If I’m honest, the poetry and cadence of these familiar words from Paul’s letter to the Philippians almost always washes over me in such a way that I tend to lose track of its powerful and practical meaning for how I live in and interact with the world. It is easy to get lost in the vivid description of how Jesus acted in our behalf. Perhaps this is why it is just as easy to overlook those first words of this section which remind us that this is not only something to be observed, but that it is something which followers of Christ are to strive to live as we allow the “mind of Christ” to be in us. Clearly, not only am I to recognize what Jesus did and how he did it. I am also supposed to emulate it: in the same way emptying myself, taking the form of a slave, being humble in my humanity with other humans, and exercising obedience. Perhaps I over look this, too, because, to be honest, this goes against much of what this world has taught me.
Oh yes, it is a daily, sometimes hourly struggle, this business of letting the mind of Christ be in me. And it’s challenging enough on the good days, let alone in those times when I find myself at odds with another. Indeed, as I sort out just what this looks like, I wonder, in those times, if it would not be enough to simply be ‘human’ with each other. To take the time to be fully present and to listen deeply. To openly acknowledge our mistakes and shortcomings and to be open to allowing others to step in a fill that open space with acceptance or forgiveness. Isn’t that what it is to embrace our humanness as Christ embraced his? It’s risky, of course it is. That comes across without question in the picture painted before us now. But I can’t help but believe that somehow the alternative would ultimately be even worse.
So let me offer one example now of how, this week, I have attempted in a very small way to “let the mind of Christ be in me.”
Here is how it was. I came into work this past Thursday with a list of things to get done before the day was through. As is too often the case, my plan was quickly thrown off track by the unexpected for our custodian came in to report that our neighbors across the way had put up a sign in their parking lot threatening to tow any unauthorized vehicles.
Let me paint the larger picture for you. Three mainline churches are located on a couple of city blocks here in this community. We are literally right on top of each other. All of our buildings are old — in fact, ours will hit the century mark in a couple of years. So it goes without saying that all were built in a time when the faithful walked to church (or rode horses, some of them.) Parking was simply not an issue then and most would have no reason to think it ever would be. In the meantime, the town grew up around us, using up other available space. Couple this with the fact that over time our worshiping populations have aged. While we have done what we can here to make our building fully accessible to those with mobility issues, if they can’t park close enough to get in easily, that doesn’t much matter.
Now here is where the current issue comes into focus. The parking lot directly behind our building belongs to our neighbors across the street. Our neighbors across the alley do rent space from them for use during the week. We have sent the occasional gift to help with upkeep, as some of our folks do use their parking lot. However, we hold no formal, ongoing agreement.
So on Thursday morning, a sign went up. And for the next hour it was all we could talk about. I knew, though, that it would get us nowhere if we were just rumbling among ourselves. I didn’t relish the need to do so, but before the morning was done, I picked up the phone and made the call. I called to acknowledge the clear message that had been sent. I tried to do so kindly and openly. And yes, it is very clear this will be an ongoing conversation until we sort it out.
What is it to ‘let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus’ in a case like this? Indeed, how much more important is it to do so when those of us who are at odds with one another all purport to be those who are especially called to do so? If the Catholics and the Lutherans and the Methodists on this corner in DeKalb, Illinois can’t be even a little bit as fully ‘human and humble and obedient’ as Jesus was, then what hope do we have?
Here is what makes this especially hard though. I am not proud to say this, but I have not yet actually met these neighbors face to face. (Ironically, those same cars over whose parking places we are in disagreement over now have no doubt contributed to this!) So how is it that I can begin to be ‘human and humble and obedient’ — whatever that may mean — if I have never even actually met the one I am called to serve? A phone call was a start. But clearly I do have a long ways to go.
- What do you think Paul is urging his listeners to do when he says “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus?”
- Where in your world are you called to do this? Who are you being called to be ‘human and humble and obedient with’ as Jesus was?
- For me, a phone call was a first step. What might your first step be?