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Visions from The Catacombs, Week before September 28 2014

 

Philippians 2:1-13

2If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

6who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,

7but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

9Therefore God also highly exalted him

and gave him the name that is above every name,

10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

12Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

What I am Learning

There are few parts of scripture more influential, powerful and mysterious than this reading from Philippians. It is one of my favorites. In this passage Paul quotes early liturgy or hymn of the church as he makes his argument to Euodia and Syntyche and the whole church to reconcile and stop competing for leadership within the community.

As he makes this argument, he goes to the very core of the faith.

All human beings are made in the image or form of God. Our lives are a mysterious gift. These lives, however, are fragile as we learned as children when we got a skinned knee or a burnt hand. It seemed almost intolerable to us that our knee or hand could be hurt, let alone the fact of a particular wound. In that first wound we saw the possibility and even inevitability of further wounds. And we didn’t like it. We wanted to find a way out.

This is understandable of course.

This desire to find a way out of being fragile and vulnerable is the heart of the second story of creation in Genesis 2-3. The human beings are created beautiful and vulnerable in the image of God. But they reject being human and seek to be God by eating fruit of a tree. This fruit holds a false promise to “be like God” but it is also poison.

Some think the story implies that the man and the woman were immortal until they ate the fruit. They fail to read the whole story, however. Why would there be a tree of life, that is a tree whose fruit gives immortality, if they were already mortal? More than that, some seem to claim that the universe was perfect with no decay or death until the man and the woman ate of the tree.

This is silly. Do you really think that entropy didn’t exist until they ate the fruit? What kind of God would change the fundamental nature of the entire universe and cause stars, planets, animals, plants and people to die because two humans on one speck of a planet ate the wrong fruit? Just silly!

And more than silly, as this interpretation of the text is an example of what happens in the text: just as the man blamed the woman and the woman blamed the snake, so some folks blame the man and the woman, Adam and Eve, for all our problems.

The Genesis story is not a story about two people long ago but a story about all of us. The man and woman represent us and our response to being mortal, fragile humans – even if we are in the image of God.

We all share a tendency to reject such a human life and long for some power to be different. And when we can’t get that, we seek power over others. And when we can’t get that we seek power with others over others.

Or we too quickly and too easily deny our goodness and worth and allow others to demean and gain power over us. We try to dominate others or submit to them.

This is the core of my understanding of sin: the rejection of the human life we find ourselves in by dominating over or submitting to others.

In the Christ hymn, however, we see that Jesus Christ did not reject his human life. Where Adam and Eve rejected the gift of human life, made in the image and likeness of God, Jesus Christ embraced that life.

He was willing to be human.

If being human is good enough for Jesus, being human is good enough for us.

As the creeds would later say it, in Jesus God became a human so that even when we don’t embrace human life, we would know that God embraces our lives.

The reason that every knee bends to Christ is not because he is on some kind of authoritarian power trip. Every knee bends to Christ because his embrace of his human life reveals the true character of God and therefore of humans made in God’s image.

His embrace of human life means that we are free to embrace our own life, to be the unique, powerful, quirky, limited, vulnerable and fragile people we are.

We bow to Jesus because his only desire is that we be ourselves.

We bow to Jesus because he joins us together in a community of mutual love and respect.

What Adam and Eve reject, what we all reject, God embraces in Jesus Christ.

To have the same mind as Christ is to embrace human life as it is and to embrace our specific human life and to tend it with loving care — knowing that human life is fragile and that we are vulnerable, knowing that there are some things so central to that life that they are worth risking for.

To have the same mind as Christ is to hold one another as equals who have different roles and capabilities. We don’t have to compete for status to justify our existence, because our existence has already been affirmed by a God who became one of us.

To have the same mind as Christ is to recognize that we are not God, and so are free to be human.

Be of the same mind as Christ, relax and be yourself and find joy in serving the God who is healing and creating all things.

And know that when you can't fully embrace your life, when the mind of Christ escapes you, that you are held in God's never ending embrace, that you are accepted and loved as you are.

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Here is a helpful chart that I have modified from The Letters of Paul, Bruce Malina and John Pilch, Fortress Press, from John H. Elliott page 307

www.amazon.com/Social-Science-Commentary-Letters-Bruce-Malina/dp/0800636406/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1411407389&sr=8-1&keywords=letters+of+paul+malina

Adam and Eve                                                            Jesus

(Symbols of humans that reject being human)     (The human that embraced being human)

Being in the image of God Being in the image of God
Thought equality with God was something to be sought Thought equality with God was not something to be sought
Spurned being God’s servants Accepted being God’s servant
Desired to be immortal like God Accepted being mortal
Found in human shape and likeness Found in human shape and likeness
Tried to exalt themselves Humbled himself by risking death
Was disobedient unto death Was obedient unto death
God confronted their rejection of life as a mortal human being God exalted him as Lord of all, because he embodied the true character of God and therefore the true character of the human made in the image of God