of this pericope, we see every knee bending, every tongue confessing. And it made me think of a quote I saw once from Frederick Buechner and he said, “The final secret, I think, is this: that the words, ‘You shall love your God’ become in the end less a command than a promise.”

That eventually we just step into the reality. Of course, we want to be with you for eternity when we come face to face with the Lord.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Have you ever considered how Jesus might have felt as he faced the events of Holy Week? How can considering this help us face difficulties in our own lives?
  • The passage in Isaiah refers to God’s presence “right here.” How does knowing God is with us “right here” help us face difficult situations? What insight does this idea of God’s presence “right here” give us about worrying, especially in light of Jesus’s admonition in Matthew 6:34?

From the sermon

  • Does the idea of kenosis or self-emptying seem scary or uncomfortable? Why or why not?
  • Have you ever participated in centering prayer, silence, or Lectio Divina as spiritual practices? If so, please share about your experience. If you haven’t, do any of the practices sound intriguing? Why?

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