If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 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 Creator.
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure.
I believe God works in our lives.
I believe God is working right now in each of us.
What I do not know is how. Even in myself.
I have some ideas, some hunches.
When I see love taking place, or compassion, or acts of justice, or a willingness to step aside and let another step forward; those are times when I sense God at work.
I see a lot of that kind of language in today’s scripture. Paul is commending the church folk in Philippi for their faithful behavior in being a loving community. Maybe he is also reminding them of how to behave. After all, churches have a way of forgetting the basics.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”
Easier said than done, right?
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
Same mind? Really? What is that about? How do we know what that is?
That sounds a little like WWJD – What would Jesus do?
I don’t know about you, but I have trouble grasping the idea of having the same mind as anyone else, even Jesus. My mind is all over the place. Sometimes I am at peace. Other times I am confused or fearful. Even in the company of church folk I am all over the place in my mind. How do I use my gifts? What are my gifts? How do I combine or share my gifts with others’ gifts?
And then there is that whole thing about group think, about herd mentality. Didn’t God make me an individual? Don’t I have a responsibility to think for myself, to find my own way? Remember the line from Hamlet when Polonius says to his son, Laertes, “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
If we are all true to ourselves then what does it mean to have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus?
Perhaps anticipating that question, Paul inserts into his letter a Christological hymn. These are poetic lines portraying a theme of redemption that show Christ taking a journey from an exalted place to a place of humiliation and ultimately to a new place of honor. It is akin to the theological themes of incarnation, death, and resurrection. This cycle is offered to us by the church as a model of how to see our lives unfolding. We who follow Jesus have a path to walk that has been prepared for us.
Hear these words again and listen for the “self-emptying spirit.” Notice the giving away of control and the Spirit of God at work,
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 Creator.
We can disagree, and we will disagree, on how Jesus was or was not divine, but I think we can find a common mind on the power of his humility, his living for us at the expense of his own individuality.
I used to think the language about every knee bending and every tongue confessing was triumphalist language, exclusionary, and demanding, as if to say that those who did not kneel or confess were outside of God’s care and love. Hearing it again today I know it differently. I see it now as holy gift, a gift that bathes us with love. My response to this gift is like my response to the hymn, How can I keep from singing?
While though the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.
And though the darkness 'round me close,
Songs in the night it giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm,
While to that rock I´m clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?
The Christological hymn is a love song, not a creed. It exists to point us toward a saving faith, not a litmus test of worthiness. In the emptying, God’s love is poured out in Jesus, and in us.
And so we come to the last paragraph of today’s lesson.
“work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure.”
Fr. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, writes about this mystery of Christ in our midst:
The Christ is always far too much for us, larger than any one era, culture, empire, or religion. Its radical inclusivity is a threat to any power structure
and any form of arrogant thinking. Jesus by himself has usually been limited by the evolution of human consciousness in these first two thousand years, and held captive by culture, nationalism, and Western Christianity’s own cultural captivity to a white, bourgeois, and Eurocentric worldview. We have often missed the ways Jesus reveals himself, because “there stood among us one we did not recognize” (John 1:26). He came in mid-tone skin, from the underclass, a male body with a female soul, from an often-hated religion, and living on the very cusp between East and West. No one owns him, and no one ever will. (Daily Meditation, 9/20/20)
I agree with Rohr. No one can contain God. No philosophy or theology can contain Christ. Ultimately, we have to choose between settling for a faith that is handed us by society, or, as Paul implores, “working out our own salvation with fear and trembling.” In other words, discovering our own faith, questioning our own and others’ ideas on who God is for us and how God is working in us.
So, after all this, I come to the question in the sermon title. How is God at work in you?
As you consider this question, I ask you to consider the idea that God is at work in you. God loves us and partners with us for God’s good purposes.
So how do we name that work?
I have been thinking about that all this week and have come up with three ideas. The first is trust. The second is making space. The third is prayer.
At some level of our God awareness, we need to trust God is with us, for real. We have heard the story, we have experienced love, grace and forgiveness, we have known times in our lives when we were certain of our being held in God’s care. So, even when we have doubts and despair and challenge, trusting God is present is a life-giving act on our part. It is a choice. It is an act of will. It is a leap of faith.
A second way to name how God is at work in us is by making space. Making space is an act of courage and humility. It is not easy opening ourselves up to the unknown, even when it is the Lover of our souls whom we are inviting into our lives. I do not think the emptying described in today’s lesson is as much about denying our humanity or self, as it is about opening ourselves up to the other, to God and to our neighbor. This seems to me what the Great Commandment means, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. To love is to make space, to risk change, to deny the false selves of our own imaginings.
The third is prayer. We all pray differently. There is no right way to pray. There are many right ways to pray. These include listening for God. Talking with God. Moving with God. Seeing God in one another. Seeing God in nature and in community.
Trust, making space, and prayer. These are three ways you might consider the question of how God is at work in you.
Just so you know, I think God has a great sense of humor. And I have a hunch that after I try all these ideas on how to discern God working in my life, God will surprise me with using some part of my life that I never thought important or valuable. Just to keep me humble.