Sermon: Philippians 2:9-11
Pentecost 11 – August 5, 2018 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
If I asked you this morning who the pastor of Immanuel was fifty years ago, some of you would remember that it was Pastor Oscar Lemke. If I asked you who was the pastor of Immanuel about sixty or seventy years ago, probably a smaller group of people would be able to tell me that it was Pastor A. C. Bartz. If I asked you who was the pastor of Immanuel one hundred years ago, I doubt that there’s anyone who could tell me that it was a man named Theodore Volkert.
In the same way fifty or sixty years from now, if this world is still here and if this congregation is still privileged to be here, not too many will remember my name or that I was pastor here. Or a hundred years from now I can pretty much guarantee you that no one will remember my name or that I served as pastor of this congregation. But it’s our hope and prayer that salvation in the name of Jesus Christ that was preached here one hundred years ago, that’s preached here today, will, God willing, be preached here one hundred years from now.
And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. When it comes to the proclamation of the gospel it’s not the name of the messenger that’s supposed to be remembered but the message itself and the name of Jesus Christ. That principle is illustrated very well today in the 9th disciple in our sermon series, James the Younger. The truth is that all we know about James the Younger is his name and the name of his parents - and the fact that he preached and exalted the name of Jesus Christ. Today we’re going to consider
JAMES THE YOUNGER, A NOT SO EXALTED DISCIPLE WHO EXALTED CHRIST
We actually know more about James’ mother than we do about James himself. Mark in his gospel tells us that James the Younger’s mother was Mary. She was one of the women who witnessed the crucifixion, saw where Jesus was buried, and returned on Sunday morning with the intention of completing the burial process. She was the wife of Alphaeus, James’ father. She and Alphaeus had another son named Joses.
Mark refers to James as James the Younger. Literally he calls him James the Little. The word little could refer to his stature, that perhaps he was a small man, short in height. Or the distinction James the Younger, James the Little, or James the Less, as he’s sometimes referred to, may simply have been a designation to distinguish this James from the other better known disciple James, the son of Zebedee, the brother of John.
James the Younger, James the Less, illustrates to us that it’s not the man who is to be exalted, but God himself.
A number of years ago in the Iraq war we witnessed as American troops pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein, a statue erected to exalt a man as the leader of a nation. Historically nations have crafted all kinds of statues of their leaders to honor them, exalt them, and to remember them. In the old Soviet Union the body of Lenin was preserved for visitors and tourists to view, so revered was this man who established communism in Russia.
While there’s a certain legitimacy in honoring men who have truly been noble in some way, there’s also a kind of idolatrous perversity about it as well. The sinful nature in all of us has a desire to honor human beings, other created beings, and even ourselves, before God. The Apostle Paul in the opening chapters of his letter to the Romans notes this worst of all sins among people. “Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”
Satan once tempted Adam and Eve with the lie that if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they wouldn’t die but would actually become like God in knowledge and wisdom. Ever since then all their descendants have been born with a rebellious heart that would rather be exalted and honored than to exalt and honor God. So sinners have this natural tendency to serve and honor and exalt themselves or others before they serve and honor and exalt God.
Something as silly as the tabloids that clog the grocery check out line reminds us how we foolishly honor and exalt and worship mere human beings because they’re wealthy, or powerful, or beautiful, or famous. People honor them, revere them, and imitate them because they want to be them or be like them. The sin in this is that we sinners want to create and fashion ourselves in the image of another human being or an image of our own self-centered thinking rather than be people created in the image of God. We want to exalt ourselves rather than God. Our sins make that fact evident.
Jesus came to this world to graciously save us from our sins of idolatry against God. He came to atone for our sins by his death on the cross. He reconciled us to God, to remove the sin and guilt that separated us from God, so that we could be friends with God again, worship him, and have fellowship with. Jesus came to this world so that we could once again see that there is nothing, no one, including ourselves, who is more important, no one who deserves our worship and praise, other than God himself.
In these words of the Apostle Paul from his letter to the Philippians he writes that Jesus “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” It so ironic that in order to save his created beings who sinned and chose to exalt themselves rather than God, God took on the nature of one of his created beings - and more than that, a servant who was willing to die on a cross.
Because Jesus was willing to do this, because he fulfilled God’s will and atoned for sin by his death on the cross, God raised him again from the dead and exalted him. Paul writes, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” There are few words in scripture that so clearly exalt Christ and remind us that all are to exalt him and that he is to be exalted above all others and all things.
When we consider the love and mercy of Jesus Christ and what he did to save us we have no problem understanding that we are to exalt him above all others, all things, including ourselves. We understand then why the name and person of a disciple like James the Younger has not been exalted or remembered to a great extent. Rather Jesus’ name is remembered and exalted. And though it’s not written down in scripture we know that James the Younger would have wanted it to be that way.
But James the Younger was not the only one whose name was not exalted and remembered. The truth is that we don’t really know that much about many of the disciples. They faithfully proclaimed Jesus’ name and exalted him.
There have been thousands and thousands of faithful believers, Old Testament believers and New Testament Christians, whose names have never been known, who were not exalted in scripture, who have been forgotten. The writer of the book of Hebrews, in that well-known 11th chapter on faith, commends many faithful believers by name and countless other nameless believers who endured in their faith, some of whom were never recognized or commended in this life for their faith. But they were satisfied that God was exalted and praised for his great love and mercy.
Millions of Christians live today also whose names will never be known in this world, they’ll never be famous, they won’t be remembered, but Jesus Christ will be exalted and praised by them and by those who follow them. There are Christians today persecuted and in prison in North Korea, China, and in Islamic dominated countries in Asia and Africa, some of them brutally put to death, who will never be known by the world, who may never have a stone to mark their grave, but will die redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and satisfied that his name is exalted and praised now and forever.
It isn’t always so easy to learn the lesson left behind by James the Younger. It isn’t always so easy to exalt Jesus Christ to the highest place. Exalting God above all things all the time means believing and agreeing and accepting that God’s will in our lives is always right, that what God allows to happen in our life is always wise, that our lives are first of all about God and his glory and not just what we want. Exalting God above all things all the time means believing and accepting that God will use our lives as he desires in this world for as long as he desires.
Put yourself in the place of James the Younger. Imagine that Jesus is calling you to be his disciple. He tells you that it will be difficult to follow him. You’ll have to work hard. Your life won’t really be your own anymore. Many of your hopes and dreams will not come to pass. You’ll often be rejected and finally will die a martyr’s death. You won’t be remembered or exalted. Your name will be written down – James, but James the Less, the James who especially won’t be remembered. And all this so that Jesus’ name will be exalted.
That really is what God asks of us. At our confirmation we were asked, “Do you intend faithfully to conform all your life to the teachings of God’s word; to be faithful in the use of the word and sacrament; and in faith and action remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as long as you live?” We answer that question, “I do and I ask God to help me.” How important it is to ask God to help us. We really are promising to exalt Christ above all, above all things, above ourselves and our lives and our desires and our wishes, to have our names forgotten and Jesus’ name exalted forever.
Our lives in this world and all that we want in this life will eventually pass away. Our names will be forgotten eventually by everyone. But not matter. Jesus’ name will be remembered and exalted forever. Amen.