+ A sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on September 27, 2020 +
Text: Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32
The battle lines have been drawn and redrawn yet again this week.
Divisions in this country separating us based on our reaction to the decision of the grand jury in Louisville, Kentucky following the death of Breonna Taylor, on the future of the Supreme Court following the death of Justice Ginsburg, on the protests raging around the country, and so many more issues.
And both sides have been busy lobbing attacks at the other this week.
And I must confess that my mind has been made up.
As much as I try to listen to all sides and keep an open mind, I have found myself firmly in one of those camps and am generally unable to see the other point of view.
And I must confess my own role and participation in the division of our country.
This is a lament I’ve preached about before, I know, but it seems just as true now as ever before.
Our country is divided, unable to come together not only on major issues like criminal justice reform, climate change, and the future direction of our country, but on fundamental issues like caring for our neighbors, combating a deadly virus, and even voting.
And I know that I am not the only one who is becoming unwilling, or unable, to see another point of view.
Now it can be easy to think that all the divisiveness, the partisanship, the unwillingness to come together is the sign of our times, yet another casualty of the year 2020.
But as the early Christians in Philippi remind us, this all points to something deeper, more inherent in the human tradition.
Which is exactly why the Saint Paul is to urging them in our second reading to “be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord”—words that could just as easily have been addressed to 21st Century Christians in this country rather than their 1st Century original audience.
Paul is writing to a people divided with factions forming, threatening to tear the congregation apart.
So Paul exhorts the people to be of the same mind, not just as each other, but of Christ Jesus.
Not to persuade one side to join the other, but to find their unity in Christ.
Paul reminds them of the gospel message that he preached among them about Jesus, whose whole life was about loving and serving others.
Whose very birth demonstrates a mysterious and profound example of self-giving love.
Who spent his life on earth reaching across divisions, speaking truth to power, and teaching us how to live as one in God’s divine commonwealth.
Who triumphed over all the forces of sin and division, even death on the cross, to bring us into the new and resurrection life—a new life not just for him, not just for his disciples or for his nation, but for all people and the whole creation.
And now Paul is urging this community to use this good news, to live into live into this resurrection life by partnering with God and with each other to enact their collective salvation, to reshape the world according to this new reality until this world reflects God’s perfect commonwealth where the whole creation finds healing and life and wholeness.
“Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others, Paul writes, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” as you work together, trusting that God is at work within you, overcoming your divisions and enabling you to do the work that pleases God.
As we move closer to this fall’s general election, as the parties gear up for the battle over the Supreme Court, as protests continue to rage in our city and around the country, even as we fight over how to live in time of pandemic and whether or not to wear a mask, I have a feeling that our divisions and polarizations will become even more stark in the weeks ahead.
And I’ve heard the lament over and over that things that once were simple disagreements and honest debates have become so…political.
Even that word, “political,” has become a dirty word, denoting all that is wrong in our country these days, a byword for our division and partisanship.
But I use that word intentionally here, because while I agree that partisanship and division is actively harming our society, I maintain that we should care about political issues because they address the health and wellbeing of the polis, of our mutual society.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about why we find ourselves so divided, why every issue becomes a political fight that seems to only deepen our schism.
Some would point to certain politicians or political parties.
Some decry sensationalism in the news media.
Some may blame the way our systems are set up.
And perhaps there is some validity in those theories—and I know where I am wont to cast blame.
But I wonder if the cause is not something deeper, more inherent in our nature.
I wonder if, when these questions arise, we too easily default to the question of what’s the best outcome for me and my interests rather than what is the best outcome for the polis, for the whole society, for my neighbor.
That in our base human self, we tend to care more about ourselves as individuals than we do for our collective wellbeing.
And I think for many, that has even become the purpose of faith, the essence of the Christian life, doing what I can to assure that I go to heaven when I die and let Jesus sort out the rest.
As we go to the polls this November, Lutheran Christians around the globe will celebrate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s treatise, The Freedom of a Christian, yet another reminder that these questions are nothing new.
In that work, Luther reminds us that we have been assured that in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we have been freed from all the forces that would seek to divide us and hold us back.
That we have already been joined into Christ’s resurrection life and nothing we can do can change that.
He then uses this same passage from Philippians to define the Christian life—that we should trust in the assurance we have in Christ and focus our life and efforts on loving and serving our neighbors.
“Christian individuals do not live in themselves,” Luther writes, “but in Christ and their neighbor, or else they are not Christian. They live in Christ through faith and in the neighbor through love.”
Like Paul, Luther tells us that we don’t have to worry about working to make it into some future heaven—that we have freedom in Christ.
But we have also been bound together in Christ to use our life and our work to benefit our neighbor as we help make God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
To work together to build up God’s commonwealth in this life so all people can experience the fullness of God’s salvation here and now.
In these days of disunity and division, I hear again the Apostle’s urging to be of the same mind as Jesus.
In these days of political ads plastered across TV and the internet, I am convinced that, if I could, the one ad I would run over and over again are those simple yet powerful words: “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”
What a message as we strive to live together in this society.
What a message as we seek to come together and address the wellbeing of our country.
What a message to motivate and guide us as we prepare to vote in just a few weeks.
So different than our national ethos of rugged individualism and personal freedom, it’s a reminder of our inherent connection with each other, our interdependence on one another.
And it’s a message that is surely as challenging now as it was five centuries ago, as it was two millennia ago.
A message that was certainly as countercultural then as it is now.
But that’s exactly what Paul has in mind—a community of Christ followers who refuse to be stymied in division, but rather live into the love and example of Jesus, doing their part to reshape the world.
To recognize that we cannot—and should not try to—stand on our own because we have been bound together.
That as the children of the same God, created in the same divine image, baptized into Christ’s death and raised into his resurrected life, my well-being is inexorably bound up in your wellbeing, that my salvation is tied to your salvation.
And as followers of Jesus, it is our duty and our calling to use our lives as Jesus did—focusing not on our own individual wants, but on the needs of our neighbors and the whole world.
We Christians have a unique voice, my friends, a witness to the life-giving, division-healing, and world-changing life of Christ’s resurrection.
And Christ has called us to use our voice and our lives to bear witness to that new life for the wellbeing of all people and the whole creation.
So what does it mean for us to look for the interests of others in these days?
What does it mean for us to build up God’s commonwealth in this land?
It means viewing all these political issues with the mind of Christ.
It means not voting for the person or party who will benefit ourselves the most, but prioritizing the health and wellbeing of our society, voting in the interest of our most marginalized neighbors.
It means pushing back against rising wealth inequality as the richest among us get richer in this pandemic while many struggle even to find work.
It means caring less about individual property values and more about providing shelter and affordable housing for all.
It means caring less about my convenience than protecting the environment.
It means using our time and efforts to feed our hungry neighbors.
It means pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones so we can see our own racial biases, our own prejudices, so we can truly see and treat each and every person as equally worthy and beloved as we are.
And, in these COVID days, it means something as simple as wearing a mask, perhaps the purest and easiest example of putting another’s needs before your own because my mask doesn’t protect me, but it keeps safe those around me.
And, as Jesus reminds us in today’s gospel reading, it’s not enough to simply say these things—it also means backing up our statements with actions.
That we are called to allow the mind of Jesus to so infiltrate our own that it is constantly motivating our lives.
That we should allow God to work in and through us so that our every action is infused with the trust and determination that the gospel is true—that love is stronger than hate, that life is stronger than death, and that God’s promised commonwealth is coming and can be experienced here and now.
If the legacy of our ancestors tell us anything, we know that this is not easy work.
That it we will face resistance and apathy in finally accomplishing God’s vision for our world.
That’s why Paul’s words are just as challenging now as they were so long ago.
But that does not free of us our duty.
Christ is still calling us to come together and unite our efforts with the work of God to make all things new.
And we strive to live into the words of Dr. King, “Jesus… I want to be on your right or your left side, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition…I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world.”
Beloved, during the next few weeks, you will surely hear a lot about how you should vote.
You’ll hear a lot of opinions on the candidates or positions you should support and those you shouldn’t.
You’ll hear a lot of voices stoking fear and partisanship and division.
But today, the Apostle Paul reminds us that Jesus has come to show us a better way.
Be of the same mind as Christ Jesus, he urges us.
Because ultimately, it’s not about what I think is right, it’s not about doing what my party says I should do, it’s not about making up my own mind at the expense of others, it’s about being of the same mind as Christ Jesus—of humbling yourself and embodying self-giving love, of resisting the forces of evil and division, of doing my part to bring healing and life to my neighbors and the whole creation.