Sermon: Learning to Kneel

We have spent the last couple weeks looking and listening together to what God’s word has to say about our place in the body of Christ (all of us have gifts to be used for God’s service) as well as the particular roles of elder and deacons. As we finish this focused time, I want to invite you to listen with me to 1 Peter 5. 1 Peter is in the New Testament, toward the very end. It’s a small letter just before 2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation. It is the first of two letters from the apostle Peter, disciple of Jesus, to a group of churches in Asia Minor – modern-day Turkey. He has been clarifying the gospel, encouraging the believers facing persecution, and instructing the church in the way of new life in Christ. And this morning, we will be listening to his closing words to these churches. Let’s listen, but before we do, please pray with me.

Father, may your word be our rule, Your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

These are the very words of God from the book that we love:

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow-elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings, who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be – not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve, not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will gain the crown of glory that will never fade.

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because

“God opposes the proud,

but shows favor to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing fast in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.

She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings and so does my son, Mark. Greet one another with a kiss of love.

Peace to all of you who are in Christ.

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

Let’s hear that again: In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders.

Submit. Oooh, that sounds like a dirty word. Submit yourselves to your elders. We are not often fans of submission. After all, we are ‘give me liberty or give me death’ kind of people, ‘never surrender’ kind of people, ‘pry it from my cold dead hands’ kind of people. Submission – something deep within us often rebels at the notion. We know too many stories of forced submission – violence, aggression, humiliation. The more someone tells us to do something, often the less likely we are to do it. Ask any parent, ‘because I told you so’ only works so long and then it can begin to have the opposite effect.

Submit sounds like a dirty word.

Our culture glorifies those who fight to the last breath, who never give up in the face of evil and injustice, while those who submit are seen as weak and cowardly. Watch any action movie, war movie, or superhero movie and tell me I’m wrong. Now there is, in fact, something very right about being willing to persevere in the face of evil, but the way we tell the story as a culture often leaves a bitter taste in our mouth at the word ‘submit.’

And yet, here it is in God’s word – in the imperative nonetheless, a command – in the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders.

Peter appeals to the elders in the room, those placed in positions of authority, and calls them to be shepherds of God’s flock. It is an old and rich image for God’s relationship to his people, one Jesus picked up when he calls himself the good shepherd, an image he used when he sat on the beach eating breakfast with Peter after his resurrection and said, ‘feed my lambs.’ God is the Shepherd and we are his sheep. But until Christ comes again, elders have been appointed as under-shepherds to care for the flock. Shepherds work tirelessly for the sake of care for the sheep. Shepherds never strike the sheep, but use their staff to defend them from predators. Shepherds guide the sheep with words – encouragement, admonition. Shepherds care for the sick sheep, seek the lost sheep, and lead the whole flock into good pasture.

And so, Peter appeals to the elders of the church: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them. But after describing the shepherds’ role, he turns to the rest of the flock, particularly those who are young and says,

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders.

I confess I’ve felt conflicted these past couple weeks preaching through on the role of elders and deacons. I’ve been conflicted because I knew this was coming. And it is so tempting for me to try and twist this command to submit. On the one hand, I know how often I feel unsure in my leadership here in the church, I know how often I stand up and proclaim God’s word and don’t follow through, I know how often I fail and sin and disappoint God and myself. And so I am sorely tempted to find a way to write this section off because it often seems like a bad idea to me – submit to me, listen to me – when I know my own failing and how far I have to go in being a disciple of Jesus.

But on the other hand, it would be so tempting, so convenient, so suspicious to stand up here and say, “By the way everyone, the Bible says you are supposed to do whatever your pastor says, so whatever I say, you are supposed to do it.”

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. What does this mean, then? Let’s unpack this whole section for all our sakes, so that together we might understand what God’s word for us is this morning.

Let’s listen to it again:

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because

“God opposes the proud,

but shows favor to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Right after calling us to submit, three times Peter mentions humility. There is a deep connection between submission and humility. Those who are younger in the faith are to submit, to accept the guidance, of the more mature, those who have been called to lead. But notice, it says all of you, that is all of us, are to clothe ourselves with humility toward one another. Even if in some relationships there is submission of one to another, humility should characterize all our relationships to each other.

Even more so than today, humility was not considered a virtue in the ancient world. In fact, before the coming of Jesus, before God became flesh and humbled himself on the cross, to the point of death, and was then raised from the dead in vindication of his life and death as pleasing to God, before all this, almost no one considered humility to be a good thing.

To be humble was to be small, to be low, to be poor and downcast. Humility was fine for the weak, for the slaves and the servants, but certainly not something to aspire to, to cultivate. No one humbled themselves, they were humbled, humiliated, made to put on the apron and serve.

But then the Spirit of God was poured on the church, the same Spirit that filled Jesus, and humility was seen as beautiful. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, Peter says. Willing service was not the lowest position, but the highest. I almost wonder if Peter was remembering Jesus washing the disciples feet as he wrote this. I wonder if he remembered Jesus taking off his outer clothing and wrapping a towel around his waist to wash their feet. I wonder if he remembered Jesus clothing himself in humility and doing the work of a servant. I wonder if he had Jesus words echoing in his mind, I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because “God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble.”

The call to submit to those in authority, to the elders, is spoken in the context of a life of humility in the whole church. We are called to be eager and willing to serve others, like a waiting servant – both high and low, respected or not, all of us are called to serve one another.

This humility before others, this willing service, is rooted in an even deeper command: humility before God.

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because “God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble.”

Humble yourselves therefore, before God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

Not only are we to put ourselves in a position of wiling service to others, but this humble posture flows out of humility before God.

Humble yourselves, therefore, before God’s mighty hand. Humble yourselves, literally make yourselves small – it is an image of worship, of kneeling before the greatness of God, of falling on our face before his majesty, of trusting his mighty hand to provide, even when we don’t understand. Humble yourselves, therefore, before God’s mighty hand is the image of kneeling in trust and, yes, submission, before the God who lifts up the downtrodden.

A couple weeks ago, we had the privilege of ordaining Norma Adams to the office of elder and Larry Wiese to the office of Deacon. And part of that ceremony was that they would kneel, have hands laid on them, and be commissioned – ordained – to take up the mantle of this office. So in preparation, I brought out our kneeling bench. It hadn’t been used since we got here, so I cleaned it up and put it front and center. After the service, the children were gathering to sing and some of them asked, “What is that doing there? Why do we need to use it?”

As usual, children ask excellent questions. As I searched for the best way to explain about humbling ourselves before God who is holy and submitting ourselves to his will, about doing all this with our body as well as our hearts, I asked them, “do any of you get on your knees when you pray?” Most of them looked at me a little funny.

In thinking about that moment over the last few weeks and thinking about my prayers and the prayers I had witnessed throughout my life, I began to wonder, “Have we forgotten how to kneel?”

This isn’t a criticism of the kids or their parents, but just an observation. Have we forgotten how to kneel?

Have our bodies forgotten what it is like to humble ourselves before the Holy One of Israel? Have our bodies led our hearts to forget to kneel in awe of the Alpha and Omega, Jesus Christ the Righteous?

Have we forgotten how to kneel?

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

What does it say that the only time we kneel is when someone is ordained and that the bench can do so unused that I have to clean it before worship?

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand. Our humility before others starts first with our humility before God. Our willing service and submission to our brothers and sisters, to strangers and outcasts, begins with being in proper relation to God.

And the call to humility itself is rooted in the character of God.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Because he cares for you.

All of this starts because God cares for you. All of this – shepherding the flock, submitting to the elders, humbly serving each other, kneeling before God in heart and body – all of this begins with God’s care and compassion for us, sinners saved by grace.

Other religions have rites and formulas, incantations and sacrifices, that are meant to appease the deity and make him or her pay attention. But Christianity begins with the immutable fact that God cares for you. Do you know this? God cares for you.

God cares for you.

The care of God the Father is seen in the Son – the atonement for sin accomplished on the cross – Romans 5:8, But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

God cares for us enough to take all our anxieties that we cast on him, to take all our guilt, all our shame, all our sin and punishment upon himself on the cross.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

All of this starts because God cares for you. I love the way John Calvin says it,

“Christ was given to us by God’s generosity, to be grasped and possessed by us in faith. By partaking of him, we principally receive a double grace: namely, that being reconciled to God through Christ’s blamelessness, we may have in heaven instead of a Judge a gracious Father; and secondly, that sanctified by Christ’s spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life.”

Through Christ, through being reconciled to God through Christ’s blamelessness, we have in heaven not a Judge but a gracious Father.

A gracious father – Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Christ’s work has not changed God’s character, but our relationship with him, such that we can cast all our cares on him and know his loving compassion toward us.

He cares for you. Do you know this?

Now, because of Christ, we are free to kneel, free to serve, free to be humble (as leaders and followers) because we all follow the chief shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep.

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. We are free to trust the guidance of those God has appointed. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because “God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble.” In Christ, we are now free to put on humility like a servant’s apron and eagerly serve one another. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. In Christ, we are now free to kneel before God – in reverence, in awe, and in love.

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.

Whether we lead or whether we follow, all of us who belong to Christ are free to live in humility because God cares for us. May we humble ourselves before God and others. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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One thought on “Sermon: Learning to Kneel

  1. Pingback: Lifting up hands towards the Most High | Belgian Biblestudents - Belgische Bijbelstudenten

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