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"From the Pulpit" - March 23, 2024

"From the Pulpit" - reflections on the weekly texts, from Pastor Greg at Living Lord Lutheran Church, Vero Beach, FL

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,

8he 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.   Philippians 2:5-11

It's All About the Gap

OK.  Go ahead, grab your bible.  I'll wait for you to go and get it.  (sound of foot tapping while I wait...)

Now, blow the dust off of it - you know you haven't read it in a while.  Turn to the New Testament - Philippians.  It's near the back of your bible, right after Ephesians.

It's one of the most powerful letters of St. Paul, written to a group of little churches (not big buildings like we think of them, but small gatherings of people new to the Christian faith.)  Think of them more as little gatherings of neighbors. And Paul is writing this letter from...wait for it...prison.  And not a minimum security prison that we might think of today, but a horrible, dirty prison. 

Now that you've found Philippians, turn to Chapter 4, verses 5-11.  This is the reading for this Sunday - Palm Sunday.  It's the same 2nd reading for each of the three years of the church's three year reading cycle.  

Now, what's the first thing you notice?  The text is center justified, right?  I"m sure it is in your bible, just like it is in mine. What does this mean? Why did the printer use center justification for this particular text?  The answer is that it is actually a poem or a song. Meant to be sung. O, not like a Frank Sinatra song, or a Beatles song.  But it is poetry.  St. Paul is writing a letter from prison, and in it, he includes to his readers, a poem. A song. Think about that.  There are loads of them in the Psalms. Watch for them as we read our Psalms from week to week.

And then, you'll notice something else. A gap between verses 8 and 9.  Just a printing error?  Why is there a gap between these sets of verses here?  If you read closely verses 6-8, what do you hear? Paul is describing Jesus.  Not in terms of his divinity, but in terms of his humanity.  He "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness." And then, "being born in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross."  Not the description of a king, is it?  Not the description of someone who is to be worshiped.  

And then, the gap.

Notice the very first word in v. 9. "THEREFORE".  And read these 3 verses. "God almighty has exalted him, and gave him the name that is above every name."  And in hearing that name, Paul says, "every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth."  Doesn't leave much room for anywhere else, does it? And he adds that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.  Things turn on the gap. When we see a gap like this in Scripture, it means often that something is going from really bad, to really good. And indeed, that's what Paul is saying here in his letter.

The gap here changes everything. We hear Paul speak of Jesus' being born in human likeness in the first part of our reading, and all that goes with being human. And then, the good news comes after the gap.  God exalts Jesus above all names, above all things in heaven and on earth.  The good news.  Jesus came to be obedient to the Father in heaven, even to the point of suffering death - death on a cross, for our sake.  This is the Christian message, sisters and brothers in Christ. Jesus is born, suffers, and dies, and is lifted up by God the Father, to atone for our humanity.  The ultimate sacrificial act of love and grace.

And in some way, we practice this same "gap" thing as we gather at worship, facing the cross, confessing our sins.  Speaking of our need for a savior. And after we do this, then, the gap. We say ""Amen". And the Presiding MInister faces the congregation, and although he or she doesn't actually say it, although some do, comes to the "Therefore" moment. Therefore, the Presiding MInister might say, "in the mercy of Almighty God, I declare to you the entire forgiveness..." The gap between our confessing our human frailty and our need of grace, and the good news of announcing God's forgiveness, of "all your sins", in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

So, there's a lot in the "gaps" in Scripture.  Next time you find yourself reading your bible, when you notice a gap between the verses, it's probably a break between something "bad" and something "good", like God acting in the world.  It's all about the gap!  Amen.

"Were You There When They Crucified My Lord" - thought you might enjoy this rendition from Johnny Cash and backup singers.


1.  Palm Sunday - This Sunday is Palm Sunday.  We'll begin outside the church and process in, re-enacting this glorious procession where Jesus enters Jerusalem. In Mark's account of this procession, he uses the word "leafy branches", and not palm leaves, indicating that it's likely that folks who attended this procession would have used whatever kind of "branch" they had access to - palms or otherwise.  Maybe at our next Palm Sunday where we again read Mark's gospel, we'll encourage all of us to bring a branch from our own yard, in addition to any palm leaves we have here at the church. 

Bulletin for Sunday below


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