One word of advice continues to haunt me from a seminary preaching class. Our professor told us to feel free to leave out information in our sermon. In other words, many of us pastors tend to go too long and put too much information in our sermons. It is one of the hardest things for me when preparing a sermon to not put in everything that I have learned in my study of a passage. I dare say that I have not been very successful in following that advice. On occasion I heed it as I did this past Sunday when I preached a sermon called “What’s Up with Jesus?” from Philippians 2:5-11. The sermon can be listened to here on our church’s website. The sermon points out that Jesus is God, Man, and our Savior & Lord. This is the incarnation, Our Savior and Lord, God becoming a human being. It was a very intentional sermon unwrapping Christology, or the theological Jesus. But this was not the only point for Paul in writing these words about Jesus.
The Apostle Paul was writing to this wonderful church in Corinth and teaching them, in this section of the letter, the importance of living a life of self-sacrifice. As the perfect example of self-sacrifice, Jesus entered our history, our skin, to not only identify with us but also to be our Savior and Lord, our Forgiver, Redeemer, and Leader of our lives. With Jesus’ example in mind Paul says in Philippians 2:1-5, “Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.” (NLT) As followers of Christ, we are to live our lives incarnationally. What I mean is that we are to take every step possible to get into the skin of others, to first understand others before we are understood. The Apostle Paul did not ask us to be Jesus but to have the same self-sacrificing attitude as Jesus.
There are a wide variety of ways that we can lay down our lives for Christ. One very powerful example of someone trying to live with the attitude of Christ is found, interestingly enough, in a riot that occurred in the La Mesa Prison in Tijuana, Mexico. Thousands of inmates battled the guards with bottles and rocks, while the guards shot back with machine guns until a small American woman in her 70s walked into the middle of the war, raised her hands, and signaled for quiet. Remarkably, calm fell on the prison. That woman was Mary Brenner, who was raised in Beverly Hills. There she lived what she called “a glamorous life,” until she found Christ and followed him in a whole new direction. Now she’s known as Sister Antonia. She dresses in a nun’s habit and lives in a sparse 10-foot cell inside the prison. She moved there 25 years ago to live among murderers, thieves, and drug dealers. Sister Antonia has poured out her life for these prisoners, nursing their wounds, getting them eyeglasses and medicine, caring for their families, and washing their bodies for burial. Loving them doesn’t mean she ignores their crimes. In her words, “There isn’t anyone who hasn’t heard my lecture. They have to accept that they’re wrong. They have to see the consequences. They have to feel the agony…but I do love them dearly.” She refers to each prisoner as her son. Although she lives in a prison, the prison does not live inside of her. Her friends and the inmates all describe her incredible energy, joy, and hopefulness. She describes it as simply living out her calling. In a recent interview she said, “I wouldn’t trade this cell for any place in the world.” (Bill White, Paramount, California; source: “Antonia’s Mission,” Readers Digest – June 2004) She actually, voluntarily, lived in a prison cell in order to reach prisoners for Christ. I can’t imagine what it must be like to live that selfless of a life. Yet we are called to live lives of self-sacrifice in our own unique settings in life in whatever small or large way that God’s lead us. It all begins with hearts surrendered to God then God will take care of the details. If we as Christians would have hearts surrendered to God through lives of self-sacrifice our churches would be healthy, biblical communities that are overflowing with people flocking to be a part of these self-sacrificing communities of God. I invite you to prayerfully take inventory of your life and meditate upon the words of the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi as they are shared in this beautiful song by Sarah MacLachlan. Then may God grant us attitudes like Jesus that will change this world!