October 1, 2017 – White Bluff Presbyterian Church
There is one thing Paul wants the members of the church in Philippi to do: to be “of one mind.” To me, that sounds like what Paul is asking for is for the church to all agree on everything. If that is the case, I don’t think in the history of all creation there has ever been a church that has been “of one mind.” That’s not because it is a church; it is only because it is a group of people. Has there ever been a family that is “of one mind?” If you are part of a family in which everyone always agrees on everything, please feel free to raise your hand. I thought so. How about a neighborhood that is all “of one mind?” Just wait until someone paints their house a strange shade of purple; then you will see just how “of one mind” you are with your neighbors. Or a workplace where everyone is “of one mind?” Or a nation that is “of one mind?” Many people in our nation are holding their breath just waiting for the professional football games tonight, not because of the skills of the teams, and not because of the anticipation of the outcome, of who will win and who will lose, but because of, of all things, the players’ stances during the singing of the national anthem. And whatever the players decide to do, no two people in our whole nation will be able to agree by tomorrow morning on what the meaning is of what they do. Ours is a nation of people who disagree about a lot of things right now, and disagree rather passionately, but what is new about that? Is there any nation on earth that doesn’t have people who disagree passionately? There never has been, nor will there ever be, a group of people who agree on everything; Paul’s aspiration that the Philippian church members be “of one mind” is simply impossible.
Unless. Unless what Paul was meaning to say here is not that the good people of the Philippian church needed to all agree on everything. Unless Paul imagined something greater when he told them to be “of one mind.” Unless God’s desire for God’s people is not uniform thinking, but rather a common vision focused on the work of God despite the separate opinions of individual believers. Unless it is possible, and not only possible but desirable, for God’s people to share, as Paul pushes later in the paragraph, the one mind of Christ.
It is clear from other parts of the letter that the people of Paul’s audience were not of one mind. This letter is often called his joyful letter because of the tone he took in it, especially compared with his tone in some of his other letters. Paul himself was in prison when he wrote the letter, he said, but his captivity seems to have made him think fondly of the people in the church in Philippi. He seems to have been what he could not have: genuine contact with people whom he cared about, who cared about him, who appreciated his message as well as his physical presence with them, who loved him and respected him and, yes, even agreed with him. In his longing for those people, he wrote this letter which told them of his deep gratitude for them, his fervent prayers for them, and his hopes and dreams which he was convinced would be fulfilled in them.
And they sound like a pretty good bunch of folks. He opened this section we just read with a description of a community that is characterized by faith-filled encouragement, by loving consolation, by Holy Spirit-inspired sharing, and by sympathetic compassion. That is just the kind of church you would want to be a part of, isn’t it? Wouldn’t you want to know that, when you need to be encouraged, your church could provide that encouragement? Wouldn’t you want to be a part of a group of people who console each other in tough times? Wouldn’t you be happy being around people who strive to share their resources with each other and to show compassion for each other? Sure, there were problems. Later in the letter, back in chapter 4, he talked about some disagreements. And he even named names: “I urge Euodia [ev-o-DEE-a] and I urge Syntyche [seen-TEE-xee] to be of the same mind in the Lord.” We don’t know why Euodia [ev-o-DEE-a] and Syntyche [seen-TEE-xee] were not getting along, but apparently something was going on between them which affected the whole church.
But still, the Philippian church could do better. All that encouragement, consolation, sharing, and compassion was not quite enough. “Make my joy complete,” Paul urged. There was something more they needed to do.
They needed to be of the same mind. And that mind was not Euodia’s [ev-o-DEE-a’s] mind, and it was not Syntyche’s [seen-TEE-xee’s] mind. It was not the mind of the people who wanted to change things, and it wasn’t the mind of the people who always wanted everything to stay the same. It wasn’t the Republicans’ mind and it wasn’t the Democrats’ mind and it wasn’t the mind of the people who said they were above those partisan squabbles, either. It wasn’t the mind of the people who were excited about the purple hymnals, and it wasn’t the mind of the people who liked the blue-covered books, and it wasn’t the mind of the people who never understood why the old red ones weren’t good enough. It wasn’t the mind of anyone in that community; it was the mind of Jesus Christ.
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” Paul said. And then he launched into two stanzas of what many people now believe were the verses of a hymn which would have been familiar to the Philippians. He started to sing a song. The song was focused on Jesus Christ. Jesus, Paul sang, was every bit as powerful as God. But he didn’t want to take his omnipotence for granted. So, Paul crooned on, “he emptied himself,” setting aside all the privilege he possessed, and he became a human being, just like you and me. But then, Paul crescendoed, he did something that was completely unexpected, and totally unlike anything we would advise him to do: “he humbled himself,” and in his humility, he embraced the most shadowed, most lonely, most hopeless people and places and times in human life. “He became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Because of his act of humility and obedience he was exalted again, assuming the glory and power which brought him back to that equal place with God. Paul wrapped up the hymn with a great doxology quoting the words of the prophet Isaiah, painting the picture in his melody and lyrics of all of creation bowing down before Jesus Christ, the glorious Lord of all creation.
The one mind which Paul told God’s people to be of was not the mind of any one faction or party in their community. It was not the mind of Euodia [ev-o-DEE-a] or of Syntyche [seen-TEE-xee] or of any other leader who might try to tell them to vote this way or that way. It was not the mind of the people who knelt, and it was not the mind of the people who stood, and it was not the mind, either, of the people who just wanted all the fuss to be over with so that we wouldn’t have to deal with unpleasant disagreements on difficult social problems any more.
The mind Paul said the church should share is the mind of Christ Jesus. And the mind of Christ Jesus is the mind of someone who takes privilege and pours it out. The mind of Christ Jesus is the mind of someone who will not exploit any person or any position for personal gain. The mind of Christ Jesus is a mind which gives everything away if that is what it takes to save people from whatever they need to be saved from. The mind of Christ Jesus seeks the call of God, and desires to do the will of God, and is obedient to the Word of God, even if that word cries out on the loneliest, most humiliating, most desolate Thursday night and Friday afternoon the world has ever experienced. The mind of Christ Jesus sings in harmony with the people who are condemned, the people who are gossiped about and judged, the people who are desperate, and the people who are without hope. And in that song which comes from the mind of Christ Jesus, glory pushes a melodic crescendo up from those deep places, so that suffering people and lonely people and desperate people and desolate people are exalted, rising up in strength and in hope.
White Bluff Presbyterian Church, you bring God great joy. You know how to show encouragement to each other. You know how to console people who are down, and how to share with people who are lacking, and how to be compassionate to people who feel misunderstood. Now make God’s joy complete; “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” Let that one mind guide you, despite all of your differences in political affiliation and personal taste, in backgrounds and in life experiences, in stages of life and availability of means.
Let that one mind guide you as you come forward to this table today, on this World Communion Sunday, when we affirm our solidarity and our unity with Christians in all parts of the world, red and yellow, black and white, poor and rich, English-speaking and interacting in every other tongue under the sun. Let that one mind guide you as you take a piece of the bread of life, and as you dip it in the cup of salvation, and as you let that bread and juice nourish you, body and soul. Let that one mind, the mind of Christ Jesus, guide all of us together as we step away from the baskets and the cups and step out into the world, and let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus, leading us as we seek the call of God, and the will of God, and the ways to be obedient to God, no matter where it leads us or whom it leads us to. Because the mind of Christ Jesus will lead us to empty ourselves of our certainty that we are right and the others are wrong; and the mind of Christ Jesus will lead us to humble ourselves, taking the form of a servant; and the mind of Christ Jesus will lead us to give up anything we do to exploit our position and our privilege; and the mind of Christ Jesus will take us to places where people who are suffering will be raised up in strength and in hope.
Paul wrapped up this part of his letter to the Philippians by reminding the church that God is at work in them. God is at work in you, White Bluff Presbyterian Church. My prayer this morning is that we will make God’s joy complete, and we will let the mind of Christ be in us. My prayer is that we will empty ourselves, setting aside our squabbles and our opinions. My prayer is that we will embrace the humility that is necessary, and the obedience that is necessary, to set aside our ambitions and our need to be “right” all the time. My prayer is that we will open ourselves to the leading of God, who will take us to places where we would otherwise never go and bring us to people we would otherwise never encounter. And my prayer is that we will let that mind of Christ work in us, that all we do here and in the church all over the world will be done to the glory of God.