Scripture: Philippians 2:1-11
There are a lot of challenges that come with setting off on one’s own after high school or as a young 20-something. There is a lot that we just do not get taught in schools and there are a lot of life lessons to figure out fairly quickly when first starting out on our own. Of all the those challenges that young people there is one that is more frustrating, anger inducing, and soul crushing than all of the others. That is putting together flatbox furniture. Maybe you are fortunate enough to have never experienced this special kind of torture to know what I am talking about. Flatbox furniture, perhaps made most famous by IKEA, comes in a flatbox and has to be fully assembled. This furniture that is full of particle board has one redeeming virtue, and that is it is cheap. Often time this kind of furniture will advertise “no extra tools required”. All this means is that you are looking forward to at least three infuriating hours of dropping the included Alan wrench every thirty seconds. What makes putting this furniture, whether it is a bookcase, desk, or dresser together so frustrating are the blasted instructions. They never, ever actually explain how to do anything they show pictures, very undetailed pictures that often require a judgment call of some sort about what this picture is trying to display. Of course unless you are a wizard or HGTV host you will inevitably guess wrong. Plus even when these pictures do seem clear enough, something goes wrong. It always does. The pre-drilled starter hole the screw was supposed to go in is not quite deep enough or big enough, The particle board that is supposed to fit perfectly is just a millimeter too big or that blasted cambolt will not stay in place long enough to be tightened, because apparently the designers drew these instructions in a place where gravity does not exist. It is such a frustrating experience. There was one time Abigail and I had a bench that was this kind of furniture. We had not yet put it together, and as luck would have it the church needed a bench to decorate for VBS. We hauled it over, and a husband and wife team, who had been married for twenty plus years, took it on to assemble the bench and finish the decorations. The next day, the first day of VBS, I went to one of them to thank them for putting the bench together. He looked at me with a long, defeated sigh and asked, “How long have you been married?” Confused, I answered “three years.” He then replied with a tone of absolute certainty, “you are welcome, because your marriage probably would not have survived putting that thing together.”
What makes putting that furniture together so frustrating are those instructions. If they were more detailed or explained better it would be so much easier. One of my favorite youth group lessons involved pointing out the importance of instructions. We would play a game where the goal was to make paper boats that could stand up to a Ping-Pong ball bombardment. I would divide the youth into groups. One group I would just show them a picture of a paper boat, and they would have to figure out. Another I would give IKEA like picture instructions to and they would have to follow them as best they could. To a third, I would give a completed boat and let them try to reverse engineer it. Finally to the last group I would sit down with them and walk them through step by step how to build a paper boat, answering any questions they had and re-showing them steps as necessary. As you can imagine, this last group always had the best constructed boats. Reading instructions is one thing, but being shown and given an example to follow is always more effective when it comes to doing something. That terrible flatbox furniture would be so much easier to assemble if instead of coming with instructions that consisted of just pictures they came with a video that had someone walk through what to do. When it comes to our faith and living out our faith in a God-honoring way that always involved making the right decisions, we might wish we had an instruction manual. I suppose one could argue we do in the form of the bible, but in our everyday life it feels like we run into situations that are not quite covered by the Ten Commandments. Fortunately, we also have an example set for us to follow by Jesus Christ. Jesus showed us how to live a full life of love-love for God and love for others. It is true that we do not have the same opportunity literally follow behind Jesus like his first disciples did, but as we strive to be more like Christ we will begin to follow his example.
This morning’s scripture give us a lot of the example that Jesus left us. In fact, verse 5 even urges us to “have the same mindset of Christ Jesus”. This morning’s scripture is one of my favorite in the bible. One of the reasons for this is because I love history, and verses 6-11, are a special piece of history. Most Bible Scholars think that in this passage Paul is quoting an ancient Christian hymn. These words (in Greek) are one of the songs that the first generation of Christians sang. This is part of how they worshipped and when I read it I can just feel the history. This old hymn also contains some eternal truth. Have you ever considered what life was like for Jesus? Singer/song writer Todd Agnew has wondered this, and he wrote a song called Did you know? Where he ask Jesus several questions. He sings, “What was your life like? Did your cross cast it shadow over your cradle? Did you know? Did you shudder each time your hammer struck a nail?” I do not think we can possibly begin to fathom how much Jesus gave up for us. We cannot begin to get to how much he loves us, in order to sacrifice so much. This morning’s scripture tells that Christ was in very nature God. Jesus did not need us, he did not need to suffer on our behalf, he did not have to come to earth-but he did. As verse 8 tells us, he came out of obedience to God the Father. The love Jesus has for God the Father and the love they both have for us led Jesus to sacrifice everything on our behalf. As this old song says in verse 7 “he made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.” In his life, in his teachings, and ultimately in his death and resurrection Jesus gives us an example to follow. The example that Jesus gives us is to sacrifice and serve others out of love.
The first part of this morning scripture gives us some very practical ways we go about doing that. We follow the example of Jesus of sacrificing and serving out of love when we do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. We follow the example of Jesus of sacrificing and serving out of love when in humility we value other above ourselves. We follow the example of Jesus when we do not look to own interest but we each look to the interest of others. We follow the example of Jesus when we are like minded, when we all seek to love like Jesus, and when we hold each other up to it. When it comes to following the example of Christ this is our instruction booklet, these are the steps we are supposed to follow.
This clearly leads to the question, how do we go about doing those things? The answer is both easy and seemingly impossible. Just do it. There are no seven keys, no five steps, and no three points to loving others like Jesus. We just do it. If we are being perfectly honest with ourselves, we know what to do. We may not be very good at it, but we know what it means to do nothing out of selfish ambition. We understand the theory behind looking to the interest of others and not our own. We may not practice it as well as we would like, but we are familiar with the concept of serving others out of love. We need to just do it. So will you? Will you have the mindset of Christ and follow his example of sacrificing for and serving others out of love?
If most of you are like me, then you probably answered that question with the same phrase I did. “I’ll try.” I know in youth ministry, on retreats or other high impact times I would ask questions like that one, and “I’ll try” was always the most popular response. Brothers and sisters in Christ when it comes to our faith we need to stop trying and start doing. I am reminded of a saying from one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century. This person is of course Yoda, the little green guy from Star Wars. In the Empire Strikes Back he says, “Do or do not, there is no try.” We need to eliminate “I’ll try” from our faith vocabulary. Canadian Pastor Carey Nieuwhof writes about the phrase “I’ll try “usually means you don’t. Think about it: when someone tells you they’ll try to get something done you likely run it through a translation filter that tells you they might not get it done. . .Saying you’ll try leave you with an out. And often under that out is fear or lack of forethought or even self centredness. Why leave yourself with an out? Just commit.” Even Jesus said, “let your yes be yes and your no be no.” When it comes to having the very mindset of Christ Jesus, when it comes to following the example that he set for us, when it comes to being his disciples we are all in or all out. We commit or we don’t. We do or we do not.
Often we believe “I’ll try” and give ourselves an out because we are afraid of failure. We know what it means to follow the example of Jesus, but we also know our own limitations. We know our flaws, our selfishness, and the ways we fall short. When we resign ourselves to just trying we have already decided that we are most likely not going to succeed. Jesus says “to be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” he also “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death-even death on a cross.” That is the standard Jesus set. This is where the bar is at. Given that high of a mark, of course, we are going to fail! We are not going to make it 100% of the time. In our faith, when it comes to following Jesus we need to stop being afraid of falling short and just go for it.
I wish I could claim credit for it, but I was quoting a Batman movie. About a year ago, I was at a park with Connor. He was running down a hill and he fell. Now he was fine and not really hurt but he wanted me to pick him up. Instead I took a knee next to him and I asked, “Connor do you know why we fall?” His quasi-fake tears stopped because he was not expecting a question. He replied, “No why?” I answered: “So we can learn how to pick ourselves up.” In our faith, more specifically in how our faith touches every aspect our lives it should be the same way. We should seek to have the very mindset of Christ in everything we do. In our jobs, in our social circles, in our families, we should seek to be as much like Christ as possible. We do not try to be like Christ . . .we be like Christ, and when we fail we learn how to pick ourselves up. The good news, the reason for great joy, is for those times when we fall flat on our face, those times when we just do not have the strength to get up on our own, God is right there for us. Jesus promised that “he will be with us until the very end of the age.” When we fall short in our actions God will be there to forgive, to comfort, to encourage, and ultimately to strengthen and embolden so that we can do again.
A final example is professional baseball. The single most consistent and greatest hitter to ever play the game is Ty Cobb. He has the highest career batting average in history. Over the course of 24 seasons he maintained an amazing .366 batting average. For those of you who are not baseball fans a respectable batting average is .250 and anything over .350 is a great batting average. Ty Cobb was great for his entire career. However, for those of you not familiar with baseball you may not be familiar with what a .366 batting average really means. That is a percentage. Another way to say it is that Ty Cobb only got on base by hitting the ball 36% of the time he was at bat. Nearly two out of every three times he was at bat he got out. Professional baseball may be the only profession in the world where you can fail at your job two out of every three attempts and still be considered one of the greatest to ever live. Yet a baseball player misses 100% of the pitches they do not swing at, and in the same way in our faith we need to swing away. We need to stop saying “I’ll try” and we need to go for the homerun. Perhaps you need to spend more time in prayer and personal devotion with the scripture, perhaps you need to walk across the room and invite a neighbor or co-worker for church, perhaps you need to call that person who once wounded you and offer forgiveness. We all have something that we know we need to do to better follow the example of Jesus. It’s time to do it.
When it comes to having the mindset of Jesus, when it comes to following his example it is do or do not. There is no middle ground, there is no try. May we do and for those times we fail and end up doing not, may we seek God’s guidance and help, but may we also seek help from each other. As a faith family, may we not kick each other for falling short but may we offer our support and help each other as we grown in faith together. May we choose as a church to do. May we choose to do what it takes to love others. May we choose to do what it takes to be the hands and feet of Christ. May we choose what it takes to make and nurture disciples. When it comes to being faithful followers of Jesus, may we just do it.