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October 7, 2018

“Christ Mindedness”

Philippians 2:1-13

It has been a little over 3 years since I last performed on stage in a show. The last show I got to do along with our daughter Abby. I played the role of the Jester in “Once Upon a Mattress” with the Glorianna Theater Company. My congregation at the time said it was type-casting…For a number of years, I was also part of a small chamber opera company on the Mendocino Coast. I was able to take part in 7-8 operas. It was a lot of fun, but also a lot of work to learn the book for a performance, and then do it 2-3 times over a number of weekends. That being said, I do remember how fun it was to hear about whatever role I had been assigned to. One of the tricks for actors on stage is to immerse yourself in the role as much as you can. There are all kinds of exercises that you can use to do this. My favorite is to try to think like they would think when rehearsing. For example, what would be running through the character’s mind in this particular scene, even when I don’t have any singing to do? In having a mind like the character I could then act like they would act on stage consistently.

 

My last role in an opera was as a rather lecherous count who was trying to steal the affections of a young maiden betrothed to another- the hero, who of course was a tenor. Bass/Baritones NEVER get the girl in operas...The name of the opera was “The Secret Marriage”. In order for me to fully get into my role, I had to imagine what life would be like for a relatively wealthy count in the 1700's. When on stage, I began to try to think like the lecherous and somewhat greedy count, which actually was a lot of fun. Don’t worry, I was only acting, it definitely was NOT type-casting, and I repented once I got off stage.

 

I share this personal illustration because, in today’s passage, Paul calls for the church at Philippi to have the mind of Christ, so that Paul’s joy will be complete, by thinking and therefore acting like Christ. I guess you could say this and a couple of other passages eventually led to the W.W.J.D. movement in the1980’s and 90’s. Paul wanted the church to think and do as Jesus would think and do. Why is this?

 

 

Apparently, there was quite a bit of strife going on in the congregation. There was some form of persecution for the church going on from the outside. In chapter one, verse 28 Paul calls the church not to be intimidated by their “opponents”, and that their long-suffering is a privilege granted to them so that they might remember the sufferings of Christ. Yet there were struggles within the church as well. Two women, Euodia and Syntiche, who had worked faithfully with Paul were now at odds (4:2-3) Another group seemed intent on bringing in elements of Judaism, including circumcision back into the worship of God(3:1-6) Finally, perhaps some felt slighted by Paul, as throughout the letter, he seems to really reiterate repeatedly that he loves and prays for ALL of them, rather than just an exclusive few.

 

 

Paul was trying to manage things from afar, most likely in some sort of prison or administrative center in Rome. Paul had established this church, and he wanted to see it grow and thrive. His formula for success to complete his joy: Have the mind of Christ Jesus. First, he reminds them of some of the hallmarks of faith- If there is any encouragement in Christ, (and there is), any consolation from love (and there is) any compassion and sympathy in the church (and there is)

THEN- “Make my joy complete”, says Paul. He wanted them to come together, which would bring joy to Paul. We can tell in verse 3 that in addition to some leadership struggles, questions over the theology of the church and possible slighted feelings, many in the congregation were being divisive, with attitudes such as "selfish ambition," "vain conceit" (NIV), regarding oneself as better than others, and putting one's own interests ahead of others. Theologian Fred Craddock, in looking at this passage says, “What we do know for sure, is that Paul regarded as inappropriate to the body of Christ the selfish eye, the pompous mind, the ear hungry for compliments and the mouth that spoke none, the heart that had little room for others, and the hand that served only the self.”

 

The key to helping the church through a time of struggle, persecution, direction, differences and selfish attitudes? Paul writes “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” (V.5)

 

Paul then quotes a familiar hymn from the time about Jesus, (verses 6-11) which drives home three things in particular about the character of Christ- his servanthood, his humility, and his obedience First, he reminded them of Christ’s Servanthood, that Jesus “emptied himself, taking to form of a slave or servant” (V.7) If the church at Philippi would look to serving others, both within and outside the church, they would no longer have room for selfish ambition, conceit or quarreling. Service to others would cancel out those negative sinful ways.

 

 

What does servant hood look like in our own church? Servant hood has many forms. You are serving others by making room for those with no place to live, and giving them space to sleep and recover their lives in Calvin Hall Friday-Sunday beginning in November. You are serving others by hosting a reception for a grieving family on November 3. You are serving others in giving of your time volunteering at the shelter, cooking for the community dinner, serving as a lay reader, usher, elder or deacon. You are serving others through your generous giving to the deacon’s fund which enables us to help people in need with food, bus transportation, paying for utilities, car repairs and the like. You are serving others by supporting mission trips which spread God’s mercy in places Ladoc, Jordan, Bangladesh or Jamaica. You are serving others by being part of the fellowship group that provides snacks for us faithfully and then cleans up afterward. You are serving others when you go to the store and remember to buy peanut butter or other forms of protein for those in need at the Food Bank, or when you make sure your Green Bag is full and ready to be picked up each month. Each one of those acts of service I believe helps us think and act as Christ did, and draws us nearer to one another.

 

Rev. Susan R. Andrews shares a story regarding servanthood about a rabbi who disappeared every Sabbath Eve, "to commune with God in the forest," his congregation thought. So one Sabbath night they sent one of their cantors to follow the rabbi and observe the holy encounter. Deeper and deeper into the woods the rabbi went until he came to the small cottage of an old Gentile woman sick to death and crippled into a painful posture. Once there, the rabbi cooked for her carried her firewood and swept her floor. Then when the chores were finished, he returned immediately to his little house next to the synagogue. Back in the village, the people demanded of the one they'd sent to follow him, "Did our rabbi go up to heaven as we thought?" "Oh, no," the cantor answered after a thoughtful pause, "our rabbi went much, much higher than that." Service to others takes us to heavenly heights and beyond.

 

 

Next, we become Christ Minded when we live in humility. The language of the hymn in verses 6-11 expresses the paradox of Christ's exalted status and willingness to be placed in the human form. As Christ was humble, giving up his exalted status as God, so too the church at Philippi was called to live in humility.

 

 

In the book, Tuesdays with Morrie, the author remembers a lesson from his old psychology professor who is dying of Lou Gehrig's disease. "It is 1979, a basketball game in the Brandeis gym. The team is doing well, and the student section begins a chant, `We're number one! We're number one!' Morrie is sitting nearby. He is puzzled by the cheer. At one point, in the midst of `We're number one!' he rises and yells, `What's wrong with being number two?' The students look at him. They stop chanting. He sits downs, smiling and triumphant."5

 

There is nothing wrong with being number two, or three, or even one thousand. To be humble is to live like and have the mind of Christ Jesus. The word "humility" has at its root in the Latin humus, which means "earth." To be humble means to be down to earth, to place oneself in a low, near the earth position. It does not mean to agree with everyone on everything, or share the same opinions, or think alike. It means to share the attitude, substance, common spirit and mind of Christ with others, and to place the needs of the other in front of our own.

 

What does it mean for you and for me to be humble, thereby demonstrating a Christ mindedness? It may be something as simple as not taking the last tasty morsel off one of the plates during our fellowship time and leaving it for someone else instead, or parking far away when the parking lot fills up so that someone who can’t walk as well can get into church easier. Being humble may take form if someone happens to be sitting in the pew where you always sit, and rather than raising a fuss, you move somewhere else quietly. Humility may be found if, when no one after a church meal is doing the dishes, you go in and begin to wash them without being asked. Being humble may be found in something more difficult, such as being humble in the midst of an argument, rather than trumpeting your own views loudly. In all places and at all times, we are called by Paul to live lives in humility. Theologian F.B. Meyer said, “I used to think that God’s gifts were on shelves one above the other and that the taller we grew in Christian character the more easily we could reach them. I now find that God’s gifts are on shelves one beneath the other and that it is not a question of growing taller, but of stooping lower where we find the greatest gifts.”

 

 

 

Finally, we must emphasize Christ's total obedience to God in having Christ’s mind. Jesus became obedient to the point of death-even death on a cross, a most humiliating and painful way of death in the first century. Here Paul calls the Philippians to be obedient to Christ, by showing their love to one another, rather than quibbling and fighting with one another. There is no room for selfish ambition or vain conceit when we are obedient to God. 16th Century colonial Minister Peter Bulkley wrote, “If God be over us, we must yield God universal obedience in all things. God must not be over us in one thing, and under us in another, but we must be under God’s obedience in everything.”

 

I know that word “Obedient” may make you squirm in your seats a bit. The word itself has negative connotations-“Wives be obedient to your husbands,” or taking one’s dog to obedience school etc. SO let’s unpack that word a bit. Other words one can use to replace obedient include, “Loyal, devoted, respectful.”

 

So, what does it look like for our congregation to be obedient- that is loyal, devoted, and respectful to Christ, thereby further demonstrating the mind of Christ? It means to set aside regular and consistent time to praise God. It means to read Christ’s teachings and apply them (See Matthew 5-7) Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” We obey Jesus Christ by loving God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, by feeding and aiding the poor without question, by praying for our enemies, by looking for injustices and working to right them, by being bearers of healing to others, by being kind, caring and compassionate.

 

A few years ago, when I was doing a wedding in Sacramento, I had a brief discussion with one of the groomsmen, whom I had not meant before. He also seemed to have trouble with the notion of obeying, being loyal, devoted and respectful to Christ. He looked at me, and said, “So you are a pastor, huh?” I nodded yes. Then he wanted to know, “What kind?” I got a bit nervous, as this question often leads to some form of theological debate. Presbyterian,” I told him. Oh,” he responded. “I’m a Baptist. We are really strict and have to obey God on everything. We can’t DO anything. It really sucks.” I think I then mumbled something about how following Christ means living obediently, which leads to freedom, then moved on quickly to someone else. I began to think about his comment, however, that his life wasn’t any fun because he couldn’t do anything. Obedience for him was a burden when in reality, becoming obedient to God in our lives can be joyful.

 

 

So let us in our own congregation have the mind of Christ Jesus- living in service, being led in humility, and in obedience to God, so that we might think like Christ and act like Christ towards others. For one day, the one who serves others will in turn be served. The one who lives in humility will, in turn, be highly exalted. The one who lives in obedience to God will find true freedom. Let us also show our Christ mindedness outside these doors in our daily living, so that others can see “It is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure.”(2:13) Alleluia! Amen

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