Chapel Sermon from Missionary Orientation
The following sermon was preached on July 11, 2013 in the International Center Chapel by The Rev. Dr. Leopoldo (Leo) Sänchez, Associate Professor at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and director of the Center for Hispanic Studies. The text for the sermon is Philippians 2:5–11.
So are you “confessional” or “missional”? Or both? Claiming to be “missional” or “confessional,” or perhaps a “missional confessor” or a “confessional missionary,” really matters little—indeed, nothing—unless one confesses Jesus as Lord. Not just as the Lord in general, but as “my” Lord. This is, of course, easier said than done. For confessing Jesus as Lord means to live under His lordship. Not an easy thing to do, since there are many lords out there that call for our attention and entice us with power, a name for ourselves, a claim to some significance. Easier said than done. This is why St. Paul claims that…well…no one can do it!: “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” And so the Holy Spirit alone has brought us through the Gospel to confess Jesus as our Lord and live under His gracious lordship.
Confessing Jesus as “my” Lord amounts to more than words. It is a way of life where anything that is a lord in our hearts has to die so that Jesus alone may reign there with His Spirit. One thing is to say “Jesus is Lord.” Another matter is living under the lordship of Jesus. That, my friends, it’s tough business. If St. Paul thought life under the lordship of Jesus were easy, he would not have been writing letters to Christians to remind them what confessing Christ as Lord actually looked like in life. And this is the heart of the matter: You have to die every day to your own claims to lordship so that Jesus alone is Lord.
In God’s Word for today, St. Paul is reminding the Philippians, and us, to die to our own deluded attempts at greatness. No Christian is immune from the lure of power, especially those in positions of authority. Even missionaries are not immune from the attraction of greatness, as grand and even flowery stories about mission successes are shared with donors at home, or as we begin to feel we deserve to have more things because of the special works or sacrifices we are making away from our homes. Yes, the attraction to make something of ourselves, to make a name for ourselves because of our great confession or our great mission, is just too powerful.
Well, as you get ready to go to your work, all of that stuff has to die. Any ambition, significance you may want to attach to yourself or your work, and self-interest of any kind gets nailed to the cross right now and every day. Let the missionary in us say: In all my thoughts, words, deeds, I must always decrease, so that the Lord Jesus may increase.
Mission is about His story, His sacrifice for us, and His lost and poor we are called to serve under His lordship, in His name.
But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Paul says: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Paul calls all of us to die to our claims to significance in order to make room for others, so that we may be less full of ourselves and fuller of Christ, so that we may be less self-serving and more self-giving. Paul calls this aspect of living under the lordship of Jesus having “the mind of Christ.” To embody in life the confession, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ is to have the mind, the attitude, the heart of Christ.
But how does one embody this confession in mission? Only by looking at the cross, by beholding Jesus, every day. There, on the cross, one learns to look away from one’s confession and mission, and to look to Christ alone, to His words, His mission, and His works for us. There, on that cross, the mind is shaped daily after Christ’s own way of life, where nothing is claimed for oneself and everything is given to another without getting any recognition in return. There, on that cross, one ceases to be a lord with a claim to greatness, and becomes a disciple and a humble servant.
On the cross, Jesus gives us His life as a gift to behold, a life shaped by no claims to power and greatness, but by service even unto death for our sake. Behold this Jesus! Behold His great power manifested through humble sacrifice on a shameful rugged cross. Behold His divine outpouring of love for you in the unassuming waters of life at the font. Taste His glorious self-giving for you in His body and blood in, with, and under insignificant bread and wine. Hear His wisdom unto salvation through mortal men who proclaim absolution, and through poor sinners as we are bold to forgive each other our trespasses as God forgives us our trespasses. Behold this Jesus, who comes to us humbly, unassuming, whose power comes to us under the veil of loving service. It is only by tasting the Lord’s power through His sacrificial love that we learn to impart such love and sacrifice to others.
You see, Christ does not exercise His power by claiming it, even though He has it all as the Lord of heaven and earth. Instead, Christ Jesus manifests His power by becoming our Servant. Through the cross, Christ redefines what lordship is. We learn that lordship is displaying whatever power we have been given not to make claims over others but by sacrificing for them. One lives under the lordship of Christ by dying to self in order to make room for the neighbor, by giving up seeking a name for oneself in order to worship the only name that counts, the name of Jesus alone. This divesting of one’s claims to greatness is what Paul calls having “the mind of Christ,” the mind of the Lord who, as Mark says in his Gospel, did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life for many.
Luther describes what it means to have the mind of Christ in one of his sermons on Phil. 2: “Service was, with him (i.e., Christ), something assumed for our benefit and as an example for us to follow, teaching us to act in like manner toward others, to disrobe ourselves of the appearance of divinity as he did.” What a great way of putting it: “To disrobe ourselves of the appearance of divinity.” Luther goes on to explain that Christ, who is God, disrobed himself, divested himself, of the form of God, of the “God attitude” as it were, in order to serve us. What His life means for our lives is evident. How much more then should we, seeing what Christ has done for us, divest ourselves of the “God attitude,” which we cannot even claim for ourselves, in order to serve the lost, the poor, the lonely, the widow, the infant, the alien, and all the needy in our midst! To serve others, Christ has given us not “the appearance of divinity,” but the form of His servanthood. That’s the right attitude, the right mind for us, as we approach every person and every task. The form of a servant: That’s what our Lord has given to us, all we have to work with as we meet our neighbor.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we go about the tasks God has given us to do in this life, let us die to any form of divinity. Let us lose any “God attitude” of power and significance we may want to claim for ourselves in our speech and deeds. As we go into the mission field God has given us, let us trust and confess Jesus alone as our Lord. Let us make not our name but His saving name alone count in our lives and ministries and thus among those whom we are called to serve, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.” Finally, let us behold Jesus as He invites us to taste and see His power through the cross, and let us ask His Spirit in our daily devotion to shape our minds to put on the form (the attitude) of a servant daily, as the Lord did for us.
Holy Spirit, You who have led us to confess Jesus as Lord,
Come to burn away our claims to lordship and greatness,
And by the Word and your gracious indwelling in us,
Shape in us daily the mind of Christ, our Lord,
whose power is made perfect through suffering,
and made manifest through service.
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