Prayer and Submission
Fifth Week of Lent
"Prayer and Submission"
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA I don't know about you, but it seems like this Lenten season has just been flying past. Here we are, already in the fifth week of Lent. This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, when the action really starts to rev up as we head into the Passion narrative. Over these past several weeks, we've explored nine different spiritual disciplines in our midweek and Sunday services. Nine! Some of these disciplines may have seemed a little more "exotic" than others: those with which we were not really familiar in this time and place. Fasting - that's something largely alien to our modern America. Fellowship, we learned, is something different that what we might have expected. And prayer, as we noted at the outset of our journey, is integral to all these disciplines.
Today, we come to the discipline of submission. That's something that we've got down pat, right? Think back to when I was a bit younger, in the days before TiVo and digital video recorders, my brother and I would find ourselves watching TV - and I'd have the remote control. Of course, if my brother wanted to watch something, like his favorite cartoon, when my favorite cartoon was on, the question would inevitable arise as to which one of us would get to watch the show we wanted to see. Would I have a problem putting my brother's wishes before my own? Well, that might not be the best example... Say you're driving along on the Beltway, and someone's coming up an on-ramp, turn signal flashing, going a little bit too slow for your liking - you wouldn't think twice about slowing down and letting them on in front of you, right? Well... What if, when we're having a discussion with our spouse or our parent, we concede that we don't have to have our way all the time? Hmm... Maybe we should look at the discipline of submission.
What comes to mind when you think about "submission?" In our society, more often than not that word equates to an admission of defeat, of surrender. Usually it's about giving up what we want - and what's attractive about that? In our reading from Paul letter to the Philippians, however, we get a different picture of submission. As Christians, we should define submission as both an act and an attitude. To use Paul's phrase, it is "counting others more significant" than ourselves. It is giving up, giving up a "me first" mindset. And that's why it's difficult. We don't want to give up that to which we feel we are entitled. We don't want to let others have their way above our own. We don't want to let God have His way. From the perspective of the sin-wrecked heart, praying "Thy will be done" in the Lord's Prayer is the opposite of what we think we want: "my will be done."
For the past several weeks, during this time of Lent, we've explored the practice of various spiritual disciplines. And you may have found some of these disciplines more difficult than others. Some have seemed a little more "exotic" than what you'd been used to. Fasting - responding to our hunger with prayer instead of a snack. We learned that fellowship meant something a bit different that what we'd likely expected. And the practice of each of these disciplines is surrounded in prayer. But our old habits and patterns cling to us. Imagine a clothes dryer, tumbling away. After the clothes are done, you remove the filter to see it caked with lint. Where did all this stuff come from? It doesn't seem like you put that into the dryer forty minutes ago! As we put spiritual disciplines into practice during Lent - and beyond - we may find that we're noticing more and more "lint," those things that cling to us so tightly. Or rather, that to which we cling - those things that we see fit to grasp. Distractions. Sin.
The church in Philippi faced some of the same challenges we do today. When we take a look at Paul's letter of encouragement to them, you can see that he offers encouragement in words that they would recognize: those of a contemporary hymn, quite possibly one that Paul wrote and that the Philippians had sung. In it, Paul points us to the Son of God as a model for the practice of submission, of counting others more significant than ourselves. Paul tells us at least three things about who Jesus, the Christ, is. First, Christ is God: He was with the Father and the Spirit before Creation. He existed before coming to earth, being made man. And that's the second thing we learn: that the Son humbled Himself, becoming one of us, living, suffering, and dying on the cross for our sake. But that's not all: the third lesson is that Jesus rose from the dead and has been exalted, the name above all names, living and reigning at the right hand of His Father. Having submitted, he has been glorified.
If you take a look at the translation that we've got in our bulletins, you'll see that the Son "made Himself nothing." The Greek word root there is keno,w, literally, "to empty." Christ emptied himself. He modeled submission be setting aside his glory, that which was his as God, and became man. He did not see his Godhood as something to seize - unlike Adam and Eve - and instead became a servant.
Imagine a crystal pitcher. God made us perfect, like a sparking, clear pitcher; however, ever since our first parents, we have filled ourselves up with sin, choosing not to submit to God's will for our lives, like scarlet liquid filling up the pitcher. It, like us, is now no longer clean and clear, but dirty and stained. But now, imagine a second pitcher. The Son of God became one of us and lived a perfect, sinless life - clean and clear. Imagine pouring the blood-red contents of that first, filled pitcher, into the second one. Because on the cross, that's what Jesus did. He emptied us, taking our sin onto himself, becoming sin for us, submitting to his Father's will, leaving us clean and clear.
So what should the prayerful practice of submission look like in your life as a Christian? How does it compare with the world's view? First off, as a Christian, you are not called to be a doormat! That's not what submission is, letting every else have their way at your expense, being bullied around. In fact, you are called to take care of yourself - in body, mind, and resources - so that you might better care for others. That's submission: sharing the love of God with the world, following Christ's example.
When we are faced with the worries of life in health or vocations or relationships, we are called to submit these concerns and ourselves to our heavenly Father's will. To "let go, and let God." Submitting to the One Who is immeasurably more powerful than we are, the One to is immeasurably more loving than we are. God calls us to submit to Him in prayer, giving over our concerns. To trust that He who loved us enough to empty Himself will care for us, working all things together for good. To pray, not that our will be done, but His.
As you submit your will to God's will, may the One Who emptied Himself fill you with His love and peace.
other sermons in this series