Palm/Passion Sunday - Philippians 2:5-11

          What’s a “good mate”? responses…?

          From the New Zealand Oxford Dictionary a ‘mate’ is a noun - that is a name given to the archetypal “very close friend”.

          When one thinks of what it is to be a “good mate” one might think in terms of friendship, with a fair go for all, giving the benefit of the doubt and having a willingness to give a second chance.

          Some of the attributes of the average “good mate” are attributes ascribed or given to Jesus.

          Jesus was considered, by many in his day on earth, to be a bit unusual, coming from Galilee, that is, from the “back of beyond”.

          From what the Prophet Isaiah says He was of uncouth appearance, Isaiah 52:14 (ESV) As many were astonished at you—

       His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,

       and His form beyond that of the children of mankind—

          The company He kept was questionable too: prostitutes, thieves, tax collectors, cripples, demon possessed and the like. He’d socialise with everyone the “rat bags” of society, the drug addict and the blue collared - as easily as with the priests, merchants, white collared and powerful.

          Jesus was ordinary and human, a tradesman. His humour was good, accepting individuals despite their foibles and weaknesses. He wouldn’t look at the colour of their skin or the moral code they lived by but He helped everyone to see and relate to God.

          He did display righteous indignation at the abuse of the powerful against the weak and powerless.

          He was a storyteller and definitely not a wowser. He provided wine for a wedding celebration when the party was drunk dry. He helped a woman who’d been caught in adultery, and He comforted and cried with grieving sisters. Jesus was and is one of us.

          He looked after His mates, showed them the best fishing spots and calmed the storms of life. What Jesus did, He did to demonstrate that He was one with us and to help us to understand what kind of people God wants us to be right here in Hamilton, in the Waikato, in New Zealand.

          The things Jesus did almost 2000 years ago, He wants us to do today in 2015. We may not always be as authentic as Jesus in our motives, or as effective as the man who never sinned, but He has given us the help we need. We have His Spirit, which by the way doesn’t come in a bottle, and we have His example recorded in the Scriptures so we can learn from Him.

          He showed us how to overcome the barriers of unfriendliness, resentment and temptation. One of Jesus’ best mates, Paul, offers us some encouragement to be “fair dinkum” about our baptismal promise and the way we live as Christians.

          Paul offers the “mate” in all of us encouragement to be a “real good mate” of Jesus, and so of each other.

          Because of Jesus becoming like us, we can take encouragement that God cares for us and all Kiwis - in fact He cares for all people – our neighbours, estranged relatives, the Australians, and other immigrants, the lepers – ISIS, the Taliban, the demon possessed – even the drug addict and pervert. Yes, God cares for all.

          We’re encouraged by the love of Jesus in that He was prepared to give up everything - His life included - for our eternal wellbeing.

Like a first world war Kiwi soldier I recently read about, who with his horse rescued 10 wounded men from no-mans-land while under fire from the enemy, Jesus was prepared to go into the line of fire, suffer and die to rescue those who were dying. We were dying in our sin and we’ve been rescued.

          Jesus participated in our life as we participate in each others lives - helping and sharing, inviting and encouraging - but not demanding gratitude. Jesus was there when there was a need for support, we stand in His place as His representatives to a struggling humanity, to our neighbours in Whitiora, our street, city and region.

          What Jesus did for us we can’t even begin to repay. His relationship with us doesn’t depend on our response. He gives and He keeps giving. All we can do is say thank You. Jesus shows us what quality of life is all about. It’s about giving without expecting a return.

          In an address in Adelaide in 2001, the then Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Downer, showed that he understood that quality of life is in assisting others. He said of the Christian churches in Australia:

“There is no doubt that their work ... in education, in mission, to the sick and suffering in our community, in witnessing to their message of hope and reconciliation, and in deepening spirituality in our nation, adds a great deal to the quality of life in Australia.”[1]

And, I believe we can say the same bout the Christian Churches in New Zealand.

          It’s God’s Holy Spirit who calls us through the Gospel of Jesus Christ to make a contribution to New Zealand so that all of our fellow Kiwis hear and understand the Gospel and that some may be saved.

          The Hope Project over the next month will help us to do this. We’re going to be asked to help with this through sharing this little book Hope For All – The Hidden Power. You will hear more about this soon.

          It doesn’t mean that we each have to preach on the street corners, hand out welfare parcels or leave home and family to go to a mission field - though some of us might be called to do so.

          Our primary mission field is where we are - in our home, school, workplace, club, town or city.

          We’re called to have and demonstrate the same love and work towards the same purpose with the same Spirit so that we aren’t selfish. We could liken this unselfishness to the “mates” in the pub. Everyone has a turn to shout a round of drinks. Good mates don’t opt out of their responsibility to contribute to the welfare of the group.

          It’s not just about taking, it’s also about sharing. Sure there’s bound to be some who can’t shout as often, or as much as another, but it’s about doing what he or she can.

          The “good mate” may be able to drive a load of bricks to his or her mate’s place even if he or she can’t line two bricks up squarely when it comes time to build the new fence or BBQ, but he or she contributes what he or she can.

          True “good mates” help out, not expecting anything in return - “it’s because we’re mates.” We’re “good mates” because Jesus, who is one and the same as God, didn’t make a big thing about who He was.

          God got out of His designer suit and put on the overalls of the labourer, making Himself no better than ourselves (except without sin), looking and acting like a minion, humble and subservient so that we can be lifted up to be like He really is.

          Paul points out that when a person gets a big head there can be a breakdown in mateship. It happens that there are Christians who are 'curved in on themselves' (Luther), - people who can’t raise their eyes from their own personal affairs and ambitions.

          Paul calls this selfishness as conceit (literally, empty glory), a vain attempt to assert oneself over other people (Gal. 5:26). It’s empty or vain because selfishness is only of any use to one in this life and world; it means nothing in the light of eternity as the story of the rich fool in Luke 12 teaches.

          “Big noting” oneself is not compatible with the glory that properly belongs to God alone (2:11). Naturally, where this attitude prevails, relationships, even congregational life, suffers and can die.

          Instead of seeking self glory, we are in humility to count others better than ourselves says St Paul.                 

          In the ancient world, as today, humility wasn’t placed high on the list of virtues; it was considered to be a characteristic of a slave, and suggested weakness. To be able to boast of one's self-sufficiency and superiority over the common herd was considered praiseworthy.

          But God put humility in a different mould. In the Old Testament, God chose the weak and humble nation of Israel to perform His purpose.

          “According to the Psalms, God raises up the humble and the oppressed, and casts down the mighty (Ps. 18:27; 34:18). Humility is praised as the fruit of true wisdom; and only people who truly know God are those who humble themselves before Him (Prov. 3:34; 11:2).  

          In the New Testament, Jesus shows that humility means to trust entirely in God's grace and to abandon confidence in oneself (Matt. 18:4). Paul adds the thought that humility is a quality that recognises in the brother or sister the dignity and honour that he or she deserves as a member of Christ's body (Rom. 12:3-10; Col. 3:15,16).          

          The essential idea is that of treating each other with such respect that serving one another is considered a privilege. ... Naturally, without such an attitude of humility it is impossible to establish peace and harmony within the church, let alone the wider community." (Koehne, 28f.)

          Jesus didn’t big note Himself. He did what had to be done without complaining when He died on the cross. God then honoured Him. He received more than a few medals given to a war hero.

God honoured Jesus, giving Him power and majesty so that we can come to worship, so that we can invite others to join in receiving from God and confess Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

          In this we’re true “good mates – of Christ with good humour, helpfulness and resourcefulness:

          - the good humour of love and forgiveness

          - the helpfulness of sharing

          - the resourcefulness of God’s Holy Spirit

guiding us to honour and glorify God in Christ Jesus.

          Amen


[1] (www.dfat.gov.au/media/speeches/foreign/2001/060401_fa_tabor.html?forprint)