Philippians 2:1-13/ Matthew 21:23-32
Painful Journey of Christian Unity
Learning and Changing
I have great respect for those who can learn and change. I have heard of conservative Christian parents who let their bigoted ideas be challenged through their queer children. Respect for them, for a lot of parents of queer children disown them and throw them out. Rev. Lee from the Korean Methodist Church, who has become an enthusiastic defender of the queer people in South Korea, wasn’t always accepting of queerness. His bigotry was challenged through the real-life queer people he met as a church minister. It is difficult to change our minds about something. It can feel like a big punch in the guts for our egos.
On a lighter note, I used to hate Marilyn Monroe for her hyper femininity linked with being a dumb blond. When I was younger and less wise, when I was a radical feminist, I felt that she was a bad example for other women. However, I learned that the dumb blond image was just a persona she was playing. I also learned about her life story, which changed my mind. Now I love her and find her extatically beautiful. I learned the errors of my ways and accepted Marilyn in my heart. It is difficult, but we can all change for the better. All we need is humility, which, I know, is easier said than done.
Humility of Jesus
Humility is the highest value that we learned from Jesus, and no other text in the Bible, which is not from the gospel books, teaches us this value better than what we read in Philippians today. What we read in Philippians chapter 2 is God’s expectation from us, and why.
God expects us to be of the same mind, be humble, think of the interest of others instead of being selfish, and have the mind of Jesus. Why? Because Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God… but emptied himself… 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.”
Following Jesus is not just an expression Christians use casually. It is about learning to be like Jesus in our ideas, attitudes, and actions. That is why I call a true Christian life the “kingdom lifestyle.” Following Jesus is a lifestyle, not checking boxes to go to heaven after death. We have to be humble because Jesus was the epitome of humility. We have to be obedient because Jesus modelled obedience with his life. He not only taught us about the indiscriminatory love of God and justice for the marginalized, but also modelled it with his life.
Humility and Obediance
In Matthew chapter 21, we witnessed one episode of Jesus’s life that teaches us about humility and obedience. The high priests and elders of the Jewish community looked down on Jesus for coming from a lowly background. When they couldn’t answer Jesus’ question about where John’s baptism come from, he refused to answer their question about the source of his own authority.
You may all know people with whom you cannot reason, and just walking away from such people is the wisest course of action. There is no point of trying to have discussions with people who adamantly think that they are right while closing their ears and brain to anything that challenges them. Jesus had such people back then, we have such people now. His parable that follows this encounter with the high priests and elders teach us that what makes God’s people is obeying God’s commandments, whoever one may be; even tax collectors and prostitutes.
Journey Towards Christian Unity
As we celebrate World Communion Sunday and remember that we are one big family of God, I find my heart fill with sadness. Christian unity sounds warm and fuzzy, but the reality of Christian life is troubling. Majority of Christians look to the Jewish leaders that Jesus criticized instead of Jesus, spreading bigotry and causing harm to those that they don’t deem worthy of God’s love. We have seen people protesting “in the name of our children” to judge and condemn the marginalized. They fail to follow Jesus in God’s way of compassionate love and justice for all.
However, the rest of us who believe that God’s love is without boundary may be too easy to judge the judgmental Christians. A friend of mine and a former United Church minister, got so hurt by the church (yes, our United Church of Canada included) that she left her position as a minister. The microaggression perpetrated by open-minded progressive people of our denomination seems not that much better than the people we call bigots. We criticize people for being judgemental, but what about us? What is in OUR hearts?
Jesus taught us not to judge others lest we be judged, because not one of us is perfect. Bigots personally hurt me, but God teaches me to check my own heart and life. Jesus says in Matthew chapter 7: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? First, take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”
Let us remember this teaching while reflecting on Christian unity through the Holy Communion. We need humility more than anything if we want to journey towards Christian unity. It is a painful journey because we hurt one another and it is difficult to let ourselves be challenged and changed. It seems like an impossible journey.
As we take communion, let us remember that we are not perfect and God demands the humility of Jesus for us to learn and change. We will keep taking communion every month because we belong to God’s family, which is a precious gift. Every time, let us remember to ask God for humility and compassion. In this painful journey, let us not be discouraged but keep praying for the humility to be transformed in the image of our teacher Jesus. And let us just keep loving and learning and embracing all God’s children, no matter how challenging it is.