I get distressed and angry every time I listen to the news or see what is going on in the world. We live in a deeply divided society, country, and world. We are deeply polarized, and we do not seem to be able to talk or listen to one another. And, of course, an election year does not help!
As Paul encourages the believing community in Philippi, he says, “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 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)
What does Paul mean to “be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord, and of one mind”? We know that we are called to find common ground with one another, but how do we do that? If we cannot talk and listen when we disagree, how can we hope to find common ground with one another? How do we live and practice this in the church? How do we live and practice this in our society and country?
The key for Paul is the mindset that we take. He continues to tell the Philippians: “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:4-5) Paul then says that Christ emptied himself for us, and so we are called to empty ourselves as well. If we are to find common ground, then we must lay aside our egos and our agendas. We must look out for one another and see what others need.
We usually know how to do this when a tragedy strikes. When a neighbor or someone in the church experiences death or illness, we know how to reach out with a meal or a card. When we hear about wildfires out west or hurricanes in the Gulf Coast, we know how to set aside our differences and give. But can we do that outside of fires and hurricanes? What would it mean for the church to “empty” itself as Christ “emptied” himself? If you began to “empty yourself,” what would be some of the first things that would have to go?
Perhaps you can start by wearing a mask when you go out, realizing that it is not a political statement but a sign of public safety. Wearing a mask is a simple task that says that we empty ourselves of our egos and politics so that we might care about our neighbor and seek to protect one another.
Perhaps you can start by listening to the experiences of those different than you. Before getting defensive about someone saying, “Black Lives Matter,” empty yourself of your privilege. Listen to someone who is African American and hear about the racism they face every day. Before condemning someone who is Muslim, empty yourself of your preconceptions. Seek out someone who is Muslim and listen to their understanding of God, faith, and life. Before judging someone who is gay or lesbian or transgendered, empty yourself of your self-righteousness. Listen to their stories and see that they are as much a child of God as you are.
I may not be able to change the conditions of the world, but I can change my own heart, my own life. I can empty myself and look to the interest of others. I can continue to let Christ be formed in me.
“God, we are a divided society and world, and I feel the divisions within me. May Christ be so formed in me that I may empty myself for the sake of others so that your healing and wholeness may occur. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”