Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | September 25, 2011

2011.09.25 “Have This Mind” – Philippians 2:1-13

Central United Methodist Church
“Have This Mind”
Pastor David L. Haley
Philippians 2: 1 – 13
September 25th, 2011

“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care — then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death — and the worst kind of death at that — a crucifixion.
Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth — even those long ago dead and buried —will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.
What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.”
– Philippians 2: 1 – 13, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

I had the urge the other night to do something I’ve not done enough of lately, which was to read a book. In a few minutes, on Kindle, I was reading Eugene H. Peterson’s memoir, “The Pastor”. I’m not sure whether you would enjoy it or not, but as a pastor, I certainly did.

Most of you know Eugene H. Peterson as the translator of The Message, from which we read many of our Scriptures most Sunday mornings.

Do you realize that before Peterson became a pastor, he wanted to be a teacher, and got a Master’s degree in Semitic languages from John Hopkins? So, through his 29 years as pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland, when he wanted his congregation to feel the impact of the Scriptures, which, as he says – were written in street language – he would translate it from the Greek and Hebrew into “American” for them. Others began to read his translations, and after he retired, he was asked to render the whole Bible in that fashion, which we now know as The Message. All of us who are readers of The Message, Peterson views as his “second” congregation.

As a side note, you should know that a few years ago Peterson was at North Park Seminary, in Chicago, not far from here. One of the professors there was attending our church at that time, and asked Peterson if he ever intended for The Message to be read in Sundays on church, like you know who? To which Peterson said, “No.” (Ooops!)

I like The Message, because when not only most of America – but most Christians – are Biblically illiterate, I prefer you “feel its impact,” as Peterson puts it, emphasizing clarity and understanding over classic, word-for-word translation.

But as I discovered when I read Peterson’s memoir, what I also like about Peterson is that he retains the humility and honesty of a real pastor. Even now, in his memoir, he describes how many pastors feel. He quotes author William Faulkner, who when once asked how he went about writing a book, said:

“It’s like building a chicken coop in a high wind. You grab any board or shingle flying by or loose on the ground and nail it down fast.”

As Peterson says, a lot like becoming a pastor. In the Epilogue, in a letter to a young pastor, he goes on to confess:

“As I look back upon a lifetime in the pastoral vocation what remember most is a kind of messiness: a lot of stumbling around, fumbling the ball, losing my way, and then finding it again. It is amazing now that anything came of it.”

Like Peterson, many of us who are pastors feel the same way. Let’s face it, in our congregation as every congregation, there is – as Peterson put it – a lot of messiness, stumbling around, fumbling the ball, losing our way, and finding it again.

The good news is, when we lose our way, the best way we can find it again by returning to our sources, which as Christians means to look to Jesus.

Long ago, the Apostle Paul felt the same way. In our reading today from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, Paul writes to one of his favorite churches, and yet even that church has problems. Not as bad as the problems in the Church at Corinth, but like every Christian congregation, it had its problems. The same problems, apparently, faced by almost every congregation: the clash of egos and personalities, of rivalries and rifts, and perhaps worst of all, the disturbing tendency to row in multiple directions, rather than the same direction.

So one of the things I like most about Paul is that he was not so much an academic theologian as a pastoral theologian. In his concern for Christians and Christian congregations, he is always returning to basic theology, especially to Christ. It’s for that reason that our reading today, Paul’s hymn of Christ, in Philippians, chapter 2, is one of the most important and influential passages in the entire New Testament. Remember, it was likely written about AD 63, before any of the Gospels, with the possible exception of Mark, was even written.

As we saw last week in chapter 1, Paul urges the Christians at Philippi to “live in such a way that they were are a credit to the Message of Christ,” to “stand united, singular in vision, contending for people’s trust in the Message, the good news, not flinching or dodging in the slightest before the opposition.”

Then, in chapter 2, sounding a lot like a Gospel preacher, Paul continues:

“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ,” (and we have); if his love has made any difference in your life (and it has); if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you (and it does); if you have a heart, if you care (and we do) — then do me a favor: “Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”

In other words, Paul emphasizes again what we talked about last week: the importance of attitude. And so he says, “Have this mind,” or as Peterson puts it, “Think of yourselves this way . . .”

And then Paul does the strangest thing. Or, maybe not. He breaks out into a song, the hymn of Christ, as it is called. Most scholars believe that Paul is quoting an early Christian hymn, perhaps one even used in worship at Philippi.

For example, Michael Perry, at The Jubilate Group, has attempted to put the text back into a liturgical form. I’ll say a phrase, and then I want you to respond with “Jesus is Lord.” Adjust your loudness to follow my hand.

(gradually getting quieter)
Equal with God:
Jesus is Lord
Emptied himself:
Jesus is Lord
Came as a slave:
Jesus is Lord
Found as a man:
Jesus is Lord
Humbly obeyed:
Jesus is Lord
Went to his death:
Jesus is Lord
Death on a cross:
Jesus is Lord

(getting louder)
God raised him up:
Jesus is Lord
Gave him the name:
Jesus is Lord
Higher than all:
Jesus is Lord
Every knee bow:
Jesus is Lord
All tongues confess:
Jesus is Lord

(Jesus is Lord, based on Philippians 2:5-11; text by Michael Perry © The Jubilate Group (admin. Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188) (All rights reserved. Used by permission. For permission to reproduce this text, visit: Posted on the website.)

Theologically, there’s almost no end to the questions it raises. What is Paul saying here? Jesus had equal status with God? What does that mean? He emptied himself, becoming human. Emptied himself of what? Divine status? Divine knowledge? Divine power? He became a slave/servant? He suffered crucifixion, one of the most humiliating forms of death in the ancient world? And because he voluntarily did this, God raised him up, far beyond anyone and everything? Where would that be? What does it mean that all created beings, even those dead and buried, will bow before him in worship and praise? Buddhists? Muslims? Jews? Non-believers? How could this be? Would God, who has given us free will, do that?

On the other hand, maybe Paul’s language is not intended to be factual language, but liturgical language, the language of worship. Maybe it’s the same kind of language we use when we sing Edward Perronet’s hymn, often called “the Christian National Anthem,” “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name:”

“O that with yonder sacred throng,
we at his feet may fall!
We’ll join the everlasting song,
and crown him Lord of all!”

Most of all, maybe we shouldn’t get so carried away that we lose sight of the fact that Paul used this hymn of Christ to make a pastoral statement to Christians like us, about Christian attitude and behavior: Remember Jesus? “Have his attitude, act his way.” It’s not so much, WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?), as it is, (DWJD) “Do what Jesus did.”

In case we have difficulty understanding what that means, Paul makes it crystal clear, with Eugene Peterson at his best:

“Do everything readily and cheerfully — no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing.”

All this work for nothing? Sounds a lot like what Eugene Peterson said about his life as a Pastor: “It is amazing that anything came of it.” But so it did, and so it will in us, if we have this mind, which was in Christ.

Sometimes I think one of the things we Protestants lost, during the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, when we threw out a lot of things that seemed too Catholic and not enough Biblical, was a lot of great art, and especially crucifixes. We Protestants have tended to emphasize empty, post-resurrection crosses, while Catholics have retained crucifixes, with Christ on the cross.

One of my favorites, for example, is the Resurrection Crucifix at Holy Name Cathedral, a wooden sculpture by Ivo Demetz, which hangs suspended in the sanctuary.
So when we lose our way, when we forget who we are or what we’re about, when we’re tempted to treat others less than fairly or believe ourselves treated unfairly, all we need to do is to slip into the sanctuary, sit in a pew, and reflect on the crucifix. You don’t need the Scriptures, you don’t need a priest, you don’t need a sermon. All we need to do is to look at a simple wooden crucifix, remember Jesus Christ, and have this mind, which was in Christ. May God help us so to do. Amen.


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