By the Rev. Darren Miner
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Over the years, you have probably noticed that I tend to preach primarily from the Gospel reading. But not today! Something in St. Paul’s epistle drew me to it; it seemed to speak to the situation in America today. So you won’t get yet another sermon about evangelism and fishing for people. Instead, you will get a homily on what it might mean to share the mind of Christ.
St. Paul is writing to a small church that he started in the city of Corinth. He has been informed that the church is splintering into factions. As their spiritual father, he is determined to put the kibosh on that. After a few introductory remarks, he gets to the point: “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.”
Although elsewhere Paul refers to himself as the Corinthians’ spiritual father, here he calls them “brothers and sisters.” Here, he emphasizes that they are all of equal stature in Christ, and most importantly, that they are all one family. Paul explicitly calls on the name of Jesus to emphasize the solemnity of his exhortation, which is to be united in the same mind. Now, in today’s reading, it isn’t obvious what Paul means by sharing the same mind. But in his letter to the Philippians, he makes it crystal clear:
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. (Phil. 2:1–8)
Unfortunately, unity based on Christ’s humility and sacrificial love was not what St. Paul found in Corinth. Instead, factions had formed, factions that amounted to cults of personality. Some were for Paul, some for Apollos, some for Peter. Only a few got it right, saying, “I belong to Christ.”
Well, brothers and sisters, our nation is similarly divided. We have some folks for Hillary, some for Donald, and some for Bernie—even now, after the votes have all been tallied. And the inauguration of our new president only seems to have widened the divide. Just yesterday, over three million women all across the country marched in protest to send a message to the president that they are concerned about some of his policies and about his attitude toward women, in general. I, too, am concerned.
In his inaugural address, President Trump said several things that gave me some measure of hope for the future of his administration, but two of his statements, if taken literally, are profoundly troubling. First, he said, “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be America first [emphasis added].” He went on to say, “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance [emphasis added] to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.” Well, I’m sorry, but as a Christian, my motto is “The Kingdom of Heaven comes first. And my ‘total allegiance’ is to Christ, and Christ alone.”
I’m all for patriotism and love of country—so long as God’s will comes first! And if we truly belong to Christ and if we truly share the mind of Christ, who humbled himself for the sake of others, then there may be times when America will have to come second, in order for God’s will to come first. If the price for bringing back manufacturing jobs to America is the crippling impoverishment of our neighbors to the south, then perhaps we need to reconsider the plan. If the price of this nation’s safety is the abandonment of war refugees to starvation and death, then perhaps we need to think again. Now, I’m aware that these are difficult issues and that there are no easy answers. But my point is simply this: that, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we are called to a life of sacrificial love—with emphasis on the word sacrificial.
President Trump speaks of taking back power, saying: “Together, we will make America strong again. We will make America wealthy again. We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again. And yes, together, we will make America great again.” Is this Christ’s agenda for us? Is this why he died on the Cross, so that one favored nation, above all others, can be strong and wealthy, proud and safe? Is global dominance to be the only measure of our country’s greatness? Not according to St. Paul, who asks us to imitate the humility and sacrifice of our crucified Lord! You may very well ask, “Is it practical for a nation to actually attempt to live by Christ’s teachings?” Well, that’s not the right question to be asking. Instead, you should be asking, “Is there any hope for the world if we don’t start living by Christ’s teachings?” Now, there are some in this country who want America to be first, no matter the cost to the rest of the world. That is only to be expected, for “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
Christ’s message to the people of Capernaum was “Change your mind-set, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” St. Paul’s message to fractious believers in Corinth was “Be united in the mind of Christ.” The message for American Christians today is fundamentally the same. It is time to stop squabbling and to make up our minds. And yes, it is time to declare our “total allegiance”—be it to Christ or to country.
Just perhaps, there may come a day when you have to choose between the United States of America and the Kingdom of Heaven. For Christ’s sake, choose the Kingdom of Heaven! There may come a day when you have to choose between your nation’s duly elected leader and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. For the sake of your soul, choose Jesus!
In the meantime, brothers and sisters, proclaim the Good News of the kingdom. Pray for all the peoples of the world. And do what faithful Christians do: persevere in resisting evil, strive for justice and peace, be good stewards of God’s creation, seek and serve Christ in all persons—without regard for creed or color, nationality or race, gender or orientation. For God shows no partiality—and neither should we!
© 2017 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.