‘Christ-like humility’ – 5th April 2020 – Palm Sunday


The Sermon, by Joe, a Lay Reader from St Marys:

May I speak in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit – Amen.

A couple of days ago I saw a meme on Facebook that said “I didn’t realise I’d be giving up so much for Lent….”

I certainly didn’t!

But having said that, I’ve been able to maintain my relationships with most of the people in my life – albeit not face to face – and it’s certainly given me an opportunity to consider my relationship with God.

This Lent season has been unique in so many ways; watching it unfold in our own lives and on TV has shown us so many facets of humanity. We’ve experienced the greed and fear of people panic buying and fighting in stores.  We’ve seen that some people think their own pleasures and desires are more important than anything else, leading to them defying the lockdown measures to throw Karaoke and barbecue parties.

But we’ve also witnessed the selfless sacrifice of medical and care workers and people of faith who’ve put their own lives on the line by ministering to the sick and dying.  We’ve seen communities pulling together to help each other.

In this Lent season, we’ve witnessed the best and worst behaviour of human beings and human institutions, and I have no doubt that we will see many more examples of both as the weeks unfold.

Perhaps this Lent has been the most valuable to us for many, many years.  A period in which we have been forced to lay aside the trappings of modern life and go back to what is important.  A period of enforced slowing down; of time in which we are forced to be on our own or with family.  It is not an easy time, but Lent is not expected to be easy.  Whether our own Lenten traditions are to give things up, or to take on board new spiritual disciplines, Lent has always been a traditional period of sacrifice leading up to the Passion of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

This year, we seem to be experiencing a wider Passion; a Passion that is including the whole of humanity.

As Christians, what are we to make of this time?

I’d like to focus on one of tonight’s readings – from the letter to the Philippians.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature[a] 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[b] 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,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

The words of this reading will be familiar to many of us; some of them are used in the Creed, others form the title of a hymn.  The letter to the Philippians was sent by Paul around AD61 to thank the church at Philippi for a gift they’d sent him when he was put in to house arrest.  Philippi was a Roman colony, and many of the population wee retired Roman soldiers or officials – it had very few Jews living there and for this reason Paul doesn’t reference the Old Testament in his letter.  It’s regarded as one of the most joyous missives that Paul sent – the word joy or some synonym of it is used 16 times in the text.  Paul also popped in a few of his pastoral warnings to the church, reminding them to steer a path between the legalists on one side of the Church and the ‘Libertines’ of the other extreme.

But – and of great relevance to us today – it also contains Paul’s thoughts on Christian living.  In the letter, Paul exhorts the Church:

  • To be humble – to live humbly, and to imitate Christs humility.
  • To press on towards the goal of achieving citizenship of heaven.
  • To not be anxious, but, in the words of Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”
  • To have faith that through God they can achieve anything they need to do – Chapter 4:13 – “I can do everything through Him that gives me strength”

Powerful words indeed for this time of fear and anxiety, where everything that many people are used to anchoring themselves to seems to be ephemeral.

And we also find tonight’s reading – often described as one of the most profound pieces of Christological thought in the New Testament, in which Paul lays out how we should tailor our relationships by looking at Christ himself. Paul lays out the essential nature of Jesus Christ – fully God, but choosing to take on the nature and appearance and becoming a fully human man.  A servant. A man of great humility.

  • Despite being God, He chose not to take advantage of His Godhood.
  • Despite being God, He chose to not become a human leader or King, but a wandering teacher from the very un-trendy end of the Roman Empire.
  • Despite being God, He humbled himself through his ministry and eventually died the most humiliating, shameful and painful death available to the Roman Empire – crucifixion – and turned that into the ultimate victory against death, becoming Lord of creation.

On Palm Sunday we are at the turning point in Christ’s Ministry, where the joyous scenes that greet his arrival will soon become cries of ‘Crucify him’, and within a week will see our Lord crucified and resurrected.

On this Palm Sunday, we look at our country – and the world - at a turning point.

We need to be humble; we need to be Christlike in how we engage with the people around us.  CS Lewis once said that “being humble is not a matter of thinking less of yourself; it’s a matter of thinking of yourself, less”

Right now, we need some Christlike humility.  We see it in the shop workers and health workers, warehouse staff and transport workers, the people who keep our way of life chugging along even through this difficult moment in time.

We see it in those people who give their lives in caring for others.

Let us all embrace a Christ-like humility at this time.  Let’s be servants for each other. Let us remember that we are ourselves servants of the living Lord, Jesus Christ, and let us be Christ-like in our response to current events.


The Prayers, by Hope:

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the father.

Oh God the creator and preserver of all, on this special Palm Sunday, we pray for people in every kind of need; make your ways known on earth and your saving health among all nations.
Dear Father be with us all at this time of uncertainty and fears for the future. We are hearing how the new coronavirus is circling our world, our country and even our city of Sheffield.
Strengthen us with inner faith in you, grant us that love which leads us to compassion for all those who are suffering, and uplift us with hope for the future.
Especially we pray for those who live in countries where health services are poorer than here and the risks can be higher still. Bless those who are far away, working for Christian Aid and for our Christian mission societies around the world, and those that they serve.
Bless all those in this country and abroad who work in health and care services, as doctors, nurses, cleaners, carers, all those who may be inadequately protected, and at high risk of becoming very ill themselves.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

We pray for those who are suffering from Covid-19 in so many different ways; physical, practical, emotional, and spiritual.
Thinking of those who are very ill and struggling for breath.
Thinking of those who have major and immediate problems with loss of income.
Thinking of those who are living and working in care homes around this country.
Thinking of those who are suffering the stresses of being cooped up at home with tensions in the family; or without a garden to go out into; or those who are isolated at home alone.
Uplift the hearts of each of us this night and keep us safe. Help us all to be a part of supporting others. Show us the ways in which we can be helpers at this time.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

We pray for your church throughout the world; guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians, may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace and  righteousness of life.
Today we remember Jesus arriving in Jerusalem, for the last time, on a humble donkey. We remember him, surrounded by crowds laying down their cloaks and palm branches before him, welcoming him with shouts of praise and blessing – the son of David, God’s prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.
Strengthen us all in our worship at this time. We lack our usual outward signs of Palm Sunday, but need more than ever to be reaching out to you in prayer, as you reach out to us.
Bless those leaders at St.Marys, Walkley, and those around our city, and beyond, to the ends of the earth, who are working so hard to serve you, Oh Lord, in sharing your word in new and different ways.
Bless those of other faiths who like us are following new paths to worship, in order to physically stay apart, but be together in spirit, and save lives.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

We ask your blessing on all those who are living in real fear of untimely, unexpected death for themselves, close relatives or friends. Thinking especially of those who are unable to say goodbye to dying relatives or to be there at the grave side after they have gone. Let us give thanks for the nurses, carers and religious leaders who are there to give support at these tragic times.

Lord in your mercy
Hear our prayer

We remember all those who have gone before us in the Peace of Christ.  We give you praise for all your faithful ones, with whom we rejoice in the Communion of Saints

Merciful Father,
Accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.