“The Narrative Lectionary brings us to Philippians 2:1-13 this week. Paul is urging his friends in Philippi to stay united in love. The context leads us to assume that the Philippians were beginning to fracture under the pressure of external forces that wanted to divide them. It is clear in the end of chapter one that the church in Philippi was under the same sort of attack that got Paul into prison. We see in chapter three that the pressure came, most likely, from Paul’s ubiquitous nemesis–those who would force Gentiles to conform to Jewish practices before being allowed to follow Jesus.
This is a timely message for those of us who are disciples of Jesus in the United States of America. The systemic powers of evil that seek to control our lives today feed off of fear, hatred, and division. This isn’t about Red vs. Blue, Conservative vs. Liberal. This is about an economic-power system that is fueled by hyper sensationalized sound bytes that whip people into a frenzy and cause them to throw money at “the correct side of the argument.”
Paul reminds the Philippians, and reminds us, that we are all one body. If there is any encouragement in love”, he says, “sharing in the Spirit, compassion, sympathy”…let those words soak in. My souls longs for them to be true in our society. Paul says, in verses 1-5, “be of the same mind…let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
In other words, strive to have “the mind of Christ.”
What does that look like? How do we do that? The answer lies in a hymn that the early disciples sang, which Paul recites in Philippians 2:6-11.
Theologian Sally McFague reminds us that the key to God’s love–the mind of Christ–is self-emptying (I encourage you to read a post from Richard Rohr here). The fancy word for this is kenosis. It means to empty and is used in Philippians 2:7 to describe what Jesus did when he became human.
He emptied himself of the glory of divinity to take on flesh, and then humbled himself in his humanity to take on the cross.
This, I believe, is a picture of the Holy Spirit. It is the life-water, the energy of love, that binds everything together. When we live in the illusion that we are self-contained, and self-made creatures who have the right to hoard wealth or exalt ourselves above other creatures, we cut ourselves off from life itself.
Read the final paragraph of McFague in Rohr’s meditation,
. . . [I]f one understands God to be not a “substance” but the active, creative love at work in the entire universe, then “loving God” is not something in addition to loving the world, but is rather the acknowledgement that in loving the world, one is participating in the planetary process (which some identify as “God”) of self-emptying love at all levels. By understanding both “God” and the world in this way—that is, as radically kenotic—this essay can be read as both Christian and interfaith. Thus all can participate in the kenotic paradigm as a way of loving the neighbor, a process in which God’s own self may also be seen at work.
These thoughts take me back to a theme that has been central to my own spiritual growth for decades. I call it the Overflow Principle. Read about it here. Meditate on this image.
My prayer this week is that we might be able to grow in the mind of Christ. Emptying is difficult. It is a vulnerable space. Putting the concerns of others and the whole in priority over selfish desires requires time and space to listen and process in community and cooperation.
Peace on your journey.
CLICK HERE to view the Philippians page on A Cartoonist’s Guide to the Bible where you will find multiple resources to study, teach and preach on this important letter of encouragement (we could all use some encouragement right now, right?)
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