This sermon was delivered by the Rev. Robert W. Wohlfort, Th.D., Transitional Pastor, at Our Savior Lutheran Church & Campus Ministry on Sunday, March 25th, Sunday of the Passion / Palm Sunday.
From his jail cell Paul includes this ancient Christian hymn in his letter to the church in Philippi…a congregation in Macedonia…a congregation whom he loved and it loved Paul:
Have this mind among yourselves that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness…
Think about this, “emptied himself…laid aside the prerogatives of being God…set them to the margins…became human (fully human), and took up the role and the position of servant.
Ponder this explosive decision! The action of God to divest God’s self of God’s power is so at odds with the cultures of then and now.
We have to feel that outrageousness and foolishness…”Empty self!?” This is not rational!
Yes! This is the Jesus we march with today. He enters…God enters… the holy city on a donkey…same animal he rode when he was in the womb of Mary. The emptied-out Messiah has arrived.
No doubt, through that same gate, the Roman legions have thundered through that same gate with chariots, swords, spears and shields…humiliating the people through their show of empire.
We are to live in the manner of the emptied-out Messiah…not the show of the empire: “Let the same mind be among yourselves as was in Christ Jesus…”
What does the emptied-out life look like? I mulled over this question and I continued to be driven back to an ongoing seminar of which I was a member 25 years ago. A powerful drama of how a grandmother emptied herself of reactivity in the service of her grandson that resulted in healing for the family.
But that story will wait for another time because of another march…a march of which I was a part yesterday in Concord and the DC March for Our Lives that riveted me via CNN yesterday afternoon. While I knew last week that I would be in Concord I was unprepared for how deeply moved and touched I would be on the plaza of our State House
Perhaps some of you marched from Concord High School to the State House Plaza yesterday and, hopefully, many of you tuned in to take in what happened in DC on Pennsylvania Avenue.
And on the Boston Common; in Chicago, New York, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Denver, Philadelphia and, of course, Parkland, Florida. Also, London, Berlin, Paris, Rome, Sydney, Majorca, Spain…to name just of a few of the 800 marches and rallies world wide.
All these gatherings occurred because of the horrible massacre 40 days ago…40…haunting, isn’t it? 40 years in the wilderness; 40 days of our Lord’s temptation; 40 days of Lent.
In Concord and in DC all the speakers were boys and girls in their teens. No speakers over age 20. Senator Maggie Hassan was part of the march in Concord and her presence was acknowledged and she did not speak…when has that ever happened?
So…what does yesterday have to do with today…Palm Sunday and the notion of an emptied-out Messiah and having that same mind and heart of Jesus?
I struggled with this question last night and I continue to wrestle while also convinced that I was a witness to Palm Saturday. It is vital to not lift up yesterday and mindlessly put a faith sticker to it. It is insufficient to baptize yesterday and imagine Jesus blessing it all.
What I saw, felt and experienced, through the teens that spoke…and did they speak and preach with eloquence and passion…what I witnessed brought me to tears because they have been emptied out. This is an entire generation of our children who have grown up in the years since the Columbine shooting in 1999. They have been emptied out of what most of us here took for granted: a school is a safe and good place to be; a neighborhood is a safe place to play.
They are subjected to active shooter drills in addition to the routine fire drills.
In Concord a high school junior lifted up the absurdity of a state law that prohibits her from driving a car between the hours of midnight and 4:00am while there is no law that blocks her from purchasing an assault type firearm!
Faced with the fact that 96 persons in our country die each day from gun violence (4 per hour…35,000 per year)…they refuse to accept that death toll as the price of living in this nation.
Some of these kids are setting aside…dare I say emptying themselves of…their plans of 41 days ago and taking on the cause of sensible gun ownership and regulations as their near term life’s work…with the blessing and support of their families. Some state that their work will be to push for their cohorts to register to vote when they become 18 and move into voting.
Two of the more prominent speakers from Parkland, Emma Gomez and David Hogg, have received death threats and vilification.
Emma, courageous beyond her years and tempered by seeing her friends bleeding, dying and wounded seems to have emptied herself of most of her fears, stating that she neither asked for nor wanted her present role and “I have no choice but to step up and do this.” No 18 year old should be placed in that position and I am painfully grateful that she is leading me and us forward.
I do not equate Emma with Jesus…yet there is a vital link. Neither wanted what came their way and both stepped forward. Life often turns in that direction. Sometimes that turn is soft, gentle and sweet. Often the turn is nothing short of awful.
For Emma and those with her, The NRA and its cohorts are shamelessly engaged in delegitimizing her. They are afraid.
For Jesus the corrupt Roman government in league with the corrupt religious leaders joined forces to humiliate and execute. The leaders bribed and lied. Jesus stares them down with a few words and silence. It appears that the emptied-out Messiah will go the way of all the self proclaimed and self-important saviors. And we know better…we know something they do not know.
So, my fellow followers of our emptied-out Messiah, I have a pastoral charge for you for this week:
-as you listen to the passion narrative that concludes our worship today listen for humanity at its worst;
-listen for raw power then and now as it seeks to crush compassion, love, justice and good;
-listen for how Jesus, the one ridiculed and supposedly vanquished, deals with the empty power of empire…then and now;
-listen to and be awed by our Lord’s genuine despair and his love;
-above all…do not beat up on your self about what is unfolding this week. This is not a week of heaping on guilt. It is a week of of taking into ourselves our Lenten journey with Jesus as laid out by Mark…a journey of following the emptied-out Messiah all the way…all the way through this week of service, loving, dining, washing, dying and then quiet…quiet before the resurrection storm of new life for our Lord and for us.
Walk with our Lord this week and return on Sunday for the completion of the story. Return to celebrate again who won this ongoing battle between empire and Jesus…between empire and those who choose to follow an emptied-out-Messiah. And…to empower our hope that all the Emmas of our time will vanquish the empire that seeks to demean and defeat them.