Thinking Like Jesus
A Sermon for the First Congregational Church of Albany, NY
by Rev. James Eaton, Pastor – Copyright 2017
World Communion Sunday • October 1, 2017
To hear the sermon preached, click below
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 – Philippians 2:1-13
What’s on your mind today? I went to a seminar once where the widely known lecturer, an expert at preaching and a professor began speaking to a room full of preachers by saying something like this: “I know that you are preachers and most of you have to go back and create a sermon this week. So I know a lot of you are thinking great thoughts, your mind is already full of what you want to say. But I want to speak today about the real question you should be asking: what’s on the mind of your listeners?” So I start out every week trying to think about that question.
Some people have taken it to a new level; they let their listeners text them questions during the sermon. I’m not quick enough to do that and while I use my iPhone to record the sermon, I put it on airplane mode. Of course, I really don’t know what’s going on in your mind today. Some I imagine are thinking about what comes next: lunch maybe or things to do, some are worrying, some are drifting off.
One thing on the mind of many of us is the damage done by hurricanes. How can we watch pictures of people, first in Florida and Texas, now in Puerto Rico, whose whole lives have been reduced to simply life itself. No possessions, no homes, just the basics of survival: food, shelter, water. At the same time, I can’t help but notice our Congress is focusing on creating a tax cut for corporations and wealthy people with the delight of a child writing a Christmas list. I notice the contrast in value: the emphasis on riches for the richest, the desperation of people for water that flows from our taps as easily as the twist of a wrist.
The contrast raises the question of value: what makes it worth it to a billionaire to make one more million dollars? What is life worth when you lose things, perhaps everything? What do we value? I lost my Tilley hat this week: a canvas sailing hat with a wide brim that could be bent to just the angle to keep a low sun out of your eyes and sweat stains from 30 years of sailing. It flew off in a gust of wind while I was sailing in gusty conditions with big waves and I knew there was no way to retrieve it. Jacquelyn hated that hat; she wouldn’t let me wear it off the boat. I loved it because I’d had it so long. Do you have things you love because you’ve had them a long time? What really IS valuable after all?
Roman culture was not so different than ours. Back then, as now, rich people drove culture, set an example and they did it by having expensive, valuable things. They filled houses with them; archaeologists dig them up today, mostly broken, because an archaeologist’s idea of a good time is digging in a landfill. But we know from pictures and written accounts and the occasional well preserved home that Roman lives were lived in a culture that clearly connected wealth and prosperity for honor and goodness.
So it must have seemed strange to the Christians in the Roman city of Philippi to hear Paul’s letter to them with its stunning message about Christ losing everything. This is how he summarizes the life of Jesus
…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.
No riches; no list of victories won, challenges met, games sponsored, statues erected, not even a list of charities he supported. But this stunning declaration: equal to God, yet emptying himself.
It’s an amazing thought. Jacquelyn and I are at that point in life where we are getting rid of things, and it’s hard. The wind and water took my Tilley hat; I didn’t have the heart to get rid of it. Selling stuff online or even in person takes letting go. And here Paul tells us that Christ let go of everything, without even ebaying any of it.
The Philippians knew slaves, saw them every day, Roman society was full of them, some of the Christians there may have been slaves. Everyone knew they were nothing, no one to emulate; no one saw a slave and said, “I want to become like him.”
What Paul is preaching is the action part of Christian faith, the day to day business of doing it, being it. And the key is: thinking like Jesus. Paul says, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus“, and he explains what this means: letting go of your own ambition, humility, serving others. The Book of Eli is a movie about a world after a total break down of civilization and its central character is a man who carries the last Bible. When someone asks him what it says, he replies, “Do a little more for everyone else than you ask them to do for you.”
Now today is World Communion Sunday; we celebrate today sharing in being the body of Christ with all other churches around the world. But what is the body of Christ without the mind of Christ? Sadly, today in some churches, people are being told that prosperity is the real treasure; in some, that it’s ok to exclude people because of who they love or how they love or how they look. But here Paul, here the scripture itself tells us what’s on Christ’s mind: loving others, seeking the genuine humility of serving others until life itself becomes just another Tilley hat that can be given back.
[Christ] he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.
Today we will share the sacrament of communion, and it’s always important to remember the context of communion. Jesus knows where things are going; the gospel accounts unite in suggesting that he understood the betrayal Judas was enacting. He knows he is about to be arrested; he knows he will die. So what does he do? He throws a party.
It reminds me of my mother. For her 85th birthday, my mother suddenly asked my brothers and I to have a party for her. She had gotten word from her doctor a while before that her cancer seemed cured and she was feeling better. She wanted it at the same place my father’s funeral reception had been held, she wanted fancy food and music. So we put together the party, we had Frank Sinatra music—my mother never got over her girlhood crush on Sinatra—and it was only years later that I understood. My mother knew she was coming toward the end; she was giving things up, her house, most of her possessions, and she knew it couldn’t be too long before what she gave up included her life. She knew there would be a funeral; she knew there would be a party. She didn’t want to miss it.
Communion is the party celebrating Jesus’ final act of humility: he’s about to give up his life, for others, a final act of emptying. Now in this church we share communion by passing it hand to hand in the pews. That means every one of us serves someone else, hands them the plates of bread and the cups. As we serve others, we are reminded that serving others is what the mind of Christ means. Like children practicing setting the table, we practice here serving others so that as we go out from here, we will not go out simply with what was on our mind but with the mind of Christ. What’s on your mind now? May we go forward with the mind of Christ.