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Love: The Power to Change Your Mind
Luke 10:25-37; Philippians 2:1-11
What does it take to change your mind?
One of my favorite movies is Mr. Holland's Opus, in which Richard Dreyfuss portrays a creatively frustrated, poorly paid, often misunderstood public high-school music teacher. A subplot in the movie is the story of a student who is line for a scholarship as a college wrestler but needs one more credit to graduate. The coach convinces Mr. Holland to take him into the band. With no musical background, the only instrument that seems like a possibility for this student is the bass drum. Unfortunately, he has absolutely no sense of rhythm. Mr. Holland works relentlessly to help this rhythmically challenged senior feel, hear, or see the beat of the music. He tries counting it out. He taps the student's feet with his own. He puts a football helmet on the guy's head and tries beating the rhythm into his brain.
Finally, we see Mr. Holland directing the band in John Philip Sousa's "Stars and ftripes forever." He stops the band midway through the piece, just the way he has done every time the would-be drummer has missed the beat. Mr. Holland looks up to the drummer and says, "Congratulations. You've found the beat!" The entire band breaks into applause.
So, what would it take for us to begin to live by the rhythm of the mind-set of Christ? What does it take to change our minds?
Some people attempt to change our minds by force. Some try to convince us with logic or to manipulate us with advertising. But the apostle Paul was convinced that the one thing that really has the power to change our minds is love. For him, "being of the same mind" means "having the same love."
We've all seen this kind of change on a human level. We've known the stereotypical confirmed bachelor: good education, successful career, positive values and his mind set on never being tied down. Then some enchanted evening he sees her across a crowded room, and a mysterious power begins to change his mind. One day they stand at the altar, drawn together by an always amazing power that we call love.
Award-winning author Philip Yancey was one of those persons. He described his adolescent efforts at "erecting a strong stone fortress against love" because he thought himself unlovable. But one day during college, he met Janice. Yancey wrote, "Eventually the most powerful force in the universe, love, won out." His mind began to change. He wrote, "Hope aroused. I wanted to conquer worlds and lay them at her feet." For her birthday, Yancey learned Beethoven's Sonata Pathétique and invited her to hear him play it on the piano. "It was an offering to new life, and to her who had called it forth" (Philip Yancey, Soul Survivor [New York: Doubleday, 2001], 47-48). Yancey's mind-set, the fundamental perspective through which he viewed reality, began to change because he experienced the awesome power of human love. Janice's love brought out a whole new way of life in him.
That's a good place to begin, but the apostle Paul went far beyond mere human love. He coined a new word to describe it. The Greek word agape describes the unique love that transforms our minds into the mind of Christ.
The Love That Has the Power to Change Our Minds Is Defined by the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus
New Testament scholars tell us that in the second chapter of Philippians, Paul picked up a creed or hymn that was used in worship in the early church to define the mind-set of Jesus Christ. Like Mr. Holland trying to get the beat of the drum into the mind of his student, Paul is trying to get the rhythm of the way and will of the self-emptying love of God in Jesus into our brains, until we start to think, act, and live in rhythm with the heartbeat of God's love in Jesus Christ.
Across these weeks in Lent we will listen to that hymn and allow the rhythm of God's love in Christ to become the rhythm by which we live. At the outset, it is critically important for us to realize that when we use the word love, we are defining that term by nothing less than the self-giving love of God revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Love That Has the Power to Change Our Minds Is Discovered in Community
One of the limitations of English pronouns is that the word you looks and sounds the same whether it's singular or plural. The exception, of course, is in the South, where the language has been improved by the use of "y'all" (for "you-all"). In Philippians 2, Paul is not writing to isolated individuals, but to the gathered community. He is saying, "Y'all be of the same mind. Y'all share the same love. Y'all be of one accord and of one mind. Y'all have among yourselves the same mind that was in Christ Jesus." The practical effect of the plural pronoun is that agape is best experienced in community with other disciples of Jesus Christ.
Lest we begin to think that the love of Christ is narrowly contained within the community of the church, however, it's important to remember that the "y'all" of God's love reaches out to the whole beloved human family.
Martin Luther King, Jr., declared that agape love was at the center of the Civil Rights movement. He called it "understanding, creative, redemptive good will for all [people] ... the love of God working in the minds of men" (Martin Luther King Jr., A Testament of Hope, edames M. Washington [San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1986], 13).
Luther D. Ivory wrote that the "organizing principle"—we might say the "mind-set"—at the center of Dr. King's witness was "his faith in the radically involved, loving, and redeeming God of history." He believed that "radical agape love in action" is "God's ultimate will for humanity" and that "God's primary concern with human history was the restoration of the beloved human community." Ivory wrote:
King understood God as radical agape love in action seeking to create, redeem, sustain, and restore community. Even when purposive human action tries to destroy it, God insists on community, and demonstrated (through the cross of Christ), that no sacrifice was too great to effect its restoration. (Luther D. Ivory, Toward a Theology of Radical Involvement [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997], 139)
The love that meets us at the cross is the sacrificial love of God for the whole human family.
The Love That Has the Power to Change Our Minds Takes Action in Human Relationships
The gospel message in Luke 10:25-37 contains one of Jesus' bestknown stories. In response to the call to love God with his heart, soul, strength, and mind and to love his neighbor as he loved himself, a lawyer asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?"
In response to his question, Jesus told the story of the man who, going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, "fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead." A priest and a Levite—good, upstanding, honorable, religious folk—passed by on the other side of the road. But a Samaritan—an ethnic outsider in a segregated society—saw the beaten man. Jesus used a very strong verb to say that the Samaritan "was moved with pity." The Samaritan picked the man up, bandaged his wounds, brought him to the inn, took care of him overnight, and left his credit card, so to speak, to pay for whatever the man needed.
Then Jesus turned the lawyer's question inside out by asking, "Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" The lawyer replied, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said, "You got that right. Go and do likewise" (Luke 10:37, paraphrased).
The parable of the good Samaritan is a dramatic description of the difference between the mind-set of the priest and the Levite, who saw the man in the road but walked by on the other side, and the mindset of the Samaritan, who was so deeply moved with compassion that he took action and made the other man's suffering his own. It's the difference between the mind-set of the person who asks, "Who is my neighbor?" and the person who asks, "Who acted as a neighbor to the other man?" It's a story about the way the love of God in Christ can change our minds.
She's gone to heaven, now, but I will never forget an eighty-something-year-old woman who had been raised on the white side of the segregated South. All of the changes of the 1960s had never changed her mind. She was a deeply committed Christian who attempted to relate to people in the love of Christ, but her basic mind-set about race was still stuck somewhere in the 1950s. One fall she signed up to participate in a DISCIPLE Bible study class. When she came to the first session, she was surprised to find an African American woman seated across the table. Over the next thirty-four weeks, as they wrestled together with the Scripture, that woman's mind-set about African American people was radically changed. When the older woman died, the African American woman was one of the persons who spoke as a witness to her life in the memorial service. She expressed her gratitude for the friendship they had shared and smiled with joy about the change that had come in the mind-set of her friend.
Love—the love of God in Christ—is like that; it has the power to change our minds.
Questions for Discussion and Reflection
1. What does it take to change your mind? Describe at least one significant change of mind that has come in your life. How did it happen? What was the result?
2. How have you experienced human love in ways that have changed your thinking or behavior?
3. When, where, or with whom have you experienced the love of Christ in Christian community? What difference does it make in your understanding of the faith for you to be in community with others?
4. How does your understanding of the love of Christ change your thinking about the "beloved community" of the human family? Read again Luther D. Ivory's description of agape. Where have you seen that sort of love at work?
5. Reread the story of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. Where would you find yourself in this story? In other words, with which character in the story do you most identify at this moment in your life, and why?
6. What changes do you expect from this Lenten journey?
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (Book of Common Prayer [New York: Seabury Press, 1979], 217).
Focus for the Week
The love of God revealed in Jesus Christ, discovered in community, and experienced in human relationships has the power to change our minds.
Servanthood: Breaking the Me-first Mind-set
Luke 22:14-27; Romans 8:5-6; Philippians 2:1-11
Through these weeks of Lent, we are focusing our attention on the challenge the apostle Paul places before us to live with the mind of Christ. The Christian life is not about a simple rearrangement of the external "stuff" in our lives. It is about a radical reorientation of the way we think that results in a radical change in the way we live. The gospel calls for a transformation so profound that Paul compares it to a mental transplant in which the same mind-set with which Jesus came, lived, died, and rose again becomes the mind-set in which we live, die, and are raised to new life. This week we focus our attention on Paul's description of Christ as the one who "emptied himself, / taking the form of a servant" (Philippians 2:7 RSV). Paul outlines the practical implications of that affirmation when he calls us to "do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3). Living with the mind-set of Jesus means living with the mind-set of a servant.
The Greek word that Paul used for "mind" or "mind-set" in Philippians 2 is from the same root word he used in his letter to the Romans when he said that there are basically two kinds of people in this world. First, Paul said, there are people who "set their minds on the things of the flesh" (Romans 8:5). That's not necessarily a bad thing; it's just the ordinary thing. It's the ordinary mind-set of ordinary people who live their ordinary lives in the ordinary way of the ordinary world. It's a mind-set that begins with the assumption that I am the most important person in the world and that everything else is measured by how it fulfills what I need or want with little or no regard for anyone else.
By contrast, there are people who "set their minds" on the things of the Spirit. They are extraordinary people who live extraordinary lives because they focus their attention on the extraordinary way in which Jesus lived his life among us as one who serves (see Romans 8:5-6). There is no better picture of the servant mind-set of Jesus than the story of the last Passover meal that Jesus shared with his followers. He broke the bread and said, "This is my body broken for you." He lifted the cup and said, "This is my blood shed for you." One person who saw Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ told me that the moment that touched her the most deeply was the flashback to the Last Supper during the very graphic portrayal of the Crucifixion. Hearing Jesus' words at the Last Supper in the context of what she was seeing on the screen in the suffering and sacrifice of the Crucifixion made this woman say that she would never take the bread and cup the same way again.
And what were the disciples doing during the Last Supper? Luke records that "a dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest" (Luke 22:24). Jesus was on his way to the cross, and his disciples were bickering about which of them was the greatest. Jesus was preparing to die, and they were fussing about who would get the best seats at the table.
Jesus acknowledged that their dispute was typical of the ordinary world where the ordinary mind-set is focused on self-interest, a world where people with wealth, position, and power lord it over others and push other people around. But, Jesus said, that's not the way it will be for his disciples. The mind-set of his followers will not be the mind-set of one who is here to be served but the mind-set of one who is here to serve.
We might as well face it: We all are afflicted by the "me-first mindset." It's a radical self-orientation that causes us to assume that we are here to get what we want, when we want it, the way we want it and that everyone and everything else exists to serve our interests. Thomas Long, a professor at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, diagnosed this cultural ailment by saying that "something of a perfect storm of self-absorption has formed, born of the low-pressure front of basic selfishness, merged with a wave of narcissistic preoccupation with the individual as the arbiter of all moral judgments and the tidal surge of lust for material possessions" (Michael A. Turner and William F. Malambri III, eds., A Peculiar Prophet [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004], 85).
I recently shared with my congregation a "top ten" list to complete the sentence "You might have a 'me-first mind-set' if ..."
10. you pulled into a parking space ahead of the retired guy in the white Buick with the Michigan license place who had been waiting with his turn signal flashing while the other car pulled out;
9. you sneaked into the express checkout lane in a crowded grocery store with more than ten items;
8. you emptied the last scoop of ice cream, finished the last piece of pecan pie, or sneaked away with the last chocolate chip cookie in the jar when nobody else in the family was looking;
7. you forgot to tell your parents about the call that came in on "call waiting" while you were talking to your friend;
6. you passed along that dirty little rumor about a friend because it somehow made you look better;
5. you voted for a candidate solely on the basis of what would benefit your bottom line with no regard for what might benefit people who have less than you do;
4. you accepted credit from your boss for a job you knew someone else had done;
3. you assume that anyone who doesn't like the same movies, music, or TV shows that you do is clearly a person with little or no taste;
2. you gave your spouse a birthday gift that was something you really wanted for yourself;
1. you feel a sigh of relief in knowing that you aren't as poorly dressed, ill-mannered, unimportant, unintelligent, or just plain tacky as all the self-centered sinners who are sitting around you in the congregation.
Excerpted from Living with the Mind of Christ by James A. Harnish. Copyright © 2005 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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