Do Christians think they are better than other people? This was the question once posed to Archbishop Michael Ramsey. He replied, “No, not better but they ought to know that they’re not better”!
Now, this was a long time ago but I hear the same question today. In fact a while back I was asked if I thought I was above other people because I was a Christian. I can remember feeling a little shocked and even embarrassed at the thought of possibly coming over as arrogant or smug.
And yet, following Christ does call us to live our lives differently to others and so perhaps that’s where the perception of being better than others comes from.
In the reading we heard, Paul speaks about taking on the mind-set of Christ. What Paul is hoping for the church in Phillipi is that they will grow in authentic holiness. A holiness which is not smug, arrogant or belittles others But a holiness akin to that illustrated by Christ.
Paul explains that God through Christ showed what it really meant to be divine. Christ, Paul says, “made himself nothing, by taking the very nature of a servant, and being found in appearance of man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross”.
There is such rich poetry in this passage that it would take hours to unpick and discuss. However suffice to say Christ never lost his divinity while being in human form. That’s the key. He could have exploited His equality with God and taken advantage of all that entails. But to do so would not have showed the truth of God’s love for use. God, through Christ, abandoned his rights for the sake of all people, reconciling the world to himself. This is the meaning of the cross – for Christ’s death was an expression of God’s self-giving love. Christ abandoned His privileges by self-emptying himself and through being humiliated. Because such actions revealed the truth about what God is really like.
So what does this passage have to say for us today? Well, let’s go back for a moment and think about the comment “Do Christians think they are better than the others”?
What is it that makes people think that? Could it be that through learning to live as Christ, we understand how, like Christ, we belong to someone else. Christ took on the nature of a servant, that is, a slave. Christ was a slave to God because he knew he belonged to God. And through that humility Christ is greatly patient, deeply kind, had no personal agenda and profoundly loved all he met. He was gracious enough to accept all that God had in store for Him.
And so it is with us. If we live in God and try to follow the life pattern set out by Christ and learn Christ’s mindset, then we too can grow in love, patience, kindness and put aside our own personal agendas for the sake of the needs in person before us, even if they are difficult to live with! The importance of such humility is that it breaks the cycle of viciousness and revenge. Humility is something I hope you all agree that the world needs right now. People will think we are better because of the way we deal with challenges in our lives. They will look and see, and think, why are they so different. What is going on with them to make them react so differently, not with anger but with peace? We know we are not better than others because we know we are not important. Christ is.
And, as I have said before, we do not do all this work, this striving to be more Christlike, alone. In fact you would fail if you did because you can’t do it. We are all too broken. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to work through us to change our minds into the mind of Christ. Through our worship and prayers we steadily grow into the mindset of Christ if we listen to God and allow Him to transform us.
The other day I heard a lovely simple prayer that we can pray day and night. We can pray it without even thinking about it. In fact we are all praying it right now but we are not conscious of it.
An old Rabbi was on the radio and he said the name of God is not uttered because it is so holy. The name of God we know can be written in Hebrew as Yahweh spelt Y A H W E H. But there are vowels we are not written but just said in the speaking of God’s name. And so if the name is truly said correctly then it sounds like this.
Yes, it sounds like breathing.
We creatures, created by God, speak the name of God from the moment we are born.
So the simplest prayer we can say is that of being still and consciously listening to our breathing and let God work within us.
Lets have a go now.
In all that we do, say, and sing we pray God’s name. So, this evening let us worship God and invite the Holy Spirit in us again and again.