By Pastor Tracey Leslie
A Sermon on the image of God as Lord, inspired by Philippians 2:5-11 and John 13:1-7;12-17.
My husband and I enjoy winding down each evening with a little TV viewing: Britt, me and our dog, Mr. Wiggles all cuddled up on the loveseat in the living room. Netflix is a mainstay as we work our way through various series. Our latest is Schitt’s Creek. It is the story of the Rose family. The father, Johnny Rose, was a wildly successful owner of a video company and his wife was an actress. But life changes dramatically for the family when their business manager commits fraud and they lose all of their assets… with the exception of a town named Schitt’s Creek. Johnny purchased the town as a birthday gift for his son, David, as a joke several years prior. Apparently the IRS doesn’t consider the town to be an asset worth confiscating so the Rose family relocates to this humble little town where they live in two adjoining rooms in a rundown motel. It is a sitcom and the comedy revolves, primarily, around observing the Roses’ entitled attitudes bumping up against the townies’ simple ways. In an episode we watched this weekend, the mother, Moira, considers an abandoned mattress on the side of a road to be the final straw insulting her esthetic sensibilities. She barges into a town council meeting, stepping in front of a woman in a wheelchair who is attempting to explain to the council that the ramp into the post office is not properly graded and her wheelchair keeps sliding backwards and into the street. The town’s mayor advises that the woman is just not getting enough momentum. Moira then commandeers the council’s attention demanding a town cleanup and some greenery, the planting of flowers and boxwood trees. The mayor obliges her. Following the council meeting, one council member who is frequently annoyed by Moira’s antics, confesses to her, “Usually these council decisions, they take weeks.” “Oh, I won’t wait for anyone’s decision,” says Moira as she brags about how she once got Winnie Mandela to RSVP for an Artists Against Eczema event within the hour. The council member admits that Moira gets things done but counsels her that she should lower her expectations from boxwoods to daisies. The episode concludes with Moira and Johnny calling the adult children out of their room to see the lovely boxwoods at the motel. The children, though, are unimpressed, noting to one another that the used condom on the edge of the parking lot still hasn’t been picked up.
Throughout August, our current sermon series is looking at some of the different names or images used to address or describe God in our Bible. By the way, be sure and also check out the artwork displayed in the GREAT Room to accompany this sermon series. It is the hope of your pastors that this series will spark your imagination and inspire you to think more deeply about your experience of God, your relationship with God, and the way YOU choose to address God.
Last week, I preached on God as “mother.” God as mother or father are images drawn from our own human experiences. As I mentioned last Sunday, our images or names for God often draw upon our human experience as we seek to grasp an understanding of a God who transcends what we are able to see and hear and perceive with our physical senses.
But this morning’s “name” for God is different from the others in this series because this morning’s name – Lord – is found in scripture as God’s own self-designation.
Now, I think we all know the meaning of the title “lord” as one who exercises authority, power and control over others. Lords were common during English medieval feudalism. They exercised authority over certain land areas.
But the English word “lord” is our translation of the Greek word “kyrios.” Most of us, I imagine, remember the story of God appearing to Moses in the burning bush. As Moses tries to weasel his way out of God’s assignment to liberate the Israelites, among his stalling tactics is his request to know God’s name. [If] “they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them,” Moses pleads with God. And God replies, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” In Hebrew this is four letters: YHWH; a name too holy to be spoken out loud. And so, its spoken form is “Lord.” It is the name and description God takes for God’s self.
Later in Exodus, chapter 34, as the Lord presents the tablets of the commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai, God passes before Moses and proclaims: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…”
And so Lord is a name that God gives God’s self. It is the way God defines God’s self. But, here’s where it gets tricky. While our God is certainly capable of exercising power, authority and control over all of us, God’s Lordship looks nothing like our worldly concepts of authority, power or control.
For everyday folks like most of us, sitcoms like Schitt’s Creek are humorous, in part, because they are cathartic. They poke fun at those who “lord over others,” as Jesus says in the gospel of Mark. Those who, like Moira Rose, believe their “special-ness” entitles them to preferential treatment.
Yet this morning’s two scriptures from Philippians and the gospel of John reveal that the Lordship of our God – God’s power and authority – are revealed not through humiliating, manipulating or controlling others, but through the humbling of oneself.
Peter’s mind cannot even grasp the possibility that, if Jesus is who he has proclaimed himself to be, he would voluntarily perform a task as humiliating as washing his disciples’, or students’, feet. Washing feet was important in the ancient world; roads were dusty and sandals were open to all of that dust. At the time of Jesus, hosts did not usually wash the feet of their guests. Generally, water was made available for guests to wash their own feet and a very generous host would have a servant wash the guests’ feet. Yet Jesus, voluntarily, provides this gracious – yet (let’s be honest) gross – service to his disciples. And it really seems like nothing when you compare it to what he is about to do, as the hymn Paul quotes proclaims. Jesus’ ultimate act of Lordship, his ultimate humbling, is that of embracing death on a cross so that we might have a share in the life of God. In the gospel of John Jesus reminds his followers that no one takes his life from him. No one takes from Jesus what he is not ready to give. Jesus lays down his life of his own accord, his own choice. Jesus – who reminds us that he and the heavenly Father are one in the same – reveals that the Lordship of God is demonstrated through sacrifice and service, not manipulation or force.
Our prior sermon series, you might recall, was on leadership. I talked about leaders as “influencers.” But one of you reminded me that is a loaded term. Although Webster defines an “influencer” as “a person who inspires or guides the actions of others,” I was reminded that many, today, upon hearing that term, think of the Urban Dictionary’s definition: “Someone with a lack of intelligence and a lot of free time, followed by tons of idiots on some social network, usually instagram.” Ouch.
Friends: we have become a culture soured on power, influence and authority. Every day we see a thousand examples of those who abuse their authority. Yet power and influence are not bad things and they are very biblical ideas; they are ideas that have been culturally corrupted and are in need of liberation and understanding.
Sometime ago Pastor Monica shared with me about a church in the Chicago area. It no longer uses the title “Lord” for Jesus because many of its members are immigrants or low-income folks for whom that word “lord” is most often associated with “slum lords,” those who have financially exploited their vulnerable economic and social condition. I’d never thought of that before. But Lordship goes far beyond the term “lord” in the title “landlord.” We are, more generally, a culture where, even among Christians, lordship is badly misunderstood. Our gospel has become focused on personal liberty and individual rights rather than the Lordship of Jesus demonstrated through sacrifice and service. Yet, Jesus reminds his followers that the servants are not greater than their master; the students not greater than their teacher. “You also should do as I have done to you,” Jesus says.
Among the many names we might use for God, when we employ the title “Lord,” it defines our relationship. The mere use of the title implies that: 1) we submit ourselves to the authority of Jesus; and that 2) anytime we find ourselves in a position of authority or leadership or strength, we will exercise that authority and strength as Jesus did: by serving others even to so great a degree that we are willing to sacrifice for them.
Friends: addressing Jesus or God with the title “Lord” is not something we should take lightly, not something we should do without thought simply because it is what we were taught. The use of that name also defines us: what we do and say and how we live. Whether we are talking about wearing a mask, contributing financially to the church or another charity, outwitting opponents in an argument, or making irresponsible choices about our personal health that impact everyone else who pays into our insurance plan; as Americans we have the right to choose what we want to do; we have the right to personal choice. But, if we submit to the Lordship of Jesus, we surrender that personal choice. Instead, we strive to have the same mind in us as in Christ Jesus. We remind ourselves that we are no greater than our Lord and our Teacher who chose humility, service and sacrifice even unto death on a cross.
Freedom, power and influence are not bad things in and of themselves. In fact, they are good and useful. But, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “power without love is reckless and abusive” and “love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice.”
Siblings in Christ: the Lordship of Jesus was revealed through loving sacrifice and service. May this same mind be in you and me… in all of us.
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