For the last two weeks we have heard from two different guest preachers, which I know is a bit unusual, but I hope it’s been enjoyable and educational. It was a very intentional choice, these last two weeks, to bring in the perspective of people that we would normally not hear from in a church that looks like ours. Part of the reason for this choice had to do with the book that some of us are reading on the subject of race and racism in America. I wanted our reading to be informed by what we heard on Sunday morning, and I wanted that to come, not from me or Cathy, but specifically from voices of color. But it’s not just the book study that led to this choice. It’s also what’s been happening in our country over the last four months. There’s been acts of police brutality against people of color, leading to many peaceful protests as well as some violence clashes. Athletes from all sports are making statements, saying “Black Lives Matter” and kneeling for the anthem. Race is a major topic of discussion in our country right now— a conversation that is, quite frankly, often not very productive. And so I wanted us, as a community of faith, to wrestle with the topic for a few weeks to see what our faith has to say about it, and to see if we can gain any insight as to how our faith might lead us to participate in these conversations in more helpful ways both here in the church and in the wider culture.
Now when I say that the wider conversation on race has not been very productive, I think that part of the reason for that is that in many places the conversation has become intensely dualistic— it’s either black lives matter or blue lives matter. It’s either pro-law and order or defund the police. You’re on one side or the other. It’s black and white and there’s never any grey in between. Well let me say right here and right now that I don’t think a dualistic approach—a black and white approach—a this, or that, approach—serves us very well in this moment. I also don’t think it’s very Christian. And I think that Paul’s words today from his letter to the Philippians shows us that there may be another way forward when it comes to the difficult conflicts we face.
So let’s start with a little history. The early church in Phillipi was apparently also plagued with conflict. We learn a little more about that conflict in later chapters of the letter and we learn that the conflict is primarily between two people— two women named Euodia and Syntyche. We don’t really know what the conflict is, but apparently, it threatens to tear the fledgling church apart. And so to the Philippian church Paul offers the following advice— “Let the same mind be in you,” he writes, “that was in the mind of Christ, 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 even to the point of death on a cross.”
So, to simplify what Paul is saying here, and perhaps this is an oversimplification, but basically, it’s all about humility. If Christ can humble himself to the point of death on the cross, can we not humble ourselves and quiet our egos to the point where we can at least listen to each other again? If even the creator of the Universe, the life force behind all life, can humble herself, then can’t we at least attempt to take a step back and approach our arguments with a little more grace and humility?
Of course it’s easier said than done. And our culture does pretty much everything it can to try and pit us against each other. And, you know, when our ego is in control, we’re pretty inclined to go right along with that. We’re pretty inclined to choose a side and dig in our heels and be perfectly happy to insist that we, and we alone, have the right answer. But this whole passage of scripture—this beautifully written piece of sacred poetry—is suggesting something different. It’s suggesting that we lay aside our ego,
to allow the mind of Christ to guide us instead. Now there is no room for the gentle mind of Christ in our crowded headspace if our ego refuses to let go of the reigns. But if we can allow the ego to take a little break— send that good old ego on a little vacation for while—and if we can open ourselves up to the kind of humility and grace that fills the mind of Christ, then maybe we can escape this world of dualistic choices. Maybe we can see that it doesn’t have to be either or, this or that, black or white. It can often be both/and. So, for instance, black lives matter AND police officers deserve respect for the hard and often dangerous work that they do. There are very good police officers out there AND major police reform is needed, just as it often is, from time to time, in any institution with power. We can hold more than one truth when we turn from dualistic, ego-driven ways of thinking.
I think part of the problem when we let our ego drive the conversation is that our ego has a strong need to be right. Our ego has a strong need to win the argument. And so our ego wants to pick a side, and throw down the gauntlet and dig in our heals. But Paul says that there’s another way. A third way. A way that is free of our ego-driven need to win. It is the way of emptying ourselves—like Christ—and letting our ego take a back seat to the values of Christ—compassion, humility, mercy and grace. If only we could gather up all Americans, put everyone’s ego on a little vacation, and then start having these conversations. I think they might go very differently.
So what does all of this mean for us in our little community of faith? I must say, I think our book group is already doing a fine job of listening to each other with humility and grace. I haven’t sensed too much ego breaking into those conversations. But that does not mean our work is done. I think that we, as a church, as small as we are, can be a model for others in how to have these conversations. When we are talking to someone else about race, especially if it’s someone we disagree with, remember Paul’s words. Humble yourself. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. Let that ego take a back seat for a while, and don’t let it do any back seat driving. Try to help others understand that most of the time, it’s not either/or, it’s both/and. Not to vilify politicians too much, but I do think it is mainly the politicians who try and pit us against each other by saying things are this or that, black or white. We don’t have to fall into that fearful trap! It’s not real! We don’t all have to be at war with one another!! Because at the end of the day, we all want the same things! We all want police officers to be good at their jobs. We all want people to be safe in their communities. We all want people to be treated fairly, no matter the color of their skin. We all want our children to have opportunities. And at the end of the day, it’s not them or us. It’s all of us. There is enough. Isn’t that what Jesus taught us to believe— that there is enough?
We live in a world that loves dualism. But there is a world beyond dualism. You know what it’s called? It’s called the Kingdom of God. Jesus talked about it all of the time. And the kingdom of God is definitely a both/and kind of world. If we can humble our egos enough, and fill our heads and hearts with the mind of Christ, maybe we can see things that way here in this world, in the midst of our everyday lives. And then, maybe we can help other people see it too. And maybe, through our conversations especially with people who disagree with us, we can begin to repair the breach that has emerged in this country that so threatens to tear us apart. Just because we are small doesn’t mean we can’t be of service. Don’t discount the difference that one person, one conversation, can have. Believe in your ability to bring change to your family, to your community, and to our nation. Put on the mind of Christ. Put on the garments of humility and compassion. And from there, go forth to change the world. May it ever be so. Amen.