Being of One Mind
Based on Ex 17:1-7, Psalm 25:1-10, Philip 2:1-13
It is the time of year for rivalries – baseball season is entering the playoffs, and college football is beginning league play. Big football game last night for instance for those who support Virginia Tech football. I didn’t know much about rivalries growing up since I was in Minnesota and neither the University of Minnesota football nor the Twins baseball teams were anything to get excited about. Yet, there were the “glory years” of the Minnesota Vikings – the “Purple People Eaters” who dominated the league for much of the 1970’s only to lose in the Super Bowl four times. I learned to dislike the Cowboys, Packers and Bears, but it never got to the point with me that I would be truly fanatical. I couldn’t, because my best friend was a Packer fan, and I wouldn’t give up that friendship for something as meaningless as a football game.
There was another more insidious mindset that pervaded my childhood, however. That was the fear and distrust of those persons who ran the show behind the “Iron Curtain”. All of the enemies in the movies during my time growing up were the Russians or in the vernacular of the time “Commies”. There were nuclear bomb shelters in my home town and at school and we all knew where they were because they had that mysterious symbol that designated them. While it was highly unlikely that Moscow’s leadership was targeting little Rochester, Minnesota, we were all instructed what to do in the event of an emergency each month when the “Emergency Broadcast System” was tested on the T.V. While it never impacted my everyday life growing up, it was something of which we were all aware. It was the essence of a dualistic mindset – fed by the propaganda machine that kept us in a “Good-guys vs. Evil Empire” mindset.
The Bible has a lot to say about dualism – from the very first pages in fact. Adam and Eve sinned, yet God did not kill them – instead God continued to look after them. Every time that people get going in a “let’s make humans into gods” mode, the One God gets them back in line by sending someone to remind them who is in charge (e.g., Abraham, Noah, Moses, all of the prophets, Jesus, Paul). God calls the people back to a unitive mind – one that is focused first and foremost on God and God’s Commandments. Let’s see how this plays out in today’s scripture readings.
The reading today starts out, “…From the wilderness of Sin…”, certainly this is both literally and figuratively accurate. The “Wilderness of Sin” is an actual place along the eastern coast of the Red Sea – but it is also an existential reality that both the Israelites and current disciples tread. God had provided quail and manna (as we heard last week), but now the people and flocks were thirsty. This is not surprising since they were traveling through an arid land and had many thousands of people and flocks to water. Once again the murmurs began until it burst forth in full throated complaining. Moses “cried out to the LORD” and God provided water from a rock for all the people. The people had fallen back into their “Us versus Moses” thinking again and forgot that it was God who was in charge of this whole exodus – and God once again provided for their every need.
Paul writes to the churches in Philippi in verse 2 to, “…be of the same mind, having the same love, being of full accord and of one mind…” (NRSV) This is in contradistinction to the mob mentality of the Israelites that we just encountered. Here, Paul is meaning them to have the mind of Christ – hear again the words from verses 5 through 8…. Paul is reminding the people of his church plants that they have given up the ways of the world when they put on Christ. They are to be humble and without conceit or personal ambition – they are to realize that each person has been gifted in a specific way for a specific purpose in God’s plan for them. All are needed, and all need the mind of Christ so that they can perceive the will of God for them, like Jesus undertook the will of God for Him. Because Jesus retained his humility towards God and made the ultimate sacrifice for us, Jesus was then elevated beyond any previous human and given the title “Lord”. That title, up until that moment, had been reserved for God alone. Likewise, if we can pour out our worldly selves – empty ourselves of our need to be in constant competition and conflict, then we too will bring glory to God our heavenly parent.
We will also be able to sing like the Psalmist that we will lift up our souls (as we will lift up our hearts to God in our Communion liturgy) and put all our trust in God alone. The song says that we desire to know God’s ways and God’s truth, and that in order to be in the right spiritual place to learn these things, we must be humble. God is always faithful and steadfast on all God’s paths, thus, we just need to find this unitive mind and we also will be able to sing, “…for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long….” (Ps 25:5, NRSV)
We are not a humble people though, are we?! We Christians have for almost 1700 years been the primary religion of countless empires – beginning with Cesar Constantine and continuing until the current time. We feel entitled to continue to receive the benefits of this run of “most favored status” and we bristle when confronted with the reality of a post-Christian and post-modern world. We consider ourselves better than others who follow God by another name, “Hashem”, “Allah”, “Buddha”, etc. We seek to eliminate rather than to understand. We seek to marginalize and exclude rather than find communion of like-minded souls. Rather than following what the Psalms teach about lifting our souls to God, we choose to elevate ourselves above each other (or at least the one whom we deem our closest competitor). We choose to believe that our path to God is the only way, rather than heeding the Psalmist’s words that, “…all the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness for those who keep his covenant and his decrees….” (Ps 25:10, NRSV) We are of one mind indeed, but it is a dualistic mind which is centered on keeping the status quo first, those who we deem like-minded second, and all others a very distant third.
That is why the words of Paul continue to ring true almost 2000 years after they were penned. We are still a people who have minds that get lost in selfish ambition and conceit. It is why we have brought this world to the brink of ruin again and again and again. There is a way to get out of this mess – and God knows the paths to take. God knows that the crux of the matter is to bring our minds into union with the mind of God – to be of one mind again.
The theologian and poet, Walter Brueggemann, puts it this way in his poem entitled, “Ourselves at the Center” (published in Prayers for a Privileged People):
“We are your people, mostly privileged, competent, entitled. Your people who make futures for ourselves, seize opportunities, get the job done and move on. In our self-confidence, we expect little beyond our productivity; we wait little for that which lies beyond us, and then settle with ourselves at the center. And you, you in the midst of our privilege, our competence, our entitlement. You utter large, deep oaths beyond our imagined futures.
You say – fear not, I am with you. You say – nothing shall separate us. You say – something of a new heaven and a new earth. You say – you are mine; I have called you by name. You say – my faithfulness will show concretely and will abide.
And we find our privilege eroded by your purpose, our competence shaken by your future, our entitlement unsettled by your other children. Give us grace to hear your promises. Give us freedom to trust your promises. Give us patience to wait and humility to yield our dreamed future to your large purpose.
We pray in the name of Jesus who is your deep yes over our lives.”
AMEN and amen!