Philippians 2:5-11 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death --
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (NRSV)

This morning I'd like to begin with some credits - let me tell you that the title of this sermon is Shoelaces and Sacraments, based on the original writings of St. Paul the Apostle, and adapted for this morning's sermon by the Adult Bible Study class which has been meeting each Tuesday evening during Lent.

Our Adult class has been participating in a project for the United Church of Christ. Along with other groups around the country we have been studying some selected passages of scripture and then responding to a set of questions in a booklet prepared by the church. This coming Tuesday is our last session, and then we send in our booklets to the home office in Cleveland, Ohio, and the answers will be compiled into a study of how members of our denomination use, view, and relate to scripture.

Well, two weeks ago the passage that was selected for our study was the same one we just read this morning from Paul's letter to the Philippians.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death --
even death on a cross.

Of course I was delighted to get the extra help in preparing for this sermon, and the discussion in the class certainly opened up windows on this passage that I had not seen before.

That's not a simple thing with this passage - it is a very well studied passage of scripture. I learned that 28 years ago when I was a senior in seminary and wrote a paper on it. There was a lot of material out there.

Many Bibles - although not the ones in your pew - set the passage apart from the body text of Paul's letter because the general belief is that Paul is quoting an early Christian here. The consensus is that Paul did not write these words, but is bringing in something already familiar to his readers. That would make this hymn very old, perhaps even the first hymn of the Christian Church.

This hymn is a description of the path of humility and service that Jesus chose - a path that is drawn out in contrast to the traditional story of Adam and the fall.

Adam, created in the image of God, fell prey to the temptation to become like God. As the traditional story relates, Adam disobeyed God and grasped for the power that would be his if he ate from the tree of good and evil. I'm not a biblical literalist, but the dynamics of the story are very insightful. Because Adam disobeyed and grasped for power, instead of becoming like God Adam was separated from God, death and dust becoming his fate and the fate of his children.

That is the path of Adam. In contrast, Christ, who is in the form of God, does not seek equality with God, but empties himself. Christ takes the role of the servant and In obedience offers himself up to death. But this path leads in an unexpected direction - his fate is not death and dust, but unity with God, exaltation, and the gift of a new name:
so that at the name of 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.

It's funny how a conversation goes, but in response to this passage our Tuesday evening group began to talk about kneeling in church - something we don't do here often but which would be a regular part of worship for Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Episcopalians, some Lutherans and even some Methodists. I did my internship at a Methodist Church in Martinsville, New Jersey, where it was the custom for the congregation to come forward in groups and kneel at an altar rail to be served communion by Pastors and Deacons.

Often associated with sacraments, kneeling is a basic posture of worship,: O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!

We also talked in our class about other places we kneel - and one of the things that came to mind for me was kneeling down help my mother or father get their slippers on when they were old and unable to do it for themselves. Or kneeling down to tie my children's shoes when they were young and unable to do it for themselves. Often associated with shoelaces, kneeling is a basic posture of service.

Shoelaces and sacraments, both requiring a posture of service and humility, a lowering of the head and a bending of the knee. Yet that path and posture of service, when undertaken in obedience and love, lift us up and grant us a great dignity.

This week we will be gathering at different times to remember and hopefully find a sense of participation in the mystery of Christ's passion and resurrection. It's a week of recalling ancient symbols like these palms that were used to welcome our Lord into the city of Jerusalem. Through the symbols, the music, the recollection of story and ceremony, we gain a renewed insight and appreciation for God's seeking us in love to redeem and save. On Thursday Night we will remember the last supper, we will celebrate the Eucharist, we will have the retelling of the story of Christ's betrayal, arrest, and the consequent events as lights are lowered and candles extinguished.

We recall the events of that night every time we celebrate communion. We know how Jesus took the bread and broke it, took the cup and blessed it - but let's also remember that there is another part of the story - a part recorded in John's Gospel: It has to do with this posture of kneeling, humility, and service. Only this time it is Jesus who kneels before us:

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. .....

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord-and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

This morning in church we raise the symbol of the palm, a sign of Hosanna, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. By this symbol we hail him King of Kings. But Christ the King comes down from his mount, leaves the head of the table, and kneels before us as servant. Perhaps he washes our feet, helps us on with our slippers, or ties our shoelaces.

These humble acts of service are the sacraments of everyday life. In them Christ gives us himself and we give ourselves to one another. The symbols of the church, of passion and resurrection, and united to the concrete realities of life at home and work. Shoelaces and Sacraments are woven together in the image of one who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of 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.