Saturday, September 24, 2011

15th Sunday after Pentecost: The Ultimate Undercover Boss

The first time I saw the preview for the show “Undercover Boss,” I was intrigued.  If you’ve never seen the show, the premise is:  a big company’s president or CEO or owner takes a week, gets a disguise and goes to work for his or her company in a “regular” job, posing as a new employee.  The owner of a home health care service served as a health care aide.  One of the family owners of White Castle hamburgers flipped burgers, worked the drive through and spent a day working in the frozen division plant.  The mayor of Cincinnati spent a day with the sanitation department picking up road kill, an afternoon with an after-school program, and a day in the city vehicles maintenance garage getting schooled – he had no automotive training or experience.
They are amazed by what they find.  They meet every-day people trying to make ends meet and provide for their families, sometimes in difficult circumstances:  a single father of three, a parent of a visually impaired child, a woman with serious health limitations.  These are people who are committed to doing good work in even when policies and procedures sometimes seem to conspire against them.  And many of them find time to give back to the communities:  a woman who takes the old flower arrangements from the casino she works at to area nursing homes on her own time, a man who is active in the local veterans’ center.

These bosses who spend a week walking in their employees shoes come away changed.  Rules and regulations are changed to promote employee satisfaction.  Investments are made in equipment that employees need to do their jobs better. 
To add drama to the show, there is a big reveal.  The boss meets with each of the employees who trained the “new employee.” These bosses have been so touched by their employees’ stories that they want to do something to help them: provide a scholarship to culinary school, money for a long-denied family vacation.

It’s a novel idea – a boss who is willing to roll up his sleeves, and get his hands dirty in order to better understand the situation of his employees and to build a better relationship with them.

Of course, it’s been done before. 
In our reading in Philippians today, Paul tells us the story of the Ultimate Undercover Boss:

God has tried everything to restore the relationship with humans, which was broken back in the fall.  God gave a set of instructions on how to live in fellowship with God and each other.  God has chosen a people to demonstrate that way of living and God has worked hard to rescue those people when their attempts to live in community go astray from the plan.
God knows that something different must be done if humankind is ever going to enjoy the loving, life-giving relationship with God and each other that they were created to have.  And so God decides to get God’s hands dirty and go undercover as a human.

Just think – the BOSS (that’s all caps folks!) of the universe wants to connect with human beings, his servants.  No sitting in the place of power and issuing directives from on high for our God.  And so God puts divinity aside and becomes human. We call that Incarnation, God with us, God as one of us.
God puts on the disguise of a baby.  From King of the Universe to frail, helpless baby – the sacrifice Jesus made for us didn’t start at the cross.  It started the minute he took on human flesh.

He lived with us as one of us.  We did not know it, but the Boss was working beside us, walking with us, teaching us, healing us.  A few of us closest to him began to see through the disguise, to see who he truly was.
Even then, with the followers who knew who Jesus was, that this was the Son of God, he didn’t take on the privilege of a master.  No, Jesus served his disciples, caring for them, washing their feet, calling them friends.

Jesus did what everything he could to show us just how much God loves us and wants to be in relationship with us.  Instead of demanding obedience and love from us, he goes to the cross to show how far God will go to restore relationship with us.

Three days after the cross is the big reveal – God’s power over death and sin is demonstrated by Jesus’ resurrection.  Jesus is revealed for who he truly is – God’s Son and Lord of all Creation. 
God so loved the world that he came to live as one of us, to live with us, to suffer and die for us all to restore us to communion with him.  The world is renewed – those things that deny life and break community are defeated.  Our working conditions, so to speak, have been improved because our Boss walked as one of us.

Now unlike our TV undercover bosses who get to go back to their day jobs, Our Ultimate Undercover Boss remains one of us.  Jesus returns to the Father, taking his place at the Father’s side, in his resurrected human body.  Fully God and fully human, the broken relationship is forever restored and through Jesus we can now live the lives we were created to live.

It’s Jesus’ example as our Ultimate Undercover Boss that Paul encourages us to follow: 

·         To be willing like Jesus to not hold on to our privilege, but to serve others.  Sometimes this means we need to put some of our desires on hold.  Sometimes this means that we give up our own self-interest in favor of serving someone in need. 

·         To consider others as better than ourselves.  Now this is not a call to crippling self-denial.  Jesus always remained fully rooted in his identity as the Son of God and yet he treated others with great respect and compassion.  We are called to follow his example, remember our baptismal identity as children of God and then to treat others with respect and compassion, knowing that they too are created in God’s image and are children – perhaps prodigal – of the same Father.

·         To work together as the body of Christ.  Paul calls it ‘having the same mind, being in one accord” and “working out our salvation together.”  That phrase troubles us Lutherans a bit – it sounds like works righteousness, and we’re all about God’s grace over human effort.  We need to remember that the “you” is plural – the community, not the individual works together to live out the results of Jesus’ saving grace in our lives. Be the body of Christ in the world, which we can do only because God is working in us and through us.

Following the example of our Ultimate Undercover Boss, Let’s put on humility, rely on God’s power in our lives, roll up our sleeves and get to work!

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