25 September 2011/Proper 21A- Exodus 17:1-7/Philippians 2: 1-13/Matthew 21:23-32
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Mount Calvary Episcopal Church, Baltimore, MD
The Mind of Christ
In Exodus we hear a continuation of grumbling in the wilderness. If it is not food it is water. How patient is our God? As it turns out, very patient indeed, even when we are at our least attractive and least grateful.
In Matthew Jesus is sparring with the "chief priests and elders" over issues of authority: by what authority is Jesus doing "these things"? These things include most recently berating and withering a fig tree for bearing no figs. After forcing his questioners to question themselves, Jesus concludes with a story that sounds all too familiar to those who have children: Ask them to help out, and one says "No way!" The other says, "OK!" And of course the one who says "No way" ends up being the one who helps out, while the one who says "OK" is still in bed! Which is Jesus' way of saying, "Either you are on the bus or off of the bus. But take careful note, tax collectors and sinners are filling up the seats on the bus as we are about to leave the terminal."
Which may be another way of making Paul's argument in his letter to the church in Philippi: there is no time for bickering, and no time to contemplate retribution against those who imprison me and those who hate us. There is simply no time for anything but the Love of God in Christ Jesus crucified and raised from the dead.
"Be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped or exploited.
This is a lot more difficult than it sounds. This incredibly touching plea from Paul is urging the Philippians not to strike back at his captors, not to retaliate with force against force, but rather to empty ourselves as Christ emptied himself, taking the form of a servant – a servant of God.
This is Paul at his most sublime and most powerfully beautiful:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ
Who, though he was in the form of God
Did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped
But emptied himself
Taking the form of a servant
Being born in human likeness
And being found in human form
He humbled himself and became obedient unto death
Even death on a cross.
This is perhaps the very heart of life’s greatest mystery. The mind of God, the mind of Christ, is self-emptying. The word for this is kenosis. That is God willingly limits God’s power in order to become engaged in life on earth.
God is willing to limit God’s power to undergo the ultimate powerlessness, crucifixion, so that the power and glory of God can enter the world. To effect this, Jesus and Paul gave up security, status, dominance and reputation. God, writes Paul, is a work in us, enabling us both to will and to work for God's good pleasure.
These days, and honestly throughout the nearly 2,000 year history of the Church, Christ followers bicker and divide over issues that pale in comparison to the opportunity of proclaiming Christ amid an unbelieving world. And when we are most likely to see Christians addressing our culture of what someone has called "a culture of aggressive indifference," it tends to be from a stance of aggressive ambition, pride and arrogance - not out of the sort of self-emptying humility that Paul encourages. It is no wonder that our proclamation falls on deaf ears - even ears that consciously have tuned us out - because we have ceased to "regard others as better than ourselves.
We would rather bicker and divide like the chief priests and elders than adopt the kind of self-emptying humility that allows Jesus to wash the feet of those who do not understand.
A generation ago, Carl Jung told the story of a man who asked a rabbi why, in the time of the Bible, God would reveal himself to many people, but recently no one ever sees him. Why is this? The rabbi answered, "Because nowadays no one bows low enough."
How true it is. Why I have even had people in church refuse to say The Prayer of Humble Access because it feels too demeaning, not affirming enough of our presumed inherent "goodness."
Even the Church is prone to forget its first love - Jesus Christ - and put all manner of other things in its place: rite, ritual, times, places, convenience, tradition, familiarity, all in the name of some kind of purity of religion that somewhere deep inside ourselves we must know can only be of God, not of man. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. If that is not enough to humble us, nothing is.
We are called to imitate the Servant-God, dispensing Good News with humility and grace, and living the Good News with love. This often means abandoning the familiar. This often means abandoning the conventional. This often means that there is no time to be wasted over issues of power and authority - no time to assert that we are right and you are wrong. Leaving that all behind is the first step toward having the mind that was in Christ Jesus.
Taking the first step is life. Taking the first step gives life and energy to our tired hearts, minds and souls. Leaving it all behind is the first step toward being in full accord and of one mind.
Taking that first step is the only way to leave a lifetime of grumbling, bickering and division behind. The world is now too small for anything but truth, and too dangerous for anything but love - the love of Christ Jesus who humbled himself taking the form of a servant, welcoming tax collectors and prostitutes into the kingdom of his Father, our Father, who art in heaven.