Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 9, 2020, 1 Corinthians 2:1-16,”A Change of Mind”

“For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him.”

But we have the mind of Christ.”  (1 Corinthians 2:16 NRSV)

I was down.  I was feeling sorry for myself.  I knew there would be a long road ahead to recovery after my hip surgery and I was dreading it.  A medical professional at Vanderbilt Stallworth Rehabilitation Hospital recognized my emotional distress.  So one thing that she did to change my attitude and my mind was to give me a copy of “The Book of Joy.”  It is a book which retells the narrative between holy men who became good friends, the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu.

As I read the book my heart and mind opened up to a different way of thinking about myself and the long road of recovery ahead.  My mind changed so that I began to let go of the disappointment and sorrow which flooded my mind so that I could face the future with more confidence, faith, and joy.  To this day I still keep in mind the three things the Dalai Lama and Bishop Tutu said would lead me and others to joy:  have a different perspective on your situation in a positive way; be grateful; and be generous.  Living with these attitudes and behaviors changes our minds and lead us to a joyful life.

What changes your mind?  An expert who lectures on your topic of interest?  A self-help book which provides updated medical information about your health concerns?  A close friends who listens carefully to you and offers advice on how to find a way out of your dilemma?  Reading scripture and having a foretaste of the feast to come as we eat and drink at Christ’s Table of Grace?

But we have the mind of Christ. (Philippians 2:16)  That proclamation from today’s second reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is life transforming news.  It is good news.  It is news which links us closely to Christ and reminds us of what the Holy Spirit promises to us so that our hearts, our minds and our actions are obedient to the will of Christ himself.

On staff with Billy Graham in past years, T.W. Hunt wrote, “The Mind of Christ:  The Transforming Power of Thinking His Thoughts.”  In that book Hunt wrote, “we must have a greater obsession with knowing Jesus.  With the Spirit our mind is changed to reflect that of Jesus, holy, a servant to all, even to sinners, a comforter, submissive to the will of God even unto death.”  With this kind of mind, we faithfully follow Jesus in lives of service and sacrifice, goodness and mercy, and forgiveness and peacefulness.

There is simply nothing else which transforms us in such a complete way.  After all, Saint Paul wrote in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  So with this transforming mind of Christ dwelling within us we can follow in the way of Christ and live righteous lives.  We can discern God’s will for our lives.  Certain we will fall short at times and sin, but we can repent as led by the Holy Spirit and our sins can be forgiven and there will be amendment of life to follow in the merciful and gracious way of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Without the mind of Christ, we are stuck in lives which do not glorify God.  Hatred, lies, cheating, coveting with a mind not changed, not transformed by the Spirit is a life of misery and a life of doom.  Not possessing the mind of Christ will lead to isolation from good family and friends, will lead to nothing to provide hope and confidence when life reaches its lowest levels of despair.  Who wants to live like this?

157 years ago on March 3, 1863 in the midst of our bloody Civil War with a divided nation, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation of “A Day of National Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer” to “rally and recenter Americans around God and prayer.”  (faithwire.com)  Lincoln’s prayer for this day opened with a reference to depend on God’s will:  “Almighty God, Who has given us this good land for our heritage; we humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will.  Bless our land with honorable ministry, sound learning, and pure manners.  Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way”… (America World/awaa.org)

President Lincoln prayed for our nation to “always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will.”  In essence Lincoln prayed for the mind of Christ so that our nation torn apart by war can discern the will of God and live with goodness and perfection.  The President called all citizens to have the mind of Christ.  And I must say that since our nation is divided today over political policies and other issues, don’t we need to return to this national day of prayer, fasting, and humiliation to fervently seek the will of God and rely upon the mind of Christ to draw our nation closer together?  (I by no means say that our present division is as serious as what happened in the Civil War where thousands lost their lives.  My point is only to return to prayer to seek God’s will with the mind of Christ to bring healing and unity to our country divided over various issues.)

Saint Paul founded the church at Corinth and remained their shepherd after he left them.  When he heard that this church was divided by jealousies, he wrote to them to remind them to reconcile and patch up their differences.  Among the things Saint Paul wrote, one was the Spirit revealed to them God’s wisdom.  This divine wisdom was centered in a crucified Jesus Christ.  This revelation, this wisdom is a gift bestowed by God’s Spirit which seems to be foolishness to the world and unbelievers, but to believers this is God’s wisdom unto salvation.  At the center of the mind of Christ is God’s wisdom that his Son, Jesus Christ crucified, saves us from the threatening danger of our sins and promises to us a new life which begins now and comes to perfection in the life to come.

As Saint Paul wrote to his church at Philippi which was in the midst of division, his words were, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 2:5)  Then this apostle went on to explain that Christ humbled himself, took on the form of a servant and became obedient to crucifixion on the cross for our salvation.  Christ is the epitome of humility and loving service.  That was what Saint Paul wanted his congregation to understand so that grasping for power and control would not win the day.  But having the mind of Christ with humility would lead to unity restored in the church at Philippi.

It is a realty that congregations face conflicts and divisions which could tear them apart.  As I think of those I faced there were hurt feelings, anger, and intense disagreements. Those moments of conflicts were about how to use the offerings to pay monthly bills or what will we make of our denomination’s decision on same sex marriages or a conflict on how effective I was as a pastor or what liturgy we will use for Sunday worship.

Some members thought about leaving the congregation when those conflicts arose while others focused more on working to find a solution.  But in those situations, I remember that services of prayer and a service of confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation were essential to bring peace.  In essence we were in prayer seeking God’s will and seeking the mind of Christ to restore order, to resolve conflict and to find peace and reconciliation.  Having the mind of the crucified Christ meant all members including myself would follow our Lord with lives of faith and love.  Having the mind of the crucified Christ meant living with humility and peace.  It meant a change of mind to let go of anger and other feelings which divided one from another and hold onto the promise of the Spirit to graciously give us the mind of Christ.

It is this kind of mind which will guide us in our lives when the scourge of brokenness and sin attack us and attempt to drive us into disbelief, despair and other great shames of life.

As followers of Christ we hold onto the words of Saint Paul who wrote long ago, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 5:7)

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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