Based on Philippians 2:1-11
The season of Lent officially begins tonight and in just a few minutes we will have the imposition of the ash as a reminder of our nature of being created by God from the dust of the earth. The ash is also a marker of our humbling ourselves before the majesty of God. In the Hebrew Bible we read of many instances where persons took off their usual clothes and wore sackcloth and either sat in ashes or put ashes on their heads as a sign of humility and repentance. Such is this season of Lent where we enter into a time where we are encouraged to self-reflect on our relationship with God and with each other. It may very well be that we need to repent of sins against our neighbors and against God. Thus, it is good to start this season with a strong dose of humility and an air of repentance.
Lent is also about putting our focus on the events in the life and ministry of Jesus which led to the drama of Holy Week. This is what some are doing in immersing themselves in coloring the “Stations of the Cross”. This is what we are all invited to do once the “Stations” are finished and placed around the Sanctuary. I hope that you will find that when you spend time in quiet focus on the events depicted in the pictures that you will gain a new appreciation and insight for what Jesus did for you and for all believers. An appreciation that Jesus had choices to make all along His ministry and especially as He “turned His face toward Jerusalem” and what became the final confrontation with the lost sheep (who were leaders) of the house of Israel.
You have heard the messages read from the minor prophet Joel, from Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth, and from the author of the Gospel of Matthew. The prophet implores the people to repent and return to God with all their heart before the coming destruction. Even at this late date, says Joel, if you come before God Almighty with fasting, weeping and mourning, the God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love may relent from punishing. Similarly, it is quite possible that it is not too late for us in our dark hour.
Jesus speaks of a humility that is uncommon among humans; we do love to show off, don’t we? Jesus reminds us that what is important is how authentic our relationship is to God. Engage in prayer always, not just in public; give alms from your heart, not just for the tax benefit; fast from things that are leading you away from God, and not just in the 40 days of Lent; be good stewards of all that God has so graciously given you and use them to further the kingdom of God – rather than filling another barn or storage unit with unnecessary trinkets. In this way, you will know the reward of heaven in this life and the next.
Paul puts our discipleship in stark relief. He teaches that, “…as servants of God in every way: through great endurance in hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God…we can have nothing and yet possess everything.
Paul writes about this servanthood further in the second chapter of the letter to the Philippians. He says that we should all “…look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others…” and thus take on the mind of the Christ Jesus who emptied himself of his earthly will in order to do the bidding of his Father in heaven – obedience that ultimately led to His death on the Cross for all of us. This self-emptying is known as “kenosis (key-NO-sis)”. It is the subjugation of the human will in favor of the will of God Almighty. It is characterized by the over-riding belief and trust in God who can and will make everything come out as God has planned. Only God knows the future and what it holds. Only God is in fact “Almighty” and thus can make things turn out the way that God wishes, irrespective of any decision we humans make.
This Lent I invite you into a time of self-emptying, of kenosis, instead of the more common place giving up of sweets or meats of other earthly compulsion. I invite you to look deeply into your life and seek what is keeping you from developing the mind and heart of Jesus – that is, what is keeping you from salvation? I invite you to begin to give up your willful ways and instead seek God’s direction for your life through prayer and discernment. I invite you to each day to choose to empty yourself of the barriers to full servanthood you may be carrying – barriers of anger, guilt, shame, grief, remorse, the need to be forgiven or to forgive, the need to be first and best. Barriers of busyness, judgmentalism, acquisition, avarice, jealousy, negative or divisive thinking and acting, othering and marginalizing, inattentiveness to the needs of anyone other than yourself or family. These are some of the things that fill us up and keep us from having room for God’s Holy Spirit to fill us and free us for joyful service to God and one another.
Kenosis is a struggle, because the world will continue to try to fill us with things that only isolate and divide us. The unifying mind and heart of Jesus on the other hand will continue to call to us to empty ourselves of these things which distract and keep us from choosing to love God with all we have and our neighbors as us. Self-emptying is the antidote to the poison of feasting too much on the world. Kenosis allows us to humble ourselves so that we can be truly obedient to God’s call on our lives; to seek the will and wisdom of God over our human will and wisdom. The self-emptying of kenosis will allow us to understand and live, as the Apostle Paul wrote so beautifully, “…We are treated as imposters, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see – we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything….” This Lent, I invite you all to empty yourselves and learn how to be truly obedient to God through the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Amen!