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08.14.16 Look Up and Head Down Philippians 2:1-11 Sermon Summary

by on August 15, 2016

Christians look up to Jesus, but many ever see him. The reason is, if you want to see Jesus, you have to head down.

Summary Points

  • Why we look up to Jesus
  • A clue from Jesus’ baptism as to where to look for him
  • Where a living parable of Jesus teaches us to find him
  • An interpretation that differs from the traditional one

From its earliest days the church has looked up to Jesus. He was “risen from the dead,” “confessed as Lord,” and later ascended out of sight. The angel told the disciples to look for Jesus to return in the same way he had departed. The church took this to mean, “look up!”

In actuality we’re not meant so much to look up for Jesus’ return, as to look forward to the future, and inward to the Kingdom Jesus said was within and among us. This means we can also look for Jesus’ presence today.

Jesus’ baptism reveals where we should begin looking. When Jesus came to the river Jordan for John’s baptism of repentance, John hesitated. “You should be the one baptizing me!” he said. But Jesus was undeterred: “We need to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” By this, Jesus showed his solidarity with sinners. Immediately his resolve was tested in the wilderness, but he held firm. Jesus chose to be with and remain with sinners. This is where we start.

There is perhaps one scene that encapsulates Jesus’ entire life and ministry better than any other. It is described for us in John 13. Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, then explains what it means. Jesus often taught in parables. John 13 is an example of a living parable. The disciples experienced it first, then received the words. There is an important lesson here. It is that words alone are not enough to really know God. One has to experience God. This is why the Word had to become flesh.

In washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus “took the form of a slave.” Unlike slaves, however, he served his disciples out of love instead of duty. Then he commanded his disciples to do likewise.

Who are the people with “dirty feet” today? They are the ones who remain in the margins of society, alienated, alone, and lonely. They are also the ones who don’t have social power, influence, or representation—maybe because they are poor or undocumented or unable to speak the language. They are the ones society uses as scapegoats—a reality eventually revealed by history, but which can be revealed sooner to the eyes of faith.

The people with “dirty feet” to whom Jesus commands his disciples are any people in some sort of need whom we can help. And Jesus commands us to wash their feet because that is what he would do if he were here.

But the miracle is this. Jesus IS here—right alongside us, and even in front of us—when we wash the feet of these people. In a “words only” version of this parable, Jesus taught, “Whatever you do to the least of these my children, you do unto me.”

It is right for us to look up. Jesus is the exalted Lord whose death was vindicated and who will return in the fullness of God’s Kingdom. But in the meantime we are to head down to the place Jesus promised to meet us, to wash the feet of those in need.

We look up to you, exalted Christ, with faith trusting in your promise to return, with hope in the ultimate triumph of your kingdom, and with love for our neighbors. And so with our sights set higher than this world, we head down to serve the world, even as you demonstrated throughout your life, and in obedience to your example and command in John 13. Reveal yourself to us in these our acts of service, even as you revealed yourself to the world in yours. For it is in your name that we pray. Amen.


I’m including the Eucharistic prayer for this week because it incorporates a different interpretation of the Philippians passage, one that is new to me but debated among scholars. It teaches that the “Carmen Christi” is based on an ancient form of praise speech, called an “encomium,” and that it contrasts Jesus with Adam. This interpretation differs from the traditional understanding which teaches that it contrasts Jesus’ heavenly pre-existence with his earthly and post-resurrection existence.

We thank you, Heavenly Father, for the gift of life which we receive from your hand. You fashioned us from the dust of the earth, and breathed into us your Spirit, animating us for worship, calling us to care for your creation and for one another. Made in your image, we regarded equality with you as something to be exploited, and with Adam we grasped for divinity of our own making, only to realize the limits of our humanity with suffering and death. Refusing to abandon us, you came to us in Jesus Christ, a man who shared both our fallen humanity and your godly nature. Unlike Adam and us, he did not grasp for divinity, but lived faithfully as a human, following your Spirit into baptism, temptation, teaching, serving, and even unto death. Seeing his faithfulness, you vindicated his unjust death by resurrecting him from the dead, and exalting him above every name, so that we may worship you with him again without fear, and so that we may aspire to live as you created us, and as you call us anew in Christ. Send your Spirit to feed us in Christ’s body and blood, through this bread and cup, that we might be formed once again by your hand, and live as those who faithfully await your kingdom. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

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