Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Mind of Christ

I am visiting my dad who is on hospice. I left on Saturday and wrote this to be read, in a slightly modified form, by the laymen leading worship at both my churches in my absence,

At the recent Diocesan Clergy Conference Bishop Pierre Whalon, Bishop in charge of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, asked the priests and deacons to read and meditate upon 1 Corinthians 2:16--”But we have the mind of Christ.” This led to a wide ranging discussion of what precisely Paul meant. There were lots of views, some holding that this idea could lead to arrogance. I was reminded, though, of our New Testament lesson for today where Paul urges the Philippian church to “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus...” And his purpose is quite the opposite of making them arrogant.

Paul is making an appeal for unity among the church members. As The New Bible Commentary says, in verse 1, Paul gives us 4 reasons for such unity: the encouragement we find in Christ, the consolation we experience in love, the fellowship in the Spirit in which we participate, and the compassion and sympathy we get from God. But in verse 2 he mentions having the same mind and being of one mind. And the mind he is thinking about is the mind of Christ.

Paul points out that far from being conceited because he was divine, Christ did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself of all such privileges and took on the form of a slave. He humbled himself and was obedient to God's mission, even though it meant dying, and especially dying horribly on the cross. So having the true mind of Christ in us does not lead to arrogance but to humility, service and self-sacrifice.

The goal of Christianity is becoming like Christ. He is, as it says in Colossians 1:5, “the image of the invisible God.” In other words, that image in which we were created can be seen in Jesus. Of course, that image of God in us has been marred by our sin. But by letting his Spirit work in us and direct us, that image can be restored.

But God is a Trinity, 3 divine persons who are absolutely one divine being, bound by love and defined by love. Thus the image of God is seen most clearly when we are one with others, united by love. So unity is not something that is optional. It is an essential part of the image of God in us. It is, according to Jesus, how the world will know that we are his disciples.

“Disciples” is just a fancy word for “students” though it does have the sense of being voluntary students, passionately devoted to their master. Jesus was clear on how essential unity is by praying that we become one as he and his Father are one. And all Paul is doing is giving practical tips on how to keep that unity.

So being of one mind, being on the same page on essentials, is a major part of that. And since the mind Paul had in mind was Christ's, we need to steep ourselves in what he said and did when he was living as one of us. People can disagree on interpretations but if we focus on what he did and said and emulate those things, we shall be on the right track. Jesus fed the hungry; so can we. Jesus treated the sick; so can we. Jesus helped the poor; so can we. Jesus forgave; so can we. Jesus treated the outcasts of society, such as lepers and Gentiles, with fairness, mercy and love; so can we. Jesus stopped his disciples from censuring someone outside their group, who was nevertheless doing good deeds in Jesus' name; so can we. We may disagree over the meanings of some of Scripture but not what he did. And if we do what he did, his words will seem a lot less abstract and less open to wild misinterpretations. His actions, imitated by us, will provide a context for his words. It's hard to hold that Jesus didn't really mean what he said about visiting those in prison or welcoming the alien or feeding the hungry when you are face to face with them and hearing their stories and seeing how desperately they need what you can provide.

A Methodist once told me that theology divides but service unites. We all explain the relationship of the divine and human natures in Christ, the significance of the sacraments, and the mystery of the Trinity in somewhat different ways. But what Jesus commanded us to do—the many ways of demonstrating our love for God and for one another—are very clear and compelling. As an actor finds the core of the character he is playing by simply saying the words written and performing the actions he is directed to do, over and over again, we will find the mind of Christ by immersing ourselves in his words and imitating his deeds.

We also have the advantage of the indwelling Spirit. As Jesus says in John 14, the Spirit brings to mind what Jesus teaches and guides us into the truth. Christians go astray when they do not heed the Spirit. That's how people can do terrible things in the name of Christ that obviously run contrary to the Spirit of Christ. They are resisting and quenching the Spirit. Without the Spirit, we are simply trying to follow Jesus through our strength and by leaning on our own understanding. That's a recipe for failure. We need to stay connected to the Spirit if we are to have any hope of being fruitful Christians.

In Romans 13 and in Galatians 3 Paul tells us to “put on Christ.” The metaphor is that of putting on clothes. And it's a good way of looking at the process of becoming more Christlike. Let us pray everyday that we put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us pray that our eyes be his eyes, our ears be his ears, our hands be his hands, so that we see people as he does, hear them as he does, and touch them as he would touch them. And the Spirit will, through those experiences, shape us and bring us closer and closer to the wise and loving mind of Christ. Not only that, but as we act as Jesus would act, people will see and hear and feel him through us. And some will be drawn to him and listen to his call and enter his kingdom. 

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