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Be of the Same Mind

Ordinary Sunday 26: 1st October, 2017
Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster, Vicar of St Peter's, Eastern Hill

If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, then make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. (Philippians 2:1-2)

The Footy Finals certainly bring people together. This weekend Melbourne has been adorned in yellow and black, with a splash or two of navy blue, red and gold. "I'm off to the Footy," announced one life-long Tigers fan, shaking my hand after Mass yesterday morning, "if we win, I might not be at church tomorrow; it will be a big celebration!" Needless to say, she's not here this morning!

In a world that seems to be so deeply divided, it is a good thing to have common goals (excuse the pun); our common goals, interest and passions draw us together and unite.

Unity is an admirable goal, a good thing, but we do need to be cautious about the nature of our unity. There are numerous literary depictions that warn of oppressive dystopian unity: George Orwell's Nineteen Eight-Four (1949) for example, or Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (1985). And history of course bears ample testimony to the potential for these nightmares to become a fearful reality, from the Spanish Inquisition, to Stalin's Gulag and Ceausescu's re-education policy.

St Paul's letter to the Philippians is a beautiful epistle of friendship to his beloved church, the first church he planted in Europe. Acts 16 tells of the church's beginnings, when Paul and Timothy met a group of devout women who were praying by the river, outside the city gates of Philippi. One of the group, a business woman called Lydia, moved by the Christian message, was baptised and then invited them to stay at her home. Their stay in Philippi was brief, but a church was formed under the leadership of Lydia and others. A century later Polycarp gives testimony to the firmly rooted faith of these Philippians, famous in years past and still flourishing (Brown, p.484).

But like all churches, they had their troubles. Two of the founding evangelists of the church, Euodia and Syntyche, were apparently in a fight over some irresolvable issue (Phil. 4:2) and others were going down strange paths theologically, as Paul notes: "evil workers ... who mutilate the flesh ... who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh" (Phil. 3:2).

Into this context Paul writes his letter, calling for unity: "make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind" (Phil. 2:2). He urges his hearers to embrace the virtue of humility: "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves" (Phil 2:3). Paul then quotes from what was probably an early church hymn; it is a description of Christ that is arguably one of the most memorable passages penned by Paul:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

If there was ever a secret to getting the balance of unity right, it would have to be tied up in these words. We are to be of one mind as Christians, and that one mind is nothing less than the mind of Christ. That is our goal.

We've had our own struggles at St Peter's. We've had our disagreements and arguments in the time I've been vicar, and no doubt before that. Finances, or lack of them! That's always a good topic to argue about. We have grappled with the issue of ordained women's ministry in recent years, and how that fits with Anglo-Catholicism. We are currently exploring the question of marriage equality, along with the rest of Australia, and there are varied opinions in the parish as there are in the wider community. Next week we are hosting a panel discussion on Marriage Equality after High Mass. Rowena Allen, Victorian Commissioner for Gender and Sexuality, will be with us. She will be joined by the Rev'd Dr Gary Bouma, Emeritus Professor of Sociology and UNESCO Chair in Interreligious and Intercultural Relations, Asia Pacific; and the Rev'd Dr Keith Mascord will be here too, the author of Faith without Fear: risky choices facing contemporary Christians (2016) who is an executive member of Equal Voices, a cross-denominational, grassroots movement of Australian Christians committed to apology, reconciliation and inclusive churches.

So, what is the mind of Christ? How do we empty ourselves in the face of conflict and difference?

  • Not by angry silence ... but by listening
  • Not by arrogant insistence ... but by openness to other
  • Not by exclusion ... but by loving inclusiveness, even of our enemies
  • Not by self-protection ... but in gracious self-giving

Paul's hymn is called by the commentators "The Kenosis Hymn" from the Greek "ekenosen" in verse 7 which means "he emptied." Paul reminds us that Jesus was in the form of God, but he didn't exploit that power. Rather he took the form of a slave, he "emptied himself" was born in human likeness and died on a cross. This small Greek word "kenosis" or self-emptying, has had great meaning for Christian faith across the centuries.


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