One Mind with One LovePhilippians 2:1-2
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Last weekend, with some social media magic, I was able to be on vacation and also with you all for Grace online. As a few of my co-workers, and Irene, reminded me, prepping a back up for the stream to make sure that everything runs smoothly while monitoring the comments isn’t really taking time off work, but it was nice to have a few calm days away.
As you can imagine, the drive back into town wasn’t the most calm. Driving west on 80, we could see the clouds in the distance, but we didn’t know how big this storm was until we started to make plans to pick up our dog, Leo, from my parents and they said you’re not picking Leo up right now because trees are falling down, sirens are going off, and power is going out.
I’m not sure what your experience with the storm was, but I had a very odd feeling on Monday and Tuesday because when I was on vacation over the weekend I actively avoided my email and didn’t care that much about charing my phone or laptop because if things weren’t fully charged, than I could be at work while I was on vacation. But as soon as we were back in town and starting to check in on folks, I couldn’t because our phone signals barely existed so I couldn’t check my emails or get in touch with people.
It was a very weird experience to go from trying to avoid any sort of connection, to craving that connection but not being able to have it. And yet, what I know is that through whatever has happened, we’ve found ways to be with one another, which means whatever comes next, we’re going to keep finding ways to be with one another.
There is a unity that will hold us together no matter what comes our way, and that unity is the driving force in our text today.
Paul writes to us in Philippians chapter 2, “Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other.”
There are some key words and big ideas in this text, and it starts with the word, ‘therefore’. Therefore means that we’ve got to remember what has come before and just prior to our passage today, Paul has written to the Philippians about living in the Roman Empire as if they are, first and foremost, citizens of grace and peace. Paul is writing this letter, from prison, where he is held as an enemy of the state because instead of submitting to Nero, Paul insists that Jesus is Lord. This same struggle that Paul is facing, the Philippians are facing too. They are living in a community that wants to believe it is good news when the military empire expands by conquering or killing anyone that stands in their way. While Rome shouts, peace through military might, these early followers of Christ gather around a table and make sure there is room for everyone, no matter where they come from, no matter what their back ground, no matter way, there is always room for everyone and there is always enough to go around, because that’s what peace looks like for us as followers of Christ.
When Paul writes to the Philippians, ‘therefore’ Paul is telling them if we want to be citizens of grace and peace, what comes next is what we have to commit ourselves to.
Paul writes, “Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ” and the word here fore encouragement is παράκλησις (paraklēsis). In Greek, para is to come close, to be right beside someone ad kaleo means to call. When a friend calls you on the phone and it feels like they are right next to you, it feels encouraging, right? That’s the core of this word. In the ancient near east, the imagery that would have come to mind for the folks to hear this word would have been that of traveling on a long road, taking a walk and not being sure you could make it on your own, and in that moment a friend walks along side of you and encourages you to keep going.
Encouragement, for Paul, is all about living this life together, walking side by side so that we can we can be with one another exactly as we need to be.
Next, Paul writes, “any comfort in love” and the word here for love is ἀγάπη (agape). I love tacos, I love my wife Irene, and I love that Irene loves tacos too. But the love that I have for my spouse and the love that I have for tacos are very different kinds of love. ἀγάπη (agape) is the selfless love that puts others first, it’s the love that doesn’t keep score, it’s a love that freely is given no matter what the cost.
This is the love that moved in our neighbors hearts as we moved from house to house picking up branches along the way.
From this love, Paul writes, “any sharing in the Spirit,”. Sharing, in Greek, is κοινωνία (koinónia). It literally means partnership, being co-owners and co-workers together. It’s often translated into English as fellowship, sharing, partnership, or participation.
In the Christian scriptures, especially in Paul’s letters, these words παράκλησις (paraklēsis), ἀγάπη (agape), and κοινωνία (koinónia) are often found together. For example, at the end of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (13:13). Or in Romans 15 Paul writes, “…I urge you, through our Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggles in your prayers to God for me.”
We find, again and again, this threefold flow of encouragement, love, and partnership. It is as if to say that in all our talk about God, if it is not encouraging, if it is not rooted in love, and if it does not spur us towards partnership and community, then it’s not about God.
The encouragement of Christ, the embodiment of grace and peace came to walk beside us as one of us because God is love and this love is always looking for a community to hold together in greater and greater grace and peace.
There are all kinds of ways that people, even that Christians, talk about God, and it’s not encouraging, it’s not loving, and it doesn’t inspire community. Sometimes the ways that folks talk about God beats us down, makes us feel unloveable and isolated, and at the core of our being, we know that’s not God.
This is why after Paul writes of the encouragement in Christ, the comfort and love of God, and our partnership with one another and with the Spirit, Paul writes about sympathy. The word for sympathy in Greek is one of my favorites and it’s one that we’ve brought up before at Grace too. Sympathy, in Greek, is σπλάγχνα (splagchnon). Literally in Greek it means your guts, as in your intestines. In the ancient near east, when they talked about sympathy and compassion, the deep feelings of affection and concern that we have for one another, they recognized that these feelings seem to come from the core of our being, from our innermost self.
Our compassion, our sympathy, comes from our σπλάγχνα (splagchnon), the center and core of our being and it’s from this very same spot within ourselves that we recognize how anything that isn’t encouraging, isn’t loving, isn’t communal, isn’t of God.
Now, what at first seems out of place in our text today is that Paul writes when we live with this encouragement, as we give and receive this love as a community of equal partners, we will make Paul’s joy complete. Don’t get me wrong, I think we should bring joy to other people’s live, but doesn’t it seem odd for Paul to say that when you live with encouragement and love in community, my joy will be complete?
It took me a really long time to figure out why Paul would find joy in other people figuring things out, and then I thought about one of my mentors and college professors, Mark Gammon. Gammon could make a C+ feel like a medal of honor and an A- feel like a slap in the face. I don’t remember my college GPA, but I did graduate top of my department. I’m sorry to brag but it’s been a long time since I could fit that into a conversation. Gammon made me write, and question, and read, and think, in ways that I never had before and in my academic career I was never more honored and terrified then when I was a TA for Gammon.
During that semester, Gammon had me teach class a few times, and the first time I had to plan a lesson, Gammon said something like, “You’re in charge of the lecture, and I’m not going to say a word unless they break out pitchforks against you.”
My nerves were on edge the whole time I was teaching class that day, because I kept waiting for Gammon to break into the conversation, but he never did. After class, I wasn’t sure if Gammon was ever going to ask me to teach again, let alone be a TA the rest of the semester, but he told me, “Great job, when do you want to plan another lesson?”
I had joy in that moment, but Gammon’s joy was made complete in a different way.
When you teach or mentor someone, as you pour into their lives hoping that they will figure it out, and then they do, your joy is made complete.
To all the teachers and educators that are a part of our community, I have no idea what advice to give you for the upcoming semester, but I hope your joy is continually made complete because this world would fall apart without your joy.
Paul writes that their joy will be complete when we think, “the same way” and have “the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other.” And since Paul tells us that we have to think the same way and agree with one another, I’m just going to assume that you’ve agreed with everything that I’ve said during this sermon.
Don’t blame me, it’s Biblical.
This is one of those moments when I really wish we could be in our facility with one another, because if we were in the sanctuary I’d ask you to turn your head to the left and the right and look in the eyes of every person that you think the same way of and agree with on everything.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t look in a mirror and automatically agree with the person I see. If you think my sermons can get a little confusing, imagine the conversations and disagreements that I have with myself as I write them.
Paul can’t be serious, right?
How are we ever going to think alike let alone love alike? Is there anything that we have complete and utter agreement on?
One of my hopes with this series of sermons on the letter to the Philippians is that together we’d see the practical nature of Paul’s words. Too often theology and faith are detached from the every day details of our lives. And yet, Paul is practical, even pragmatic, guiding us toward a tangible salvation that doesn’t just make a difference in our souls but in our whole lives.
When Paul writes about how we should not only think alike but love alike, the musical Hamilton comes to mind. If you have never been lucky enough to see the stage show for Hamilton I hope you will find the time to watch it on Disney+, what else are you going to do with your free time right now? The beauty of Hamilton, and what enchants us about most Broadway musicals, is how the ensemble comes together. No character seeks to outshine another. In great theater, the magic is found not in individual achievement, but the accomplishment of the whole. That’s why the only character in Hamilton that every tries to stand out in the ensemble is the villain, King George III.
If Hamilton isn’t an analogy that works for you when it comes to how we are can think alike and love alike, maybe the storm clean up that we are still living through makes sense to you.
There were a few trees that fell down in our neighborhood, like there are in every neighborhood, and one of the trees that fell down was across the street from us at Mary’s house. Thankfully, the tree didn’t fall on Mary’s house and it only slightly grazed a neighbors car. After things settled down on Monday, I knew I needed to do something for Mary, but I didn’t have a chainsaw, let alone a saw, so I rummaged through the church garage and found a dull, but still useful, saw to at least look like I was useful in the recovery at Mary’s house.
It doesn’t take as long as you might imagine to clean up a downed tree with a dull saw because not long after I showed up, another neighbor showed up, and another, and another, and another, and within an hour 10 of us, dull saws in hand, we’re cleaning up Mary’s yard and her neighbors yards too.
Rod showing up with a chainsaw helped quite a bit too.
There were a lot of different ideas and opinions that came together to clean up the tree that fell at Mary’s house and I know that because I know the signs that are up in our neighbors yards. There were ten people working on Mary’s yard and we probably represented thirty different opinions, and yet, when it mattered most, we all found a way to think alike because in that moment we decided to love alike.
Paul is not writing that we all have to agree that the best way to have coffee is a medium roast, freshly ground, made as a pour over, with no cream or sugar. There is a good chance that to some of you that sentence made no sense, but to others, you know the good news.As soon as I say, this kind of coffee is the best, someone is going to ask, what about tea?
Paul is not telling us to live into uniformity, instead, we’re seeking something better, unity.
Paul writes in Romans 14, “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone…” (1-7 NIV).
For Paul there are disputable matters, there are issues up for discussion. There’s even a moment in 1 Corinthians where Paul writes, “I don’t have a command from the Lord about people who have never been married, but I’ll give you my opinion…” (7:25 CEB). Sometimes folks want to believe that in the Bible everything is set in stone, but here Paul goes out of his way to say, “This is just my opinion, here’s a couple thoughts, but you can take them or leave them.”
There are things that we won’t agree on, there are disputable matters between us, and that’s ok. What’s not disputable for Paul seems to be summed up in their letter to the Ephesians. Paul points to this indisputable matter in all of their letters, but Ephesians 2 might be their most direct statement. Paul writes, starting in verse 12, “At that time you were without Christ. You were aliens rather than citizens of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of God’s promise. In this world you had no hope and no God. But now, thanks to Christ Jesus, you who once were so far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God. When he came, he announced the good news of peace to you who were far away from God and to those who were near. We both have access to [God] through Christ by the one Spirit. So now you are no longer strangers and aliens. Rather, you are fellow citizens with God’s people, and you belong to God’s household.”
For Paul, what it all seems to come down to is the indisputable fact that you belong to God’s household and we are citizens of grace and peace together. At times we might feel like aliens rather than citizens, there are moments where it seems like we are far apart with barriers of hatred between us, but Christ has announced this good news of grace and peace so we are no longer strangers, we’re family.
The next time you find yourself in an argument with someone over a disputable matter and you have to bite your tongue to make sure that you don’t bite theirs, ask yourself, is this world desperate for healing and hope? Do we need grace and peace?
If there is encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, make my joy complete, make your joy complete, by remembering and living like you are a member of God’s household. We can reclaim the common good, but we never will if we refuse to see and appreciate the goodness of one another and the indisputable fact that we are in this together.
I know that there are all sorts of awkward and uncomfortable conversations that we are going to have with friends and family this fall, maybe not in person, but if you’re watching this online you know how easy it is for your fingers to do the talking. What if the same mind and the same love, this need for grace and peace, hope and healing, was always where we got started.
You can’t control anyone else, but as a community, we can continually commit to being a people of grace and peace, of having this same mind and same love so that when we get started, we’ve taken care of the most important thing from the start – we begin with grace and peace, from there it’s just the details of the height and depth and width of this great love that holds everything, and everyone, even the folks that it never seems like we agree with, together.
That’s the thing about oneness, that’s the catch about unity, because the person you disagree with, they probably think you need some grace and peace, and you know they need grace and peace. Look at that, it’s a miracle because you’ve already found something you agree on. Now just stick it out with them and eventually they’ll see that you’re right.
If we can commit ourselves to this encouragement of the spirit, this love, this community and unity founded in sympathy that unites our hearts and minds in grace and peace, the world would be a better place because we’d be better people. Let’s be better, together. Let’s pray, and as we do, feel free in the comments to share the prayers that you carry with you today…
Healing One, Your grace meets us in the messiness of life, extending to us peace in the midst of what is unfinished, untidy, unclear, or unresolved. With steadfast patience, may the Spirit encourage us in the labors of love. May there be in each of us a fierce commitment to transformation that is lasting, restorative, and abounding with grace and peace. All this, and so much more, with joys that are abounding among us, and sighs that lead to silence where we feel pains to deep for words, we pray through Christ who taught us to pray saying, Our God (Father, Mother, Creator) who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other.
Aug. 17 – 22
Click on the day to expand the guide.
Read – John 13:34-35, John 17:23
Notice – In our readings today, what is it that Jesus says will make his followers distinct? As a church, would you say that Grace is defined and made distinct in this way? What about yourself? What are the distinctive aspects of your life and personality, how are they defined and shaped by unity and love?
Pray – Jesus, help me to be continually conformed to the greatness of your grace and peace, but above all, love. Amen.
Read – James 2:14-18
Notice – James offers an important reminder of what a faith-filled life looks like in practical terms. We do not feed the hungry to gain God’s favor, rather, we feed the hungry because our faith in God’s saving favor leads us to help others be resilient in the loving spirit of Jesus. Faith does not mean sitting idle with our hands piously folded. Methodism’s founder John Wesley taught that we serve God with our head, our heart and our hands, that true faith produces good works. Working on Jesus’ behalf looks different than it did before Covid-19 changed our world. What creative ways, or simple ways, have you found in the last 4-5 months to work for God and God’s people in ways that show your faith? How do phone calls, letters, and checking in on your neighbors show your faith and love?
Pray – Jesus, help me to fully accept your love and grace, so that it empowers and energizes me to keep resiliently serving all the people that I can in your loving spirit. Amen.
Read – Matthew 7:1-6
Notice – Judging is a necessary part of life. Yet Jesus said, “Don’t judge.” This did not mean we should not have opinions or that we should not evaluate people’s actions carefully, especially if they are harmful. It does mean that we should hold our opinions with humility and remember that we too have fallen short of how God calls us to live. Humility requires us to admit we often don’t know the entire story. Ultimately God, not us, is the all-knowing judge and justice is finally God’s responsibility. (Still verse 6 made it clear that Jesus did not call anyone to be naïve or accept abusive actions.) Differences, all that we do not hold in common with a neighbor, friends or family members, are often a cause conflict. If you’ve fallen into what many counselors call “negative focus” (seeing only flaws, ignoring real strengths), what steps can you take to restore relationship health? “In the same way we are not to judge others harshly, we are to remove ourselves from relationships in which we are judged harshly.”* Are there any situations in which you need to remove yourself from someone else’s harsh judgment?
Pray – God, keep me healthily aware of my strengths while still being able to “take the log out of [my] eye” before trying to correct or “improve” others. Amen.
* Danielle Shroyer, reflection on Matthew 7 in The CEB Women’s Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016, p. 1221.
Read – Matthew 5:43-48
Notice – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached his last Christmas Eve sermon on December 24, 1967. It included these words: “Agape is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return…. This is what Jesus meant when he said, ‘Love your enemies.’ And I’m happy that he didn’t say, ‘Like your enemies,’ because there are some people that I find it pretty difficult to like…. I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself… every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear.”* Jesus made a similar point with an “obvious” statement that isn’t obvious at all when we reflect on his point: “[God] makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous.” Jesus (and Dr. King) knew that one common way we deal with fear is to turn it into hate toward those we fear. Following Jesus’ teaching, Dr. King said there’s a better option. He told those he called “our most bitter opponents,” “We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you…. be assured that …we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory….the truth crushed to earth will rise again.”** John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, said in Matthew 5:48 Jesus called us to be “perfect in love,” always growing toward loving with God’s all-inclusive love. He rejected the idea that “perfect” meant never sinning (missing the mark). Does it challenge you more, or less, to see “perfect” as about the state of your heart rather than just your outward actions? How might you live with God’s generosity toward the “unrighteous” people you know?
Pray – Jesus, make me an instrument of your peace. Keep teaching me to trust in the long-term power of love, the world-changing power that makes me a follower of Jesus. Amen.
* “A Christmas Sermon on Peace,” in James M. Washington, ed. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1986, p. 256.
** Ibid., pp. 256, 257.
Read – 1 Corinthians 12:3-13
Notice – We are different from one another in many ways. But Paul was convinced that those of us who follow Christ must model for the world that what connects us to one another is far greater than anything that might divide us. We all serve one Lord, we’re all led by one Spirit, we’re all the children of one God. With all our different backgrounds and gifts, we all form one body—the Body of Christ. It is a fact, not an opinion, that people from many different races and backgrounds love, worship and serve the same Lord. How can that fact break down the walls of separation and mistrust that create divisions even among Christ-followers? How can that enable Christ-followers to become models and agents of healing to the larger world? What forces in you try to keep the walls in place?
Pray – God, at times I’m tempted to use the word “us” in narrow ways, trying to shut those “different” people out. Remind me that, in you, “us” is a big, inclusive word for all the people you love. Amen.
Read – James 1:2-4, 12
Notice – James didn’t write about “if you face trials.” He wrote about “the various tests you encounter,” for he knew trials are an inescapable part of life. He even urged us to consider trials an occasion for joy. Really? Some trials hurt so much we may find it next to impossible to even imagine joy in them. Author Glennon Doyle offers this wisdom when facing life’s inevitable trials: “If you are uncomfortable —in deep pain, angry, yearning, confused—you don’t have a problem, you have a life. Being human is not hard because you’re doing it wrong, it’s hard because you’re doing it right. You will never change the fact that being human is hard, so you must change your idea that it was ever supposed to be easy.”* How do you most often respond to the trials of life? With joy? With distress? The next time you face a trial, step back and remember that it’s okay to be uncomfortable. This is what it means to be human. God is with you in your sadness or discomfort. What do you believe are the most characteristic marks of a mature, “tried and true” Christian? (If you’re not sure, review Galatians 5:22-23 or 2 Peter 1:5-8) Do you exhibit those traits? Are there areas of your life you need to examine to lead you to the place where you are “fully mature, complete and lacking in nothing?”
Pray – God of wisdom, right now the world around me seems drastically changed, and I don’t like that at all. Help me, even in this difficult season, to find ways to grow in the resilient maturity you offer to give me. Amen.