A Comforting Confession

Passage: Philippians 2:5-11

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.
9 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.

One of the guest lecturers while I was in theology school, a minister famous for his effective preaching, memorably asserted, “Preaching is either confession, or it’s arrogance, or both.” Either we open up our own lives and share how faith has been worked out in our own story, or we think others need to be informed about the great truths we’ve gleaned for the betterment of their lives, what some folks just call “meddlin’”. Or maybe, even at its best, preaching is some of both. Recently the validity of this statement has been born out in the process of my writing devotionals. This lectionary passage selected for the last week in Lent has left me feeling more confessional than most.

Maybe it rings true to you and maybe it doesn’t, but for me life is all about relationships. While I love music, enjoy exercising, watching British detective dramas with Michelle, and working in the yard, these are more like the decorations or novel patterns sewn onto the fabric of my life, which is the relationships I have with those I love. I believe this to be true for all persons, Christian or other. For me, no matter how wealthy, successful, learned, or skilled we are, without the relationships which connect and bind us to others, life has little meaning.

Consistent with this assertion is my belief that Christian faith is also primarily concerned with how we live our lives in relationship, how we form more of these connections, how we can make them deeper, more meaningful and life-giving, and how we can create a place for others to have that same opportunity. “The way” that Jesus revealed through his preaching and living, is focused on how we can create a community of folks whose interactions are shaped and informed by love, a kingdom of God on earth, as it already is in heaven. In his response to the question about what was the most important commandment, Jesus gave this brief summary of his good news: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Life is about our relationship to God, our relationships with others – Jesus has summarized it as simply as that.

The “life in Christ” which Paul outlined in his writings is also primarily concerned about living in community. While giving us wonderful insights into sorting out our individual issues, Paul’s letters were aimed at binding churches together into the “body of Christ”. Paul’s chief concern was building communities of believers in which all individuals may celebrate their specific gifts, but realize that those are subordinate to the service and benefit of the collective whole.

In light of these affirmations, this passage, as much as any in scripture, comforts me and confirms my faith. What it tells me is both simple and profound. The God who created the heavens and the earth, who scattered a hundred billion billion stars and their planetary systems into the universe, who gave rise to the myriad life forms inhabiting just this one planet (who knows how many others?), this God chose to come to earth to relate with me and all persons, not in God’s strength or power, but in the vulnerable and accessible form of God’s humanity. “Jesus … 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.” Not only did God take on our flesh in Jesus, but let himself be brought to the lowest point in human experience, so that he might enable relationship with any of us. Jesus’ willingness to accept abandonment by those to whom he had opened up his life, his rejection by those he had come to save, his death among criminals, was so that the weakest, the vilest, the most broken among us might feel comfortable in God’s presence.

Moreover, to declare that this is God’s essential identity, revealed to us in a human life that we could comprehend, that this is how God most fundamentally wants to interact with us, is the most reassuring and encouraging news I could hope to receive. If the primary revelation of God’s identity had been God’s strength, if we were cowed by God’s authority, how would there have been hope of real relationship? This truth not only enables my relationship with God, but guides all my relationships with others, as well. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” For what characterizes the deepest unions we form with those we love? Openness, humility, honesty, equality.

In this time of great fear and uncertainty, with ourselves and those we love feeling so vulnerable, I find this passage to be incredibly comforting. It reminds me of God’s great love for us all. It demonstrates God’s connectedness with our difficulties and distress, as one acquainted with suffering and sorrow through Jesus. It helps us remember that God’s intent for us is joy and peace, rather than the anxiety and harm many of us are experiencing.

The final affirmation of this passage is most striking. It is not in spite of this weakness, this humility, this brokenness, which Jesus shares in common with humanity, that he is elevated, to be revered and praised; rather, it is exactly because of it. This is the great paradox, that in his utter humanity, he is most divine! “Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 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.” This is the image of God in which we were created, that each of us may still embrace.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for coming to us in a way that we could understand and to which we can relate. Thank you for venturing all the way to where we exist, so that we could truly know you. Grant that we might discover ways to hold firm in this knowledge, such that we might find peace and comfort during times of difficulty and distress. Amen.

Some music for reflection:

  • The Swan by Camille Saint-Saëns, performed by Yo-Yo Ma
  • Laudate Dominum sung by boy soprano Aksel Rykkvin (13 years)

Translation of song’s text:

Praise the Lord, all nations;
Praise Him, all people.
For He has bestowed
His mercy upon us,
And the truth of the Lord endures forever.

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