April 2, 2023 Sermon: Of The Same Mind
Dorothy Churn LaPenta
First and Franklin Presbyterian Church
April 2, 2023
Philippians 2: 5-11
We’re beginning to hear echoes of resurrection. Maybe you have heard the choir practicing. Perhaps as spring flowers emerge you think of Easter. I know that we are already planning for next Sunday. The most wonderful echo came earlier in the service as we baptized Cora Mary and anointed her as a child of the risen Christ. But we are not there yet.
Even though all the Sundays, even in Lent, are celebrations that we don’t serve a dead hero, but a living Christ, it is important that we linger for a time with the events of this week beginning today. Palm Sunday is the prelude to Holy Week, and what is called the Tridium which begins on Thursday at sundown and takes us through Sunday at sundown.
Teri McDowell Ott, editor of the Presbyterian Outlook reminds us that we should not mistake this morning’s commemoration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as an innocent parade. The air was electric with political and religious tension. The people were shouting “Hosanna,” but Jesus knew that he was making this journey not as a Passover pilgrim, but as a prophet who would be confronting the powers, mostly with his silence. It would cost him his life.
In our reading this morning, Paul is instructing the church in Philippi to be reminded what God did for them in Jesus Christ. Paul does not give us the narratives about Jesus that the Gospels give to us. Paul gives us a theology of the cross and resurrection. And it is the cross and resurrection that was always the center of Paul’s preaching and teaching.
The early churches did not have written Gospel narratives, but they did have the stories of Jesus handed down orally by some who were probably eyewitnesses. So, these stories along with Paul’s emphatic teaching about cross and resurrection shaped the life of the early church.
These churches were not tall steeples in cities, well-known and highly regarded. They were primarily house churches. They were, however, subtlety influential. The pagan world was intrigued because these groups seemed to be a mish mosh of people, not organized in the most common ways of the times on the basis of family, gender, class or money. And they cared for each other and became involved in each other’s lives, and welcomed people that would never be allowed in other places. And it all originated and took root in their belief in Jesus. They were being the church!
The pastor, preacher and biblical scholar Will Willimon reminds us that there has always been the lurking possibility for the church to stray from its originating cause and great mission which is to allow Jesus Christ to bring us together, to overcome our boundaries and show the world what Jesus can do, what God is about.
Wiilimon writes that just before the crucifixion, Jesus does not pray that his followers would be effective, powerful, or even successful, but rather that they be one as God and Jesus are one. Paul writes to the Philippians to be of the same mind as Jesus Christ. What is this language about “one in Christ” and “being of the same mind”? How would you explain that to someone?
It is certainly not intended to dilute our diversity. It was never Jesus’ intention that his followers be homogeneous. Look who he called; fisherman, tax collectors, illiterates, scholars, Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans, housewives, business women, rebel rousers, people of means, the poor and vulnerable, mama’s boys and mamas, doubters. And in our day and time, who would be joyfully added by Jesus to this list.
In his Letter, Paul is not giving the people a lesson on how to get along. He is bringing a diverse group of people back to their identity, how their life together unfolds from this identity as followers of Jesus. He’s telling them to lay aside their squabbles and remember what it is to be the church.
In the congregation, I served in Prince Georges County, our Paul was named Mary Scott, an African American woman, small in stature, but loud in voice. This congregation was just as diverse as a congregation can get; racially, ethnically, theologically, economically. Honestly, most of the time it was exhausting, chaotic and wonderful…. I think. I prayed for dull moments. It was always a learning curve for me.
There was such diversity and varying traditions that divisions and conflicts and strong opinions were just part of our life together. When we addressed some difficult topics and we did, it truly seemed like the divisions would be consequential. Then there was Mary, reminding us how much we loved each other and loved Jesus… and oh…. we did. “Okay, you, whatever name she decided to call us that day. Get back to this table, and let’s be the church.” Even after Mary died, we could still hear her in those times when we needed to be brought back to the one who brought us together in the first place. Mary must have learned from Paul because this is exactly where Paul took those Philippians in his letter, bringing them back to the one who had brought them together in the first place.
Now there has never been a more preachier preacher than Paul. There are Bible stories that tell of Paul preaching all night into the wee hours of the morning. In no was he a 12- 15-minute preacher. His sermons were long, his sentences were long, he mixed his metaphors and left his participles dangling. And when he couldn’t preach in person, he wrote letters which were largely sermons. But when he came to this moment of reminding the Philippians of their union in the one who had gone to the cross for them, he didn’t preach. He pulled out A HYMN – a hymn of the early church that would been familiar to the people, a hymn about Christ’s sacrifice.
I must hand it to Paul. In his wisdom, he knew that our theology is far better reinforced through hymns than through sermons. Hymns are sung over and over again and become embodied. This hymn is what was read this morning, stating that Jesus was equal to God, but pushed any notion of that away and emptied himself of who he was and all that he might have been entitled to as God’s Son, which was probably most peoples’ idea of what a Messiah would look like, a regal, anointed one sent by God.
This was not Jesus. Throughout his life, Jesus showed the world the essential character of God, one of self-emptying love NOT self-aggrandizement and glory. We don’t see that manifestation anywhere as intensely as we see it on the cross.
I imagine and I think I am right that as Jesus carried that cross in his mind he was picturing those fisherman, the tax collectors, the scholars, the illiterates, the housewives, the blind man that he healed, the one who called him to come in the night,…. connecting to all the people then and now in an unbreakable bond of pure love, hanging on a cross. Paul says to the Philippians, “Think about this!” We should as well.
The author Rachel Held Evans in her book “Wholehearted Faith,” writes about a time when she was in a spiritual dessert. She attended church on a regular basis, but she was aware of how much she checked out emotionally. She went to worship regularly, continued to read about God, write about God, argue about God, but just couldn’t seem to connect with God, even though she believed in God’s desire to connect with her.
She felt part of the church, might have even agreed that there was a communal oneness in the spirit of service, caring for one another as well as the people beyond the walls., a communal mind ruled by compassion, sympathy, empathy, and encouragement of all people, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and freeing the prisoner, continuously engaging with those walks that Jesus took in his time on earth and who he meant along the way.
But there must be more than the work and the mission to which we are called. We have to receive experiences of God with us. God knows how essential and important that is. There is a mystical component to being the church. (And Presbyterians really don’t care for that word “mystical.” But we should) I think this is why Paul led the people of Philippi to that hymn and Jesus at the cross. It’s very difficult to put language to our God experiences and perhaps that hymn gave Paul words to give to the people that even he was challenged to articulate.
In the midst of her spiritual dessert, Rachel Evans stumbled upon a poem by Daniel Ladinsky drawn from words of Saint Francis of Assisi. It reads:
I think God might have preferences,
Because once, God asked me to join him on a walk throughout the world, and we would stop and gaze into every heart in this world.
But I noticed that God would linger a bit longer,
Before any face that was weeping, but also
Before any eyes that were laughing,
And sometimes when we passed a soul in worship,
God would kneel, quietly beside,
I took a walk with God,
I soon came to learn that
God adores creation.
Rachel writes that the beauty of these images of Jesus lingering caught her breath, Jesus stopping and offering each person an experience of God with us. God’s love is very specific, the kind that sees and knows every complicated, intimate detail of all of creation and in loving determination holds it, embraces it, preserves its goodness, redeems it and even dies for it.
When I first read Ladinsky’s poem, I thought, “Oh, it’s too short!” I wanted it to go on. So, in my imagination, and with artistic license that I certainly don’t have, every now and then I continue this poem:
Jesus asked me to take a walk with him, and we stopped and gazed into every heart in the world.
I noticed that Jesus stopped and lingered and took the hand of a trans teen and walked them to the bathroom and stood outside the door.
I noticed that with seething eyes, Jesus marched into the school and stood in front of every child and teacher, facing that AR-15 not knowing of his own fate,, grabbing, and breaking that weapon two and handing a banned book to the perpetrator, with the words, “This is NOT who you are! Now read!”
I noticed that Jesus looked at his watch and said that we needed to be at the food pantry for the 3 PM shift.
I noticed Jesus stopped to play with children on a playground.
I noticed that Jesus stopped and counted every purple ribbon outside this church in Baltimore and wept.
I noticed that Jesus knelt at unmarked graves of slaves and indigenous peoples and wept.
I noticed that Jesus personally packed and checked a case of plowshares as we boarded the plane to a country that I was fearful of visiting.
So many places, Jesus lingered as if he had all the time in the world.
Where have you noticed Jesus lingering?
We are not called to the sacrifice which Jesus enacted on the cross.
We are called to be of the same mind, one in Christ.
We are called to be the church,
And as we begin this Holy Week,
May WE linger, as if we had all the time in the world, at the cross with the one who seems so intent on finding and lingering with us.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rachel Held Evans. Wholehearted Faith. Harper One, New York: 2021, 71-74.
Morina D. Hooker. The Letter To The Phillippians in New Interpreters Bible. Abingdon Press, Nashville: 2002, pp. 498-510.
Melanie Howard. Commentary on Philippians 2: 5-11, Working Preacher, Luther Seminary.
Elizabeth Johnson. Commentary on Philippians 2: 5-11, Working Prescher, Luther Seminary.
Jay Lyons. A Plain Account: Philippians 2:5-11 https://www.aplainaccount
William Willimon. One in Christ. Day 1 https://day1.org-weekly
ABOUT DOROTHY: Dorothy is a retired minister member of Baltimore Presbytery. She graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 2002 after a 23-year career in nursing. She served as a seminary intern at First and Franklin in 2001-2002. She served for thirteen years as pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church in Mitchellville, MD. She is currently the parish associate at Prince of Peace Presbyterian Church in Crofton, MD. She is also a trustee in Baltimore Presbytery. She lives in Odenton, MD with her husband, Mike, who is a palliative care physician. They have three daughters, two sons-in-law, and four adorable grandchildren (if she does say so herself). When she’s not playing with grandchildren, she enjoys reading, music, walking, friends, and staying engaged in ministry.