The Principle of Celebration            Philippians 2:1-13    September 28, 2006

The young woman kept calling. She'd say: "Mother, you must come see the daffodils before they are over." She wanted to go, but it was a two-hour drive from Laguna to Lake Arrowhead.

"I'll come next Tuesday," mother finally promised after the third call.

Next Tuesday dawned cold and rainy. Still, she had promised, and so she drove over to her daughter's house. "Forget the daffodils, Carolyn!" "The road is invisible in the clouds and fog." She said.

Her daughter smiled calmly and with a touch of condescension said, "We drive in this all the time, Mother."

"Well, you won't get me back on the road until it clears, and then I'm heading for home!" (I assured her.)

"I was hoping you'd take me over to the garage to pick up my car." (She wasn't listening to me.)

"How far will we have to drive?" (I asked.)

"Just a few blocks." Carolyn said. "I'll drive."

They got into the car and drove off. After several minutes, it became apparent that something was up. "Where are we going? This isn't the way to the garage!"

"We're going the long way," Carolyn smiled, "by way of the daffodils." You will never forgive yourself if you miss this experience."

After 20 minutes, they turned onto a narrow gravel road and saw a small church. On the far side of the church, there was a hand-lettered sign that read, "Daffodil Garden." They got out of the car and went down the path. As they turned a corner of the path, Carolyn's mother stopped dead in her tracks and gasped.
 
Before them lay the most glorious sight. It looked as though someone had taken a great vat of gold and poured it down over the mountain peak and slopes. The flowers were planted in majestic, swirling patterns - great ribbons and swaths of deep orange, white, lemon yellow, salmon pink, saffron and butter yellow. Each different-colored variety was planted as a group so that it swirled and flowed like its own river with its own unique hue. There were five acres of flowers!

"But who has done all this?" she asked Carolyn.

"It's just one woman," Carolyn answered. "She lives on the property. That's her home." Carolyn pointed to a well-kept A-frame house that looked small and modest in the midst of all that glory. They walked up to the house. On the patio, they saw a poster.

"Answers to the Questions I Know You Are Asking" was the headline. The first answer was a simple one: "50,000 bulbs," it read. The second answer was, "One at a time, by one woman. Two hands, two feet and very little brain." The third answer was, "Began in 1958."

 
Imagine this woman, who, more than 40 years before, had begun - one bulb at a time - to bring her vision of beauty and joy to an obscure mountaintop. Still, just planting one bulb at a time, she impacted her surroundings. This unknown woman had forever changed the world in which she lived. She had created something of indescribable magnificence, beauty and inspiration.

This spectacular display vividly illustrates today's passage and what I'm calling the principle of celebration.
 
That is, learning to move toward our goals and desires one step at a time, often just one baby-step at a time - and learning to love the doing, learning to use the accumulation of time. When we multiply tiny pieces of time with small increments of daily effort, we, too, will find we can accomplish magnificent things. We can change the world. At the very least, we can change our world.

"It makes me sad in a way," Carolyn's mother admitted. "What might I have accomplished if I had thought of a wonderful goal 35 or 40 years ago and had worked away at it 'one bulb at a time' through all those years? Just think what I might have been able to achieve!" Carolyn neatly summed it up in her usual direct way.

"Start tomorrow," (she said.)

 
"Better yet, I'll start today," (I said.)

The principle of celebration emerges from the old woman herself: her character and faithfulness in planting the daffodils. She had the vision to see beauty multiplied and the patience to keep at it to bring her vision about. Her vision was one of celebrating life and God's wonderful creation.

One day, alone on a mountain, St. Francis came across a solitary jonquil blooming through the rocks.

He sat and marveled at its beauty and realized that this is what is meant to glorify God: simply to be what we are intended to be.


 
In celebrating life we celebrate the God who gave us life. The daffodil lady surely celebrated life!

 
On the other hand, if we focus on the daffodil instead of the woman, a different principle emerges: It is in dying that we gain life. Or, after every crucifixion there is a resurrection and with each resurrection there is a celebration.

Jesus made this point both in his teaching and in his life. In his teaching, he used a grain of wheat. He might have used a daffodil bulb. "Unless a [bulb] seed falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single [bulb]" (John 12:24). In the Philippians text, the apostle Paul interprets the pre-existence, life and death of Christ in a similar manner. Christ plunged into the soil of humanity, taking the form and likeness of humankind, and in that form died on the cross. God then exalted him and gave him a name above all other names.

Beginning with verse five:
 5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
 6Who, being in very nature[a] God,
      did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
 7but made himself nothing,
      taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
      being made in human likeness.
 8And being found in appearance as a man,
      he humbled himself
      and became obedient to death—
         even death on a cross!
 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
      and gave him the name that is above every name,
 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
      in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
      to the glory of God the Father.
 
This will be the grandest celebration in all of Eternity. The glory of the risen Christ will outshine even a spectacular field of carefully selected and planted flowers. In her book, Twilight over Burma: My Life As a Shan Princess, Inge Sargent tells a beautiful story that describes the principle of celebration.
 
In the 1950-s, Sao Kya Seng, the prince of 34 independent Shan states in northeastern Burma, also known as Hsipaw, came to Denver, Colorado, to study agriculture. Since he wanted to experience what it was like to be a student in the US, he kept his identity secret. Not even his professors knew who he really was.
 
One of his fellow students was Inge Sargent from Austria. Both of them being exchange students, Inge and the Burmese prince quickly found that they had a lot in common and started to spend more and more time together. Their friendship grew into love but the Burmese prince decided that he would not let on his true identity even though they were seriously dating. He did not want Inge’s decision to date him to be colored by the fact that she could marry into royalty.
 
So when he finally proposed, with an engagement ring of ruby and diamond, Inge still did not know who he really was. Inge said yes and they got married, as any other couple, in the US. For their honeymoon, Sao Kya Seng was taking Inge to his home country, so that she could meet his family and see where he was from.
 
When their ship reached the shores of Burma, hundreds of people were waiting at the harbor. Many of them had gone out in small boat, holding up welcoming signs. A band was playing and some people were tossing flowers at the ship. Surprised at all this excitement Inge turns to her husband, and asks whose arrival they are celebrating. “Inge,” he says, I am the prince of Hsipaw. These people are celebrating our arrival. You are now the princess.”[1]  
 
The story of Jesus is the story of God coming to this world in a way you never would have expected. It is the story of God incognito.[2] Jesus, who was himself God, came to the world and concealed his divine majesty by becoming a human being like you and me.
 
“Being in very nature God, he did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; …”
 
Why did he do this? To show his love for us. Paul's point? "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus" (2:5).

Dr. Sigurd Grindheim, who is ordained in the Church of Norway, develops this theme of God incognito in one of his sermons. "The way of Christ is a downwards movement. How much that tells us about spirituality. Very often, what we think of as spirituality is exactly the opposite. It is an upwards movement. It is our attempt to lift ourselves up. It is our attempt to grow. Our attempt to become a good person. And it is all about ourselves. All about how I can be spiritual. How I can be a good person.
 
Christ shows us a different way. A way of spirituality that has nothing to do with lifting ourselves up and trying to climb on a spiritual ladder. We don't have to do that. There is nowhere for us to climb for Christ has come down to us. … He became poor so that we might become rich. He died for our sins so that we might be righteous and holy and perfect before God.
 
Christ therefore calls us to join with him. In a downwards journey. Jesus says: “The greatest among you will be your servant” (Matt 23:11). In other words, the way to greatness is a way downwards. We don’t need to do good works for our own sake but other people need them.
 
However, the way downwards does not end at the bottom. That's the paradox of the gospel. Luke 14:11 “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” The way upwards ends at the bottom, but the way downwards ends at the top.
 
Jesus’ way did not end at the cross, it continued with his resurrection and glorification. “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 acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” That will be the ultimate celebration.
 
If we live a life with Christ, we can rejoice when we are brought low, because Christ’s downwards journey ends in heaven.
 
“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Rom 8:17). The sufferings of this life will end in glory.
 
Our friend, Lou White, suffered with a brain tumor the last few months. It was a slow, seemingly purposeless time; difficult to watch; frustrating because we could do nothing to help. I wonder if this is how Jesus' followers felt at the foot of his cross?
 
'The Bible often likens our relationship with God to that of a bride’s relationship to her groom. As the church, the body of Christ, we are Christ’s bride. The second coming of Christ is often described as the great wedding banquet, when Christ, the groom, will come to get us, the believer, his bride, and lead us into his glorious kingdom. That is when we will hear the words: Welcome home. You are now the princess!"
 
Miss Louise White, God rest her soul, is now the princess! Thanks be to God. Let us pray . . .
 
 
 
Rev. Rosemary Stelz
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


[1] (From Twilight over Burma: My Life As a Shan Princess, by Inge Sargent.)
 
[2] Dr. Sigurd Grindheim, ordained in the Church of Norway. Cand.theol., The Norwegian Lutheran School of Theology Ph.D., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School Full-time Instructor, Mekane Yesus Theological Seminary and The Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
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