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Philippians 2:5-11

Mine eyes have seen the glory Of the coming of the Lord You are speaking truth to power You are laying down our swords Replanting every vineyard Till a brand-new wine is poured Your peace will make us one. [1]

The religion of Christianity is not all that different from many of the other world religions. My friends from other faith backgrounds are just as passionate about living with integrity, giving to charity, and seeking justice. My Muslim friends have taught me more about hospitality than anyone, and they model for me the meaning of reverence and devotion. It was in getting to know others outside of the Christian tradition that I began to reflect on my own faith. What makes Christianity different? Is it just another world religion? What distinguishes us from others? It is not our righteousness or our pursuit of justice.

This will sound obvious, but it’s Christ.

It is through Christ that we are baptized into the upside-down kingdom, and this changes the way we live our life. This distinguishes us from other world religions because we have different definitions of kingdom, power, and empire.

In Islam, Allah would never disgrace a prophet by killing him. It is inconceivable. There was nothing more shameful for a first century Jew than to die by crucifixion. For God to die on a cross, that is simply unthinkable! But that is the story we cling to. It is the story of our God.

He turned the world’s ideas of kingdom and power upside-down.

The Second Reading this week is from Philippians 2:5-11. Verses 6 to 11 is likely an excerpt from an early church hymn. It is what many scholars refer to as the Christ Hymn (or if you want to us a big word, the kenotic hymn) because it is a theologically dense masterpiece that tells us about the person of Jesus Christ. I like to refer to this hymn as the V-Shaped Poem because that is the shape it makes, everything pivots on the cross.

Who, being in very nature God,     did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing     by taking the very nature of a servant,     being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man,     he humbled himself     by becoming obedient to death—    even death on a cross! Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place     and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,     in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,     to the glory of God the Father (NIV).

In this passage, we learn that it was because he was God that he did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage. This hymn reveals to us the very nature of our God. He was obedient to death, even death by means of a cross. Christ goes from the highest high to the lowest low, and it is at the cross where things change trajectory.

The crucifixion wasn’t the move of a vengeful and angry God. This wasn’t the death of a disgraced prophet. This hymn tells the story of a God who loved the world so much that he poured himself out for the sake of the world.

It is unclear if Paul wrote this hymn or if it was authored by someone else, but Paul’s reasons for including it go beyond the robust Christology. It is important to notice this. If we only focus on the Christology, we will miss Paul’s exhortation to the church. He introduces the hymn with the imperative statement: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

This is where our actions differ from those of other religions. We are called to have the same mindset as Christ. We are called to take up our cross and follow him. This is what many Christians, myself included, struggle to understand. In the 21st century, I don’t know if we can fully grasp what it means. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” [2].

This calling to take up our cross is more than doing hard things. It is not about withstanding criticism from those that don’t like us. It has nothing to do with overburdening ourselves or glorifying busyness for the sake of the kingdom. It has to do with laying our lives down, laying down our power and privilege for the sake of others and the advancement of the kingdom of God.

I recently a finished a Bible study on the book of Ruth. In the story, there is a man named Boaz, and he is a man of standing (hayil). He has wealth, power, and influence. Ruth, on the other hand, has nothing. She is vulnerable and low in ranking being female, barren, widow, and a Moabite. But Boaz turns the story upside-down and risks his standing for her, and in Ruth 3:11, he gives her the title hayil. He empowers the powerless and advocates for the vulnerable.

This is how God loves, by laying himself down. The pain and the shame did not stop him. And this is how Christians ought to love. We are called to lay our lives down and to be a vehicle of God’s love, and in doing so we are able to embody the hope, healing, and wholeness of Christ for the sake of the world. And to God be the glory. [1] Assad, Audrey. “Your Peace Will Make Us One.” SoundCloud, [2] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community. New York: Harper One, 1954, 8.