Our Covenant Together: A Shared Theology

Jeff Garrison

Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church

October 5, 2014

Philippians 2:5-11

  Today is my second in a series of sermons highlighting aspects of a covenant covering our relationship as a pastor and congregation as we work together to further God’s kingdom in our community and throughout the world.  As I told you last week, this covenant is a requirement of the Savannah Presbytery.  It was written and edited by the Pastor Nominating Committee and myself, and approved by both the presbytery and the session of our church.  Copies are available online[1] or you can stop by the office and we’ll give you one.  The covenant is based on the concept of our sharing in God’s work, which requires that we have a shared vision, which we looked at last week.  It also requires for us to have a shared set of beliefs or theology, which will be my topic today.   Of course, I’m only giving you the highlights of our common theology.  I’ve been warned about excessive sermons and am not vain enough to think I can fully summarize all we believe in twenty minutes. As a Christian community, our faith is grounded in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Without Christ, little that we do makes sense.  Jesus Christ is the glue that holds the church together.  The membership requirements to be a part of the Presbyterian family, at least on the surface, are easily met.  All you have to do is to realize your need of a Savior (that’s admitting that you are a sinner and without Christ are lost). Secondly, you must accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.  This sounds simple until we dig into what it means and discover that our allegiance is to Jesus alone: not to ourselves, to our families, to our bosses, to our country or even to our favorite baseball team.  All of these other individuals and organizations are fallible as I found out this past Wednesday when the Pirates lost the National League wildcard game.  In the end, only Jesus Christ is infallible. Finally, you have to pledge that you’ll be a part of the church family, praying and supporting one another and the church as you also commit yourself to follow Christ and to study God’s word as you strive to apply it to your life. As I said, on paper, being a member of the church sounds easy and I hope some of you who have not yet united with us in our faith journey here at Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church will do so.  But you must remember that there are deeper implications to our shared beliefs, our shared theology, which we could explore more fully in a classroom setting.  In Scripture, there is a hymn found in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi that beautifully summarizes what we believe about our Savior, Jesus Christ and I will use this passage as our text for today.  Read Philippians 2:5-11

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  This passage is poetic and beautiful.  There have been lots of debate among scholars over the deeper meaning of these words here, but one of the things that is widely accepted that this is an ancient Christian hymn on the incarnation.[2]  When we speak of Jesus’ incarnation, we refer to how God was embodied in his life.  This may have been the first Christmas hymn.  In Jesus Christ, God became a person, just like you and me.  It is an essential tenet of the Christian faith.  Now, whether Paul wrote this hymn or someone else and Paul just incorporates it into his letter (like I might allude to a poplar tune in one of my sermons) is of no importance.  What’s important is the unique relationship of Jesus to God the Father and how Jesus’ life informs how we’re to live. Paul’s main emphasis here isn’t theology, its ethics.  It’s how we live as Christ-followers.   “Let the same mind be in you as was in Christ Jesus,” Paul writes or as the Message translates begins this passage, “Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.”   As one commentator wrote about these passage, “Paul presents Christ as the ultimate model for moral action.”[3]  Christ, who is equal to God in that mysterious union of the Trinity, did not exploit his position of power, but became a servant, a slave, in order to reach and lift us up.   If we are Christ-like, we too will be humble.  We, too, will use our talents and gifts not for our own glory, but for the glory of God as we serve others. I heard that when I was being introduced to the congregation by the Pastor Nominating Committee, I was being compared to guys with some pretty big shoes to fill.  A theologian like John Calvin, a leader like Abe Lincoln or Stonewall Jackson (depending on which side of the Mason-Dixon Line you came from) and a preacher like Charles Spurgeon.  Although flattering, such comparisons are not humbling!  Don’t tempt me.  The only similarity with me and those guys is that we all have beards. Since some of you may not know much about Spurgeon, who was considered the greatest Calvinistic preachers in Great Britain during the 19th Century, let me share a story about him.  He had just finished a sermon on avoiding temptation when a saintly-looking woman, as she was leaving church that Sunday, approached Spurgeon and told him that she had managed to avoid sinning all week.  “That must make you really proud,” Spurgeon responded, with a twinkle in his eyes as he shook her hand.  “It does,” she said.  I wonder if she ever understood? Pride is a dangerous thing and we see from this ancient hymn, Jesus shuns pride for obedience.  He takes on the human condition, yet remains without sin.  But he doesn’t brag about his accomplishments, instead he’s crucified for them.  Yet, because of his obedience, God lifts him up, restores him back to his divine and glorious state so that at the end of history, all will bow before him in worship and in doing so we will be bringing glory to the Father. Although this passage shows one of the keys tenets of our theology—that God became a man and lived among us—it also illustrates the truth Jesus taught throughout his ministry:  the last shall be first[4] and those who want to be great must first become a slave or a servant of all.[5]  We worship an awesome God.  What other kind of God would leave behind heaven and all its glory to accept our situation and lot in life?   Our God encourages us to strive to be “Christ-like” which means we must serve others…  And as important as theology is to get right, it is more important that we live by what we believe.  Do we believe what Paul emphasizes in this letter to the Philippians?  More importantly, do we live like we believe it? Fred Craddock, another commentator on this passage, summarizes these verses this way:  “The hymn stands in the church’s Scripture not only to define lordship and discipleship, but also as a judgment upon the kind of triumphalism that abandons the path of service and obedience.”[6] Now let me get back to my discussion about a shared theology.  Certainly, at the center of all Christianity is Christ.  But there is more to our shared beliefs than just the person and work of Christ.  Presbyterians are a part of Christianity that is often referred to as “the Reformed tradition.”  By reformed, I’m not saying that we’re like criminals who have done their time in prison and are now out.  Instead, it is a tradition developed during the Reformation, mostly in Switzerland, and from there spread to Germany, Holland, Scotland, Ireland and North America.  Later, it’s spread to Asia (especially Korea) and to Africa, where it is growing by leaps-and-bounds today.  Although the Reformed Tradition dates back to the Swiss Reformation that occurred around the same time as Martin Luther’s reformation in Germany, it was a Frenchman by the name of John Calvin who helped create a common core of beliefs that are centered around the Sovereignty of God. As we see in this passage from Paul, Jesus Christ chose to come in the flesh.  He could have stayed in heaven and avoided a lot of heartache, but then he couldn’t have shown us the way back to the Father.[7]  So we worship a sovereign God who freely came to us.  God now calls us through a Son to accept his forgiveness of our sins and then, with the help of the Holy Spirit, encourages us to live a godly-life that honors both the triune God and furthers the kingdom in the world.  That, in a nutshell, is the core of our shared theology.  It’s all about God and what God has done and can do in our lives.  Will we accept the call and follow the path set forth by Jesus?  Amen.  

©2014



[2] Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians: Word Biblical Commentary #43 (Waco: Word, 1983), 76.
[3] Hawthorne, 79
[4][4] Matthew 19:30, 20:16; Mark 9:35, 10:31; and Luke 13:30
[5] Matthew 20:26, 23:11; Mark 10:43;  Luke 1:48; and John 12:26
[6] Fred B. Craddock, Philippians: Interpretations: A Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox, 1985), 43.
[7] John 14:6.


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