Sermon: Empty is Not Necessarily a Bad Thing
Scripture: Philippians 2.1-13
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date: October 1, 2017, World Communion Sunday
We’ve just come through a tumultuous time in Florida with the onslaught of Hurricane Irma. For the week leading up to the landfall, it seems like everyone put their life on hold and began prepping for what might happen. Normally sane people began to do insane things like fighting over toilet paper and peanut butter at Publix while others began to brandish weapons at a nearby gas station because someone cut in front of them in line. Lowes and Home Depot became madhouses as folks were stocking up on batteries, water, plywood, and generators.
A scarcity of supplies and empty shelves soon became the norm. I cut my study leave short to drive back from north Georgia to secure the house. When I arrived Tuesday night a week before the storm hit, there were already gas lines as I passed through Astor and Barberville; even though I had been on the road for over eight hours the first thing I did when I got to DeLand is find a gas station with the shortest line and filled up. I immediately left RaceTrac and went to Publix to pick up some supplies and you would have thought it was Toys R Us on Christmas Eve! Water: out. Prepared whole chickens: Out. Vegetables: Going fast. Milk: scarce. Beer and wine: thinning out. Ice: forget it. Charcoal: Out. In fact, I took a picture of the charcoal aisle at Publix with its linear feet of massive but empty shelves and put it on Instagram only to have CNN pick it up and run it on the news! Scarcity was leading to desperation and hoarding.
Yet, there are other types of emptiness, too. There is financial emptiness when we simply do not have or feel we have enough to get by. We see how everyone else around us is doing and they seem to be doing fine so why can’t I be as well? It’s not fair! Why should my bank accounts be empty when everyone else’s seem so full? A feeling of financial emptiness can create resentment towards others in the community. Financial emptiness can cause one to focus on what he or she does not have instead of what they’ve already got. It’s like the old Cheryl Crow song, Soak Up the Sun, where she sings:
I don’t have digital
I don’t have diddly squat
It’s not having what you want
It’s wanting what you’ve got.
Then there is emotional emptiness, too. It’s an emptiness that feels heavy and dark. It’s an emptiness that feels there is not enough in this whole world to slake its thirst and craving for something but that “something” evades them. It’s an emptiness that unwittingly sucks the energy from other people around us. It’s an emptiness that masks itself in sadness, irritability, anger or passive aggressiveness.
There also is relational emptiness. We look around us and it seems like everyone else is a couple. Everyone else has friends. Everyone else has a support system. Everyone, that is, except me. This emptiness manifests itself in a person feeling victimized, jealous, hurt, spiteful, or just deeply depressed and isolated.
Finally, there is spiritual emptiness. Spiritual emptiness is seen in people who love the things and ways of culture for themselves as opposed to gaining life through a community in sacrifice. Spiritual emptiness is seen in our propensity for libertine living because we are searching for something, indeed, Something, to fill this gaping void in our souls. This is an emptiness that causes people to become selfish, greedy, and prideful. This is an emptiness which causes a person to lead a life that’s “all about me” versus “it’s really about us.” It’s an emptiness that abuses people, enslaves people, and wipes out the Imago Dei, the very Image of God, in others and our environment. This is the emptiness Paul is describing in today’s text. It’s also an emptiness that Paul points to as possible Easter-moment, a time when rebirth can occur.
This morning we are continuing our study of Philippians with what is thought to be one of the earliest credos or corporate statements of faith in the early Church. Paul is addressing some unspecified problems going on in the Philippian church and we begin to see what those issues are revolving around in our text today. We will be reading from The Message Bible and the text is printed in your bulletin wrap for your convenience. Listen to the Word of the Lord from Philippians 2.1-11.
2.1-4 If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
5-8 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.
9-11 Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father. 
It appears there were some in the Philippian church who were in fact spiritually empty because they were too full of themselves. These church folks were concerned about their understanding of Jesus over and against your understanding of Jesus. They were pushing themselves up the ladder of influence and notoriety to become the power players swaying to shape other Christian’s views and loyalty. They wanted the power. They wanted to control and be in charge. They would accomplish this even to the point of disparaging the founder of their local Church, Paul himself and Paul would not fall for their baiting tactics.
What does Paul do? Paul describes the spiritual emptiness that must take place to be full of the power and presence of God and he looks to Jesus as the example to do it. Paul reminds them Jesus had equal status with God but he “set aside the privileges of deity and became human.” And as our text reminds us, “It was a very humbling process.” The original language describes this setting aside his deity as a total emptying of himself – a pouring out. Imagine a pitcher of water being drained to the dregs. This is what the Eternal Christ did! He emptied himself of being God to become fully human which in turn enables you and me to become fully re-engaged in a relationship with God the Father again!
Christ Jesus emptied himself of Divine privileges in order that our fallen humanity could regain ours. Christ humbled himself so that you and I could be lifted up. God became a bona fide human being like you and me so as to completely relate with what we feel, think, believe, and experience in order to redeem those feelings, thoughts, and experiences we have.
Church, God emptied himself so that you and I, indeed, this whole wonderful creation, could become full of God. Jesus emptied himself so that we could become filled. Yet, there is one thing necessary before this can happen. We must follow the Christ’s example.
Each one of us must pour our inner self out in order to become full of Holy Spirit and Christ. We are being called to pour out our self-importance. We are being called to kill our overfed egos. We are being called to empty out any sense of entitlement from deep within us and refill ourselves with love for God and neighbor. We are called to set aside any privileges we think we have or are owed and run straight to the back of the line and push and encourage others to go first. It’s only when we are empty of ourselves, wish dreams, lusts, drives for power and success that we become available vessels of love and grace for the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ.
Beloved, Jesus emptied himself, poured himself out for you and for me. The question for you and I is what exactly each of us need to pour out in our own lives that is getting in the way and displacing the infilling of the Holy Spirit of Christ in our hearts and souls. What is occupying our spirits and souls that is displacing room for Jesus?
This morning is Worldwide Communion Sunday, a day when Christians around the world from all traditions empty themselves of their dogma and traditions and become truly one in Christ and one with the whole Church. As you prepare to receive the meal, be asking our Lord what you need to purge in our life – feelings, behaviors, or experiences – that are getting in the way of your infilling of the Holy Spirit. Come to the Table empty. Leave the Table full of Christ. Amen.
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, Florida 32720
© 2017 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 The Message, (Colorado Springs: NavPress).
 The Greek term Paul uses is kenosis.