I don’t know about you, but I am exhausted by the polarization and division that are the norm these days in nearly every arena. We are encouraged to focus on getting our needs and wants met in order for us to be happy. But it is never enough. In truth, we are more informed by competition and sibling math—that somehow including others means less for us—even though as Christians we are called to be conformed to kingdom math, the conviction that none of us is whole until we all are. Our challenges are compounded by our ego’s obsession with winning and ‘choosing sides’, which runs counter to the intentional practice of seeing Christ in the other so we may “be of the same mind as Christ, having the same love.”
What if we took seriously our call, as the Body of Christ, is to honor each one’s place and purpose within the whole? Do we just give lip service, or do we believe it? Being close to one another and engaging in open-hearted conversation and community is both challenging and essential. Our fears and inner critic open us to the temptation to polarize, zeroing in on differences, but Jesus calls us to lean in to one another in love—listening, honoring and learning from each other—so we may all be whole.
This struggle is not new. The Book of Acts shows the early church struggling to know how to move forward faithfully following Jesus’ ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Did faithfulness mean holding fast to what was already known? What did it mean to include others, particularly those coming from different backgrounds? Stories of Peter, Paul and the early church show the Spirit’s insistence, in the face of this dilemma, to push the faithful to an expanding embrace of the other, placing a premium on loving above ‘rightness,’ self or even safety—just as Jesus embodied in his life and ministry. The old and the new came together to be a whole new creation wherein both were changed.
Even our earliest Anglican roots are testament to this same insistence of weaving together polarities into something new, something whole and, at the same time, into something always in process of becoming. In the preface of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, the recognition that nothing is so “well devised or so surely established” that over time it doesn’t need change. Christianity is not a static faith but a living dynamic one, as our wonderful Anglican/Episcopal tradition affirms.
Our unity is found in God, not in our uniformity or conformity. Jesus included those excluded by the powerful. Embracing unity means making space for all people, especially those not yet at the table, which can bring discomfort to those who have been comfortable with the way it was. No one is outside of God. The way to do this is by focusing on our own spiritual transformation—unwavering in our commitment to becoming a new creation—until we, too, have the same mind and love that is in Christ.
We must all be willing to change, letting go of our certainty in favor of finding our unity in love. It’s a high calling, and I know I too often fall short. This passage from Philippians is a new favorite. It invites us to embrace Jesus’ humility and trust that what is emerging will retain all that is essential—and bear fruit beyond compare.
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.