September 18, 2022
St. Stephen’s UMC, Burke, VA
Philippians 2:1–13 (NRSV)
Today, we look at the second part of our threefold vision statement:
“REFLECT CHRIST AS THE CATALYST FOR COMMUNITY.”
Not only do we receive Christ — inwardly — as the key to life, but we also reflect Christ — outwardly — as the catalyst for community. Not only do I receive Jesus — personally — as my Lord and Savior, but I also reflect Jesus — publicly — as our Lord and Savior. So, what does this really mean?
Let’s first look at the first part, “Reflect Christ.”
When I first saw this phrase, I immediately thought of a song from my childhood. The song is called Reflection from Disney’s Mulan.
“Who is that girl I see
Staring straight back at me?
Why is my reflection
Someone I don’t know?
Must I pretend that I’m
Someone else for all time?
When will my reflection show
Who I am inside?”
The last two lines are particularly worth pausing on,
“When will my reflection show / Who I am inside?”
As we receive Christ, we follow Christ, we abide in Christ, and we imitate Christ. Thus, in this continuous growth in Christ, we become as what is written in Galatians 2:20: “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” And if Christ lives in me, shouldn’t my reflection also show him? And yet, how many of us wonder whether we reflect this Christ who lives inside us?
There is this retired Methodist pastor in our Virginia Conference whom I’ve gotten to meet often in various clergy gatherings over the past seven years. And whenever I see him, he challenges us with the same set of questions. Does Christ live in you? Does your congregation see Christ in you? Do your townspeople see Christ in you? Do your family and your spouse see Christ in you?
These are challenging questions for both clergies and laities alike. Do I reflect Christ in both public and private spaces? Do people see Christ in me, whether I’m in my church clothes, street clothes, or pajamas?
While these questions are honest and at times helpful check-ins we can have with ourselves, I want to clarify that reflecting Christ is not about checking off or seeking to display Christ-like appearances.
Rather, reflecting Christ means to reflect his posture revealed in his prayer at Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (Matthew 26:39). Reflecting Christ means living out the prayer he taught us to pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Reflecting Christ means humbling ourselves and becoming obedient to God. Reflecting Christ means emptying ourselves so that the Spirit of God may dwell in us (Romans 8:9). Again, it is about posture, not appearance.
In today’s scripture, it is written (vv. 4–8):
“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.”
Jesus Christ, who is fully divine, emptied himself to be with us as one of us, fully human. And not only was he born in the lowliest and most humble way (in a manger located in a small town) so that he can be with us now, but he also died in the lowliest and most humble way (a violent death of a criminal) so that he can be with us forevermore. Jesus Christ remained humble and obedient to God’s plan so that God’s love can be with us now and always.
This is the kind of Christ we worship, this is the kind of Christ we receive, and this is the kind of Christ whom God highly exalted, to whom every knee should bend, and whom every tongue should confess as their Lord.
And we not only receive this Christ, but we also reflect this Christ. Rather than exploiting our God-given privileges for self-advancement, we empty ourselves so that we may know what God has in store for us. Rather than being full of ourselves for being Christ-like, we empty ourselves so that we may be with our neighbors in solidarity with love and compassion. We empty ourselves to be with God and with others — to love God and to love neighbors.
And this leads to the second part of today’s vision statement, “As the Catalyst for Community.”
The Apostle Paul wrote today’s scripture to the church in Philippi going through conflicts. The reason why churches always go through conflicts, whether in the first century or now, is simple: We often forget the kind of Christ we worship. It is somehow engraved in our human minds that the messiah is supposed to look like a warrior-king sitting on a stallion, rather than a meek teacher riding a donkey. We all desire a superhero who rescues us by destroying our enemies. We all desire a leader who changes our situations favorably for us and does it so swiftly. We all desire a superstar who promotes avenues for self-indulgence. And we all desire a god who helps in our self-advancement. And the thing is, our interests are not always on the same page.
To the church in Philippi hurting from rivalries and divisions, Paul wrote the following (vv. 2–5):
“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.”
He calls for solidarity and community to his conflict-infested church — to empty ourselves of selfish ambitions and subject ourselves to one another, just as Christ did for us.
An authentic community is formed when two or more people are willing to live and serve in solidary with one another. And reflecting the self-emptying Christ makes a community relational rather than transactional.
Today’s scripture uses a word — doulos in Greek — that is commonly translated as “slave” (v. 7). This word, in the context of the 1st-century Greco-Roman world, was understood as a prime example of someone who empties oneself in order to serve the interests of others. The word doulos is probably the most provocative way of symbolizing the essence of Jesus’ life: his self-sacrificial love.
In the Gospel of Matthew, the mother to two of Jesus’s disciples — James and John — expressed her selfish ambition, which I believe resonates with us as parents who want what is best for our children. She requested to Jesus, “Declare that my two sons will sit, one at your right and one at your left, in your kingdom” (20:21). And Jesus’ response to her and her boys was this (vv. 26–28):
“Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
We often forget that this is the kind of Christ we worship. He is the one who came not to be served but to serve. He is the one who emptied himself to be a doulos to all. This Christ is whom we receive and reflect. And so, we too empty ourselves and become a doulos to all. And the Apostle Paul explains what that looks like in practice. In 1 Corinthians 9:19–23, Paul writes,
“For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.”
This was not Paul’s evangelism strategy or his marketing ploy, but rather it was his understanding of what it means to live out the gospel. Just as Christ who emptied himself to be with Paul, he too emptied himself to be with others — whoever they might be. Emptying himself to meet people where they are, emptying himself to understand their point of view, emptying himself to be with them in solidarity and compassion. And this is how various worshipping communities were formed under his leadership.
Imagine a community where everyone serves one another through love. Imagine a community that dedicates itself to serving others with no selfish ambitions or ulterior motives. Imagine a community that tries to understand the perspective of its neighbors by going to them first and being with them. Imagine a community that constantly empties itself to stand in solidarity with the neglected, the marginalized, the isolated, and the lonely.
This is what it means to live out the gospel. And this is what it means to let God’s kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.
And this is the kind of community we — St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church — are declaring ourselves to become in our vision statement, that we reflect Christ as the catalyst for community, inclusive and engaged, igniting mission and service for all.
Whether it is for our family, extended network, ministry, congregation, society, or world, the community we all dream and long for begins with us reflecting Christ who lives in us. And the good news is that this Christ already lives in us. Our body is already a temple where the Holy Spirit dwells (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). We are simply called to empty ourselves so that his image may be revealed more clearly in our reflection.
Dear church, because of God’s grace, the free and underserving gift, we receive Christ who lives in us. Each and every day, wherever we may be and whomever we may interact with, may we reflect Christ to those around us, so that in community, we may altogether witness and experience the richness of God’s love manifested in the self-emptying Son of God, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
Rev. Minoo Kim is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, currently serving in the Virginia Annual Conference. He will very much appreciate it if you like and follow his Medium profile. Peace!