The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s017e11 Amberley  Palm Sunday  17/4/2011

"he emptied himself"  Philippians 2.7

In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.   (Fr Jim Cotter

When people come bringing their children for baptism, I talk about all the wonderful things in the church and ask, what is the most sacred thing in the building.  Some evangelicals will say the bible, the cross behind the altar, the pulpit or font.   High Church Anglicans might say the Altar or the aumbry where the blessed sacrament is reserved.   Some less high church Anglicans might say the kneelers.   Some charismatics might point to the overhead projector screen.   Musicians might point to the organ.   Some deluded people might even suggest the vicar! :-)   But of course, the most sacred thing in this building, is you and I, as we are.

Again and again I say that time and again throughout scripture when people meet the Almighty they fall on their faces, and each and every time God lifts them to their feet and gives them a job to do.   God restores our primal dignity as human beings, and those things that we believe are uniquely human: to stand on our own two feet (rather than grovel before the Almighty) and to think, reason and choose for ourselves (rather than just comply with divine directives).  

Just as Jesus did not die for bible, cross, pulpit, font, altar, aumbry, kneelers, overhead projector screens, organ or vicar; Jesus did not die for our theology.   Jesus died for us,   You and I are more sacred than the theology we espouse.   If it seems the building or it’s contents eclipse the sacredness of humanity, whether inside the Church or out, then this is wrong.   If it seems the scripture or the creeds eclipse the sacredness of humanity, whether they believe or not, then again this is wrong.

The clash that resulted in Jesus being killed on that cross, was not about who Jesus was, but how sacred people, other than the religious, were and are.   Those who had Jesus killed had a theology which supposedly made them more special in the eyes of God than other people.  They were more sacred that other people and it was blasphemy to them that Jesus, by associating with them, that people other than them were just as sacred as they considered themselves to be.

It was this theology of separateness that kills God.   The very word ‘Pharisee’ means ‘the separated’, and if we use our theology to separate ourselves off from others, we are using the name of Jesus to do precisely the opposite of what Jesus did, and this theology kills God just as effectively - or, in anticipation of Easter, as ineffectively. :-)

Our Anglican Communion is riven with divisions about who is right and who is wrong.   Even the very name ‘Anglican’ implies we are separate from others, somehow especially privileged.   And it has come to me particularly forcefully recently how that perception of privilege hurts others.   The ‘natural’ pre-eminence of the first-born son has throughout scripture been countered by God’s seeming preference for the younger son - from Cain and Abel to the two sons of the prodigal father in the parable Jesus told.

If we look at the Anglican Communion, it is quite clear that Jesus died for each and every member of the communion, whatever their theology.   It is equally obvious that each and every person in the communion is biblically and theologically literate and equally sincere in their beliefs.   No one is being deliberately evil or sinful.  Each and every one believes that they are doing what God would have them do.   But despite all these similarities people believe different things.

Of course the same things can be equally said across the christian denominations, across the different faith traditions, indeed across the faith - non-faith divide.

It is plain that these various theologies have divided humanity, and therefore these theologies have become more sacred than the people for whom Jesus died.

It is along time since I have quoted the verses used before and after the administration of communion in the ‘1662’ service I was brought up using.   The Agnus Dei was sung just before the communion.  ‘O Lamb of God, who takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.   O Lamb of God, who takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.   O Lamb of God, who takest away the sin of the world, grant us thy peace.’   And just after communion, the Gloria in Excelsis was sung and part of this is: ‘O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.   Thou that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.   Thou that takest away the sins of the world, receive our prayer.’   Surely we must have got the message by now that the Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world, and not just the sin of white, straight,  baptised and communicant males, who believe particular doctrines.   It is repeated three times before we received communion and three times afterwards, so we can be in no doubt that the Lamb of God believes that others are just as sacred as us.  There can  be no doubt that all people are just as sacred as we who are receiving the sacrament, even those who are using Sunday morning to sleep in rather than come to church.

And I reflect that it is theology that talks so much about sin.   Which leads me to say that Jesus came to free us from the theology which ascribes sin to one and absolves the sin of another.    Jesus came to free all people from theologies of separateness, privilege and discrimination.

We, in the church, have learned our lessons so well.   We know how to read the bible, pray, come to church, give alms, praise the Lord and ascribe divinity to Jesus, but have we got the message of how sacred we as individuals are and how sacred others as individuals are?

You may recall that I said that God lifts people to their feet and gives them a job to do, and that job is to do likewise.   We are NOT to go around ‘putting people in their place’ but to affirm other people’s equal sacredness to ourselves - to ‘empty’ ourselves.   But as I say, again and again, their is precious little point in my doing this myself, when the church corporate is not seen doing likewise.   The church has got to be known as an institution that affirms the sacredness of all people and not just those within the church.   Sadly the perception that most people have of the church is that it is concerned to affirm the specialness of those who adhere to her teachings and live their lives in conformity to them and the rest can go to hell.

Jesus emptied himself because the message was not about his special status.   I have to empty myself because the message is not about me and my special status.   And the church has to empty herself, because the message is not about us and our special status.   The message is about the sacredness of all people.

During this sermon I quoted words from the service of Holy Communion that I used when I was young.  It is clear that this central part of the tradition affirms in no uncertain terms the sacredness of others.    Scripture also affirms the sacredness of others, for each and every Sunday I preach using the inspiration of the Bible.   I would contend that the Holy Spirit also affirms the sacredness of others.   But all these can also be misused - to promote separateness, privilege and discrimination.   In the end we have to choose - for this is an essential part of the primal God-given human dignity.   Do we live for ourselves or do we live for humanity at large?   We can delude ourselves that we are following Jesus when in fact we are living for ourselves and like minded individuals - just like those who had Jesus killed believed that they were doing what God wanted but were actually only defending their own positions of authority over others.  

I would contend that the fact that Jesus ‘emptied himself’ bids us, and more importantly the church, to do likewise.   Amen.

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