Tag Archives: humble

If Selfish Ambition and Conceit[1] Are Not of God, What Is? [OR Cleo Parker Robinson Invites Us to Dance] Philippians 2:1-13 and Psalm 25

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on September 27, 2020

[sermon begins after 2 Bible Readings]

Philippians 2:1-13  If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 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. 12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Psalm 25 To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. 2 O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. 3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. 5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.
6 Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. 7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!
8 Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. 9 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

[sermon begins]

How would you respond if I were to ask Daniel, our Minister of Music, to play something upbeat and festive to start us dancing right now? Hmmm…right. I’m going to guess that most of you aren’t so hot on the idea and that if I did so you might forever question whether or not to come to worship on my preaching Sundays. At our Synod’s Theological Conference last week, something similar happened.[2] The completely different part was that we were safely seated in front of our screens because we were meeting virtually. When we were invited to dance, the first thing I did was turn off the camera. Then I stood up, danced with the dancers on the screen, and sang with the music coming from my speakers, “Wade in the water…wade in the water, children…wade in the water…God is gonna trouble the water.”[3] [Admit it, you kinda want to dance now too, don’t you.]

The woman inviting us to dance was Cleo Parker Robinson, an internationally known dancer and choreographer as well as a local Denver treasure.[4] She talked about the burdens piling up on us in the world and invited us to keep moving to keep moving. Cleo wasn’t allowed to dance in church as a child and found ways to dance outside of church. She almost died when she was 11 years old and overheard the doctor tell her grandparents that she’ll never walk again. Cleo said to herself, “Well, if I’m going to live, I’m going to move.” She’s quite an example of joy in tension with her experience of suffering.

Examples of joy and suffering can be hard to come by. Especially when there’s truth to be discovered. We seem to be caught in a false choice between full denial and overwrought catastrophizing. It’s much harder to find a sweet spot of thoughtful, passionate engagement that makes space for joy while working against changeable causes of suffering. Hmmm…where to find another example. If only we could think of someone who could help us. As I was writing this, I found myself wishing for a God ole children’s sermon when I could ask that question a little differently and some quick-thinking five-year-old would shout, “Jesus!” And then I would say, “Yes, Jesus!” Those days will come again. In the meantime, I’m going to invoke Griffin (formerly named Xander) and shout for him, “Jesus!!”

Jesus is the centerpiece of our reading from Philippians – Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. Philippi was an intense pro-Roman colony. Not the safest place to be for these early church peeps. The church was facing external threats and internal stress and behaving badly. Paul wrote to remind them who they were in Christ and about the God to whom they belong. I sometimes wonder how the first listeners of Paul’s letters reacted to them. Some of us have cozied up with Paul’s run-on sentences and theological speak enough times that we’ve become used to it even if we don’t totally understand it. But the early church formed only a decade or so after Jesus’ death. They were still trying to understand how death on a cross exalted Jesus’ name above every name.[5] This part of Philippians contains the Christ hymn – a creed of sorts. We’ll say the Apostle’s Creed today in the baptism recorded for online worship. A creed is a statement about who we think Jesus is, based on the witness of scripture. We say them as something to wrestle with as opposed to something we’re supposed to agree with full stop. Before Paul gets to the credal part in the Christ hymn, he offers some words of advice:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.[6]

Before anyone gets all crazy about Paul calling everyone to the same dull sameness. He’s asking his readers to look to the interests of others. He’s acknowledging a variety of interests that take effort to include. Not advocating for cookie-cutter Jesus followers, Paul is emphasizing a diversity in their unity to sustain their fellowship with each other.[7] Cleo Parker Robinson gave an extreme example of what Paul is identifying. Her troop had been invited out of state to perform. I think she said Idaho but don’t quote me on that. Most of the troupe had checked into the hotel and their sound technician was at the theater running a check on the system. The White theater owner showed up with gun and said that he was part of making sure that Black people didn’t come to town and, if they did, that they didn’t stay long. He hadn’t realized that he’d booked a Black dance troupe. The sound technician raced over to the hotel and said they had to leave town now. They decided they would perform and maximize their safety with an exit plan. Then they danced. Following the performance, the theater owner was so affected that he broke down, apologized, and thanked them for coming. Some would call the dancers foolhardy. Others would describe them as courageous. All I know is that it was inspiring to hear her tell their story. I can’t imagine that level of life and death decision-making just to do my job.

It’s difficult to imagine finding that level of humility at deep personal risk. Fortunately, we are not left to our own devices. In verse 13, Paul assures his readers and us that, “it is God who is at work in you.” This isn’t a mysterious, untouchable God at work it us. Oh sure, most of God is ineffable, unknowable, and mysterious. But, just a few verses before, we’re assured that God is with us. We’re given this description:

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

God reveals God’s self through Jesus. While Paul’s idealized slave is problematic language in our country still reckoning with racism tied to slavery, there’s enough clarity about God’s revelation in Jesus.

Jesus who is vulnerable and remains strong.

Jesus who surrenders and is resolute.

Jesus who is obedient and still a self.

Jesus is the glimpse that Christians are given of the mystery of God. It’s a picture of humility that has no room for “selfish ambition or conceit” and focuses us on “the interests of others.”[9] Verse 4 makes clear that selfish ambition and conceit are not of God. But their opposite humble and selfless attributes are so much of God that when we see them in someone we can say, “That’s God and that’s good.”[10]

Lutherans are NOT about marks of salvation that make following Jesus sound like a checklist of personal works and somehow that’s how we know we’re really in with God. For Lutherans, God is the starting point, not us. We don’t have to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” because, like the psalmist in Psalm 25, we are assured of God’s mercy and steadfast love for they have been from of old.[11] We’re in with God because of what Jesus has done and not by any righteous behavior of our own. But we do have Jesus’ example and are freed from salvific concerns to focus on living our lives in his name and in his image. For this and for all that God is doing, we can say thanks be to God and amen.


Hymn of the Day

ELW #810  O Jesus, I Have Promised

1    O Jesus, I have promised

to serve you to the end;

remain forever near me,

my master and my friend.

I shall not fear the battle

if you are by my side,

nor wander from the pathway

if you will be my guide.

2    Oh, let me feel you near me;

the world is ever near.

I see the sights that dazzle,

the tempting sounds I hear.

My foes are ever near me,

around me and within;

but, Jesus, then draw nearer

to shield my soul from sin.

3    Oh, let me hear you speaking

in accents clear and still

above the storms of passion,

the murmurs of self-will.

Now speak to reassure me,

to hasten or control;

now speak and make me listen,

O Guardian of my soul.


4    O Jesus, you have promised

to all who follow you

that where you are in glory

your servant shall be too.

And Jesus, I have promised

to serve you to the end;

oh, give me grace to follow,

my master and my friend.

Text: John E. Bode, 1816-1874, alt


[1] Philippians 2:3

[2] Augustana Lutheran Church is part of the Rocky Mountain Synod of the ELCA. Synod is a fancy church word that designates an area of congregations. Theological Conference is an annual gathering of pastors, deacons, and church leaders.

[3] LB Crew. “Wade in the Water.” 2019. (I highly recommend this version over my attempt while preaching.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfnSBf77SGs

[4] Learn more here: https://cleoparkerdance.org/

[5] Philippians 2:9

[6] Philippians 2:3-5

[7] Ekaputra Tupamahu, Assistant Professor of New Testament, Portland Seminary/George Fox University, Portland, OR. Commentary on Philippians 2:13 for September 27, 2020. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4593

[8] Philippians 2:5-8

[9] Philippians 2:3-4

[10] See my sermon of that title from last week here: http://caitlintrussell.org/2020/09/20/expectations-envy-and-complaint-or-thats-god-and-thats-good-matthew-201-16-and-exodus-162-15/

[11] Psalm 25:6

Luke 14:1, 7-14 “Jesus Stole the Table”

Luke 14:1, 7-14  “Jesus Stole the Table”

September 1, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO


Luke 14:1, 7-14  On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”



Picture this with me…you’re in a school cafeteria… … …do you have that picture?  Picture the other kids.  Who are they?  Where are they sitting?  More importantly, where are you going to sit?  You have your tray or your brown bag or your lunchbox and you’re standing there, trying to act chill but you’re not feeling chill at all.  Picture it…where are you going to sit?  You see a few open seats at one table but you’re not friends with them.  You see another seat but the person sitting next to it kind of scares you or intimidates you.  You see another open seat next to a kid you talk to sometimes in History class.  You’ve been standing awhile now and so you bee-line over to that seat, plunk down and start eating.

Now you know and I know that finding a seat in a busy cafeteria full of other kids is tricky.  It’s about who you know, who you don’t know, who you don’t want others to know that you know…it’s tricky.  It’s also about strategy.  If you’re headed toward more popularity, you sit in those seats.  Less popular, sit in those.  See?  Still tricky.

Let’s make it trickier.  I was talking with some kids recently who were talking about teenage jobs and which ones were cool and which ones weren’t.  When I asked how this all gets figured out and why even talk about it, one of them said to me, “Well, grown-ups are the same way about jobs.”  This led me to thinking about jobs, meetings and this TED video I watched recently about who gets a place at the table, literally, when important decisions are being made.[1]  Are you starting to get an idea about how my brain works?

Anyway, one would think that the metaphor of the table and the actual table itself would be completely cleared of all helpful meaning but evidently we’re not tired of talking about it or sitting around it. This table thing is here, there, and everywhere.  21st century?  1st century?  Doesn’t matter.  People love to talk about the table and, more specifically, who gets to sit where.

Dinner at a leader of the Pharisee’s home sounds much like the tables in the school cafeteria.   The seating ranges from not-so-good (read: humble), good, better, and the best.  Jesus sees the situation for what it is and begins to talk about it almost as if to say that to find the best seat, look for the least appealing seat and sit there.  Which of course, when you’re involved in seat-shifting shenanigans only serves to flip them in the opposite direction, creating a whole other kind of seating hierarchy but a hierarchy nonetheless.  So the labor for a good seat continues, only now the question becomes one of identifying as the most humble among us all which, ironically, is just the other side of the pride coin.  There is nowhere to sit and nowhere to hide.  So what in heaven’s name did Jesus just do?

Well, on this Labor Day weekend, I’d like to suggest that Jesus just ran away with the table, the seats, and our labor to make sense of ourselves in the way we stack up over and against, or under and against other people. This is Jesus as his prankster finest.  Ashton Kutcher’s efforts pale in comparison to what Jesus has up his sleeve.[2]

My own life as a prankster was cut short in kindergarten.  I thought it would be really funny to pull the chair out from under someone as they were sitting down and it was straight to the principal’s office for me.  A failed attempt at replicating the old pepper-in-the-face gag to make my little sister sneeze ended even more miserably – for her and for me when my mother caught wind of it. Still today, my discomfort with pranks is so high that I’m often moving fast away from the one organizing the prank.  What I’m trying to say, albeit not very well, is that it sometimes takes a prankster to spot one.

And in this story, I spot Jesus pulling a prank as he gives us nowhere to sit at the table without consciously thinking, “Is this humble enough?  How about this?  Or this, is this humble enough?”  And as we stand there wondering where to sit, we catch sight of ourselves in the mirror hanging on the wall… …  Caught again…

Caught again in our own labor to create meaning by stacking ourselves over and against our fellow humans in whatever way our seat assignment at the table defines our rank and defines our selves.   Without the table there, we see ourselves and each other in this mirror.  If we’re not really careful, this exposure to our own shenanigans and each other’s shenanigans can lead us to an easy cynicism about other people’s motives.  Seeing them clearly, so trusting no one.

All we had to do to see this cynicism in action this week was open a newspaper, news website or your favorite blog to check out the latest on Miley Cyrus.  Everyone’s taking sides, mostly in critique of her although there are a few writers who come to the table dance with a bit of compassion.

However the conversations go, the table, the chairs and the seating chart are in place and we think we see the shenanigans fully revealed.  If there’s anything to be learned after the week’s news about Syria was overshadowed by the week’s news about Cyrus, it’s that the move to easy cynicism has become a chair in which many find themselves seated.

But the prank that Jesus pulls by removing the table isn’t his final move.  It’s not simply about mischief making that exposes our humanity.   It is about God entering humanity in Jesus and replacing the tables of our own making with one of his own.  Replacing the table through that same humanity. [3]

It is this table, brought to us by Jesus’ decent into death from the cross, which levels the seating.  We tend to picture the mighty falling and being replaced with the humble at the seat of honor, which would be the way we might see if it were our table.  But this table exalts the humble even as the lofty are humbled so that no one can claim to be above the line or push anyone else below it.  This is the table from which we can see the cafeteria game for what it is.  It is also the table the beloved Reverend King marched from with a multi-ethnic, multi-religious band of people to declare our common humanity.  Some table!

Jesus shakes up the way we labor over our seating and gives us each a place so that we all may come to his table at communion and hear that Jesus is “for you.”  Jesus replaces the tables of our own making – seating shenanigans and all – with one of his own and says, “All are welcome…including you.”


[1] Sheryl Sandberg, TED Talk: “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders.” December 2010. http://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders.html

[2] Ashton Kutcher, Punk’d on MTV.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punk’d

[3] For those of your reading this, I move from the preaching spot to stand at the communion table.