I sat down with a group of leaders in a congregation a few months ago.
This particular place, like many, has had its share of struggles. Indeed, those people who had come together that night shared that the congregation as a whole just wasn’t very ‘nice.’ They were, by then sitting on fifty years of conflict and more and their dealings with one another had become downright abrasive.
We began our meeting with prayer and then I read these words from Philippians. After we sat with it for a few minutes, I asked, “What would this congregation be like if it looked like these words of the Apostle Paul?”
“Charismatic!” one replied. Another offered, “Exciting!” Yet another suggested that they would surely be more welcoming. The rest sat and nodded, one or two with tears in their eyes.
These words, of course, speak of the marvelous work of Jesus in our behalf. They describe Jesus giving over all that would have been rightfully his as God’s own Son — even to the point of suffering a shameful death. But Paul does not quote what must have been familiar words to those gathered for the sake of only reminding them of this marvelous gift of God. No, indeed, this gift of God was given in order to actually change them. Indeed, right at the beginning of this section Paul writes,
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…”
It is worth noting, it seems to me, that the ‘you’ here is actually plural. No, apparently this was not meant to be an undertaking for individuals alone. Rather, this is something we seek to be and do together. For in fact, how would it be possible to take the form of a slave if there were not another to actually be enslaved to? In its most basic sense, this automatically calls for more than ‘one.’
Now in the work I am sometimes called to do through Church Innovations, this passage is used all the time particularly in places where the group is called to change as they hear a call to be about new and important things. It almost goes without saying that such ‘opportunities’ can tend to stir us up and may result in conflict. And conflict is something most of us would rather avoid.
- However, by starting with these words of Paul;
- By listening deeply to this passage;
- By sitting with another whom we don’t know well;
- By answering basic questions about what surprised us or what we might want to know more about;
- And by listening to the other in order to be able to share with the large group not our own insights, but that of our partner;
“Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count 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.”
And habits, of course, change us. They always do.
I was back with that congregation a couple of weeks ago. They had been working hard at listening deeply to one another through these familiar words for months by then. Near the end of our time together when it came time to share with the large group, one of the leaders asked a woman at their table if she would share what she had offered their smaller group.
She did. And as she did she spoke of how she and her mother had begun worshiping in that congregation six months before. She spoke of the welcome they had received. She told about how they felt at home in that place and among those people. I couldn’t help but sneak a peek around the room as she spoke. Eyes were shining all over the place. Smiles were literally turning to tears of gratitude and surprise. One let me know later that while she had come to our day together reluctantly, she was so grateful that she had. She left renewed and ready to keep seeking to ‘let the mind of Christ’ be more and more reflective of who they are together in that place.
I believe sometimes God hands us things like this. In one woman’s sharing she gave back to those dear people the certain truth that they were becoming exactly what they hoped they could be. It was certain affirmation of what God can do among us. All we have to do is ‘let it happen.’ Or at least that is how our lesson from Philippians begins.
And yet, that letting is not something that is especially passive. No, the letting only happens as we allow ourselves to be shaped and changed in very real ways by the One who gave himself over to death, “even death on a cross.” Surely this can begin by listening deeply to ancient words such as those shared by the Apostle Paul with his congregation at Philippi. Surely this can be so as we seek to do the same for each other. Oh yes, surely God is still at work among us. Even here. Even now.
- The practice employed above is essentially “Lectio Divina.” What experience do you have with this ancient practice? What examples can you offer about how it has changed you?
- How would you describe the “mind of Christ?” What does it look like for us to have it together?
- What would your place be like if it looked like what this passage describes? What words would you use to describe it? How do you currently live into the ‘mind of Christ’ together?
- If you would like more information about the work of Church Innovations, simply go to their website. I would also be happy to be in conversation with you about it. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org