Tag: christian unity

Sermon: The Mind of Christ

This is the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow, Sunday, September 28, 2008.  

The Mind of Christ

Philippians 2:1-13 NIV
1If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  

 5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 
 6Who, being in very nature God, 
      did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 
 7but made himself nothing, 
      taking the very nature of a servant, 
      being made in human likeness. 
 8And being found in appearance as a man, 
      he humbled himself 
      and became obedient to death— 
         even death on a cross! 
 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place 
      and gave him the name that is above every name, 
 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, 
      in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, 
      to the glory of God the Father.

 12Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

False Identities 

We live in an interesting culture.  I ran across a website this week called “Fake Name Generator.”   The idea is that when you need to fill out an online form on the internet, but really don’t want to give your real name, you can get a fake identity by using “Fake Name Generator.”  So, of course, I tried it.  Guess what?  You are now looking at James Y. Baptiste.  No kidding!  A Baptist named Baptiste.  I thought that was pretty cute.
 
And as they say on the Ginsu knife commercial — But wait, that’s not all!  
I also received…
  • a fake address
  • a fake phone number
  • a fake website all my own
  • a fake email address
  • a fake social security number
  • a fake mother, whose maiden name was “Berry” 
  • a fake credit card number
  • a fake birthday (although they made me 5 years older than I really am)
  • and, a fake UPS tracking number.  I have no idea why..
Of course, it’s all in good fun, I suppose, but the internet is known as the place you can be whoever you want to be.  Don’t like your name, choose a nickname.  Don’t like the way you look, choose someone else’s photo.  Don’t like what you weigh, or how tall you are, or your age — pretend to be someone else.
 
Of course, pretending to be someone else isn’t just confined to the internet.  The recent case of Clark Rockefeller, whose real name is Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, illustrates how easy it is for someone pretending to be someone else can fool lots of people, including the woman he married.
 
Pretending to be someone else is usually reserved for actors and politicians, but that brings us to Paul’s letter to the Philippians where he encourages them to act like someone else.
 
Like-Mindedness
You might remember that last week Paul had told the Philippian Christians that they not only got to believe on Christ, but they had the privilege of suffering for Christ also.  And, Paul reminds them that he is in prison for the Gospel and tells them to stand firm and live a life worthy of the Gospel.  Here in chapter 2, Paul is cheering them on in their attempt to stand firm and live worthy lives.
In Philippians 3:1-2, Paul goes through a laundry list of reminders to give them hope.
  • If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, 
  • if any comfort from his love, 
  • if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,
  • 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.
For Paul, the thing that will make him joyful is for the Philippians to be like-minded.  He goes on to explain that like-mindedness means having the same love, the same spirit, and the same purpose.  Paul has already told them in 1:7 that “It is right for me to feel this way about you.”  The Greek word the NIV translates “feel this way” is from the root verb phroneo, which means “mindset” — the way one thinks about something, or our predisposition to something.
 
It is the same word Paul uses here to encourage them to be like-minded.  It is the same word he will use when he says “Let this mind (attitude) be in you that was also in Christ Jesus…”
It is also the same word he will use in Phil 4:2 when he encourages two women in the church, Euodia and Syntyche, who are quarreling, to be of the same mind — to agree with each other.
 
This idea of “like-mindedness” is important to Paul.  Paul sees it as the key to unity in the church in Philippi. The church has been riven with the same problems of any church — facing difficulty, different people have different perspectives, different viewpoints, and they are dividing the church community.
 
Paul pleads with them — “If you have any encouragement from being united in Christ, any comfort from his love, any fellowship with the Spirit, any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded.”
Paul is pulling out all the stops here to get them to come together.  He lays a subtle guilt-trip on them, like only a mother can — “If all I’ve done for you means anything, please be nice to your brother.”  Your mother ever do that to you?  Any sentence that starts with “After all I’ve done for you…” is a guaranteed guilt-tripper.  But, Paul is a little more subtle than that.  And, to give them some help, he shows them how they can be of one mind.
The Example of Jesus
Paul, Phil 1:30,  has previously appealed to his suffering — “Since you’re going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.”  Paul wants the Philippians to know that he understands what they’re going through.  He understand persecution and what it means to stand firm.  He understands how difficult it is to live a life worthy of the Gospel.  He is an example to them.
But, then Paul also wants them to make his joy full and complete as their community becomes like-minded. And, so Paul gives them the ultimate example to follow — the example of Christ.
I like the King James here —  “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:”-Phil 2:5
In other words, be like-minded with Christ.  Have the same attitude, the same mindset, the same predisposition to others.  Have the mind of Christ.
 
Now, how do you have the mind of Christ?  How do you have the same attitude Jesus had?  Our own attempts at having the mind of Christ are as doomed to fail as the Clark Rockefeller’s false identity.  We can’t be Christ…or can we?
 
In their extraordinary book, Saving Paradise, Rita Brock and Rebecca Parker tell us that early in the life of the Church, there was the idea of theosis — the possibility of Christians partaking of the divine nature of Christ.  This idea began with the Creation story, as God creates humankind in God’s own image.  But, the idea that followers of Christ were partakers of his divinity is echoed in 2 Peter 1:3-4, where Peter contends,

3His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. – 2 Peter 1:3-4

The idea of theosis was not primarily individual, it belonged to the community.  As the church was the body of Christ, partaking of the divine nature was the experience of the community of faith, not just privileged individuals.  And, theosis expressed itself in very real ways.  Tertullian said that Christians created “an alternate social order” that was different from the social order of the Roman empire.  Theosis expressed itself as Christians acted –

“…to support the destitute, and to pay for their burial expenses; to supply the needs of boys and girls lacking money and power, and of old people confined to the home…we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another.”  
– Saving Paradise, page 178.

Paul also gives the Philippians concrete instruction on what the mind of Christ is.  Paul says that Christ
  • did not “grasp” or hold onto his heavenly position for personal benefit;
  • made himself nothing — literally, “emptied himself” in the image of pouring out a bottle until it is empty;
  • took a servant’s form, human likeness;
  • humbled himself;
  • became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
So, if you want to know what mindset Jesus had it was giving up, letting go, pouring out himself for others.  
Paul goes on to say that because of that mindset, God highly exalted Jesus, giving him a name above every name, and that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow in heaven, in earth, and under the earth.  In other words, because Jesus had the attitude he did, the mindset, God placed him in the highest place, and all of heaven, all the world of the living, and all the world of the dead recognize that Jesus the Messiah is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
 
Jesus mindset, lived out in his life of humility, service, and sacrifice, gained the acknowledgement of the entire creation that Jesus the Christ is Lord.  Not Ceasar, not empire, not wealth, not power, not privilege, not prestige, but Jesus is Lord.
A Fable
 
In his book, How (Not) To Speak of God, Peter Rollins tells this story:
There was once a princess who grew up in a kingdom that had been ravished by decades of famines, war and plague.  One night, as the princess slept she had a dream.  In this dream she was walking through the market that lay by the sea, when a young beggar looked up, but before their eyes could meet the dream ended and the princess awoke.  As the dream faded a haunting voice arose in her mind that informed her that if she were ever to meet this young man, he would shower her with riches beyond her wildest dreams.
This dream etched itself so deeply on the princess that she carried the vision deep in her heart, until one day, years later, as she walked through the market, her gaze caught hold of the same man who had visited her in her dreams all those years ago.  Without pausing she ran up to him and proceeded to relay the whole vision.  Never once did he look up, but when the princess had finished her story he reached into an old sack and pulled out a package.  Without saying a word, he offered it to the princess and asked her to leave.
 
Once the princess reached her dilapidated castle she ripped open the package and, sure enough, there was a great wealth of pure gold and precious diamonds.  That night she placed the package in a safe place, and went to bed.  But her mind was in turmoil and the long night was spent in sleepless contemplation.  Early the next morning she arose, retrieved the treasures and went down to the water’s edge.  Once there she summoned all her strength and threw the riches deep into the sea.  After watching the package sink out of sight, she turned and without looking back went searching for the young beggar.
Finally, she found him sitting in the shade of an old doorway.  The princess approached, held out her hand and placed it under his chin.  Then she drew his face towards hers and whispered, “Young man, speak of the wealth you possess which allows you to give away such worldly treasure without a moment’s thought.”  – pg.50-51, How (Not) To Speak of God by Peter Rollins.
 
That is the mind of Christ.  That is the mind possible for the followers of Christ.  ”Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”  Amen. 

Sermon: Accountable to God, Respectful of Others

Here’s the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow, Sunday, September 14, 2008.  I hope you have a wonderful day tomorrow.  

Accountable to God, Respectful of Others

Romans 14:1-12
Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.4Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
 
 5One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
 9For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. 10You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.11It is written: 

   ” ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, 
   ’every knee will bow before me; 
      every tongue will confess to God.’ “ 12So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

Two Ways To Start An Argument

You’re familiar with the old adage, “Don’t talk about religion or politics.”  Now, I must tell you that most old sayings come about because someone learned something and passed it on.  I can imagine the person who came up with this line.  They had probably been invited to a friend’s house for dinner where some other guests, unknown to this person, were also invited.  As the group settles in and is getting to know one another, our unlucky subject says something like, “Well, what do you think of that Sarah Palin?”  You can imagine the responses.  And then, someone mentions “lipstick” and chaos ensues.  

Our hapless friend, trying to change the subject, tries again.  ”Wow, didn’t the Pope look really great in that new outfit he had on the other day!” All of a sudden, 600 years of Catholic-Protestant conflict erupts again, and you would think you were in Northern Ireland.  So, we’ve learned not to talk about religion and politics because everybody has an opinion, which is not necessarily the one we share.  

The only time I have successfully negotiated both subjects in the same night was when I was in Shanghai.  I was the honored guest of the factory president, and my Chinese hosts had taken me to a very special restaurant where the only item on the menu was snake.  And, fried snake does taste a lot like chicken, only with less meat.  That night, my hosts asked me both about politics (Bill Clinton had just been caught in the Monica Lewinsky affair and this was very amusing to the Chinese); and, religion.  They were equally interested in both subjects, and it proved to be a very interesting evening.  

And, not only do people avoid talking politics and religion, but we even avoid talking about religion among religious people.  Why?  Because we don’t agree.  I’m from Nashville, Tennessee, and there is a large denomination there that believes baptism is essential to salvation.  Baptists don’t believe that, and so you can imagine the conversations that cut across neighborhoods and families.  Debbie’s mother reminded us this week that one of Debbie’s great aunts was a member of the baptism-is-essential denomination.  Her husband was Baptist.  Every Sunday Uncle Arthur would drop Aunt Ruby at her church on the way to his.  They never agreed, but they cobbled out a congenial standoff even in their different beliefs.

More Than Agreeing to Disagree

Bob Dylan has a famous line in his song, The Times They Are A Changing.  Dylan sings, “Don’t criticize what you don’t understand.”  And, so we have adopted an “agree to disagree” status that seems to say, “Okay, you can believe what you want to, and I’ll believe what I want to and it’s all good.”  But, that’s not what Paul is saying here.  

Paul is talking, first of all, to Christians.  He isn’t addressing the pluralistic society that was the Roman empire.  He’s talking to Christians, specifically to Christians in Rome.  And he says, “Welcome someone weak in the faith, but not for the purpose of arguing with them over unimportant matters.”  So, let’s look at this more closely.  

We need to understand what he means by “weak.”  Now we might think that Paul means new Christians who don’t know a lot about Christianity yet.  But, that’s not it.  Or, we might think that Paul means those whose faith is not strong — they can’t stand up to ridicule or peer pressure or temptation.  But, that’s not what Paul means by “weak” either.  

By “weak” Paul means Christians who are still struggling with issues of how do I live out my Christian faith.  He gives two good examples.  The first example is about food.  He says the strong Christians eat meat, and weak Christians might eat only vegetables.  Now, this kind of hits home because Debbie and I don’t eat much meat.  As a matter of fact, we don’t buy meat when we’re eating at home.  We eat mostly vegetables and grains, and have been trying to do this for over 10-years.  Sometimes with more success than others.  

Now, the whole vegetarian thing is really interesting to some people, but we started on this practice after reading several of Dr. John McDougall’s books.  I used to weigh about 40-lbs more than I do now, had high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, and needed to do something different.  Dr. McDougall’s research among Hawaiians found that the older generation which ate mostly vegetables was much healthier than the younger generations that ate the modern American diet of burgers and fries.  Anyway, to make a long story very short, 40-lbs later both my blood pressure and cholesterol are in great shape.  I could lose a few more pounds, but Dr. McDougall doesn’t live in Chatham where everyone is a great cook, so I’m doing the best I can.  

But, that’s not really Paul’s point.  The problem in Paul’s day wasn’t a health issue.  As a matter of fact, Paul says the “strong” Christian is the meat eater, and the weak Christian is the vegetarian.  For Paul, this dietary choice was not a matter of health, but of theology.  In first century Rome, meat was sold in the butcher shops of pagan temples.  Worshipers would offer a slab of beef or pork to their god, leaving it on the altar of the pagan temple.  The temple priests would take the meat as an offering, but then sell it in their butcher shop as a way to raise money.  The only problem was that the practices of many pagan temples involved immoral acts as official parts of worship.  I won’t get too graphic here, but the behavior was abhorrent to Christians, many of whom had left the worship of pagan gods when they came to Christ.

So, the dilemma for the new Christian was — “Can I eat meat or not?”  Christians who were Jews had a further problem — their meat had to be what we call “kosher” — prepared under strict practices and the supervision of a rabbi.  In Rome, that was hard to come by.  So, Paul characterizes these Christians who don’t know what to do about this pagan, non-Kosher meat as “weak.”  Strong Christians like Paul realize that all foods are clean, that meat offered to an idol is still from God’s hand, and that everything belongs to and comes from God.  So, for the strong Christian this is an issue they have moved beyond.  Weak Christians are still struggling with this.

Now, to be clear, Paul says we do have an obligation not to offend weaker Christians.  In I Corinthians, Paul says that it doesn’t matter to him where the meat comes from, but that if his eating meat offered to idols offends weaker Christians, he will not eat it.  And by offend, Paul doesn’t just mean they are critical of him, but that his eating meat actually could cause them to lose their faith.  

Paul also uses the idea of special days.  We know that Jews celebrated special feast days, but Gentile Christians would not be aware of or understand the significance of those days.  Also, Gentile Christians would eventually reinvent some pagan holidays, infusing them with new Christian meaning.  The most significant of these reinvented holidays is Christmas, with its origins in the Roman holiday, Saturnalia.  

A Lesson in Respect and Relationship

Paul’s point in all of this is that we shouldn’t criticize fellow Christians if they practice differently than we do.  John Wesley had a saying I like.  Wesley founded a movement in which there was great diversity, and yet great commonality as well.  Wesley’s philosophy was “In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.”  Apparently, this was not original with Wesley, but is attributed to Rupertus Meldinius, a 17th century German Lutheran theologian, slightly ahead of Wesley in time.  Whoever said it first, the idea is the same — agree on the basics, allow liberty of thought on the peripheral issues, and do both in love.  

Which is great advice, but there is a theological reason for what Paul is saying here.  Paul reminds us that whatever our discussion, we are not just talking to each other.  We are not just accountable to one another.  The strong cannot overrule the weak in the Christian community, no matter how sure or mature the strong might think they are.

When our girls were in elementary school, it was interesting to hear the phrases they brought home.    One day Laurie was attempting to get Amy to do something Laurie thought she ought to do.  Laurie is three-and-a-half years older than Amy, and of course, thought she was always right.  Well, that worked pretty well until Amy started to school, too.  One day as Laurie was telling Amy what to do, Amy turned to her and said, “You’re not the boss of me.”  Now that wasn’t a phrase we used at home, so she had learned it at school.  Asserting her own ability to choose, Amy staked out a new position, no longer the compliant little sister.  

Of course, the history of the Christian church doesn’t exactly line up with what Paul is saying here.  The church got pretty touchy about differences of opinion, and so you have little things like the Spanish Inquisition, where people were actually tortured until they recanted their alleged heresy.  Interestingly, the Spanish Inquisition was started by Ferdinand and Isabella (yes, the same Ferdinand and Isabella who financed a guy named Christopher Columbus).  They took over religious persecution from the church itself.  And, this wasn’t the first, nor would it be the last, inquisition.  Books were banned, errant Christians were tortured, and some were killed.  All in the name of preserving Christianity.   This is not what Paul had in mind.

Our respect for others in the faith comes because we are all accountable, not to each other, but to God.  We are God’s servants, and whatever we do — eating or observing holidays — we do as unto God.  

Paul says, if we live or if we die, if we eat or don’t eat, if we observe special days or don’t, we are doing all of this to the Lord.  Why?  Because we are God’s new people — Jew, Gentile, meat-eater, vegetarian — we are God’s new people.  We are a race that now transcends culture and custom, we are living the new kingdom of God, anticipating God’s rule and reign in God’s creation.  

We Are Accountable to God

Paul echoes Isaiah and will repeat this message in Philippians — “As I live says the Lord, Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

We are accountable only to God.  Not to each other, not the weak to the strong, not the simple to the clever.  We are accountable to God, whether we live or die, whether we eat meat or not, whether we observe sacred days or not, we are accountable to God.  That is why, Paul says, that Jesus died and came back to life – to be Lord of the living and the dead.  In other words — everyone for all time and eternity.  

So, what would this look like, this mutual respect for other believers?  For one, all denominations would disappear.  Denominationalism is simply the emphasis of one or more theological points over another.  So, Baptists baptize by immersion, Presbyterians sprinkle, and Methodists do both.  But, we all agree on Jesus.  We all agree on his life, death, burial, and resurrection.  We all agree that he is King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.  That’s the essential.  

What else would be different?  Churches wouldn’t split or have controversies.  We would find ways to work out our differences, or hold them respectfully clinging to the things that do unite us.  We would not criticize each other, but seek the best for one another.  We would seek to advance God’s kingdom and not our own agendas.  We would find common ground to unite us, rather than old arguments that divide us.  We would work together for common cause, regardless of who got the credit as long as God got the glory.  We would be the body of Christ, healthy and functioning as God intended for us to be.

And, the world?  Oh, the world would see Jesus.  Not Baptists or Methodists or Presbyterians or Catholics — the world would see our Lord, our Savior, our King.  The world would see a new way to live, a new kingdom to replace the old empire, a new ethic, a new generosity, a new love one for another.  Listen to what N. T. Wright says –

“Final judgment matters because God is committed to putting the whole world to rights; God will judge through Jesus the Messiah, calling each of us to account….We do not liver to ourselves; we do not die to ourselves.  It isn’t up to us what we do or don’t do.  It is up to the Lord, the master whom we serve and who will one day require an account.”  – N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: Romans Part Two, pg 103.