New Years Day, January 1 2023

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This is the sermon I preached on January 1, 2023, celebrating our New Year and the Feast of the Holy Name with St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC.

Good morning again, St. Timothy’s family and friends, all who are gathered for worship! It’s been a while since we all gathered online only like this, about a year! We initially thought of doing this as a chance to give everyone a break who work so hard week after week to provide all that we need for our in-person and hybrid gathering, but as several people have been sick, were exposed to COVID or themselves tested positive, it’s probably a timely thing to stop that from gaining any more traction among us.

As we gather around the scriptures on this Feast of the Holy Name, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God, Our Rock and Our Redeemer! Amen.

Feast of the Holy Name

We gather on this special day to celebrate the name of Jesus, but also to celebrate the new year! What an amazing intersection! I’ve been so excited to be with you this morning and start this new year under the name of our savior, Jesus who is the Christ.

The Apostle Paul in our reading from Philippians does a wonderful job of hallowing the name Jesus. This is beautiful piece of prose that some believe may have been sung by early Christians.  St. Paul calls us to the emulation of Jesus… and I mean, what could be a better compliment to Jesus than to seek to emulate him. For those of us who gladly wear the label Christian, we need to sit up straight hear and pay attention, to find what Paul believes it means to have the same mind as Christ…

Philippians 2:5-11, NRSVue
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, assuming human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.

Therefore God exalted him even more highly and gave him the name that is above every other name, so that at the name given to Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Radical Humility

We find that for Paul it means a radical humility. And not the kind of bashful oh no, I’m not that great, I’m just little ole me kind of humility. No, Paul is talking about the kind of humility that is shocking, noticeable and costs something. One that costs a lot, actually. Jesus shows the kind of shocking humility that Paul can only say is like going from the powerful position of Divinity to the powerless position of being enslaved. But for Jesus, this is a choice, a path chosen and embraced. It’s a humility that exchanges life for death.

That’s the mind which Paul would have us embrace. A mind of humility that is not consumed with self, just interested in what it wants or can obtain, but turned outward and given to those around it. It’s a mind of obedience to God and service to humanity. It’s a mind that changes the world. It’s a way of thinking that can change us and fundamentally alter the world if we pursue it as did Jesus.

Have you ever had a nickname, one that you liked? You know, a term of endearment from family or of good-natured fun and camaraderie between friends? Names can mean many things, and names given can carry some deep meaning for us, especially when they come from a place of love.

Given a Name

Paul says that God has glorified Jesus for that humility, exalted him and gave him a name above all other names. It’s a name of honor, a name of respect; it’s a name to love and a name to confess.

That’s an interesting phrase gave him a name that paul uses to speak of God exalting Jesus for his humility. I’ll only mention the Greek to help us understand that the form of the word here for gave or granted to Jesus the name above all names is from charizomai, or charisit is an expression of favor! It is an expression of joy on God’s part, of God’s joy in Jesus, to give him a name above all names.

Now, Jesus is not the first or the last person named Jesus. His name as we say it is simply the form that we use today of his Hebrew name of Joshua, Yeshua or Ye-ho-shoo-ah, meaning the Lord saves. I don’t think Paul is simply talking about the name Jesus as much as Jesus himself is named as above all. Jesus is named as the One deserving of bent knees and grateful confession. He is named the One to confess and the One to whom we bow.

Jesus is given this naming because of his humility, because of who he is and how he lives, God exalts him in this way. Has it struck you yet that this is exactly how Jesus taught his followers, and us, to live?

The First and The Last

Jesus uses the phrasing of the first will be last and the last will be first in several instances throughout the Gospel accounts and in different settings. Still, it’s always an arresting statement that would turn the audience’s thinking upside down. In Mark 9 his followers have been involved in arguing about pecking order, the ages-old human pursuit of power and position, the pursuit of power and position over others. Jesus would rattle their thinking and radically change their minds by calling them to be like the child, the least powerful, the least in control, the least in position.

Mark 9:33-37
Then they came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them, and taking it in his arms he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

This is why Christian Nationalism and the idea of militant or political Christian Domination in the world must be rejected and opposed by followers of Christ. We were never called to be those in power and position. We are fashioned to be the servants of all.

The exalting of Jesus which Paul describes in Philippians 2 is exactly what Jesus taught, God making the last to be first. It is in the radical and complete humility of Jesus that God is able to do so much and exalt so greatly. A rather common place enough name of Jesus is granted eternal and ultimate significance.

A New Year

And now here we are… day one in the new year of our Lord two-thousand and twenty-three! But what makes a new year special? What makes this day have any significance? After all January first’s are rather commonplace, aren’t they? We’ve all seen lots of those.

We’ve seen years with good months and bad months, global conflicts, warfare, and millions displaced by famine, war and terrorism. We’ve seen just what a global pandemic can do to local economies and lives. We’ve seen weddings and held our funerals. We’ve held the joys and sorrows to our hearts, and surely 2023 is liable to have its own ups and downs. But those things don’t make a year’s meaning.

This new year is going to have meaning and significance by our taking on the mind of Christ. It’s going to be worthy of notice by our radical humility and our giving it back to God. A new year is a chance to be reminded, to re-trench and to regain. A new year is a chance to tighten our hold on that mind of Christ and let it humble us, to ours and the world’s gain.

What practices will help us go deeper into the mind of Christ? Starting next week we are going to use the seven Sundays of Epiphany to explore foundational practices of building life together in church and our many communities of life. In January we’ll explore the humility and value of being good listeners, asking good questions, giving the benefit of the doubt, and keeping our language constructive and uplifting. Simple practices that can be hard to maintain! I hope you’ll be part of that sermon series and conversations I hope we have around those important ideas.

A Prayer for St. Timothy’s

I also offer you this simple prayer for our church family and our new year; it’s a prayer of aspiration, believing that God hears us and anticipates that God will answer.

“O God,
Thank you for all that Christ has started and done in us;
open our hearts, our minds and our hands
to all you would have us love, know and do.
May you find joy in us as we find life in you. Amen.”

We’ll hold that prayer together through our coming sermon series, but I hope we’ll also make it a present part of the whole year, a focus and reminder of keeping ourselves open to God and all that God would do with us.

O God, open our hearts, our minds and our hands
to all you would have us love, know and do.
Amen, amen and amen.

Happy New Year & Be Blessed, Rev. Todd

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