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Take a Knee for Jesus in the Season of Unfriending

Filed under: Pastor Jeff's Sermons — Pastor Jeff at 9:35 pm on Sunday, October 1, 2017

A sermon preached on October 1st, 2017 based upon Philippians 2:1-13

Cross with sliver of light

If you had to choose one passage of Scripture to meditate upon each day to help you stay on the path of Jesus, you couldn’t do much better than this. Paul challenges us to aspire to the mind of Christ Jesus — the mindset of the humble servant, embracing even death on the cross.

When Paul wrote his letters there was generally some kind of problem in the church he was addressing.  In the church in Philippi, something is happening to disrupt their unity. We don’t know the specifics regarding what is causing the disunity, but in a certain sense it doesn’t matter, because in the end, the root cause of all our disunity within the church is that we have failed to have the mind of Christ Jesus.

So Paul says to the Philippian Christians that nothing would make him happier than that they “be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” Those of us who are parents with more than one child – when they feud we know something of the longing of Paul’s heart — something of what God feels – in the longing for them to reconcile.

Whether you believe in a literal or a symbolic “devil”, the work of evil is always the same.  The devil is perpetually trying to “divide and conquer.”  The devil sows seeds of discord and hostility – turning friends into enemies, promoting hatred and fear rather than love.  Central to the devil’s game plan is to deceive us with false choices – pressuring us to take sides where side-taking is harmful.

A “friend” of mine on Facebook recently posted a short, on the mark sentence: He wrote,  “It’s the season for unfriending again.” By this he meant that the conversation on social media has recently become more divisive, more hostile. People are getting angry at other peoples’ postings with the result being they delete them from their “friends” list.

This is happening because we’ve failed to have the mind of Christ. To have the mind of Christ means valuing all people – it means always making an effort to understand the points of view of all people – where they are coming from – and in particular the people with whom we are inclined to disagree.

The focus of this particular “season of unfriending” is on what has become known as “taking a knee.”  Who’s side are you on?! We are pressured to choose whether we are on the side of Colin Kaepernik and his protest that involved “taking a knee”, or are we on the side of respecting our flag and the men and women who sacrificed their lives fighting under that flag.  The way it is presented, there is no middle ground.

It’s gotten so bad that that this past Thursday in Green Bay when the Packers’ star quarterback Aaron Rogers asked his fans to stand arm in arm during the singing of the national anthem not as a protest but simply as a show of national solidarity, the vast majority of the fans wouldn’t do it.

Friends, this is the devil’s doing.

So I want to briefly say a few things about the Colin Kaepernick controversy, and as Tracy said last week, I beg your patience because I may say things that make you uncomfortable, but before I’m through, I hope to say things that challenge people who have landed on either side of this dispute.

Colin Kaepernick has come to be seen by many people as the devil incarnate, but the truth is he is not a worse sinner than the rest of us.  You may be surprised to know that like Tim Tebow, another famous quarterback, Kaepernick strongly identifies as a Christian.  His faith sometimes leads him in different directions from Tebow, but like Tebow he is trying to take his cues from Jesus.

The point is often made, quite validly, that there is a distortion of values in our world when professional athletes like Kaepernick are paid vastly more money than police officers and soldiers in our military, nurses and teachers. In an age of self-absorbed, self-centered athletes – Odell Beckam Jr. comes to mind – Kaepernick has given away a lot more of his money than most pro athletes to charities seeking to help hurting people.  And Kaepernick personally sacrificed in “taking a knee” – he lost millions of dollars. 

These days, as long as somebody can help a team win, the NFL doesn’t seem to have a problem employing people who have committed various violent crimes.  Kaepernick is unemployed this season not because he isn’t talented enough – he is — but because he “took a knee.” He knew this was a possibility.  He thought that the issue he was trying to call attention to was worth the risk.

It is also worth noting that Kaepernick began his protest by sitting on the bench during the national anthem.  After talking to a wounded Navy seal, he switched to taking a knee because the Navy seal told him that he and his fellow veterans would have less of a problem with that.

Now having said all this, I would also argue that the way this has all played out, it seems to me that the form of protest Kaepernick chose was ultimately misguided and that was because he failed to take into account where a great many Americans were coming from – how they couldn’t get past what they saw as disrespect for the flag and the millions of American heroes who sacrificed their lives for the sake of our country.

Kaepernick’s original cause – calling attention to the very real injustice Black people often suffer in relation to our criminal justice system — has gotten altogether lost in all the controversy.  Or worse, people have hardened their hearts against having any sympathy for this justice issue because of the perceived disrespect.

And so now we find ourselves in the “season of unfriending”, and our country is all the more divided, and the devil is smiling.

I don’t want to be misunderstood here:  I am not saying that we should never engage in protests that make people angry.  The protests of the civil rights movement enraged a lot of people, but the thing about it was that it was very disciplined, always keeping the focus on the injustice of racism.  The protests were faithful to the call of Jesus.

I watched some of the Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam War. In retrospect it seems clear that the war arose sadly from some very misguided assessments by people in power of what was going on in Vietnam, resulting in decisions being made that set us down the wrong path. As time passed the people in power were simply unwilling to acknowledge the mistakes that had been made, the result being ever-increasing carnage and destruction for so many young American soldiers who sacrificed so much physically and spiritually, not to mention for all the people of Vietnam.

So it was appropriate for the American people to take to the streets to protest the war.  But it was wrong when some of those people began to burn flags, and it was especially wrong when the American soldiers returning home who had sacrificed so much were treated so disrespectfully.  And the devil smiled to see our country torn apart so.

Jesus himself made a lot of people in power very angry when he called them out for injustice. But the thing about Jesus is that he refused the devil’s choice:  Either you side with the establishment, or you side with those who would take up violence to overthrow the establishment. Jesus refused the devil’s false choice, and he paid for his refusal by dying on the cross.

Which brings us back to our scripture lesson, where we are reminded that Jesus humbled himself, taking the form of a servant, obedient even to death on a cross.  In doing so, he sought to overcome all that powers of death and destruction that would divide us. Once again, I was struck by a strange connection between the Scripture lesson assigned for this Sunday and what is going on in the world.  Curiously, Paul mentions “knees”, specifically, telling us that God’s ultimate goal in sending Christ Jesus into the world to live and die as a servant was that “every knee should bow” before the Lordship of Jesus.

When we proclaim Jesus as Lord – we refuse to allow the devil to divide us. We refuse to enter another “season of unfriending.”

So this World Communion Sunday, and this is absolutely what Holy Communion is about. At the last supper, Jesus prayed that we might be one, even as he and the Father were one.  When we choose to take the bread that is Jesus’ body broken for us and the wine that is his blood shed for us, we choose to defy the false choices the devil.  We humble ourselves as Jesus humbled himself, entering into his great love that encompasses not just the people who agree with us – but everybody.

I want to end by reading our mission statement.  We define ourselves as those who refuse the devil’s false choices:

In a hostile, hurting world, we reach out to share kindness and laughter.

Our spirituality is based on JESUS and His love and compassion.

We provide a community of support and healing where all are welcomed and valued regardless of age, sexual orientation, disability, gender, or economic status.

In a world where people feel they can love only those who are like themselves,we seek to celebrate the uniqueness of every human being

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