by The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
Today, we see Paul shift his focus from his own imprisonment to exhorting the congregation to be in unity and purpose as a church. “…be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” Paul begins to marry the theological identity of the community with the ethical demands that emanate from those relationships. “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.” The poetry and pairing of the undesirable and the desirable attributes is beautiful, but how does one put those ethical demands into practice?
Paul points to the example of Christ, who “emptied himself” to take on human form and who humbled himself to the point of death on the cross for our salvation. This theological notion of kenosis or “emptying” was posited in the 18th century as an explanation for how the incarnation could be possible….in essence that Jesus “made space” in the midst of his divine attributes for his humanness to coexist. Paul exhorts the community to follow Christ’s example, and he reminds them that “…it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece depicts a heart wrenching crucifixion. Jesus is hanging on the cross and John the Baptist is pointing to Christ with the words, Illum oportet crescere, me autem minui – He must increase but I must decrease. Like John the Baptist and the Philippians, it seems part of our answer lies in being ready to empty ourselves–enabling the very spirit of God to work in and through us.
What are the things that fill us and preoccupy and prevent us from emptying space for God to work in and through us?
From what things do you specifically need to fast to make space and time available to be in conversation and communion with Christ?
Holy and loving God, help us to see the things in our lives that need to be relinquished and give us the courage and strength to do the internal “housekeeping” that will best equip us to serve you. Amen.
The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope is Vicar of the Washington National Cathedral