Monday, September 26, 2011

The Mind of Christ

In Nomine Iesu
Philippians 2:1-18
September 25, 2011
Pentecost 15—Proper 21A

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus~

Medical technology has advanced to such a degree that there’s virtually no part of your body that can’t be replaced. To receive a new knee or a new shoulder is nothing these days. Vital organs such as lungs, kidneys and even the heart are successfully transplanted into needy recipients almost every day. Why, within the past year or so, surgeons have even succeeded at the first face transplant.

But one thing I don’t think we’ll ever see is a brain transplant. Your mind is uniquely yours. You can swap out any number of other body parts, but you and your mind are inseparable. When the brain does malfunction, all we can do is treat the malady and medicate the mind. What’s the biggest problem with your brain? Mental illness, seizure disorders and Alzheimer’s are some big brain problems. Others of us simply aren’t very smart in some particular subjects.

But where each of our minds fails us most is nothing medical. Our biggest brain problem is not that we’re deficient in math or reading comprehension or even IQ. Our minds can sometimes supply the right answers; but when it comes to living right and doing right the brain you were born with is worthless. When it comes to loving God and loving your neighbor, your mind is vast wasteland. Your brain only cares about you. You are all that matters to your mind. And just let me say, a mind is a terrible thing to waste . . . on you only.

What you need is another mind. What you need is the mind of Christ. That’s the upshot of Philippians chapter two. “Your attitude,” Paul writes, “should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” But it’s the old King James Version that nails it: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” In other words, think like Jesus. Have the mind of the Messiah. It sounds like good advice. “Be more like Jesus. Make your mind more like His.” Who can argue with that?

But then Paul beautifully unpacks just what he means by the “mind” of Christ; and it turns out that our minds and the mind of Christ have absolutely nothing in common. His gray matter and our gray matter are two entirely different substances. The mind of Christ led Him always to be concerned about others—serving them and helping them. And in the process, though He was God, He made Himself nothing. Literally, He “emptied” Himself—poured Himself out entirely in service to others. Whether it was washing the dirty, stinky feet of His disciples, or having mercy on ten men with leprosy, or confronting demons or feeding the five thousand or forgiving the sins of broken-hearted, teary-eyed sinners—never once did the Savior say, “I’m tired. Go away. Come back tomorrow. I’m busy. I need time for me.” He made Himself nothing. He became the servant of servants. He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross. Behold, the mind of Christ.

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” Beloved in the Lord, if you think this text is simply saying, “Be more like Jesus,” you’re missing something. If you think this text means asking “What would Jesus do?” and then doing it for the rest of your life, prepare to be disappointed. You’d have better luck if you simply volunteered for a brain transplant. As sinners, we don’t have what it takes to do what Jesus would do. If we have to figure it out and do it ourselves, it ain’t gonna get done.

God is giving you so much more today than a command to try harder and be more like His Son. What God gives you today is a reality—a miracle, really. It’s the brain transplant you’ve always dreamed of! It is the mind of Christ—in you. It is the attitude of Christ Jesus shaping your attitudes. It is the servanthood of the Savior serving others through you—through your hands and your feet and your mind. Let this mind (the mind of Christ) be in you.

How can it be that sinners like us who seem to do everything out of selfish ambition and vain conceit can suddenly see the crying needs of those around us . . . and do something about it? How can it be that sinners like us who naturally view ourselves as the smartest people with the greatest needs can suddenly see things in a radically different way? How can it be that sinners like us who can’t be even mildly inconvenienced without complaining and arguing can suddenly suffer great loss with quiet humility? How? It is the mind of Christ—in you—working a radical transformation. It’s like a personality transplant. Your mind is decreasing. The mind of Christ is increasing.

The mind of Christ cannot be understood apart from the cross. But at the cross the mind of Christ is made perfectly clear for all. There we see Jesus as your sin-bearing servant. All the sinful schemes ever hatched and carried out by your warped brain were laid upon Jesus. All the devious, deviant decisions conceived in your fertile brain were attributed to Him. He was made to be our sin. And all that He suffered—the betrayal, the beating, and the blood—all this was God’s deliberate plan to save you—to redeem you and restore in you the mind of Christ. Jesus humbled Himself and became obedient to death because that was the only way—the only way that God could make rebels into His children, and to resurrect brain-dead sinners with the merciful mind of Christ.

Your life is now hidden with Christ (Col. 3:3). Or, to turn that around, the life of Christ is now hidden in you. His mind, His humility, His servanthood—it’s all mysteriously at work in you. For all of you who were baptized into Christ are now clothed with Christ. As baptized children of God, every day we repent of our sins. The Old Adam in us is drowned and dies, and a new man emerges to live before God in righteousness and purity. And that new man inside of you—well, he looks surprisingly like Jesus. Today’s text ultimately isn’t about us doing what Jesus would do. No, the Christian life is really about Christ’s doing and Christ’s working in you and through you, guiding, directing and providing you with strength and humility to love God and serve your neighbor. It’s like Paul told the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).

As you draw on the nourishment of His living Word, as you eat and drink His life-giving body and blood, the life of Jesus Himself pulses within you. The attitude of Christ becomes your attitude. The very mind of Christ dwells in you. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”

You need to remember these words of God especially on those days when you’re tired—tired of giving and giving and giving, and getting absolutely nothing in return—when all your friends and family are in crisis and there’s no one to hear your complaint—when it seems that everyone is taking advantage of you—maybe even the members of your own family. These words are aimed at you when you’re so weary of serving others and when you’ve emptied yourself of every last ounce of compassion and good will—when it seems like the perfect time to get assertive and aggressive and tell everybody else where to get off. What should you do?

You simply let the Jesus in you do His thing. Let go—let God—let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. We don’t like that answer by nature. It hardly seems fair for me to give and give while others just take and take. “What’s in it for me?” we ask. But that’s not the mind of Christ. The mind of Christ asks, “Who needs me? Who has God placed in my life who needs my service and my support and my love?” You won’t have to look far or wait too long for an answer to that question.

What is it about your life that you find most draining? Who empties you of all the care and compassion you can muster? What cross do you find most difficult to bear? A wealthy woman on safari in Africa once stopped at a primitive hospital for lepers. The heat was intense. The stench was stifling. The flies were buzzing everywhere. The wealthy woman on safari noticed a nurse who was bending down in the dirt, tending to the pus-filled sores and lesions of a dying man. The woman remarked, “You know, I wouldn’t do that for all the money in the world.” To which the nurse gently replied, “Neither would I.” Because, you see, she had the mind of Christ—who came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. And with the mind of Christ comes the heart of Christ, the hands of Christ, the eyes of Christ, the compassion of Christ.

Beloved in the Lord, this mind is also in you. In you Jesus Himself is hard at work, until that day when at His name every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

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