March 30, 2015

Make Up Your Mind


Text: Philippians 2:5: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus...

Somehow this is all meant to have an impact on us. It is not simply that we read this again each year to remind ourselves of what happened in the swirl of events around Jesus in his last days. And we don’t even do it to re-indict ourselves as co-conspirators the crowd, as people no less given to behaviors that grieve the heart of a righteous and compassionate God.

Reading this story again together is meant to do something for us. It’s meant for our good. What on earth is the good it’s meant to do us?

Go back to the first line of the Epistle lesson and you’ll find the answer. Paul has a basic instruction for us for living as disciples. He says that we are to have the same mind that was in Christ. That seems like an impossibly tall order. What can it mean?

For Paul it means something simple—deceivingly simple, and extremely difficult to accomplish. The end in view is to align our own wills as much with God’s will for us as Jesus managed to do; to match, or somehow measure up to, that depth of conforming our independence by awareness of our dependence on God.

Paul says that we need to do this in the same way Jesus did. And what it involved for Jesus, to speak in terms of our own day, was a kind of surrendering of his own ego. To make up our minds in the same way Jesus does, we have to make over our ego in the same way Jesus did.

That sounds disturbing, and maybe even dangerous, to us. People without any ego at all would be a little, well, hollow. Certainly they’d be a little boring. We admire people who manage to act selflessly, but even in the way we shape the word we make clear that it’s a clear exception to the normal state of affairs.

Healthy humans have a self. And in our own historical moment of self-awareness, self-actualization, self-expression, and self identity, someone without a self is regarded as deeply deprived.

But if we just dismiss all this as irrelevant to our own moment, we risk missing the message at the center of the story today, a message for all moments, for all eras. That message has to do with a basic truth that we cannot escape and need to embrace; that our faith, our relationship with God, our participation in the life offered to us, does not happen without an active choice on our part.

I often speak to folks who want to explain to me why they don’t go to church. I’ve heard dozens and dozens of reasons for this not-doing something. Probably you’ve heard many of the same reasons. I can’t help but think when I’m being told these things that I’m being asked somehow to rescue for this person the possibility of faith for them. It’s as though folks want us in the church not only to keep our traditions and our teachings and our values, but to do the work of figuring out for them how to live as a person of faith in a secular, scientific, socially fragmented world.

But that is not what the church does. And it is not what the church can do. At the very beginning of the Christian community, Paul made it clear that there is a critical piece of this whole drama that gets shifted on to each individual, each soul, each one of us. It is the part of making up our minds to be in this relationship with God, a God we cannot fully comprehend and a relationship on terms we don’t get to dictate.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. Handing as much of yourself over to God’s hopes for you is a choice. God doesn’t do it for you. The church can’t make it any easier, or any more sensible. It’s up to each of us.

So that’s the impact all of this is meant to have on us. We do this every year because it is intended to help everyone of us, everyone who comes into contact with this story, to make up their minds.

Richard Rohr, whom I’ve quoted from this pulpit earlier in Lent, sums it up in a way I can’t improve on: Jesus does not die on the cross to change God’s mind about humanity. God’s mind doesn’t need changing. Jesus accepts the cross to change our mind about God—about God’s love for us, about God’s care for us, about God’s hopes that we might see what is at stake in our souls and make up our minds. The grace extended to us isn’t that it’s done for us, but that we are given all the evidence we could possibly require in the life, teaching, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus to guide us in our choice.

But it is our choice. Each one of us, in the end, has to make up our own minds.