Sermon: The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (A) – 28th September 2014

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 7am and 8am

Readings:    Exodus 17:1-7  Psalm 78:1-4, 11-16  Philippians 2   Matthew 21:23-32

Today’s readings pose questions of how our vision and God’s vision for our lives align. Is our vision of God’s care and salvation large enough or do we need to realign our vision more consciously with God’s inclusive salvation?

The hymn of Christ’s glory from Philippians invites us to reflect on the mysterious or evocative question, “what does it mean to let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus?” While the answer to this question will always remain beyond our reach, it joins what is always meant to be integrated: theology, spirituality and ethics. Indeed, all four passages this morning point to the unity of these three disciplines of faith, which ultimately shape our worship and lifestyle as followers of Jesus.

Paul encourages the Philippian community to have the same mind within them that Christ embodied in his ministry. Paul’s counsel is both personal and corporate. As individuals we are called to make Christ’s vision the centre of our experience. In addition, we as the “body of Christ” are also called to awaken to the deepest reality of the Spirit that enlivens our communal life. Similar to the “sighs too deep for words” that Paul describes in Romans 8, the mind of Christ enlivens the individual and the whole, guiding and directing first unconsciously and, then, consciously through worship, service and contemplation.

In line with the understanding of the Triune God, all of divine persons are present everywhere, shaping to greater or lesser degree everything. This means that the mind of Christ is inspiring you and me and all of us together even when we don’t know it.

Like most important theological issues, it is important that we open ourselves to many possibilities in understanding and experiencing the meaning of the mind of Christ. Trying to be absolutely correct in our theological clarity excludes layers of reality when we need to be most open to the many-sided nature of the manner in which God’s self-revelation takes place. Still, Philippians provides a few insights into our question, “what does it mean to let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”.

The mind of Christ is, first, global and inclusive. It is the mind in all things at their deepest and best. Rather than emphasizing the gulf between infinite and finite, the mind of Christ joins God and us at the most intimate level. There is always a “point of contact” in Christ’s presence in all things. Christ does not cling to God in contrast to the world in all its messiness and pain, but lets go of his divine otherness to transform our inwardness and save the world. There is no dualism of God and the world, or Christ and humankind, even though Christ is always more than we can imagine. Further, Christ in becoming one of us, fully taking on human life, embraces the world in all its joy and sorrow. Christ suffers with us and in his sharing of our lives brings forth the possibility of transformation, healing and salvation.

In Paul’s hymn Christ is shown as going beyond the dualism of divine and human and transcends the dualism of saved and damned and found and lost. Every knee will bow, every tongue will confess, that Jesus is Saviour to the glory of God.  The key word is every. Does this imply God’s universal call and our conscious response, which may or not occur, or something deeper, that everyone will eventually say, “yes” to God’s embracing love?

The Christ whose oneness with God reflects God’s oneness with creation seeks to save all creation. God’s joy is in inclusion, not exclusion; in healing not illness; in salvation, not damnation. Philippians 2 invites us to ponder a Christ based universalism in which Christ is in all things as their deepest reality and all things are in Christ as their ultimate destiny. The One, who is always more than we can imagine, guides and leads us to a realm of awareness in which we truly experience the mind of Christ in our unique and creative way as our deepest reality.

A community such as ours when conformed to the mind of Christ is awake to God’s presence in worship, everyday life, prayer and service. Like a healthy body, such a community seeks to be healthy in every part and in the whole. Such a community lives by practices that give rise to experiences of Christ’s inner presence and guidance; practices of perception in order to see Christ in all things; and practices of healing that seek transformation of community and culture, church and world.

Such perceptions inspire Christ-like acts of inclusion and healing within the church community and in the world. “When did you feel attuned with Christ? When did you see Christ? What enabled you to experience Christ within you as the hope of God’s glory in your life and in the world?”

The gospel asks another similar question, “Who belongs in God’s realm?” and suggests that one answer is “everyone”. The surprise is that those furthest away are the first to enter. “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you”. The banished belong in God’s realm of radical hospitality. Jesus’ community welcomes all; the righteous who need a conversion of heart and an awakening to God’s inclusiveness and the lost who can’t imagine that God would embrace them as beloved daughters and sons.

We all belong, and the surprising response to this question is found in pondering, “Who will be next to me in God’s everlasting reign?  Will the ones I might banish be in line ahead of me in God’s healing realm?” Some of us may find ourselves in God’s realm of Peace singing next to the most unexpected characters, and they in turn may be surprised to find us next to them.

“Where have we found healing when we were broken? Where did you find direction when we were lost? What gave you a future when you faced a dead end?” As we look at our lives, we are called to have, as Soren Kierkegaard said, a passion for the possible and to trust that the God of possibility has a vision, or many visions, for each moment of our experience. Each moment bears the imprint of God’s loving care and, in the future, that same care will present us with pathways of possibility appropriate to each step of the way. Life is still dangerous and perplexing, and failure is a possibility, but, still our task is one of openness to the vision God presents us one moment at a time.

Think for a moment where God is in our lives today, individually and corporately. In the interplay of listening and imaginative service, we can envisage God’s faithfulness and train ourselves to follow the wisdom we experience. While we experience God in surprising and unexpected ways, we may also bring God’s presence to our awareness by remembering and claiming special moments that shine a light on our lives. In so doing we will be reminded that in life and in death, God is our companion, guide, comforter and challenger. The One who breathed life and possibility into our lives will embrace us when we feel alone and without resources.[i]
[i] This sermon produced using material prepared by Bruce Epperly found at http://www.processtheology.net/resources/lectionary-commentary/yeara/2008-09-28/proper-21