Sermon preached by Revd. Duncan Strathie

Sunday 1 October, 8:00am, Trinity 16, Harvest Festival

What’s in a name?

Philippians 2:1-13
Imitating Christ’s Humility

2 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let 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.

Shining as Lights in the World

12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

One of the most important things for parents is the choice of the name for their new born. In the news last week it was reported that after Brexit no new Nigels have been registered in the UK and Olivia is now the most favoured girl’s name.

What does your name mean? My name, Duncan, is a Scots Gaelic name which means a warrior chieftain with dark brown hair!

In both Hebrew and Babylonian thought, it was believed that existence was wrapped inescapably with a name. It was believed that you did not exist without a name. A name reflected character and personality, one's essence. A name was given with great care and held significance for both the individual and the community in which the named lived.

In today’s text, we are met with the significance of another name, the name of Jesus which means ‘he who saves’.

So the question before us today is ‘What’s in a name?’

Scholars agree that in these verses Paul is quoting a hymn that would have been known to the Philippian Christians, but he does so in the context of urging the Philippians to move closer to unity.

Have you ever been part of a church that is disunited? It can be a very unsettling thing and turn somewhere you regard as being home into an unwelcoming place where those you previously regarded as friends seem to have turned against you.

I imagine that is what had happened in Philippi and that they had written to Paul asking for help and this letter to the Philippians is his response. I am so glad that we do not suffer from such things here in St Mary’s but unity is not a given, it’s not automatic, it’s something we have to consciously work at.

You are faithful members of this congregation and today, being the first Sunday of the month we will gather to share breakfast together after the service. I love the fact that we do this, it’s a great way of building up the church family and encouraging a sense of unity. The ten o’clock and six-thirty congregations have coffee and tea after their services and this has the same effect, but I prefer warm bread rolls!

I am thankful that as a church there is no in-fighting, we are generally heading in the same direction. That doesn’t mean that we are monochromatic and all believe exactly the same things, but it does mean that there is sufficient, grace, love, compassion and generosity for us all to get along with one another. Sadly not all churches are like this.

But, above all of these things, the one thing that unites us all is our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In this letter Paul makes that simple appeal to the Philippians to unite in Christ and follow his example.

In the original language, this passage from St Paul is filled with Greek words that themselves embody nuances of understanding. The words were chosen with care to weave together a wonderfully rich tapestry of meaning that English struggles to convey satisfactorily.

In concise phrases, the hymn sketches the entire mission of Jesus Christ, starting with his pre-existence (Philippians 2:6), continuing with his incarnation and life on earth (v.7), highlighting his death on the cross (v.8), and concluding with his exaltation and universal adoration (vv.9–11).

This mission is the example par excellence of the attitude that Paul endorses, and thus for communal harmony. It displays how Jesus went from the summit of divine glory to the lowest point of human suffering and death.

Paul paints a word picture that depicts Jesus as the One who empties himself of all claims to divine glory and honour to become a human being, not a human of high status and honour but a lowly servant of other human beings.

Paul writes a long sentence that builds to a crescendo:

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

God the Father gave to his son His own name: the name of ‘Lord’.

In Paul’s letter, he makes the astonishing claim that the one we call God and Lord is most perfectly revealed in the crucified one. The one who humbled himself and took the form of a slave, shows us who God is and how God acts.

God’s essential character is shown to be one of self-emptying love rather than self-promotion or grasping for power and glory. What’s in a name? Jesus, the one who saves, is God’s anointed one, the Messiah or Christ, and Lord of all.

In a time when there was little sensitivity toward gender differences, the fifth century Bishop of Campania, Paulinus of Nola wrote:

Out of love for that likeness, His son took on my limbs, was conceived and born of a virgin, bearing all the attributes of men, and though He is the Lord of all He became a servant to undertake in one body the burdens of all. He who dwelt on high took the likeness of a slave, though he was reigning as God with the likeness of God, in company with His regal Father. He took on the likeness of a slave, and destroyed that guilt by which man of old was a slave to punishment and death. Bearing the form of slave, the Lord became our flesh and restored His servant to freedom, so that through Christ’s plundering of the earthly Adam on the cross, my heavenly form might return to me.

As disciples of Jesus Christ we are called to follow a discipline. A disciple is simply someone who follows a discipline. I hope that as part of your discipline you set aside some space each day to spend with God, reflecting on life, seeking him in prayer and reading scripture.

Each day I say Morning Prayer. In the opening versicles and responses there is a line that has puzzled me for many years and I recently came to a new understanding of what it was about.

The line is ‘Let us pray with one heart and mind’. I have often wondered why we are not encouraged to pray with ‘one heart and one mind’. What is the significance of a single unified heart and mind?

The conclusion I have reached, and this may be only partial understanding, is that our minds know what is right and what we should do and that our heart is the place where our desires originate, be they healthy or not.

Praying with one heart and mind aligns our desires with our actions so that they become unified in purpose and don’t pull against each other.

Further digging around led me to discover that in the Jewish traditions, it is both the heart and the mind, working together, which is considered to be the seat of decision making.

If we pray to God and ask that through the working of the Holy Spirit our hearts and minds become one, not just within ourselves as individuals but also within our community, here at St Mary’s and across our benefice; it puts us in a stronger place in our walk of discipleship.

In our reading from Matthew, we are also invited to reflect on the relationship between our patterns of thinking and patterns of living. For the Philippians, ‘selfish ambition’ was perhaps more natural than humility. Certain patterns of thinking yield certain patterns of living.

But as Jesus’ parable points out (Matthew 21:28-32), affirmative responses alone are not praiseworthy as much as a life pattern that embodies them.

But that is not all. More than merely a moralistic lesson against hypocrisy, Philippians 2:1-13 invites hearers to reflect on Jesus Christ and to orient their lives around him. Not only is Christ an example, he embodies God’s will and work for humanity, and so deservedly is the object of our devotion.

The passage is not merely instructional, it is doxological. As Christians, we not only learn from this Jesus Christ, but we join all of creation in professing he ‘is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’.

In all of St Paul’s writings he wasn’t interested in just theology or using fine words and poetry. His writings always have a practical application. He wasn’t interested in knowledge for the sake of knowledge, it had to lead to something useful.

This part of the letter to the Philippians is no different. For Paul, any system of thought must become a way of life. The fact that Jesus has been given the name ‘Lord’ has an impact on the way those who follow him live their lives. That is to live in unity, and the highest thing we can do is to follow Jesus in community.

As Paul writes: ‘Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus’.

Lord. What’s in name?

Amen