Sunday, March 16, 2008

"A Beautiful Mind" - A Sermon for Passion Sunday

Preached at Grace Church, Ilderton and St. George’s Anglican Church, Middlesex Centre, 16 March, 2008

Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 26:14-27:66

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5).

Do you want to improve your mind? I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t want to improve their mind. If you’re a parent, you want your children to develop their skills and be good learners. You keep the kids away from too many “mindless” pursuits such as watching excessive amounts of television (this week the media was concerned with a study showing that a third of teens spend thirty hours a week in front of TV and computer screens). During our careers we are challenged to be active in continuing education and professional development, to keep our skills sharp. Seniors too are encouraged want to keep the mind active, whether it’s doing crosswords, reading, taking courses at night school, or learning languages.

All of these pursuits pale in comparison to what we are asked to do as Christians. Today, in our second lesson, we hear Paul’s challenge to “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ” (Phil 2:5). Do any of us really think that we can do this extraordinary thing that Paul is asking of us? Surely Jesus had no ordinary human mind. He knew things that others didn’t, as we saw three weeks ago when he knew the secrets of the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4). He had the mind of a great and serene thinker. His mind was full of great love and patience, even at the end of his life. Our minds however are cramped and undisciplined, full of dark and worried thoughts. How could our minds ever become Christ-like? I suspect that if we voice this objection to Paul, he would say “Exactly! That’s exactly why you need the mind of Christ”.

What can we say about this mind that Paul wants us to have? At the beginning of our second lesson, Paul says clearly that Christ “was in the form of God” and had “equality with God” (Phil 2:6). Paul suggests that Jesus, as one of the three persons of the Trinity, knew God completely, including knowing the mind of God. That for me, if you’ll pardon the expression, is a mindblowing passage I can’t imagine anything more beautiful or peaceful than knowing the mind of God. For Jesus to set that glory and equality aside and come to earth to be one of us is an amazing testimony to how much God loves us and wants to help us.

After Jesus became human to serve us, how much of God’s mind did he still know? In his book Simply Christian, Bishop Tom Wright says something that I found helpful. He thinks that Jesus didn’t walk around knowing that he was divine the way you and I know if we are hot or cold, male or female. Wright suggests however that Jesus knowing that he was part of God’s mission. Because of his deep prayer life and his sensitivity to God’s will, Jesus knew that “He was called, in obedience to the Father, to follow through the project to which that love would give itself freely and fully” (p. 119). To that extent, we can say that Jesus knew the mind of God better than any person who ever lived. To borrow the title from a recent movie, Jesus had a beautiful mind, fully aware of God’s love and God’s desire to rescue his creation from human sin.

If we go beyond these generalities and look at the rich feast of scripture for today, Passion Sunday, we can say some specific things about the God-mind of Christ that Paul wants us to have.

Jesus has a humble mind. He sets aside his equality. In Paul’s wonderful phrase, he “emptied himself”. Yes he comes into Jerusalem like a king, but there is no chariot, no army of grim soldiers with sharp swords, only a simple figure riding a donkey. He doesn’t put on airs, he doesn’t strut, he doesn’t ask for special treatment. He doesn’t want to be an earthly king because he knows the limits of earthly power.

Jesus has a determined mind. In our first lesson, Isaiah says of God’s servant that “I have set my face like flint” (Isa 50:7). If you look at the face of the simple man riding that donkey, you don’t see a meek and mild face. Instead you see a face as intent and as resolved as any athlete or soldier. You see someone who isn’t fooled by the crowds and the hosannas, who knows that pain and death are at the end of the road, someone for whom there is no turning back.
Jesus has an alert mind. He is, as Isaiah describes him, the “teacher” who comes to help the weary (Isa 50:4). In the garden of Gethsemane, we see him literally as the teacher who is surrounded by sleepy students. Jesus alone stays awake and alert, ready to do what god wants him to do, waking others from sleep.

Jesus has an obedient mind, obedient as Paul says “to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). He is human enough to want to live – twice, Matthew describes him in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking his Father to spare him (Mt 26:39, 42) – but when he sees Judas come with the soldiers, Jesus accepts the job God has given him, the job that only he can do.

Jesus has a loving mind. In Matthew’s account of the last supper, we see Jesus spending his final hours with his friends. The disciples don’t know it yet, but in giving them bread and wine Jesus is showing them how he will give himself for them on the cross, “for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28). Jesus can look around the table and know that some of these sins will be in the future – betrayal, denial, fear – and yet his love for these ordinary people rises above any anger or disappointment that he might understandably feel.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). Or, in other words, make yours a beautiful Christ-mind But how do we do this? I think that if we fall into the trap of seeingJesus as a moral example, and saying that we have to be me more like him, it won’t work. It’s like trying to tell an amateur golfer that he can improve his game by being more like Tiger Woods. That’s only a recipe for frustration. The golfer might like to be like Tiger Woods, but there’s only one Tiger. Our minds aren’t normally humble or determined or alert or obedient or loving. Our minds are more like the disciples, doubtful and sleepy and frightened. Fortunately for us, it’s not about trying harder to be like Jesus.

Look at the first word of today’s text: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). When a friend says “Let me do this for you”, or a musician says “let me entertain you”, you’re not being asked to do the thing yourself. Rather, you are allowing the other person to do something for you. Jesus wants you to allow his mind to enter yours. It’s not an invasion. It’s not an obliteration of the person you once were. Rather, it’s like an invitation to dance with someone. You may not be a good dancer, but you can follow the lead of the other dancer and together as dancers you can become something more beautiful and more graceful than you were by yourself.

C.S. Lewis once said that it’s the job of “Every Christian to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else” (Merely Christian p. 177). Day by day, week by week, Jesus comes knocking on the doors of our hearts and minds. It’s up to us to let him in. We let Jesus in when we present a child for baptism and ask Jesus to be part of that child’s life. We let Jesus in when we agreed to be confirmed as young people. We let Jesus in when come to the altar and hold out hands to take Holy Communion. We let Jesus in when we pray, when we serve, when we put another’s needs before our own.

You don’t need a university degree to have a beautiful mind. I’ve met quite a few university people with very unpleasant and barren minds. You do however need Jesus to have a beautiful mind. A beautiful mind is humble enough to serve, determined enough to follow, alert to what God is asking, obedient to God’s will and loving others despite their faults. That’s the mind of Christ. This Sunday we celebrate Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, but we really celebrate his willingness to enter into our hearts and minds. Will you Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus?

©Michael Peterson+ 2007

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Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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