Faith United Methodist Church

September 28, 2014

16th Sunday after Pentecost

Rev. Krista Beth Atwood

Scripture: Matthew 21:23-27, Philippians 2:1-13

Prayer of Illumination:  

We thank you, Gracious God, that you answer all who call on your name. Make us bold to ask for your help and eager to hear your word. May our faith in you transform our lives into testimonies to your love and power. Amen.

Sermon:                                Christ Attitude

Attitude. In and of itself it’s not good or bad, right or wrong. My Miriam Webster defines attitude as, “…a feeling or way of thinking that affects a person’s behavior.” Someone might be said to have a positive attitude or a negative attitude. We might refer to someone’s change of attitude. We hear a lot these days about the attitude of gratitude ~ living in a way that emphasizes thankfulness. The famous author Kahlil Gibran wrote, “Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens.”
And our attitude does have an impact on our life. If I go to next Saturday’s District Day on Stewardship with the attitude that it will be boring, it probably will be. However, if I go in thinking that I will learn something, I probably will. (So, Tricia, remind me of this on our drive to Barre Saturday morning, okay?) That’s not to suggest that a positive attitude will lead to an easy life. Life is full of bumps and roadblocks for the optimistic and the pessimistic alike, and we have very little control over what might come our way. What we do have control over, though, is our attitude.

And this was what Paul was talking about in his letter to the Philippian Christians. Paul wrote, “Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus.” Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus.

But what, we might wonder, would that be? What was Jesus’ attitude? We know he wasn’t a push-over. Our Gospel lesson reminds us of that. In Matthew 21 we find Jesus in the Temple just after he cleared out the moneychangers. Tables were turned. Coins and doves went flying. The Temple was in an uproar and the Pharisees were wondering who this guy thought he was, so they asked, “Who gave you this authority?”

Jesus answered their question with a question of his own, actually a riddle of sorts. “Where did John get his authority to baptize? Did he get it from heaven or from humans?” What seemed like a simple question actually frightened the Pharisees. On the one hand, if they said ‘from heaven’ they would have had to explain why they didn’t believe John’s teaching. On the other hand, if they said ‘from humans’ they would have lost support of the crowds. Either way, their authority as religious leaders would have been in question. In an attempt to preserve their power they answered, “I don’t know.”

Jesus, though, didn’t care about traditional forms of power. His mission wasn’t to please the crowd or to solidify his base. His wasn’t a political or, even, a particularly religious mission. He was willing to let religious rituals slide if it meant he was able to reach someone who was hurting. He didn’t need to be concerned about the judgments of the people since he was already on their side. He didn’t need to guard his authority like the Pharisees did. Jesus could give his authority away since it came from somewhere real.

In The Message Eugene Peterson renders Paul’s words to the Philippians this way: “Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.  Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself.” Have Christ’s attitude ~ or Christ-i-tude, if you’ll allow me. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus.

In his book, Letters to Malcolm, C.S. Lewis asked why God would seek to do anything through us, imperfect creatures. In answer he suggested, “Creation seems to be delegation through and through. (God) will do nothing simply of Himself which can be done by creatures.” In other words, God is a God of relationship who seeks to work with us and through us to fulfill God’s purpose in the world.

Having the attitude that was in Christ means living so that others can see Christ in us. We don’t want to impersonate Christ. Indeed, that would be impossible. Yet living in a way that reflects Christ’s life is within our human potential. In fact, it is exactly what we are called to do. Christ’s work on earth gets done today through us.

I suspect we aren’t terribly efficient at this.  I don’t know about you, but I admit that sometimes I have a bad attitude. Just like anyone, I wake up on the wrong side of the bed. (I know it’s hard to believe.) At times I feel discouraged or bereft. I’m human. There are days when I put too much trust in my own power, thinking I can do it all if I just work harder. And sometimes I get so caught up in my own stuff that I can’t see the need right in front of me, never-mind be Christ’s hands and feet on earth.   Sometimes I’m like the Pharisees. Sometimes I’m just too filled up with myself.

Having Christ-i-tude means letting go of ourselves, our ego, and those things that get in the way of furthering Christ’s work in the world. As William Greenway suggests in Feasting on the Word, “One does not self-empty by focusing on oneself. One is emptied of self to the degree one is overcome by the needs, pains, hopes and desires of others.” If we adopt Christ’s attitude our work will reflect an unselfishness, a lack of competition, a humility, and an effort to strive and serve.

God could have chosen a more efficient way to grow the Kingdom, but God didn’t. God chose us. God has entrusted us with the work of Christ. As Teresa of Avilla recognized in the 16th century, “Christ has no body but yours, / No hands, no feet on earth but yours, / Yours are the eyes with which he looks / Compassion on this world.”

When we live in Christ our own preferences, rights, power and desires drop out of the short list of most important things in life. Instead of doing things in our own power, we do things in the power of Christ and the Kingdom grows one small good work at a time. When we live in Christ ~ when we have Christ-i-tude ~ we recognize that whatever humble authority we carry within us comes from God and God alone.

Attitude is “…a feeling or way of thinking that affects a person’s behavior.” How can you ~ how can I ~ make room to hear God’s voice? What influence will you allow God to have in your life? What attitude will you embrace today?

Thanks be to the One who empowers us to do more and greater things than we could, alone, imagine. Thanks be to the One who gifts us with the work of the Kingdom. Amen.