Today’s Scripture: Philippians 2:5-11
Adam has spent hours watching the DIY network. After a while he decided that he could probably take on the task of redesigning his own kitchen. The demolition went well; in fact he rather enjoyed taking a sledgehammer to the walls, cabinets, and countertops. He felt that it was one of the most therapeutic activities he had ever participated in. Now he cleaned up the mess and is sitting there on a stool with stacks of lumber and sheetrock just behind him, wondering what to do next. He sits thinking and praying the most famous prayer ever uttered. “My God what have I gotten myself into?” It looked so easy on the television. Yet when he got to his own kitchen, the seemingly simple tasks seemed to morph into problems that required advance degrees in carpentry.
That’s life! There is a reason people pay contractors to take over. Sometime we just can’t seem to handle everything on our own, but we have to carry on and do the best we can. We are here on the first day of a new year. We sit here with the hopes of what may come as well as repeating the same prayer as our friend Adam, “My God what have I gotten myself into.” It’s common we face it every day. We often sit in that state of paralysis, not able to move forward or retreat back. Our lives are caught between destruction and beauty. Like Adam’s kitchen.
Consider what those people centuries ago thought as Paul wrote this letter. Philippi was a rich area of Macedonia, or Greece. It had gold mines, fertile soils, and was on the highway to Rome. It was a metropolitan city much like Kansas City. Its roots were based mainly on the transportation and distribution of agricultural goods but it also ventured out into other areas. Lydia, who is referred to in the book of Acts, was a trader of purple dyes was converted here. So there was most likely a textile industry. Paul was also imprisoned in the area after healing a demon possessed female slave that told the future, causing her owners to lose a fortune. It was a city of Romans, Greeks, and many other nationalities and one of the few ancient cities that had little Jewish population. There was not a single synagogue for Paul to teach at yet the Church thrived, in a total Gentile population.
This city, this region, was much like ours except we don’t have nice beaches and a semi tropical climate. These people embraced the Gospel of Christ yet they didn’t really know how to live that out in their culture. In many areas with a Hebrew presence it was often easier, they could resemble their spiritual cousins that practiced the Jewish traditions. But there was nothing like that for them to imitate. So Paul had to encourage them in a different way. “Let the same mind be in you, as was in Christ Jesus.”
Let the same mind be in you! These people like us have heard the stories of Christ. They heard just as we did of the miraculous conception, pregnancy, and birth of Jesus from the virgin named Mary. They heard the stories of how this child debated with the scholars on the steps of the temple. They heard about the healings, the teachings, the arguments, and miracles performed by this man who is the very word of God. But they related to them not out of the background of the Law and Prophets of the Old Testament, but out of the unique life and history of the Greek and pagan tradition. Yet they embraced it. They too saw light in the darkness; they too found life where the religions of their ancestors revolved around death.
They embraced Jesus; they proclaimed Him to be their Lord and Savior, their King and God. They did this not because they had any ownership to the history of the Children of Israel, they were not Jewish, they knew and respected the historical roots of Jesus but they couldn’t relate to that. They could however relate to the actions and life, the relationships between Jesus and those around him. Paul encouraged them by saying, “be of the same Mind.” Jesus who was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited. Exploitation is something we all face. We listen to the news with disgust as we here reports of government officials and CEO’s using their power and influence for personal gains. Paul is encouraging them not to exploit, but live like Christ. Jesus had all the power in the universe, He was in the beginning and all things created were created through him. Yet he did not use that power to build himself up, even when asked to do so. He used that power to serve. He harnessed this power to feed the hungry, to heal people of diseases, to bring little girls back to life. Even though he could do anything he wanted he only used His power to encourage, to restore, and empower others to live their life for God.
He emptied himself of the honor he deserved and became a servant to those he created. Jesus, God, came to help mankind return to a relationship with Him. Take a moment just to think about that. In the pagan religions the gods also came to humanity but it was only to exploit human weaknesses, or to get something out of them. Zeus, the king of the gods, is discribed to use women to satisfy his own sensual desires, leaving them to deal with the results. These encounters, it is said, often resulted in a curse from a goddess jealous of Zeus’ attention. A curse that seemed to plagued the city for ages to come. Jesus didn’t do this. God came to mankind not to exploit it. He didn’t take something from them, but he gave them something. He brought the wisdom, the light, and the power of God.
Let the same mind be in you. In the last days of Jesus’ teaching to the disciples, he told them that they would see and perform even greater things than what they saw him do. They saw him do many amazing things. He allowed the blind to see, he calmed storms on the sea, he commanded fish to enter the nets at times and in places they would never naturally be. And he told them they would do even greater things? They saw him hung on a cross, dead and buried, and raised from that grave. Yet he tells them they would see and do even greater things!
We all want to see greatness; we want to be part of something big. We want our candidates elected, so we can walk around in our city knowing we had a part in that, and so our bumper stickers won’t show that we are losers. We want our organizations and meeting houses filled to the brim so we can say, “I’m part of that!” We want success, wealth, and power maybe not to control others but to get what we want when we want it. That to us is greatness. This has been the human mindset from the beginning. We want.
Want causes greatest harm to the world. Exploitation. The greed of nations causes war to reign. We want land, we want resources, and we will do what we need to obtain them even killing those that have them. The greed of people has caused corporations to cut corners in safety putting potential customers and employees at risk. Exploitation is the result of the sin of greed, the sin of selfishness.
Be of the same mind of Christ. Greed drove the Vikings of ancient times to brave the seas feared by others, it drove them to the shores of Ireland in search of gold and they killed anyone that kept them from obtaining their treasure. But there were some that lived not by the ways of the world. They lived another way. They did not fear, instead they lived with passion and a different sort of desire. They had a desire to bring light to the world the best way they knew how. To many of us we think of the Irish as warring people, mainly do to their battles for independence and the terrorism by the IRA. Ireland is one of the only nations that has a musical instrument as their crest, the harp, which alludes to a very different personality of the Irish the personality of art, music, and poetry. A personality that has been celebrated throughout their history. They were, and in many cases still are, a people that love beauty. Even there darkness often invades.
In the midst of the darkness there was a group of people in love with light. They saw the darkness and destruction coming from the invading north men, and they traveled totally different path. They did not raise arms, but they raised their pens. They scoured the forest for berries, roots, sticks and feathers, not to devise weapons of war but pens, inks, and dyes of almost magical hues. They began to write and draw. They used a form of art now called illumination, where the words and images are combined to bring life to the message. These men served the people offering safety, food, and lodging to those who lost all they had to the invaders, and they shared the hope that they had in Jesus. They illuminated the four gospel of Christ in a way that brought the Light to all mankind.
They used what gifts and talents they had to reach out in the darkness. They were of the same mind as Christ, working not at exploitation but to become servants of humanity. The result was one of the most beautiful renderings of scripture (the book of Kells), and a heritage of a Christian Europe. Because these men chased God where ever he lead them. To the shores of Scotland, to the very heart of their invaders in Scandinavia, and through out the rest of Europe. They, in the face of Darkness, emptied themselves and became servants like Christ, sharing the hope and power of Christ wherever they were lead.
The Philippians faced the darkness of a pagan world, the Celts faced the darkness of a culture of antichrist, and we face a society of people opposed to the light because mankind loves darkness. Paul is saying to us…Christ is saying to us, “be of the same mind as me. Empty yourself of all you selfishness, you exploitive desires and become humble before God.” True greatness does not come in the form of conquest but service, in giving all we have to offer to the benefit of others. Our own heritage as Friends comes not from the power we exhibited on others, but through a humble lifestyle of living our faith in all that we say and do. We face darkness; a time where people reject the idea of God, and we meet them with hope. Today we still desire to be accepted, to be part of something greater than ourselves. We truly find ourselves in the Light of Christ. Who humbly came in the form of a man to be obedient to his Father even to the point of death on the cross. And through this death and resurrection we have hope, and power even the power to raise the dead. And at His name every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord.
The question now is where will you be and what will you do to see this greatness come about? Will you, will we use our gifts to illuminate the Gospel in the dark world, will we stand as a beacon letting the light of God shine through us? As we enter this time of open worship of Holy expectancy and communion with God. Let us remember Christ, who he is and what he did for us. And let us all embrace what he can and will do through those of us who are willing to face our fears and live for Him today and evermore.