“Be of the Same Mind”

 

This sermon was presented by Pastor Jim Kniseley at Resurrection on September 25, 2005.  The text is Philippians 2:1-13. 

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

The words of St. Paul to the Philippians are as splendid today as they were 2,000 years ago:  “Make my joy complete:  be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”  (Philippians 2:2).  This morning I want to help us wrestle with what these words of encouragement really mean.

 

Some folks have taken these words to mean that everyone in a church needs to think alike, to agree on everything, to walk in “lock-step,” and that is how we show the love of Christ.  In my experience, this thinking hurts a church more than helps a church.  Perhaps such a  notion has been instilled somewhere along the line by well-intentioned parents who insist that “to be a family we don’t disagree with each other, we must agree in order to keep harmony in this family.”

 

Some Christian denominations really emphasize this commonness of thinking.  Those who have a different way of thinking from the majority are too often encouraged to move on, to go to some other church, because “that is not how we think around here.” 

 

Our own denomination, the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) has been up to something for many years that bewilders some others in the Christian Family of denominations.  We have been having intentional dialogues with folks from other denominations to see how we can more closely work together as the Body of Christ.  Our goal is not to merge or become the same denomination.  Our goal is to find our common ground, agree on the essentials of the faith, and recognize that there are some non-essential things that we don’t have to fully agree upon.

 

This has resulted in relationships that we term “full communion.”  We can share Holy Communion with these churches and we can exchange clergy as needed.  Right now we have that relationship with United Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, United Church of Christ, Reformed Churches and Moravians.

 

Some here today have come from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  Do remember why we don’t have this relationship with that denomination and why they do not have “open communion.”    The website of the Missouri Synod says it this way:  unless we agree fully on matters of Biblical Interpretation and Doctrine, we do not share the sacrament of Holy Communion with each other.  They state that they really disagree with what the ELCA is doing in having “full communion” relationships with other denominations.

 

Let’s get back to St. Paul.  His words “be of the same mind” are part of a larger thought that we would do well to understand.  Paul is asking Christians to “put on the mind of Christ.”  And he describes the mind-set or attitude of Christ: Christ was humble, not conceited; Christ thought of others first, he was selfless; Christ did not consider himself better than others, he saw himself as a servant of others.

Christ was obedient to God.  He gave his very life for others.  Notice, please, that this is not doctrine that is being described by Paul.  This is Christianity 101, the basics of how we are to love one another as Christ has loved us.  It is a divinely-inspired way of how to decide what is most important in life.

 

Did you see the movie A Beautiful Mind with Russell Crowe portraying Nobel Prize winner John Nash?  Nash was a brilliant mathematician and teacher at Princeton.   The power of the movie rests in the ability of the human mind to completely change the perception of what is real.  John Nash entered into a world that was far removed from what everyone else knew or experienced.  John’s mind controlled his perceptions and his reality.  Just think what our churches could be like if we allowed our minds to be controlled by God to the point that God’s reality became our reality.  Think what we could accomplish if we did indeed “have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus…”

 

What do you think about this idea that we don’t all have to think exactly alike in order to have a good relationship with each other?  Is that part of how you live and interact with others?  Did you know that Pastor Carol and I don’t agree on everything?  We love each other, we’re married, we’re co-pastors here, and yet we don’t always agree on everything.  Does that make for a healthy relationship or an unhealthy relationship?

 

We do agree on the essentials, and that is important.  We agree that our marriage is built on trust and respect for each other, we agree that we want to be bound together for the rest of our lives, we agree that we find fulfillment in lifting up and not tearing down the other, we agree that Jesus Christ is our Lord.

 

From time to time I encounter someone in the congregation who thinks, “I don’t agree with Pastor Jim about something.  He has a different opinion on our building project, or on the placement of the flags, or on things to emphasize in our church budget, or on how we do communion.” Most of you give me the freedom to think differently on these non-essential matters and we either compromise or just agree to disagree.  Others have been so distressed because I do not think the same way that they have either put up a barrier or said “I can’t be in the same church with a pastor who see things differently than I do.”  I am here today to say “yes, we can be in the same church.”  What will keep this possible and healthy is that we treat each other with Christ-like love and respect. 

 

For all of us at Resurrection, long-time members and new members, council members and staff, St. Paul’s words today are for each and every one of us.  Turn our eyes upon Jesus, put on the mind of Christ, turn not to our own interests but to the interests of others.

 

Paul concludes with a formula for how God works:  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death –even death on a cross.  Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

Jesus’ attitude of serving others is what impressed God so much that he exalted him to equality with Himself.  As God looks at us, it is our attitude, our mind-set, that will be of utmost importance to Him.

 

I invite each and every one of us today to enter into this attitude, this mind of Christ.  Let’s concentrate on the most wonderful news that God loves us so much that he humbled himself and came to earth in Jesus to bring us news of that love ,and showed us how deeply he means it by giving his life, so that we can live with him forever.  That is the essential message.  Anything else is less than essential.

 

In the name of Jesus.

 

Amen.