Be of one mind.
A Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity
October 15, 2023 at Holy Communion
“Be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23). In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ☩ Amen.
When I was in late elementary school, I was part of a creative writing group once a week at lunch time. We once started a “serial story,” where one person would be assigned to write a few hundred words, then pass it to the next person, and so on: a literary game of telephone. Somehow I think we didn’t discuss what we were doing fully enough before we started, because it became apparent very quickly that we didn’t agree what genre the story was supposed to be. Someone started it off as a story about an ordinary teenager working in fast food, then someone who was excited about the recent release of a certain action movie decided that things would start exploding, someone else tried to make the whole thing a comedy, and finally one of the teachers came to the rescue and wrote an ending in which it turned it was all a dream induced by a bad meal. This is art by committee at its finest.
We understand that when people are working together it is best for them to have a common understanding of what they are doing, but we are terribly tempted to apply a different logic to church. We think that religion is the territory of personal opinion, that disagreement is normal and helpful, and that having a common mind is limiting. Now, that’s not entirely off-base: we should show others the respect of treating them as independent thinkers, and respect people who are not committed to Christian teaching. But perhaps we have forgotten that, as a church, we are not here to speculate and form opinions for ourselves about what is true and what is false, but to undertake a task. And for that task, a common mind and a common vision are required.
I love to point out the tiny details in our readings which reveal the whole picture. Today, our Epistle reading turns on a single letter which some translations include, and others don’t: a little letter “s.” The most important sentence in our reading from Ephesians is, “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23). The word “your” is plural—”you all”—and the word “mind” is singular: it means “the mind that belongs to all of you.” But many translations add a letter “s” which doesn’t belong there, saying, “Be renewed in the spirit of your minds.” What’s the difference? With the extra “s,” it now means, “Each of you, be renewed in the spirit of your individual mind.” But before, it meant, “Be renewed through the mind that you all share.”
This verse, “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind,” is a favourite for people who like to read and think and consider what’s around them. It’s a favourite verse of mine. But for many years I misunderstood what it meant. I thought that St Paul was telling me to seek inner renewal by elevating myself, by reading heavy books about God, by becoming “a thinker.” And that’s fine, it’s even very helpful, but it’s not what St Paul meant.
Paul is very clear that all Christians share a common mind. Possession of this mind, in fact, is a mark of a Christian. It is the mind of Christ, communicated to us by the Spirit of God who takes up residence in our spirit. The mind of Christ in the church is God living among us, guiding and ruling us, leading us into all truth; it is God shaping our communion with one another, until we—together—become a single coherent image of Christ.
This makes sense of what St Paul says immediately after “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind”: he says, “put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (v 24). What God is doing among us is an act of creation. In the beginning God created the old humanity from the dust of the earth, and made him in his image and likeness, but that old man fell away, and his likeness to God was obscured. So now in Christ God is creating a new humanity, which will represent the likeness of God—that is, his character—as originally intended. This “new humanity” is a single reality of which, in the church, we are all sharers together. We are a single body, with a single mind: and that is the mind of Christ.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul asks his disciples to “Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (Philippians 2:2). He explains what he means briefly at first: we should be meek with one another, looking to each others’ interests. But explains theologically when he says: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus … who humbled himself, even to the death of the cross” (v 5, 8). The mind of Christ is the mind which does not consider its own dignity, but considers how it might give itself for the life of another person.
This is the mind which makes the work of the church possible. When we re-work the church as a space for sharing opinions, or validating all spiritual paths whether or not they are follow the example of Christ, or realizing personal spiritual elevation, the people who suffer for it are those among us—and, in fact, those not among us—who are most in need of the lowly Jesus, the New Man who doesn’t think of himself at all.
“Therefore,“—in the words of Saint Paul, on which I cannot improve—” having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry, but do not sin. … Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up. … Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:25–32). This is the mind of Christ, which is ours in common if we are Christians.