Empty Shelves to Empty Selves; Philippians 2:1-11

Sermon:        Empty Shelves to Empty Selves

Scripture:     Philippians 2:1-11

Preacher:      Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.

Location:      First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Date:             September 27, 2020

This morning we are picking up right where we left off last week in our reading of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi. Paul has just implored the Church to live a life worthy of the manner of the Good News of Christ Jesus. We learned that the way we do that is when we live in unity with one another in our faith community. Today, Paul picks up on the key to this living in unity. See if you can hear and discover the key! Listen to the Word of the Lord!

Philippians 2.1-11

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, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but 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. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.[1]

Did you hear and discover the key to living in unity?

For the last six months, our nation, indeed the world, has gone through the throes of a trying pandemic. The virus has totally changed what “normal” means and all those things we took for granted all these years have become scarce or have changed. I mean really, who would have thought a pandemic would cause grocery shelves to go bare? People began hording everything from toilet paper to Isopropylalcohol to make hand sanitizer! Fights have broken out at COSTCO over the last jumbo pack of paper towels on the shelves!  The empty shelves were not just because of hoarding; they were a result of the virus affecting food supplies and production as well as distribution across the nation. It’s at this point that something began to happen: The emptier the shelves became the grumpier people began to act. 

Soon there began a new display of unhealthy behaviors from certain people in response to being in lock-down and having to adopt new ways of living together like wearing a mask; you know who I am talking about, don’t you?  Karen and Kevin.

What I am sure will become new definitions in our dictionaries for 2021 are the terms “Kevin” and “Karen” which have become memes on the internet and social media that describes a person’s behavior when they act all full of themselves that they do not show regard for other people’s feelings or safety. All the empty shelves and lockdown orders have created a subset of people that act as though they are self-entitled to anything they want or care to do. Emotional filters that are typically used collapse and any sort of mental governor that filters out verbal flatulence or gives pause to acting out with a typically unsocially-accepted behavior are abandoned. 

This season of empty seats and shelves is a warning to us that if we are not careful, we will go quickly into the direction of empty SELVES. In other words, we have experienced financial emptiness from lost work and income. We have experienced a loss in our need for community because we have been isolated from not only everyday routines but physically from those people we love and who give us support. We have experienced spiritual emptiness as our long-held traditions have had to adapt and change, we have been separated from others in worship, choir, and in studies, and in our spiritual fatigue we look heavenward and ask, “Lord…are You still there?” In the process, Our nation has experienced a profound loss of civitas and unity among her people. 

 All this loss thrown at us and the world has caused many folks to come to me and say, “Patrick, are we in time of the Apocalypse?”  My answer is, “I don’t know but I think not; I don’t believe God is done with giving us a chance to work things out.”  I do believe, however, we are in a lower-case ‘a’ apocalypse which are cycles in history that cause major upheavals in politics, economics, civics, technology, medicine, spirituality and the environment; these cyclic little “a” apocalypses force people to look and relate to God, neighbor and the world in a different way.[2]  In these little ‘a’ apocalypses our human tendency is to focus solely on how bad everything is. For Christians, we must resist the temptation to view apocalyptic times as moments where we stop living in a manner worthy of the Gospel because God’s Glory Bus is soon coming to take us to our heavenly home.  No, these whirly, swirly times are the sounding bell for Christ-followers to put on their muck boots and get to work. Christians are made for these apocalyptic moments because we are the ones God calls to who venture out into the world’s storminess and demonstrate to others what it means to live a life worthy of the gospel! Church, it’s up to you and me to show the world there’s a different way!

The Apostle Paul reminds us that in order for the Church (that’s you and me) to show the world a different way is not about making judgmental pronouncements on other people; no, the Apostle tells us in verse 5 that we are to have the same mind in ourselves that Jesus had. Our text’s beautiful hymn says it so profoundly: 

5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but 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…

The man Jesus made the decision to empty himself of the rights and privileges of being God in order to be the pioneer showing us how to live with one another in a manner where our lives demonstrate the Good News of the Gospel. Friends, it’s all about humility!

It’s important to be reminded that in his ancient Greco-Roman world, humility was not seen as a virtue but rather as a weakness. Professor Elizabeth Bounds writes concerning the first century, “In societies organized by fixed structures of status, those with power could and should have pride, while those without power had to settle for humility. Paul’s championing of humility, his insistence on “regard[ing] others as better than yourselves” was a countercultural move, echoing Jesus’ words that “the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matt. 20:16).”[3] Pride was seen as a virtue and humility was perceived more as a matter of life circumstances. So Jesus in Matthew, and Paul in our text today, are saying that in order to show the in-breaking of the reign of God, Christians and the Church are going to be required to live, work and play in cultural dissonance with the rest of the world.[4] And how do we accomplish that? The Church accomplishes this when it and her members live humbly.

Our English word for humble comes from the Latin root word we derive our term humus from which means the dirt and compost on the ground. To be a humble person, we have to empty ourselves of pride, bitterness, and entitlement and literally get down low on the ground. Humbleness leads to our serving each other, serving others in the world, and most importantly, serving God. This is what Jesus did in his life.  It’s what he and Paul are saying is vital for our individual lives and for our fellowshipped-community of the Church.  Humility is the engine that drives love.  Hear that one more time: Humility is the engine that drives love.

Humility is such a counter-cultural idea in our nation today; quite sadly pride has replaced it as a virtue.  So this week, our homework is to look at spiritually emptying ourselves in humility.  The words from 2 Chronicles 7:14 need to haunt us this week, Church. It reads,

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.[5]

Oh, how are nation, our communities, and our churches need to hear that! Remember, beloved, it’s only when we empty ourselves that we can get refilled and full of God. Jesus knew what he was talking about.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.

Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder

401 SE 15th Avenue

Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301

© 2020 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.

[1] New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] This concept is attributed to Michael J. Christensen, Ph.D., former Director for Doctoral Studies at Drew University

[3]Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship (Kindle Locations 10941-10945). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition 

[4] Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship (Kindle Locations 10912-10913). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

[5] New International Version.

About patrick h wrisley

A Mainline Presbyterian Orthodox Evangelical Socially Minded Prophetic Contemplative Preacher sharing the Winsome Story of Christ as I try to muddle through as a father, friend, head of staff, colleague, and disciple.
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