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Reflections of Christ

Nancy Myer
“Reflections of Christ”
April 18, 2021
Philippians 2:1-11

Scripture:

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. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 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,

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,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

 

Sermon:

Think back to a time when you were in the same room as a baby, preferably a baby who was beginning to be verbal, but not yet in the sense of full words and complete sentences.  You hold up a ball and say, “ball,” and what happens?  The baby responds with “ba.”  Or maybe you are playing a simple game of peek-a-boo.  You cover your eyes with your hands, open them and shout, “Peek-a-boo!”  Before long, the child is attempting to do something similar, even if it looks more like [this].  In all cases, in the eyes of the baby, you are being imitated.  Your words, your actions, your emotions, the baby is imitating you.  And hey, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?

I cannot help but think about the copycat tendencies of a baby when I think about the second chapter of Philippians.  Paul requests of us: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”[1]  When reading the interpretations of others about this passage, I was struck by one writer’s reminder that we are to be imitators, not impersonators.  He writes, “There is a great difference between an impersonator and an imitator.  Impersonators take great pains to make people believe they are who they are not.  On the other hand, imitators are clearly aware that they strive to live up to the challenge of being a reflection of the person they look up to.”[2]  We can all think of times when we have tried to be somebody we are not and have even hoped that others would believe our attempt.

And it is easy to find opportunities to be impersonators.  We have all kinds of people, companies, and efforts lobbying not only for our attention but for our participation.  We are constantly being invited to be somebody other than who we are right now.  Drive this car, and you will stand out.  Download this app to be the most organized person you can be.  Try this product and lose ten pounds.  Begin this degree program and a new life awaits.  Day in and day out, the commercials, ads on social media, and even our friends and family can nudge us toward impersonation, inviting us to be somebody other than who we are at this very moment.  And maybe, just maybe, we can become that new person and leave the old habits behind.

Paul is not suggesting that we impersonate Christ.  No, we are not Christ, nor should we pretend to be.  So how do we live our lives so that we are truly trying to be imitators of Christ?  Clearly Paul thinks our minds are important here – he uses the word twice in the same verse!  “Be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”[3]  And “mind” in the Greek means more than just “thinking.”  It has more to do with an attitude or orientation. So yes, the mind is integral, and yet, I think Paul takes it a step further.  “Paul expects the community to be like-minded in love.”[4]  He goes on to tell us what that looks like… “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit… Regard others as better than yourselves… Look to the interests of others… Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”[5]

I want to go back to that description of what an imitator is.  “Imitators are clearly aware that they strive to live up to the challenge of being a reflection of the person they look up to.”[6]  It seems to me that there are three helpful parts of that definition.  Number one: Imitators are aware.  We cannot do much if we are not aware of our status and surroundings, so we must pay attention.  Number two: Imitators strive to live up to the challenge. Not only do they know it is a challenge, but they are willing to work at it.  And if we are striving to live up to the challenge, I would venture to say that means it is a work in progress.  And number three: Imitators are a reflection of the person they look up to.  It feels freeing to think of imitation as a reflection, does it not?  I think it implies that we do not have to be perfect.  We do not have to be a mirror image… just a reflection.  We are not ready yet – nor will we ever be fully ready – to imitate Christ in all his glory.  Yet we can be reflections of Christ, and this chapter in Philippians gives us a roadmap of how to do it.

Part of our scripture today, verses 6-11, has come to be known as the “Christ hymn.” These verses have a very different structure than the first part of the chapter, and many scholars wonder if these words were borrowed by Paul from a hymn, confession, or some other form of liturgy that had been previously written.  While there is some debate about whether Paul was the author of the hymn itself, I believe there is much less of a question about what it is asking us to do.  If we are going to be in the same mind, the same attitude as Christ Jesus, we must know what he did and did not do.  We are told that Jesus was “in the form of God,”[7] which “may refer to Christ’s divine nature.”[8]  Yet even though he was in the form of God, he did not use that to his advantage.  He emptied himself, focusing on the needs of others, and was obedient to God – to the point of death on a cross.

So if we are to reflect Christ, what do we need to do?  We first must observe how Christ acts.  He humbled himself… and we strive to do the same.  He put others before himself.  Whew, that is a hard one sometimes, but we can give it a go.  He emptied himself.  Of what do we need to be emptied so that we can reflect Christ more fully?  He took on the form of a slave… Well, yes, we can serve others.  He became obedient to the point of death on a cross.  Obedience? Perhaps.  Death on a cross?  Not so fast, God.

Perhaps you are familiar with the book Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina.  In the book, a street vendor sells caps, and he wears his entire stock of caps on his head.  He wears first his own checked cap, and then a variety of other colored caps stacked high on top of that.  On a day when sales were slow, the man decided to lean up against a tree with his tall stack of caps safely on top of his head.  While he was asleep, some monkeys steal his caps and, you guessed it, put them on their own heads.  The man awakes to find only his own checked cap on his head.  He tries to get the monkeys to return his caps, but they only imitate every action he makes.  Monkey see, monkey do.  Eventually the man takes the one remaining cap on his head and throws it on the ground in frustration as he begins to walk away, and the monkeys do the same.  The man is then able to pick up all of his caps and return to selling them.

Now of course I am not asking you to be like the man and throw your cap to the ground and give up in frustration.  Nor am I pushing you to be like the monkeys, imitating every single one of Christ’s actions.  But maybe there is something to this.  The man likely did not know at first that he was being watched by a troop of monkeys.  But they observed, and they learned.  And in time, they were able to imitate.  If we went full steam ahead right now and tried to imitate Christ, it would likely be much more like impersonation.  We would be striving to meet the challenge and missing the mark.  We will never be perfect, and yes we will miss the mark.  But it does not mean we shouldn’t keep watching, keep learning, keep polishing that reflection.

Perhaps in our efforts to imitate Christ, it will be made known to us more about who we are in Christ.  When we empty ourselves, with God’s help – of hate, anger, greed, selfishness, pride, and the list goes on… we have more room to be filled with the qualities of the people we are in Christ… people of love, grace, compassion, faith, and joy.  That emptying, though… it is not a fun process.  And not only is it not fun, but it might even hurt a little bit.  But that hurt… it’s a hurt that is worth it.

What’s the “so what?” in all of this?  Why does it matter?  The Christ hymn ends by saying that God exalted him, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!  That, friends, is what matters!  Jesus Christ is Lord of all, and we get to play a part in sharing that good news.  We are in the season of Easter, and resurrection is all around us.  As we seek to imitate Christ, to reflect his way in the world, may our reflection show even just a bit of the good news of Easter.  May the reflection – even the glare – that people see bouncing off us, point them to Jesus Christ the Lord!

So today, I invite you to look in the mirror.  How does your reflection look?  Do you see somebody who is an impersonator, trying to be somebody other than yourself?  Or do you see an imitator, a work in progress, striving to live up to the challenge of reflecting Christ?  I am here to say, that if you see an impersonator, or a person who is struggling to imitate, do not lose heart.  This is a journey, and it is a journey we are on together.  We do not become “professional” imitators overnight and certainly not when it is Christ we are imitating.  But each day, each moment, we can take a step toward being the people we are in Christ.  And over time, with those baby steps, the reflection will become more clear.

We must retrain our minds… every… single… day… to be of the same mind, the same attitude, as Christ.  In response to media, commercials, etc., that want to train our minds to think differently, we have to wake up each morning on a mission to be who God calls us to be.  That is a discernment process, each and every day.  And we do not do this alone!  Paul reminds us that we are to live in unity and community with one another, with our whole family of faith, and with God.  May we live as God desires, not as the world desires, and may we strive to be imitators of Christ in all we do.  Amen.

 

[1] Philippians 2:5 (NRSV)

[2] David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 4 : Season after Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ), 110.

[3] Philippians 2:2 (NRSV)

[4] Brian Blount, ed., True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 370.

[5] Philippians 2:3-5 (NRSV)

[6] Bartlett and Taylor, Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 4 : Season after Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ), 110.

[7] Philippians 2:6 (NRSV)

[8] Ronald F. Hock, “The Letter of Paul to the Philippians,” in The Harper Collins Study Bible, ed. Harold W. Attridge (San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 1989), 1994.